Blakethwaite Bottom Wild-Camp

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Carlin Gill (Carlin Gill Beck on the OS Map, but surely the ‘beck’ is redundant.)

The Hardman, the Shandy Sherpa and I have been discussing the possibility of getting our respective kids out for a wild-camp together for a year or two now. Earlier this year that pipe-dream moved a little closer to reality when we all committed to two summer weekends which we would reserve for that purpose. The second weekend would be a fall-back: if the forecast for the first weekend was diabolical, we planned to keep our powder dry and wait for the second weekend. We also had a destination picked out: Upper Eskdale, somewhere that Andy and I have both camped many times before, and wanted to share with the kids.

When the first allotted weekend was approaching the forecast was, if not diabolical, at least not very encouraging, with lots of wind and rain expected. Andy sent an email all but scotching any chance of his participation, much to my relief, but Brian responded by stating that if we were both out, he – as befits the Hardman – would take his own kids camping more locally, in ‘a peat bog on Kinder’. I consulted my family: TBH bowed out before I’d even finished asking, S rapidly agreed, A was more reluctant to abandon our plan, but thought that was for the best, but B is made of sterner stuff and expressed a desire to hold firm to our plan. Andy must have had a similar conversation with TJS because on the Friday night they drove up to ours. In the meantime, A had changed her mind and decided to join us and, with the worst weather predicted for the Western lakes, we’d hit upon Plan B: a walk up Carlin Gill and a camp at Blakethwaite Bottom (as recommended by no less an authority than Mr Knipe).

Frankly, I was concerned that we might all be barking mad.

We parked the cars just off the Fairmile Road at about two o’clock on the Saturday afternoon after several hours of continuous heavy rain. The Lune was a thick brown torrent and Carlin Gill was also running very high. Although the cloud was low, the rain was slackening and showing signs of finally coming to an end. Our original plan to follow Carlin Gill now seemed a bit unwise, especially given that we would probably need to cross the gill, which was going to be extremely difficult, if not down right dangerous.

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Grains Gill, Weasel Gill and Carlin Gill. 

Instead we climbed up out of the valley, passing a small herd of horses on our way, and over the top of Linghaw, where it was very blowy. From the col between Linghaw and Fell Head we took the path which traverses the steep slopes round the head of Small Gill.

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What a find this was! I always enjoy a contouring path and I think that in this case the fog enhanced the drama. The kids seemed to be enjoying themselves despite the adversity…

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B’s rucksack, which is almost as big as he is, is vintage, an old Berghaus model which my Dad used when we walked the Pennine Way together in 1985. Come to that, I was also using my 1985 bag, a Karrimor Jaguar 6. Will Sports Direct honour the lifetime guarantee do you think?

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The cloud was gradually lifting a little, giving tantalising glimpses of sunshine down in the Lune Gorge.

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I’d made a last minute decision to keep the weight in my pack down by borrowing TBH’s little point and snap camera, which was now telling me that it’s battery was spent. I found that if I turned it off and turned it back on again, I could convince it to keeping eking out a few more pictures.

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Folded strata at the top of Black Force.

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The Spout.

Blakethwaite Bottom, it transpired, was somewhat waterlogged, but after some careful reconnaissance we found a good spot. It was stony, with just a very thin covering of soil, which made it hard to get the pegs in, but it was sheltered, with a handy water source and proved to be surprisingly comfortable.

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The weather was still threatening to brighten up…

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So, after we’d eaten, we climbed Uldale Head. The top was still in mist, but we had good views from just short of the summit. A real gale was blowing up there. We all enjoyed playing with the wind – the kids were using their coats as wings, and jumping up to see how far it would carry them. We all spread our arms and leaned as far forward into the wind as we could get away with. I didn’t take any photos, but A has one of me looking quite demented and I’m worried that Andy might soon be posting something similar (Edit: my fears are confirmed – his take on our madcap outing, with more, and better, photos, is here.)

