It's amazing how things develop. After all, this blog started out as a news section for the rest of the website. With encouragement from readers, it has become a place for relating my
countryside wanderings and musings about the world of outdoor activity. Walking, cycling and photography all are part of what I do out-of-doors and, hopefully, they will continue to
inspire me to keep adding entries on here. Of course, there needs to be something of interest to you, dear reader, too and I hope that's the case. Thanks for coming.
Over this weekend, I have been watching Life of a Mountain: Helvellyn on Vimeo. That meant renting the title for 24 hours at a cost of £7 and I have a copy of the DVD on order from Striding Edge too. The latter action was a result of watching the online version though I somewhat mourn the loss of SteepEdge where I used to buy digital versions of such wares.
The film was made by Terry Abraham and is the last of a trilogy concentrating on best loved Cumbrian fells. Scafell Pike and Blencathra have featured before now and I have copies of those too. The latest installation is long with a running time of nearly two and a half hours but it is packed with such visual delights that the length is deserved. This still feels a much tighter and less padded out piece of work. The others had me going back to The Cairngorms in Winter with Chris Townsend, Abraham’s first accomplished effort and he also has shorter films introducing parts of the Lakeland Fells.
The Helvellyn film re-uses contributors from earlier films like Alison O’ Neill, David Powell-Thompson, Stuart Maconie and Mark Richards but there is a host of other new ones like Peter Gibbs, Mary-Ann Ochota and Julia Bradbury among others. Even the Royal Air Force and Ordnance Survey get included. They all complement the backdrop of dramatic scenery accompanied by a stirring soundtrack, especially the action sequences involving the RAF, skiing down to Red Tarn from the summit of Helvellyn or paragliding off the same starting point. That the footage came from a time before the present pandemic was a reminder of how things should be.
The whole combination has re-ignited a desire to walk around Helvellyn that has lain dormant for too long. What that needs is determination and opportunity to accompany ongoing patience needed by the course of the ongoing pandemic. After all, I have visited Patterdale and Ullswater a few times now and they were so heavily featured in the film that I at the time wondered if it was about them and not very much about the mountain (that probably is what happens when you need include something on the lives of people living in the area). Nevertheless, 2020 did not involve a Lakeland visit for me so a return is not before time and having a lure to draw you through darker times has to be a good thing.
2016 was a very full year. There was a lot of Irish business to be completed along with two political upheavals and a new job that I now realise was not a match for me. Towards salving the last of these, there were no less than three overseas trips with on each to Austria, Norway and Mallorca. Even with these and maybe because of them, I still did not feel that I getting the emotional space that I craved so much. It set the scene for changes in 2017 that led to the start of a career break.
This post tells the tale of another trip that preceded the personal tumult of 2017 while coming after the global turbulence of 2016 and in the midst of finishing the personal work for the year. It too was a reminder that not all was well with my lifestyle and there was another in the form of an inability to stop spending on some things as if the future never existed. Looking back on this now, I realise that it was caused by a lack of personal emotional space caused by having too much happening in my life. That theme was to result in some adjustment in subsequent years.
To avert any loss in motivation, I booked a single room in YHA Ambleside so I travelled up there by train and bus on Saturday. A later departure meant that I arrived in the dark but that did not stop me strolling about the place. After all, the shore was near at hand and I even got into the heart of Ambleside which was a kilometre or two away; in spite of the name, the hostel is found at Waterhead on the shore of Lake Windermere. A fish supper was enjoyed too, a rare thing for me these days. For the way back, I should have had my headtorch for going along a darkened lane though I came to no harm because of my risk taking.
After all that, I settled down for the night and arose next morning to a pleasing scene. Between 08:00 and 09:00, the sun leisurely arose. Before this all started, I made a solitary photo that recorded a peaceful scene on Windermere with the sky having a rosy hue about frosted grassland. This also preceded breakfast and I was lured out again after that to savour a scene whose tinting was changing from red to blue. Cloud cover steadily broke as I did so and, after collecting my belongings and checking out, it was time to await a bus to Great Langdale.
The bus dropped me at its terminus near the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel. Frosted grass told a story of a preceding cold night on the valley bottom and the following morning was little warmer. This was more than a little noticed as I pottered along the flat ground by Great Langdale Beck between Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel and New Dungeon Ghyll Hotel. In fact, I was reproaching my forgetfulness when it came to having gloves. Local shepherds were moving their flock, something had me wondering if such an act could not have been done on another day. After letting them on their way, I shortened the distance to Stickle Ghyll while warming my hands as best as I could.
