Thursday, 13 December 2018

Blencathra and Bannerdale Crags

Saturday 7th July 2018

When I was doing my High Fells Challenge in the Lake District last May there were three fells above two and a half thousand feet that I failed to summit, and one of those was Blencathra in the Northern Fells. With plenty of great weather last summer it was easy to decide to return to the Lake District eight weeks after I’d left parking near the Blencathra Centre at the end of Blease Road. The weather was gorgeous as I headed back down the road to a permissive path that follows the fell wall avoiding Blease Farm and to Blease Gill where there was stunning scenery looking up the stream and behind me across the valley into the albeit hazy heart of the Lake District. I was seeing a very different landscape to that I had seen before where bracken had now sprung up and in abundance while the ground was bone dry with yellowing grass clear evidence of the dry weather during the previous eight weeks. I had difficulty finding a path as I climbed beside the stream having initially attempted the east bank as per Wainwright’s instructions wading through dense bracken that prompted me to cross Blease Gill where it was safe, just below a small waterfall.

The latest edition of Wainwright’s guides, called the Walker’s Edition, recommends a route high on the west bank but I could not find a path and the ground was very steep making walking really tricky. Eventually I dropped down to the stream thinking I could scramble up the gill, but Wainwright was right when he said “The bed of the gill is impassable in its lower reaches.” Initially it was great fun climbing up the gill with my progress aided by the scarcity of water, but I soon came across problems that forced me out of the gill. At a junction I took the right branch that was initially dry, though covered in moss, which enabled me to continue climbing up the bed of the gill, but soon this became too wet to continue and yet I did. I had thought Wainwright recommended this route in the bed of the gill, but it seems he actually recommended merely following on the scree beside the gill. Once within the walls of the gill I could not get out so I struggled on while trying to prevent my feet getting wet, as my footwear had been chosen to keep my feet cool, not necessarily dry. Eventually I emerged into the canyon that Wainwright describes as a gulch, Wild West stuff that is wider and filled with loose stones and much easier to climb than the wet gill.

At the head of the gulch I climbed a grass bank out of the gill and onto the ridge that connects the main body of Blencathra to Gategill Fell where once again I had views across the Lake District after being stuck in the bed of Blease Gill for so long, but unfortunately while in the gill clouds had covered the skies above Blencathra and robbed me of the sunshine that I had enjoyed at the start of the day. Nevertheless it was warm and great to be high up on a mountain so I turned right along the ridge passing over a ‘rock turret’ and down a short distance to the outcrop of Knott Halloo where the views over the Lake District were great, but spoilt by the lack of bright sunshine. Turning around I headed towards Blencathra and up onto the summit ridge where a wide path took me to Hall’s Fell Top, the busy summit of Blencathra. Not lingering I turned north to skirt the edge of the of the steep terrain overlooking Scales Tarn before descending this steep ground on a badly eroded path that I had only taken because I’d never gone this way before, and I won’t be inclined to take this path again. The path did slowly improve and eventually I reached Scales Tarn where I had planned to turn towards Sharp Edge heading back up to Blencathra and ultimately back to my car.

This would have made the walk far too short so instead I descended beside Scales Beck continuing to follow the stream when the clear path veers off so that I dropped down to the young River Glenderamackin where after crossing I found an old miner’s track. I followed this clear track down the valley and remembered that I had taken this track three years before in the opposite direction coming off to climb up to the top of Mousthwaite Comb. On that occasion I had seen that trees had recently been planted in the valley but now I was disappointed to find many of these trees had not survived the storms of December 2015 and later. Eventually, just before I reached Bannerdale Beck, I turned off the track and climbed through bracken towards the east ridge of Bannerdale Crags, which is merely a shallow, grassy ridge until upon reaching the crags the ground steepens and a path zigzags between rock and heather snaking past old mine buildings and occasionally requiring a bit of scrambling until eventually I reached the top. There I had lunch gazing out on the view while sun tried desperately to break through the cloud cover.

Passing the summit of Bannerdale Crags I descended to Glenderamackin Col where the ominous Sharp Edge lies tauntingly in view. I had considered missing out this treacherous climb, but the sight of it was too tempting so I branched off the main path onto a path that is marked on maps but hardly ever used now below Foule Crag and round to the foot of Sharp Edge. With mounting excitement I collapsed my poles, girded by loins and began the ascent of Sharp Edge in almost perfect conditions with not only dry, but warm, rock under my feet and against my hands. This climb is a great challenge and I enjoyed every step up the steep, knife-edged ridge while taking my time and being sure of every foot and hand hold as I slowly made my way up to the top of Sharp Edge. Upon reaching the end of the edge I ignored the well-trodden path that skirts the top of Tarn Crags but made my way up to the top of Atkinson Pike before crossing the saddle to return to the summit of Blencathra. In comparison the descent was a simple stroll as I made my way along the summit ridge and down the broad grassy slopes of Blease Fell.

