Tarns and Birketts above Grasmere

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Helm Crag and Seat Sandal above Grasmere.

Early December, I have a Monday off work; the school is closed, a one day holiday. Ordinarily, I would prefer not to have an extra day off in December, when daylight is short and the weather is likely to be ropey, but it seems that I am in a very tiny minority amongst my colleagues who voted to continue our recent practice of having a long weekend in December.

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But, as luck would have it, when the day came around, the forecast was pretty fair and I was glad to have a day to myself with no Dad’s Taxi duties to perform. So it was that I had parked up in the long lay-by on the A591 just outside Grasmere (thus avoiding exorbitant parking fees) and was climbing out of the village toward Silver How.

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Grasmere.

It was a frosty morning, with a few wisps of mist still clinging to the valleys.

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Langdale Pikes. The rocky hummock in the middle distance is Lang How.

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A sundog or parhelion.

I’ve posted photos of this phenomena before. I’ve even been told that they are a common occurrence, but I don’t feel that I see them all that often.

Parhelion: a bright spot in the sky appearing on either side of the sun, formed by refraction of sunlight through ice crystals high in the atmosphere.

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Langdale Fells from Silver How.

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Helvellyn and Fairfield from Silver How.

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Grasmere and Rydal Water.

The broad ridge which runs along the northern edge of Langdale abounds in knolls and small tarns. The latter seem mostly to be choked with plants and on their way to drying out. My aim was to climb the knolls, well – the ones which qualify as Birketts at least – and to visit all of the tarns.

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Silver How Tarn.

For the names of the various tarns I’m following the lead of John and Anne Nuttall in their ‘The Tarns of Lakeland’ guides (two volumes, well worth having).

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Brigstone Tarn and Lang How.

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The Nuttalls don’t give a name for the small tarn in the foreground, the one behind is Youdell Tarn.

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Youdell Tarn with the Langdale Peaks behind.

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I’ve included this photo because it was taken from Lang How and it shows Swinescar Pike (the grassy hummock on the left) and Castle How (the broad grassy lump on the right).

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Looking back along the ridge from Little Castle How. Windermere in the distance.

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Great Castle How has two summits: on the OS map, one is named and the other has a spot height. The photo above shows the top with a spot height (left of centre of the photo) and was taken from the other top…

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This is the named top…

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…from the one with the spot height.

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Easedale Tarn.

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Castle How Tarns with Blea Rigg behind.

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One of the (three) Castle How Tarns.

Blea Rigg is another Birkett and I had originally half-intended to include it on the route, but it’s probably best that I didn’t: I descended by Easedale Tarn and arrived back in Grasmere with little daylight to spare. Still I hadn’t done too badly: four Birketts, eight tarns and one Wainwright (Silver How), all crammed into one relatively short walk.

I enjoyed my excursion into tarn bagging. I believe there’s a tradition of bagging the tarns by swimming in them. I opted not to do that; I would have had to break the ice to do so, and I suspect that many of the tarns, choked with reeds as they are, are rather shallow to swim in. From the photographer’s point of view, it probably makes at least as much sense to visit tarns as it does to climb to summits. Some tarns are well off the beaten track too, which is another bonus. I think you can expect more tarn-bagging walks as and when I can find the time – I think I may have another stray Monday off next December…

 

 

Tarns and Birketts above Grasmere

Sale Fell

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Skiddaw, Carl Side, Dodd, Bassenthwaite Lake, distant Derwent Water.

Cub camp for Little S; he and two friends needed dropping in Seathwaite at the bottom end of Borrowdale at eight o’clock on a Friday night (the day after my walk on Hollow Moor). Of course, I volunteered for the job! It was a glorious evening and driving down Borrowdale I was struck by how crag girt the fellsides are and my mind was busy with the various options open to me for a late stroll.

When we arrived at the campsite however, it was clear that the boys needed some help erecting their tent, a triple hoop tunnel affair with which they had no previous experience. We were hampered somewhat by the maddening distraction of a cloud of midges which were feasting on every square inch of exposed flesh. By the time the tent was shipshape and just lacking an odd peg or two, all I wanted to do was get in the car and get away from the ravening hoards. I set off with the intention of driving straight home, but I hadn’t driven far before I began to reconsider my options. It was now quite late to be starting a walk, I needed something not too ambitious, and I hit upon the idea of a smash-and-grab raid on Sale Fell.

