Clambering over Cumbrian crags22nd June 2009
Because my head for heights is far from being in the top tier, I usually watch the gradients that I am crossing so to avoid ever being frozen by fright. The same consideration means that scrambling is not one of my outdoor pursuits and may explain why climbing holds no appeal for me. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that I never ever end up successfully negotiating rocky crags while on the way up or down a slope. A walk from Kirkstone to Windermere a week ago on Sunday was a case in point and the question that continually entered my mind on the more challenging stretches pertained to finding a way to negotiate something rather than whether it was possible or impossible for me. To my own mind, that’s a positive step forward from the usual trepidation. The trick is always to remain safe either when going up and, especially so, on the way down. There was only one occasion on the descent when I asked myself whether there was a way around a difficulty. In the event, there was and I gingerly got myself around it with a certain amount of satisfaction.
Starting from the Kirkstone Pass meant that I already had a head start with regard to altitude but it did not make things effortless. The way up to St. Raven’s Edge was steep and crags underfoot made for careful footwork on the way. Once atop the Edge, the gradients eased markedly. In fact, there was some gentle height loss as I continued until it was gained again on the way up Pike How. It took longer to reach the summit of Stony Cove Pike than I might have liked, but the longer distance made for easier slopes and opportunities to take in the fells round about me. To my east, Ill Bell and its fellow summits of Yoke, Froswick, Park Fell and Thornthwaite Crag lay in the shade while I was enjoying the sunshine. The last of these hosts a beacon that was clearly visible and all were to get their turn in the sun as the day wore on. The fells to the west, those lining Scandale or making up the Fairfield horseshoe, already were catching the sun.
The gradient of the descent from Stony Cove Pike to Threshthwaite Mouth was far from kind and I was set to feel the effects on my thigh muscles for several days afterwards. Nevertheless, steady and calm progress was the order of the day as I got myself down. This is also where I met the aforementioned crux of the entire walk: a downward step that looked far too high and the idea of a leap didn’t appeal to me one bit given the amount of rock that was on view. Too many stories about what happens to those who bump themselves have detained my attention for me to take risks like that. Even so, retaining a cool head and taking my time allowed for a less adventurous or foolhardy diversion about the obstacle; all was done with presence of mind rather than terror, easier to do when you know that no one is being held up by your deliberations.
It’s one thing to be negotiating crags on a steep hillside but deciding the route you will be following next at the same sounds like overdoing multitasking. The ardour of the way down and the sight of steep slopes ahead reinforced my view that picking up a path towards Troutbeck village was the best thing to be doing with the time that was available to me; a higher route around by Ill Bell tempted, but sense prevailed and it was stored on an ideas shelf that has been getting depleted lately. That gives me time to ponder the route and starting from Hartsop may be a better way to approach things, even if it means more ascent.
The path down Park Fell Head wasn’t exactly conspicuous but having a handrail such as Trout Beck does ensure that navigational nerves were held at bay. In fact, it wavers between distinctness and non-appearance along its length, depending on whether the terrain is stony or boggy (a great path eraser). Progress was steady as I emerged from the breezy coolness of the tops into the heat of the valley bottom. Walls were met and passed and photos were taken as distance until The Tongue became ever shorter. The Tongue itself took a while to pass and I started to encounter the first folk since Threshthwaite Mouth. A bridge that I needed to cross over Trout Beck was passed in error, so backtracking was to find the slate construct and get back on track. The inclination of the residents of Troutbeck Park to put up signs that aren’t the friendliest to walkers (the fact that paths have been diverted since my map was published didn’t help either…) caused me to opt for a diversion for Hagg Bridge that avoided any cause for upset.
Before Ing Bridge, I cheekily hopped east to the track that is known variously as High Street or Longmire Road for different parts of its length. By this point, any glimpses at my watch weren’t reassuring me so I was unable to devote much time to stopping and staring at my surroundings on what was a fabulous evening; it would have been deserved. The result was that I made for the A592 perhaps sooner than I might have done to ensure that I caught my train home. Apart from the surface underfoot, it’s not that as walker unfriendly as might be supposed with footways appearing for some stretches with others having unmetalled paths shoehorned between the edge of the carriageway and the field fences; I think that the latter is a consequence of National Trust ownership of the adjacent land. The A591 was joined at Troutbeck Bridge with a check for any useful buses. There weren’t any so I maintained my on foot course for Windermere’s train station, getting there with some time to spare. On the way home, I was allowed a chance to steady myself after the blistering progress at the end of my walk. I am still asking myself if I tried to squeeze in too much, but that’s a consideration for planning future escapades. The day had been another cracker and very different in feel to my previous Cumbrian outing with its mix of quieter places and more challenging terrain, the latter perhaps ensuring the former.
Return rail journey from Macclesfield to Windermere with coach transfers between Macc and Wilmslow due to engineering works (changes at Manchester, Preston and Oxenholme on the outbound trip and at Oxenholme and Manchester on the way back). Bus 517 from Windermere to the Kirkstone Inn.
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Never tried Cumbria for walking. But after this I might just give it a go.