Following what had been a largely quiet interlude, I joined the busy path up to Stickle Tarn. The gradient was testing and it helped little that the perceived throng stopped me from stopping as much as I would have liked. Passing and re-passing the same people needs energy so I was not willing to allow that to happen so readily. The others were bound form the tarn with some continuing to the top of Pavey Ark. After the fleshpot, quieter surroundings were sought and found. The distraction had its uses for my hands warmed on the ascent while the presence of snow patches attempted to belie any sense of the day having become that little bit warmer too.
Looking back on what happened next, it might have been that the expected right of way was not a path on the ground but even having a GPS receiver could not stop me veering off it. A determined effort could have addressed this as I was to find afterwards in similar circumstances on the moors between Bamford and Hathersage in Derbyshire. Then, I stuck with the line almost regardless of what lay underfoot. Returning to its Cumbrian predecessor, I took the hint and adopted a freestyle approach. In any case, there were multiple paths so it was a case of picking one that went in the desired direction and the benign weather allowed for such an approach.
My wandering course took me around by Blea Rigg and Great Castle How. Though it was afternoon at this point, it was around these that I gained the most satisfaction. Few were about so I could amble as I liked and the momentary sense of relaxation was just what I needed with wonderful views round about me. Windermere could be seen to the south while both Codale Tarn and Easedale Tarn lay below me in the growing afternoon shadows. It did not matter that I ought to have been beside them and not above them as I was.
What began to occupy my mind was finding a way down to the eastern end of Easedale Tarn. Once the initial steepness of the chosen descent was past, it was replaced by more gentle slopes as I negotiated the way to the track by Sourmilk Gill. The sun may have been lowering all the while but I had daylight with me and there were a few others passing the way but in nothing like the numbers encountered on the way up to Stickle Tarn.
All navigational travails were behind me for the clarity of a defined track aided passage as much as the onset of a quiet lane. The surrounding land was falling increasingly into shadow but my timing was good when I got to Grasmere. There even was some time for self-tidying before the next bus to Windermere. The air may have been cooling again but I was on my way soon enough.
That afternoon had provided a much needed interlude that was the forbear of longer ones like a subsequent springtime sabbatical and a longer career break. The identification of a need for more personal emotional space became a search that remains ongoing. It even seeps into how I approach work these days and a spot of quiet time among Cumbrian fells became the start of an ongoing journey.
What has not happened so far is the incorporation of repeat visits to that itinerary. Vantage points like Lingmoor Fell, Pavey Ark and Harrison Stickle all take my fancy and should add the familiarity whose absence was felt while figuring out what subjects were in the photos selected for this trip report. Doing so in similarly sunny and serene condition would add to such experiences and I would return in hope of such things. Life still needs quieter moments.
Train journey between Macclesfield and Windermere. Bus service 555 from Windermere to Ambleside and from Grasmere to Windermere. Bus service 516 from Ambleside to Great Langdale.
More than a decade ago, I had planned on a Sunday day trip to Snowdonia only for my plans to get extinguished by a cancelled train service. By these stage, I was in Manchester so I reviewed my options and continued to Windermere instead. The required train fare refund had to wait for another time because one operator (Virgin West Coast) was unable to refund a ticket sold by another (First North Western) and this was for standard tickets sold at a train station. Nevertheless, any associated frustration was to be pacified by what my chosen alternative was to offer.
From Windermere, I made my way to Ambleside by bus and a hike over Loughrigg Fell ensued. That exploit granted me stunning views over Grasmere on what turned out to be a wonderful evening. It must have been May when all this happened for hawthorn bushes were shrouded in white blossoms. The display was one of the best that I have ever seen. It all just begged for some photographic attention. However, in those days of film photography, my choice of film made for results that were redder than was ideal.
Still, that was not realised at the time and I descended to Loughrigg Terrace and continued past Rydal Water to reach the A591 in a very satisfied mood. Roadside walking returned me to Ambleside and I retraced my journey home again. The disruption was forgotten and only the actual photographic results were to send the idea of a return visit into my head.