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Lothwaite Panorama.

This modest little fell boasts three Birkett summits, Lothwaite, Rivings and Sale Fell itself. From a inspection of the map this seems excessive, but the photos above show the late evening view from Lothwaite across Bassenthwaite Lake to the bulk of Skiddaw. It’s a fabulous panorama and it would be a great shame to miss it by only heading for the higher summit of Sale Fell.

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Sale Fell from Lothwaite.

The paths across the fells are broad and well used; I’ve never ventured this way before, but clearly these are well loved hills, perhaps with the local walkers who have them on their doorstep. Certainly, despite the late hour, I met several other people that evening.

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Sale Fell from Rivings, two other walkers just about visible on the top.

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Sale Fell

Haystacks

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Fleetwith Pike

My old friend JS had just one more Wainwright to bag. He is, I think, the most well-organised man I have ever known (I say ‘man’ advisedly, I’ve worked with a few women who would give him a run for his money) and typically he had planned out his Wainwright bagging so as to leave the last for his 50th Birthday. When I saw him down in Nottingham a few weeks ago he invited me to join him and I didn’t need to be asked twice.

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Buttermere.

The forecast wasn’t great, but for most of the day the weather was pretty kind to us. We met in Buttermere village and walked along the southern shore of the lake before climbing towards Scarth Gap.

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Haystacks.

I’d dragged B along for the walk and JS’s sisters and a brother-in-law were also in the party. The pace was very leisurely, which suited me just fine. I could see that B was getting a little restless however, so we took an off-piste route, seeking out some easy scrambling.

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Fleetwith Pike again.

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Seat and High Crag.

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North-Western Fells over Buttermere.

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Panorama.

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B enjoying some unexpected sunshine.

We saw a couple of these…

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…large, hairy caterpillars. I think that it’s a Hairy Oak Eggar Moth caterpillar. This one didn’t move at all and was still in exactly the same spot when we came back down. If it had chosen a spot in which to pupate, then it had chosen badly because it was right on the path.

In the little tarn between the many small knolls on the top, B spotted a newt floating just below the surface of the water.

A champagne lunch was planned for the summit, but some members of the party, not regular walkers, objected to the ‘rock climb’ where the path crossed some slabs just below the top, so the champagne was quaffed a little way short of the top. I’m pretty sure it tasted just as good as it would have done a few metres higher. Having traveled in a rucksack, the bottle had had a good shaking and the cork rocketed skyward most impressively.

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A family party with champagne. The bobble hats had all been especially knitted for the occasion.

We returned by exactly the same route. The weather had done us proud, but as we were almost back to the lake shore path the heavens finally opened, and when the rain came it came with a vengeance. We’d been waiting for the others, but now decided to make a beeline for the car. B was nonplussed as the path became a stream and we were both quickly soaked, but it wasn’t far to the car, and we both had a change of clothes in the boot, although we had to run the gauntlet of the midges as we changed.

I’m not sure how many Wainwrights I have left to bag – some I’ve never done, and others I’ve been up many times, but not since I started keeping a record. Maybe I should be taking a leaf out of JS’s book and thinking ahead – which one should I choose to finish on? And who would I invite to join me? (And carry the champagne?).

Haystacks

Haystacks

Wild-camping with A

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“I know what I want for my birthday Dad: a back-packing tent.”

Oh. So now I was feeling a bit guilty: I spent much of last summer looking at potential tent purchases without arriving at a decision. I’ve long be aware that all of the kids, and particularly A, have long been keen to try their hand at wild-camping. I already have a tent – an old Saunders Spacepacker, and very good it is too, but although I think it was advertised as a two-man tent, it is really more of a spacious solo affair. After more lengthy deliberating I’ve bought A her tent, an early present, from Decathlon, a Quickhiker Ultralight 3. (I might stretch to a review when we’ve tried it more thoroughly).