B, who had persuaded me that coming on the weekend was a good idea, thoroughly relished the whole affair. As the light faded, he was devising a makeshift boules set from various rocks he found around the camp. I offered to play him, and almost immediately, everyone else was keen to join in.

I slept much better than I did on Little Stand, partly because we were much more sheltered from the wind, but mostly, I think, because I’d borrowed TBH’s new sleeping mat – it’s much heavier than mine, but the extra weight may be worth it. In the night I realised that the burbling sound of the stream by the tents had completely gone – a reflection of the falling water levels.

I woke the next morning to the sound of a shower on the flysheet, but, mercifully, it was short-lived. We’d been joined at some point…

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…by some Fell Ponies. Although some seemed quite large to qualify as ponies.

There were seventeen horses in total, including four foals.

I had a quiet brew, and since I couldn’t hear any evidence of activity from the others (unless you count a bit of snoring), decided to head off for a short wander.

I climbed round to Hand Lake, then turned back over Docker Knott and Over Sale, returning via Great Ulgill Beck. The sun even shone.

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Churn Gill and Middleton.

When I got back, breakfast was on the go, under the intense gaze of a herd of cows which  had joined the horses, but which seemed much more intent on closely examining what we were doing than the horses were.

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Breakfast was on the go, that is, except in our tent, where A and B were still luxuriating in their sleeping bags. Andy had loaned us his three man Lightwave tent, an astonishing piece of kit, which had been just right for the job. (A has a three person tent by Quechua, which I’m impressed with, it’s very light, but I was worried about it’s potential performance in foul weather). Incredibly generously, Andy’s now made the loan indefinite, and I can’t wait to get out and use it again, before he comes to his senses!

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Naturally, Sod’s Law was in operation, as usual, and as we packed the tents away another brief shower ensured that we didn’t get them away dry. Then, as we set off, we were subjected to one of the fiercest, coldest spells of rain I’ve experienced in a long while – something akin to the torrential downpours which accompany thunderstorms in the bigger mountain ranges. Fortunately for us, it only lasted about ten minutes.

We retraced our steps to the top of Black Force. You can see here…

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…that Andy is descending the faint path down the rib at the edge of the falls, but there was a strong wind blowing across the hillside and I had visions of one of the kids being swept over the edge. They followed Brian down the gully to the right of the rib, which was steep but manageable.

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Brian crossing Carlin Gill – much less water in it by now.

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Black Force.

All that remained was a saunter back to the car, with several crossings of the gill, which most of the children found highly amusing. Of course the weather had one more shower for us, arriving just as we stopped for a bite of lunch and a brew…

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I don’t think anyone was disheartened. Certainly not the kids, they were too busy lobbing boulders into the beck to really notice.

A little further down the valley we stumbled upon the skeletal remains of a horse. The pelvic and thigh bones were huge. I noticed the gleam in B’s eye and told him, in no uncertain terms, that he wasn’t to take any of them home with him. He defiantly carried a massive bone a little way, but I think he left it behind. Either that or he’s hidden it well since we got back.

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Carlin Gill in calmer mood.

We arrived back at the cars almost exactly 24 hours after we had set off, a bit soggy but decidedly happy.

“How did that compare with Little Stand?”, I asked B.

“Even better.”

I think, and hope, that for the kids, this trip, with the wind and the rain, the horses and the cows, the stream crossings and heavy showers, the nine pm, hilltop, human kite festival, was a bit of an adventure, a break from the norm. I’m not sure, with retrospect, that different weather conditions would have made the trip any more enjoyable than it already was. It was certainly memorable. I am sure though, that what’s key on a outing of this sort is the company you keep, and in that regard we couldn’t have asked for more.

The only tarnish on the weekend was the fact that we returned to find that Andy’s new(ish) car was badly dented, we think by a horse. I wondered whether anybody had heard of anything similar happening to cars left on the Fairmile Road?