It was 2009 when I next crossed Loughrigg Fell while walking from Coniston to Ambleside. Though the hike included sightings of Coniston Water, Tarn Hows and Windermere, there was none that included either Grasmere or Rydal Water. That had to wait until 2014 when the promise of decent weather of a Saturday was enough to lure me north again for the last instalment of a summertime Cumbrian walking trip hat-trick.
Once in Cumbria, my first port of call was Orrest Head. Despite its close proximity to Windermere’s train station, it took me until 2007 to discover this delight. The chance of a quick return on another fine sunny day was too good to overlook. That it was a short walk up there made it a possibility for using up time while awaiting a bus. Now, I wonder if it was the cause of my deciding to catch a later bus than planned for it was idyllic even with others about the beauty spot. Those westward views over Windermere towards the Langdale Pikes and their eastward counterparts featuring nearby fells like Red Screes were stunning on the day. Hopes of getting pleasing photos around Loughrigg Fell were raised.
Once in Ambleside, I pottered out along the A591 nearly as far as Rydal Bridge before I dropped onto a public footpath leading to steeping stones over the River Rothay and onto a minor road. Walking poles were essential for a river crossing that required the summoning of added resolve. The apparent chance that this could be a long sunny evening was enough to ensure that.
Turning left along the road, I continued as far as Fox Ghyll before leaving tarmac again to commence an ascent of Loughrigg Fell. A family group had similar ideas and I happily left them to amble at their own enjoyable pace. In the warm sunshine, the climb was sweaty business devoid of wider views until I got beyond surrounding woodland. Then, they really opened out before me. With enough height gained, the gradients happily eased too. All still looked promising.
The route that I took puzzles me now it went back on itself and I could have pottered along the side of Rydal Water in the sunshine before reaching Loughrigg Terrace for its views over Grasmere. Crossing Rothay Park in Ambleside was another option though I now wonder if I was after another path that I missed on my way out from Ambleside. That is the more likely explanation.
My abiding memory of the my time on Loughrigg Fell that day is one of disappointment at having been caught by advancing cloud. However, looking through my library of photos from the time makes it apparent that my recollection is being selective. Any breaks in the cloud cover allowed the sun to peep through and spotlight the landscape. It may not have been the widescreen lighting that I had in mind but there were plenty of delightful moments too. In any case, cloud shadow added to the scenes before me in their own way.
In hindsight, it appeared that I was being every photographic possibility but the one that brought me to Loughrigg Fell in the first place. At times, the sun shone brightly on nearby eastern fells like Red Screes, High Pike, Low Pike and Heron Pike. Looking at the resulting photos now is some recompense for the fact that the repeat of that grand view over Grasmere towards Dunmail Rise was laden with too much shadow for my liking.
That presence of cloud shadow did not deter me from having a go at capturing the scene before me. It was as I dropped down from Loughrigg Fell to the road that take me to the nearest YHA hostel, that any spotlighting really came to a halt. The cloud thickened and the sky darkened all the while as I made my way to my lodgings for the night.
Even so, I still had designs on a stroll towards Elterwater once I had sorted things at the hostel. Soon enough, I found what the cloud was to bring and I had overlooked bringing a rain coat. still, I got back under cover without too much of a wetting. A night of heavy rain lay ahead.
It still was raining well when I rose the next morning so the atmosphere felt rather melancholic and autumnal. In order to late the rain pass, I dallied after breakfast while packing together my things. It was not to be so I walked along the minor road to Grasmere in the rain. Traffic was light and I was well equipped with waterproofs so the hike was no chore. The peace and quite was more than a compensation. If the sun had been out instead, it even could have been quite special in its own way though I suspect that Elterwater would have drawn me instead.
All in all, there is unfinished business on Loughrigg Fell so a return remains a possibility. Last December’s trip to Cumbria could have addressed matters had a walk from Great Langdale to Grasmere not been the bigger attraction in my mind. After all, I never had seen the Langdale Pikes up close in sunshine; cloud always pervaded whenever I was around those parts before then. The same might be said for Elterwater too so the reasons for new visits remain.
Return train journey between Macclesfield and Windermere. Bus service 555 or 599 from Windermere to Ambleside. Bus service 555 or 599 from Grasmere to Windermere.