I ought to have known really: A has gradually been accumulating her own kit – she bought a self-inflating mat in a sale, asked for a lightweight sleeping-bag for her last birthday etc. So, now equipped with a bigger tent, we were ready for the off. No time like the present: the day after my wander up Kentmere Pike and the weather was still fine, forecast to be cold and bright, the boys were sleeping over at a friends, so we could legitimately go without them (they were a bit miffed, hopefully we shall soon all get out for a camp).

On the Friday evening then, we drove up to the head of Haweswater and walked the short distance up to Small Water. I’d been poring over my maps, looking for potential places to pitch – this seemed ideal: short walk in, a water supply, potential flattish pitches, a reasonable altitude and so it proved to be. A slept well in her newish bag, but it had been very cold and, although A claimed that I was snoring, I felt like I’d been awake and shivering all night in my inadequate kit.

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The clear skies and sunshine the following morning were some compensation, although it was still perishing. A slept so well, in fact, that she didn’t stir until around eight, which is criminally late in my book. We had some difficulties with my stove (wrong combination of gases for the cold conditions perhaps, or using an MSR stove with Coleman canisters?)  but we managed to warm our Fruit and Nut porridge  which had been soaking overnight and which proved to be unusually palatable as far as backpacking fare goes.

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The posts here are where trees have been planted. Lots of trees have been planted in this area and also up Longsleddale as far as Wrengill Quarry (and maybe further). It seems that somebody is making a concerted effort to reintroduce woodland in the Lakes – more power to their elbow, whoever they may be.

My original plan had been to head up Piot Crag initially. I descended that way a while ago, although I eventually took the spur down to the dam on Blea Water, which had been okay, but a bit loose in one section. The route certainly looked feasible on the map…

Piot Crag

But looking at it from below, I wasn’t completely confident, especially since we would be carrying heavy packs.

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I offered A the deciding vote – Piot Crag or the Nan Bield? – explaining that we may have to turn back if we couldn’t get through the crags on Piot Crag.

“Lets take the adventurous route.”

Fair play. So we did.

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A on the Piot Crag ridge with Rough Crag behind.

In the event it was a cracking route, although we did have to traverse the ridge a couple of times, looking for easy rakes through the crags.

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Near the top of the steepest section we found spoil heaps and the outlines of old buildings or shelters. These are not marked on the map at all, so came as something of a surprise.

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Above this point the ridge broadens and leads very pleasantly up to Mardale Ill Bell.

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Once on Mardale Ill Bell, we had more choices to make. We could descend via Rough Crag above Riggindale; we could walk round to Kidsty Pike and down from there, or we could take a longer route over High Street, Rampsgill Head, Kidsty Pike, High Raise, Low Raise and then down.

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Presented with the option, A chose the longest route, which sat fine with me because I wanted to grab Low Raise, thinking it was the only Birkett in the area I was lacking.

High Street

There’d been two more parties camped close(ish) to Small Water, but we’d had Piot Crag entirely to ourselves. We were faced with a bit of a rude awakening now then because the paths on High Street were pretty busy.

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High Street summit.

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The substantial cairn on Low Raise.

I’d planned to descend from Low Raise along the edge of Whelter Crags and down Birks Crag to Castle Crag (where the fort is marked on the one to fifty), but once we were descending it seemed more inviting to drop down to Randale Beck and follow that (there’s a good path on the south bank).

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I missed a trick really – it was only when I got home that I realised that Castle Crag is another Birkett. What a shame – I shall have to go back again. Here in the valley it finally warmed up and I was able to swap all of my winter clothing for the shorts I’d been optimistically carrying.

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Randale Beck.

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Riggindale and Rough Crag.

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Riggindale and Kidsty Pike.

A grand day (and a bit) out, hopefully the first of many. Just need to acquire a warm, gargantuan – but lightweight and cheap – sleeping-bag (should be easy!). And a stove that works consistently, not just when it’s in the right mood.

Wild-camping with A

Kentmere Pike from Longsleddale

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Looking down Longsleddale.

A rare conjunction of opportunity and decent weather found me heading out for a post-work jaunt in the Lakes.

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Tarn Crag.

Here’s the route I took:

Longsleddale and Kentmere Pike

Although, I should warn you that I drew it on by hand and I now realise that at the northern most point I’ve made a slight error: I actually turned left slightly sooner.

