Thursday, 11 January 2018

Newlands Valley and High Spy

Wednesday 20th December 2017

In rather dark and dingy weather I set off from the Borrowdale Youth Hostel and immediately went onto a path that I have never been on before, which is astonishing considering the number of times that I have stayed at the hostel. The path follows the edge of Johnny Wood before climbing up the fell passing Scaleclose Force on the way, but part way up I saw a footbridge over Scaleclose Gill and assumed the path went that way. It was a beautiful crossing in a delightful dell and proved too enticing to miss, and soon took me through Scaleclose Coppice to a waterfall, but this cannot be Scaleclose Force as it is not on Scaleclose Gill. It wasn’t until after a good look around the beautiful waterfall in its woodland landscape that I realised I wasn’t where I should have been as the right-of-way doesn’t cross the bridge over Scaleclose Gill. Crossing a wall I followed a faint path that took me onto the clear track that follows Tongue Gill up towards Rigghead Quarries. Formally this area would have been a noisy and very busy place full of people delving deep into the fell, but as I climbed I found it a quiet, but damp and misty place with levels heading deep into the mountain dripping with water.

The weather was slowly deteriorating as rain began to fall and I slowly made my way up the slaty path through the quarries. I popped my head into some of the levels, the abandoned mine openings, but wisely did not venture inside, and continued plodding up the wet path into the mist that had enveloped Rigg Head. Despite the poor weather this was a good climb with interesting scenery, but when I reached the top it deteriorated considerably as there is a bit of a quagmire that I needed to cross before reaching the Newlands Beck. I had decided that in view of the weather I would not climb any further at this point but make my way down into the Newlands Valley, however I had rather a bit of difficulty finding the path in the misty conditions. After wandering around for a bit and visiting Dalehead Tarn I eventually dropped steeply down grassy slopes to reach the beck and there, what had been unseen to me, was a slender, poorly maintained and deteriorating footpath. Wainwright describes this route up Dale Head as tedious, and although I’ve never taken this path before I am not going to be in a hurry to return.

The crags of High Spy, looming above me and topped by cloud, have littered the path with scree making this a tricky path to walk upon and seems to be crying out for someone to tidy it up and improve the path. However with hindsight I do wonder why I should have thought that as in its present state it is special, raw, untamed and wild. Many paths in the Lake District have been tamed and made too easy whereas this one does have some appeal in the fact that is not easy and is difficult to follow. Walking in the Lake District should not easy and it the walker should be sometimes challenged with rough and muddy paths. There are places in the Lake District where the paths have been ruined rather than fixed and maybe I shouldn’t have moaned about this path but rather rejoiced that it was still in its raw, untamed state. Eventually I reached the bottom of the valley where a good, wide track finally enabled me to put my feet up, or more accurately put my poles away and stride confidently, secure in my steps, along the valley to the little town of Little Town.

After a quick stop for lunch I headed along the path towards Hause Gate, which I had passed through just the day before coming down from Cat Bells, but I had no intention on reaching Hause Gate again. I wanted to take a seldom used path up Maiden Moor, but despite Wainwright’s admonition to ‘Watch for this junction’ I completely missed the junction, although the path may have been up a groove that I had spotted. It wasn’t until I reached the Yewthwaite Beck crossing that I realised I had missed the junction so I headed up into Yewthwaite Comb from that point through very boggy ground until I eventually found the clear path through bracken that heads round to the top of the crags that overlook Little Town. This path fades as it heads up to a sheepfold and beyond the terrain steepens considerably so that I had to toil all the way up until I reached the main path that traverses Maiden Moor.

Beyond me there were tremendous views in the improving weather over Cat Bells with the widening Newlands Valley on one side and Derwent Water on the other side. However there was a bitterly cold wind blowing across this exposed ridge so I had to wrap up warm before setting off along the ridge up to the summit of Maiden Moor. Properly clothed against the wind I felt wonderfully cosy and enjoyed walking over Maiden Moor under the brightening skies that marked a vast improvement on the dark and wet conditions that had marred the morning. After making my way along the ridge of Narrow Moor I headed up Blea Crag diverting across to the prominent cairn that has good views across Derwent Water and towards the cloud-covered Skiddaw. Continuing along the top of the ridge I still had quite a distance to go from Blea Crag as I walked past the extensive hinterland of Goat Crag until eventually I reached the impressive cairn that sits at the summit of High Spy.

Rather than continuing along the clear path towards Dalehead Tarn I took a branch that heads towards the top of Rigg Head thus bypassing the quagmire that I had crossed earlier. Returning down the path that I had climbed earlier in the day it was noticeable how much brighter and dryer was the path and surroundings. On reaching the Rigghead Quarries I took a branching path that I had spotted earlier passing more mine workings until I reached an old building that has been restored for use as a climbing hut. The OS map shows a path from this point following a wall, but on the ground there is no sign of it and instead a clear path descends straight downhill until it reaches the clear bridlepath that comes up from Grange. I kept heading downhill beyond the bridlepath thinking that I had been on the old, non-existent path hoping to find the right-of-way that I had wandered off at the beginning of the day.