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 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 Grisdale 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 to 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 lead the eye towards the bulk of Birkhouse Fell and beyond that lay Sheffield Pike. Around these, a multitude of routes lead fellwalkers towards the top of Helvellyn and Catstye Cam. These are prospects that I have pondered more than once 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 was 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 mean 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 hospital that 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 of 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.
The last few trips to the Lake District have had the same thing in common: overnight stays at a YHA hostel. The latest was last December when I stayed in Ambleside and walked from Great Langdale to Grasmere. Before that, I need to cast my mind back to the summer of 2014 when there were three trips to the Lake District. The last of them saw me revisit Orrest Head before heading to Ambleside for walk from there over Loughrigg Fell to Langdale YHA. Before that, it was the turn of Patterdale from where I walked over St. Sunday Crag en route for Grasmere.
The first of the lot took me to Buttermere and that is the subject of this long overdue entry. It was the first weekend in July and Le Tour de France had its Grand Départ in Yorkshire. As someone drawn to quieter spots, Cumbria was my choice and some sunny weather was promised. The frenzy about the cycle race meant that witnessing the thing took more organisation and more exposure to crowds than was to my taste. After all, life then was such that a spot of peace was in order.
It must have been near enough the middle of the day when I arrived but that did nothing to stop me having designs on walking along the ridge comprising Seat, High Crag, High Stile and Red Pike. While I made for Scarth Gap, I eventually thought better of such a scheme and stuck with Haystacks instead. It was not to be a waste of a day with plenty of sunny weather.
It had been August 2003 when I last visited Buttermere so a return visit was long overdue. Then, I struck on along the road for Honistor Pass before following paths and tracks towards Grange and the shores of Derwentwater, along which I returned to Keswick where I stayed the night.
This time, I followed the track to the northern end of Buttermere with views of Fleetwith Pike looming large beyond it. Next, I picked up a higher track through Burtness Wood though it later dropped down to the lake shore. It was at Peggy’s Bridge where I picked up the track leading to Scarth Gap. In the afternoon sunshine, my surroundings looked resplendent.
There may have been designs on cutting out Seat altogether in favour of a more direct route to High Crag but there was no obvious path to see so I continued to Scarth Gap. It was when I reached that saddle that I reviewed my plans against the time of day after peering down towards Ennerdale and chose an ascent of Haystacks instead.
That decision was the cause of my needing to scramble up a few sets of rocky crags, thinking that it certainly was not going to be my way down again. If I had designs on a cheeky side trip before going along the intended ridge, this could have been a spanner in the works. It was just as well that good sense had thwarted that idea.
Once I was past those crags, the going became gentler and Great Gable lay in shadow. Innominate Tarn was passed and I sought our Blackbeck Tarn, my next landmark. After that, I was set to cross Warnscale Beck before starting a steep relentless descent down the slopes of Fleetwith Pike. Eventually, the gradients relented around Warnscale Bottom so I had gentler progress from there to Gatesgarth Farm. There, I joined the road for a short stretch before finding the track to Peggy’s Bridge for a repeat stroll along the banks of Buttermere in the still evening air.
With most gone about their evening business elsewhere, one could dawdle and enjoy the uninterrupted peace. When I finally got to the YHA, I sorted out my bed for the night before heading out again. With the evening peace and the sound of Sour Milk Gill and of Herdwick sheep filling the air, I scarcely could withdraw from being out of doors until it was well dark. Doubts over interior lighting was the only thing that could draw me indoors from such a soothing ambience.
The morning dawned with a mixture of clouds and sun. After breakfast, I started pottering about to make the most of it. The shore of Buttermere was revisited while I soaked in views of the surrounding fells. Though cloud continued to build, I paid a visit to Crummock Water. Though the bus had followed its shores the day before, my stroll showed its setting to even more pleasant than that of Buttermere itself and it helped that my vantage point was as good as deserted.
Looking around me before I left for home again, ideas began to coalesce that yet could lead to new trips. Traipsing up the steep sides of High Crag, High Stile and Red Pike one at a time would make for multiple trips or a pleasant longer stay and nearby Grasmoor and Robinson offer additional temptation too. It was a weekend that offered so much: pleasant weather, wonderful scenery and plenty of peace and quiet. Given my current state, a return seems long overdue.
Return train trip between Macclesfield and Penrith. Bus service X4 or X5 between Penrith and Keswick. Bus service 77 or 77A between Keswick and Buttermere.