Steel Rigg on Kentmere Pike

Just by the junction of the paths here there’s a gate which gives access to the area just below Wrengill Quarry, and that’s where I turned left, through the gate and across the surprisingly dry, empty gill. One day I’m going to come back and properly explore the remains of the quarry, but on this occasion I looked for the boundary between the very tightly packed contours of the steep ground overlooking Longsleddale and the more relaxed open hillside above Brownhowe Bottom. To my mind a route like this is a win-win: easy walking but with the drama of the crags and steep slopes close by to my left-hand side.

This photo…

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Longsleddale.

…was taken close to the top of the section of wall marked on the map south of where it says ‘Steel Rigg’. The crags were more impressive than I’d anticipated, and I stuck close to this edge for as long as it was still taking me uphill.

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Tarn Crag and Longsleddale.

Despite the sunshine, it was a very quiet evening. I saw a party of three and another lone walker (or a straggler), heading down the valley, not long after I left Sadgill, and I was overtaken a little further up the track by a cyclist. And that was it. As far as I know I had Kentmere Pike entirely to myself for the remainder of the evening.

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Tarn Crag and Buckbarrow Crag from the top of Goat Scar.

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Shipman Knotts.

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Ill Bell and Froswick.

Fabulous to get a chance just to be out, the sunshine and the solitude were the icing on the cake and the very satisfactory ‘off-piste’ section of the walk the cherry on top. I’m pretty much always on the look out for potential pathless routes of this ilk when I head to the Lakes on my own these days.

Kentmere Pike from Longsleddale

Indolence Time: Buckbarrow

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I didn’t take any photos on the Sunday of our Bank Holiday Weekend. The best that can be said of the weather is that it wasn’t as rough as it had been during the night – which was one of those nights in a tent when you lie awake listening, during moments of relative calm, as a wave of wind comes roaring down the valley, crashing through the trees until it hits the tent and sends it into another paroxysm of shuddering. After a very wet night, increasingly creatures of habit, we eventually opted to repeat last year’s Sunday outing and spent an afternoon between the beach at Seascale, beachcombing and throwing a ball around, and Mawson’s cafe and ice-cream parlour, which once again was a very big hit.

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On the Monday, after a bit of campsite faffing about: leisurely breakfast, taking photos of a goldfinch in the trees by the tents etc, we eventually all set off for a mass hike up Buckbarrow. There was a farm yard to navigate first, where there were cute and very tame lambs to be stroked….

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…and a not quite so cute donkey which also wanted a share of the attention…

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Then a short, sharp climb brought us to a superb little spot for lunch….

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Our provisions stretched to a rather fine little picnic complete with fresh tea with the aid of the pocket rocket stove I’ve treated myself to.

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I was pretty happy sitting in the sun enjoying a brew, but apparently it was time to move on.

Still, moving on wasn’t bad either….

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From the top of the crags here it a pleasant knolly ramble around to the top of Buckbarrow. Little S was, as usual, doing his best to test Andy’s cardiac health by selecting routes which would take him into exposed positions on vertiginous crags. I think all the kids appreciated the opportunity to chose their own route (with some guidance in the case of Little S!), picking out easy bits of scrambling to string together.

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B at the top.

Then, just beyond the summit…

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…another sheltered spot for second lunch, brews, sunbathing, a snooze, a natter etc.

The boys rarely keep still for long, but stashed at the bottom of my pack, for just such eventualities, I keep….

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….a pocket kite.

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It folds smaller than a small handkerchief and weighs next to nothing, and it kept all three of us amused for quite some time.

Sadly, all good things have to come to an end, and with time marching on, we needed to get back to the campsite to pack-up and take our tents down. (The good people of the inestimable Church Stile campsite having allowed us to leave our tents in situ to dry after the Atlantic Storms of the night before.)

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We split for the descent, with one party heading off in a hurry, down a steep direct route to get the inevitable mass football match started, whilst the rest of us took a more circumspect route which detoured down into Greendale Gill again, via this large, lonely and very tidy cairn.

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One of the Tongue Gills again.

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Greendale Gill.