Eventually I realised that I was on the path that I had actually taken earlier in the day so since it was now beginning to get dark I continued along the track beside Tongue Gill all the way down to the River Derwent where I turned south to follow the river back to the youth hostel. The weather on this walk had been rather challenging, particularly in the morning, and finding the path at the top of Newlands Beck had been difficult, but the weather had improved in the afternoon providing some great walking along the ridge from Maiden Moor to High Spy. It was a pity the sun sets so early at this time of the year as I really wanted to keep on walking after passing over High Spy with the weather improving so significantly, but that would have been foolish and led to my finishing the walk in the dark.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Cat Bells and Grange Fell

Tuesday 19th December 2017

Setting off on this walk into the heart of the Lake District I passed through the streets of the lovely Lakeland town of Keswick and onto a very familiar route, part of the Cumbria Way, that I have taken many times before across the fields to the west of Keswick, over the River Derwent into the village of Portinscale, down the road and through Fawe Park to the northern tip of Cat Bells. This is a great route, a favourite of mine that is handy for walks from Keswick to the western side of Derwent Water. Rather than heading down to the shore as I’d originally planned I decided to do a walk up Cat Bells for no other reason than the fact that it would be a shame to bypass such a lovely little fell, and the weather was also not too bad. It was overcast but mild, even warm for the time of year and I was soon stripping off my cold-weather clothing as the steep zig-zags of Woodford’s Path began to bite. It would not be unusual for temperatures like this at Easter in the Lake District, and was making the walk quite pleasant, despite the misty views, as I slowly made my way up the steep slope until I reached the north top of Cat Bells.

The sun was making fleeting attempts to break through the clouds but ultimately failed never to be seen again for the rest of the week. A band of rock had to be negotiated before reaching the first top where upon I discovered that rather than reaching the summit, as I’d hoped (walkers are always hopeful), there is an undulating ridge before the path steepens once again to climb up to the top of the fell that is defended by another band of rock. Even though this fell is half the height of the biggest Lakeland fells the rocky scrambles make you feel as though you have climbed a proper fell when finally you reach the summit and gaze out on the tremendous view across Derwent Water and through the Jaws of Borrowdale. On the other side of Cat Bells I took the path down to Hause Gate, but instead of continuing onto the brooding mass of Maiden Moor beyond I turned left down a steep, paved path that I don’t remember ever taking before despite being a very popular route.

On reaching Manesty I walked along the road for a short distance before taking a path that crosses very muddy fields that have been churned up by the hoofs of cows so I was relieved to reach the clear, dry path that is part of the Derwent Water Circular Walk. Boardwalks took me across the southern tip of Derwent Water, looking calm under the grey, overcast clouds, and turning right after crossing the River Derwent I eventually reached the Borrowdale Hotel. Just beyond the hotel a path took me through gorgeous woodland to the foot of Shepherds Crag attracted by the awesome rock that is much loved by climbers, however I am not a climber so I had to make a retreat until I could find the clear walker’s path that I had strayed from and continue up the side of the hill. On reaching the top of the ridge I turned left to head up to the summit of Shepherd’s Crag that has a good viewpoint over Derwent Water, though it is little visited, and indeed this was the first time that I had ever been to the top of Shepherd’s Crag.

Turning around to head back down I crossed the col onto faint paths that are probably little more than sheep trods onto a route recommended by Wainwright (although he said it was better done south to north). The dense bracken that make the initial stages of the climb trying in summer was no easier in winter with the dead bracken still forming a trip hazard as I tried to find a route through the escarpments of Ladder Brow. I have wanted to tackle the east ridge of Grange Fell for a long time and I did not find it easy with a challenging terrain of steep slopes and no paths to follow. On one occasion I climbed a steep hill only to find that it was a minor, insignificant top and the main hill was far away beyond a wide and deep bracken-filled depression. Eventually I managed to find a way up Comb Crags and reached the top of Brown Dodd where heather now replaced the bracken on a more gently undulating ridge that made for easier route-finding and took me to the top of Ether Knott. This is the highest point on Grange Fell but not the recognized summit which is further south.

As the weather deteriorated I slowly made my way across the increasingly moggy ground of broad upland until eventually I reached the foot of Jopplety How. Despite the damp, misty weather I couldn’t resist attempting the scramble up this steep-sided cone and was quite pleased with myself when I successfully reached the top. I remember climbing to the top of Jopplety How, in 2008, and it was satisfying to once again manage to get to the top before losing my nerve. Descending the way I had climbed I joined a clear path that crosses the fell to the recognized summit of Grange Fell, Brund Fell, before continuing on the path that gradually starts to descend into Borrowdale. It was still relatively early in the day, even for this time of year, but in the deteriorating weather it seemed to be already getting dark so I was more than happy to be coming off the fells at this time.

I was reminded of the previous time that I have descended Grange Fell on this path, in 2013, on a walk that was similar to this one, though with significant differences. On that occasion I had turned right into the Jaws of Borrowdale in order to prolong the walk, but this time I turned left onto the Watendlath path. I remember taking this path several times in my early visits to the Lake District but I don’t remember taking it in the last ten years, and I didn’t take it all the way into Rosthwaite on this occasion. Instead I took a delightful little path that I have never been on before and branches off towards the Stonethwaite valley. This great, little terrace path eventually joins the valley path beside the river and rather than head back towards Rosthwaite I turned in the opposite direction until I reached the path that crosses Stonethwaite Beck to pass through the Stonethwaite village and thus into Borrowdale. Though the weather may have been overcast for much of this walk it climbed two good, medium height fells and gave me an enjoyable walk in the Lake District that stretched my legs and took me onto paths that I’ve never taken before.