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Blakethwaite Bottom Wild-Camp

Family Wild Camp: Little Stand

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It’s been a long time on preparation this trip: the kids have all wanted to try a wild-camp for quite some time, and have been accumulating kit via Christmas and Birthday present requests to that end. I’ve slimmed down enough to manage to squeeze into an ordinary sized sleeping bag and have bought myself a down-bag to celebrate. TBH has agreed to join us in roughing it. All we needed was the right weather, so a forecast for a couple of  settled days in the middle of Whit week had us all packing our bags for the off.

We managed to find a parking space at the top of the Wrynose pass and plodded up the path to Red Tarn.

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I camped above here, on the slopes of Pike O’Blisco, on what must have been my own first wild-camping expedition, back in September 1985. This was one potential site, if any of us had been struggling with our loads we would have stopped hereabouts.

Little S had other ideas:

“Can we swim?”

When we joined my old school-friend J on Haystacks for his final Wainwright tick, B spotted a newt in floating near the surface of the water in the small tarn near the top. It wasn’t at all surprising that it was B who first spotted the newts in Red Tarn:

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There were quite a few about, and they weren’t at all discouraged by our proximity, even when the kids entered the water…

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In the end, nobody swam. B was quite contemptuous of the other two: “Just duck in and swim. If I didn’t have this pot on I’d be swimming.”

I’m inclined to believe him.

(More about the newts in the next post)

After our Red Tarn interlude we continued to the point were the path crossed Browney Gill…

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Happy campers. Pike O’Blisco in the background.

And then set off across pathless terrain to the top of Little Stand…

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As a result of monthly walks with our friend Dr R, TBH has developed a sudden interest in Wainwright bagging, and was very excited when I erroneously told her that Little Stand is a Wainwright. I should have realised my error sooner: there is virtually no path at all on Little Stand. This is one of Wainwright’s suggested routes up Crinkle Crags, but obviously that isn’t enough to bring the crowds.

Although fair weather was forecast, we were expecting cloud cover to come in off the Irish Sea, and in fact it was already stealing in by the time we reached Little Stand.

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Scafells from Little Stand.

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Crinkle Crags from Little Stand.

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Fortunately, the kids approved of my camp-cooking and made short work of the pasta I’d brought. I found a comfortable slab of rock and sat by the tarn, using my old MSR water-filter, which requires a lot of pumping and is a bit laborious.

“Look at your Dad sat there with his legs crossed. He looks like Buddha. Look at him: he’s happy.”

I was.

I thought we might get some kind of sunset, but we had to content ourselves with a line of brightness out over the sea.

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It was at this point that the wheels started to come off, at least to some extent. The weather, as I say, was supposedly set fair. But it began to rain.

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TBH and A had already retreated to their sleeping-bags. The boys were charging around the tarn, attempting to circumnavigate it without leaving the rock at any point. I watched a pair of Peregrines circling round the steep slopes to the south, then, as the rain intensified, suggested to the boys that we hit the sack too.

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It was a pretty wet and windy night. The Quechua tent survived the wind fairly well, something I had been worried about, but the fly and the inner were pushed together at the back, which was facing the wind, so that the foot of our sleeping bags did get slightly damp.

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We woke next morning to find ourselves in the cloud. Porridge, tea and a quick pack-up and we were on our way. The general enthusiasm of the night before for climbing Crinkle Crags, Cold Pike and/or Pike O’Blisco had completely evaporated.

A bit of judicious compass work brought us back to the path at Browney Gill, where we finally dropped below the cloud.

At one point B decided to assist with the navigation:

“This is the right way, Dad. We came this way last night.”

“How do you know?”

“We passed that white sheep with a black lamb.”

From that point on, virtually every sheep we saw was white and was accompanied by a black lamb. B stuck to his guns, though, brazening it out by claiming that the same lamb and sheep were leading us down the mountain.

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Langdale Pikes.

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Pike O’Blisco.

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Happy campers again.

Perhaps things didn’t turn out quite as we had hoped, but it was still an excellent first outing. Here’s to many more.

Family Wild Camp: Little Stand

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.

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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