I had easily justified the three and a half hour drive to the Lake District with a fabulous walk despite the clouds hanging over Blencathra for most of the day. I should have checked the correct route up to Wainwright’s canyon in Blease Gill and avoided the tricky gill scramble that I made while trying to avoid getting my feet wet. This had been my intended route up back in May and I wonder how much of the bed of the gill I would have attempted then. It was good to make a return visit to the east ridge of Bannerdale Crags having climbed by that route only once before, in 2008, and Sharp Edge was the icing on the cake for this walk that made it all worthwhile. Blencathra is a fantastic mountain and I was really disappointed when I had failed to climb it two months before as part of my High Fells Challenge, so I was really happy to have finally done the walk that I had intended on doing in May.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Stanton Moor

Monday 28th May 2018

On the Bank Holiday Monday at the end of May this year I decided that I would do a walk in the Peak District so after catching a train to Matlock I headed out of the town on the Limestone Way. I had walked along part of this trail the year before after walking along the High Peak Trail, and on that occasion I had come off the trail in the tiny village of Bonsall, but now I was heading to Bonsall. First, I climbed out of Matlock through gorgeous wildflower meadows that were full of buttercups and red clover, as well many other wild flowers. It was misty and overcast overhead, but it was already quite warm so I was sure this mist would soon burn off. Contouring around Masson Hill I began to descend through lovely woodland on a track that seemed like it had been around for centuries. It was lined with cow parsley, red campion and yellow archangel in great abundance and provided me with a grand entrance into Bonsall where I passed through the previous year. On more familiar ground I climbed back out of Bonsall on the Limestone Way, through Upper Town and as I crossed the eastern slopes of Blakelow Hill blue sky began to appear overhead as the clouds slowly thinned with the warming of the day, although it would remain misty for another couple of hours.

At Luntor Rocks I finally came off the Limestone Way and headed down into the village of Winster where I picked up some lunch from the local shop before continuing north down the hill, across the usually boggy head of a valley that was now dry thanks to the hot weather, and steeply up the hill opposite. On reaching the road near Birchover Quarry I was very close to Stanton Moor, which was the target of this walk, and where I had previously visited just once before way back in 1999 and never described on this blog. This had been a very short walk centred on the moor so nineteen years later I was now finally returning to Stanton Moor on a longer walk that would take me all day. Entering the moor I turned left and followed the clear paths through heather moorland until I reached the Cork Stone, which has metal loops built into it that would enable someone to climb all the way up to the top of this large rock, but I didn’t give it a try. Instead I headed out onto the moor passing large groves of rhododendron before reaching the trig point situated at the highest point on the moor.

After lunch I headed back past the Cork Stone and onto the main path north through Stanton Moor and had a bit of a wander coming off the path at one point simply to see where the branch went. When I realised it went back to the trig point I retraced my steps and continued north until I reached the Nine Ladies Stone Circle where once again I wandered through the now wooded landscape looking for the King Stone that is marked on maps. Eventually I gave up and turned around only to find the King Stone right next to the Nine Ladies. Heading east I sought a tower that lies on the edge of the moor, however, I have no idea what it was built for so I headed north and eventually came out of Stanton Moor. Entering Sheepwalk Wood I followed a path that was probably not the right-of-way but did take through the usually boggy woodland all the way to the northern end where there are some fabulous crags that are clearly the remains of quarrying. On coming onto a road I followed this all the way into Rowsley while overhead the cloud and mist had finally cleared leaving a warm sunny day.

On leaving Rowsley I joined the route of the Derwent Valley Heritage Way, which at this point also follows the course of the old railway through the Peak District between Matlock and Buxton. This was a lovely section running alongside the River Derwent through woodland that was full of the sweet smell of wild garlic until all too soon I reached the northern terminus of the preserved steam railway of Peak Rail. Even though nineteen years ago I had taken the steam train and there was a train waiting in the station now I continued to walk down the valley through dreary farmer’s fields, and soon regretted it as the train passed me by. Instead I walked through the dull fields in the hot sunshine until I reached the railway station in Matlock a couple of minutes late to catch the train.  With an hour to wait for the next train I decided rather than sit around in Matlock I would continue walking along the Derwent Valley Heritage Way passing out of the town and climbing steeply up High Tor. This climb was very exhausting in the hot weather so I was relieved when the path finally levelled off and I diverted onto a fabulous traverse across the face of High Tor cliffs.

I had taken this path in 2011 during a family visit to Matlock Bath and was keen to revisit this vertiginous path that is perched on a ledge high above the Derwent Valley. I love terrace paths such as these even though I am not great with heights, possibly because they give me a little thrill of exposure, but little chance of falling from the wide ledge. All too soon I was past the worst of the terrors and back on the main path descending far too steeply for my poor knees that were still recovering from the hammering they had taken in the Lake District at the beginning of May. The path eventually brought me into the busy tourist trap of Matlock Bath where I got some chips and finally caught the train. This was a lovely walk to Stanton Moor from Matlock and back, although I preferred it when it was overcast and cool as the weather got rather too hot for walking in the afternoon. It was great to finally return to the fascinating Stanton Moor having wanted to return for several years, and I especially enjoyed the walk over High Tor, even though it was unplanned, as I have wanted to walk from Matlock to Matlock Bath ever my visit in 2011.