An occasion when resolve got rewarded14th February 2017
Webcams can be both a blessing and a curse. They are handy for seeing what weather and ground conditions are like in areas of hill country, especially during wintertime. That is fine if you definitely are heading somewhere and the conveyed message is promising but they can irritate if you find that you have missed out by staying at home.
That was how I felt during the second Sunday in July after a wonderful weekend trip to Buttermere. Having been away for several weekends on the trot, I might have been looking for an excuse to stay home and my seeing what I missed on that Sunday stiffened my resolve for the next weekend.
The added determination was needed for I was soaked on the way to Macclesfield’s train station. At the time, someone could have questioned the sanity of what I was doing. Conditions were much drier when I got to Windermere and the trend continued around Patterdale. It was if much of the heavy rain had by-passed Cumbria and there were signs that some had been around there given the stormy look of the leaden skies overhead me and the clag surrounding a number of fells.
Saturday evening did have occasional showers, but this was a far cry from what drenched me in Macclesfield. There was time to potter about Patterdale and Glenridding. The lower shores of Ullswater were frequented for long enough that I even got to see the fell tops seeing a some sunlight before the sun went down for the day. There was time for an evening meal too and it was a quieter, more intimate spot that took my fancy.
Other such purveyors would not have offered such peaceful surroundings. If I had the expectation that Patterdale was to be the home of soothing silence with only nature providing any soundtrack, it would have been unmet. There was music was to be heard from both Patterdale Hall and Patterdale Hotel. There was some recompense in the amusing sight of two young girls using inflatable guitars in a sort of sword fight in front of the latter of these. Still, any human noise was not so pervasive as to intrude everywhere, for there remained quieter corners to be found.
After the following morning’s breakfast, I set to a spot of strolling around the villages of Patterdale and Glenridding as well as Ullswater’s lower reaches in search of some photo opportunities. Though satisfying ones were thin on the ground, my retracing of steps showed me how peaceful the place could be without the sound of any revelling.
Retracing some of my steps back from Glenridding, I turned onto the lane leading to Grisedale at Grisedale Bridge. After threading along tarmac for a while, I found a footpath taking me up towards Thornhow End. The going was steep in the gathering heat of the day. Others had the same idea as I did but left them pass me so I could go at my own ease, taking in any views that were there to be savoured. It helped that those over Ullswater were opening out before me and that I could see where I had loitered both on the previous evening and earlier that morning.
Other views opened up on the way up to the top of Birks too. Looking across Grisedale led the eye towards the bulk of Birkhouse Fell and beyond that lay Sheffield Pike. Around these, a multitude of routes leads fellwalkers towards the top of Helvellyn and Catstye Cam. These are prospects that I have pondered more than once without making any of such designs real. Between them, there should be enough cause for a return sometime.
Cloud was set to frustrate photographic efforts as I continued along the summit of Birks and meant any views across Patterdale towards High Street were not of the sort of quality that makes me make anything but record shots. It was as if I were collecting reasons to return. St. Sunday Crag lay ahead of me and cloud broke to leave me sunlit sightings of both Helvellyn and Catstye Cam. The amount of exposure to be encountered by a walk along Striding Edge was there to be seen and everywhere seemed rocky at those higher reaches.
Once I had crested the top of St. Sunday Crag, there was a pressing matter that I to address once I had enough mobile phone signal: I needed to phone my father when there was someone with him to help with taking the call. He had little sense of where I was and I never let him in on my whereabouts either. He had mixed up his days of the week and was expecting me to visit him sooner than was planned. Quite what other walkers made of this Irishman speaking on a phone in such a spot, I’ll never know and it is not something that I usually do either. That times have changed since then means that I am less likely to do the same these days. After all, I visit hill country as a respite from everyday life. That was not so possible back then.
With that phone call made, I looked at what faced me if I kept going towards Cofa Pike for the ascent to the flat top of Fairfield. In the event, I decided that I did not fancy it and picked up an informal path at Deepdale Hause that would drop me to Grisedale Tarn. Steep sections made for careful progress until gradients levelled off and navigation towards the outlet from the tarn was devoid of the confirming line of a path. Breaks in the cloud brought more in the way of sunshine, though Patterdale remained under its cover.
There was time for a rest beside Grisedale Tarn before I continued with my walk. It was August 2005 when I last had been this way for I have photos from a time when I mainly pursued film photography. That day, I believe that I was headed for the top of Fairfield and it was to take up one of the most frighteningly eroded paths that I ever tried using. The way down took me to Patterdale by Hart Crag and Hartsop above How. It was that day that I rejected the idea of dropping down Cofa Pike to go over St. Sunday Crag after the ardour of my ascent. The seeds were sown for a walk that came to pass in the 2014, the one that I am describing here.
My next destination was Grisedale Hause from where I would drop into Hause Moss, a level area that by rights could host another tarn. In reality, this is but a bog with Fairfield’s gentler side rising up from it. The slopes remain steep and craggy but they are more hospitable than the foreboding cliffs that form its northern aspect. These were seen in the flesh for the most time earlier in my walk but they appear no less striking in the line drawings that Alfred Wainwright included in the first of his Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells. Fairfield is not a place about which to be blundering in poor visibility.
My first encounter with Fairfield was on a walk that started from Rydal Mount and took me over Heron Pike and Great Rigg, with the way to Ambleside going via Hart Crag, Dove Crag, High Pike, Low Pike and Low Sweden Bridge. It was a horseshoe route and both Great Rigg and Heron Pike loomed over me as I dropped down to Rowan’s Ground with Tongue Gill beside. This was an unpeopled place though it could have done with a breeze to take the edge off the warm afternoon sunshine.
Another crossing of Tongue Gill was needed to reach the track down to Mill Bridge on the A591. Once on the busy roadside, it was time to make for the junction from which a lane would take me into Grasmere. The heat meant that I was flagging a little by this stage so I appreciated the chance of a refreshing stop in the heart of the village before I began my way home. That initial test of resolve had paid dividends and with all my traipsing over these fells, there remains yet more to explore.
Return train journey from Macclesfield to Windermere. Bus service 508 from Windermere to Patterdale. Bus service 555 or 599 from Grasmere to Windermere.
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