The first part of our route back through the woods to Nether Wasdale was accompanied by a stunning profusion of wildflowers. The primroses were the most impressive, but sadly my photos really don’t do them justice at all.

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Wood anemones.

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Wood Sorrel

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The mass football match was in full swing when we arrived back. Sadly, for all concerned, it was to be deprived of it’s most cultured right-boot because I had to take the trailer tent down. There was one more treat in store however – a meal in the Strands Hotel before we all departed for our disparate homes. A brilliant weekend – roll on next year.

You can read Andy’s parallel account of the weekend here.

Indolence Time: Buckbarrow

Indecision Time: Greendale Tarn and Middle Fell

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The Junior Sherpa, The Adopted Yorkshire Couple, The Shandy Sherpa, The Beach Funster. Dr R discretely out of shot somewhere?

You’ll know those conversations which just go round in circles; it’s pretty clear what most people involved think, but nobody wants to make a decision? The kind of dead end back and forth typified by the scene with the vultures in the Disney Jungle Book film?*

First I say, “What we gonna do?” Then you say, “I don’t know. What’cha wanna do?” Then I say, “What we gonna do?” Then you say, “What’cha wanna do?” “What we gonna do? What you want…” Let’s do SOMETHING!!!

Well, we’d had exactly that sort of round and round discussion: It’s raining, the forecast’s diabolic, let’s make it a valley walk. I’m for carrying on. Well my (knee, groin, foot, ear….choose your own favourite) is playing up, I’d settle for turning back. I don’t know, it’s a shame not to climb a hill when we’ve got the chance. Then again, it is pretty foul….etc, etc, etc

Since there was no ‘crazy-looking bunch of bones’ on the horizon, we needed an idea to break the deadlock. I suggested that we amend our plan to climb Middle Fell by it’s South-Western Shoulder and instead follow Greendale Gill up to Greendale Tarn and then assess the situation again. I’m always a bit surprised when my suggestions carry the day, but on this occasion that’s precisely what happened. (Nothing to do, I’m sure, with the sulk which would have followed if I hadn’t got my way!)

We’d been standing by the bridge in the tiny hamlet of Greendale, having walked there from our campsite in Nether Wasdale – the destination for our annual May Bank Holiday get together. The party comprised the usual suspects, minus some who had elected to race, maypole-dance and eat cake at the Wasdale Show, but with the welcome addition of our friend Dr R who had driven round from Silverdale for a walk.

So we set-off alongside Greendale Tarn, all that is, except for Uncle Fester, who isn’t easily diverted once he’s hit upon an excuse not to go for a walk, and who’d headed back to the campsite. Which meant that he missed the droves of young people dressed in bin-bags who passed us en route to who knows where; and that he also missed the relatively sheltered and relatively dry spot we found for, in the circumstances, a really quite pleasant lunch and brew stop (pictured above).

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Having reached Greendale Tarn, and the weather having improved a little, contrary to the pessimistic forecasts, we decided to continue and take in Middle Fell. After another round of back and forth, about whether to take a direct route to the top, or instead to head toward the ridge and then turn back to the summit, we eventually split into two parties.

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I’ve really come to enjoy these broken Lakeland slopes, because with a bit of care, it’s usually possible to string a route through craggy ground which gives a pleasant impression, or perhaps I should say illusion, of exposure, without actually being at all difficult or risky.

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This was a case in point and I found a few places to do some very easy scrabbling to take my mind of the effort of the ascent.

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We met up again on the top, and although the views were a bit limited…

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…it was frankly, great to have some views after such an unpromising start to the day.

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Tongue Gills

We finished by descending the shoulder we had intended originally to climb, below the imposing crags of Buckbarrow.

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A victory for ‘flap(ing) over to the East side of the jungle’ in my opinion.

Middle Fell and Greendale Tarn

*I am aware that there’s more than one Disney Jungle Book film, but I prefer to ignore the existence of all but the first.

‘Indecision Time’ incidentally, is a song from Hüsker Dü’s magisterial double album ‘Zen Arcade’. If you like your melody swathed in a wall of noisy distorted guitar, you’ll love it.

Indecision Time: Greendale Tarn and Middle Fell