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Great Gable from Honister

The easiest route to Great Gable's summit


The bird floated on the air seemingly without effort as it surveyed the rough empty fellside beneath. Dad was sure it was a buzzard and we both watched it for some time until, with the late afternoon sun catching its brownish feathers it drifted slowly off over Styhead Tarn's still waters in the direction of Borrowdale.

It was on one of those seemingly endless summer days that we'd stood just above Sty head after a long day in the hills. Having been up Scafell Pike and Lingmell, we'd descended the Corridor Route to be faced with the choice of either returning to Langdale or following the path up to Great Gable. This being a summit that had so far eluded us, we ignored the vast distance to the car and wordlessly set off.

The shadows were lengthening in the valleys and the Sun was approaching the glittering Irish sea as we reached the summit, to be treated to a panorama of lakes and fells bathed in a quality of light not often seen...

The route described here is far shorter and easier than that from Langdale via the Pike and doesn't involve a dusk descent of Rossett Gill either - this being an experience that I cannot highly recommend.

Following the clear path from Honister slate Mine signposted to Great Gable and Haystacks, I headed firstly up steep steps and then more gradually up a long straight section, leaving the deep defile of Honister below and crossing more open fellsides. Soon I came to a section of path that was raised up like causeway for a short distance over some boggy looking ground. Here, the left hand path should be taken, unless of course Haystacks is the objective, in which case, carry straight on.

This track led across very easy, grassy slopes below Grey Knotts and offered spectacular views down the Buttermere valley towards the sea and over the knobbly tops of Haystacks to the rugged slopes of Pillar which rose massively ahead. Along this stretch, I got chatting to a couple who'd stopped to take a photo at the same spot. They turned out to be Roger and Jane from Lincoln who shared my enthusiasm for the Lake District and we decided to team up for the walk up Great Gable.

For most of this section a distant post is visible on the skyline away ahead as if to guide the way and it is upon reaching this that you first see the day's objective. Great Gable appears suddenly ahead as a great stone sentinel guarding the western approaches of Lakeland. This is Gable Grag and its appearance is one of impregnability from this angle. Roger scarcely believes me that our route involves no rock climbing!

From this point we crossed a stile and headed towards where the distant path could be seen ascending the ridge of Green Gable. My companions had been up nearby High Crag a couple of days before in mist and rain and could hardly believe the change in the weather. There was a cold wind blowing but it was very clear. This part here would need some care in mist though - there were marker cairns and the odd iron post but the path faded away for large parts of the walk to Gillercombe Head which separates Green Gable from Brandreth.

Passing a couple of small tarns on our right we began the ascent of Green Gable. The path was once again clear and expansive views had appeared on the far side of the ridge. Below was the head of Borrowdale while Glaramara and the Langdale Pikes appeared across the valley. Further round was the dark and rugged Scafell Range.

As we followed the ridge steadily up, we were joined by the path from Borrowdale bringing quite a few more people - the route so far from Honister had been relatively quiet.

The small summit of Green Gable at 2603 feet, is marked by a stone shelter, a cairn on the highest point and some breathtaking views. The panorama from here is, I think, as good as that from its higher neighbour with the exception of course that Wastwater cannot be seen from here. Instead the imposing crags of Great Gable fill the view in that direction.

The vista from Pillar and across the head of Ennerdale to the Buttermere Fells is especially beautiful and in the other direction can be seen the mirror like Sty Head and Sprinkling Tarns beneath Great End's northern crags.

Now we set off down a small descent to the very well named Windy Gap - it was a bit blowy to say the least - and we all put away our walking poles for the final steep climb. I find using poles a help on long uphill stretches but they can get in the way if scrambling is on the cards. The path here led around to the left a little way before going straight up the stony slope above. It was as I remembered it - steep, loose and very stony. The way here is easier if you stick to the straightforward scrambles on the bigger rocks rather than trying to claw one's way up all the loose stuff.

And so to the summit which we reached surprisingly quickly from Windy Gap. Great Gable is one of the most sought after summits in the Lake District and it is worth the effort. This was especially so today in near perfect weather. The Irish Sea and the Isle of Man made up the western view with the Galloway Hills in Scotland clearly seen beyond the ridges of High Stile and Grasmoor. So often the view from Lakeland summits is the same regardless of which fell you're on - a 10 metre circle of wet grass or stones surrounded by a damp empty nothingness of grey mist - but not today!

For the best views of Wasdale one needs to go a short way roughly south west of the main cairn to the Westmorland Cairn where the patchworked fields of Wasdale Head appear a vertical half mile below. The lake of Wastwater - England's deepest - sparkles between The Screes and Yewbarrow, leading the eye to the ever present sea beyond the West Cumbrian Plain.

It was cold up here exposed to the North Wind that had brought these clear conditions, so after a snack we returned the way we'd come up. This is a route I would recommend for ease of ascent. The steep and rough section is interesting without beinglong as in the other routes and it was pleasantly quiet considering it was still late September.

There is ample parking at Honister Slate Mine but it's only free all day if you're doing the via ferrata or mine tour, which do look good but if you're going walking it is expensive - £5 for the day. When it was free I would always go in and buy something but there you go. There are places lower down the pass to pull in.

Essentials >>> Up 600m >>> Down 600m >>> How Far? 9.7km >>> How High? 899m/2949ft

Posted by PeteB 15:49 Archived in England Tagged mountains lake_district walking hiking holidays foot Comments (0)

Coniston Old Man

A little used way to the Old Man

semi-overcast 25 °C

Beyond the harsh grey stone of the old quarries rose the jagged skyline of the Coniston Fells; Swirl How, Wetherlam and closer at hand, its summit hidden by the intervening craggy slopes, Coniston Old Man our destination for today. So it was that a party of 3 set out on a warm day in early June - myself, Jacqui's Dad Pete and his elder brother Mike who hadn't been on the fells in a year and seriously doubted whether he'd reach even Coniston Old Man's modest summit.

We'd driven up to the last car park on the Walna Scar Road in an effort to gain precious height and it was this track we now followed towards the Walna Scar pass, the hot weather dictating a slow pace from us all.

Having studiously avoided the popular ascent route to Coniston Old Man through the Coppermines Valley and the infamous zig zags above Low Water - a route that has all the charm of Rossett Gill or the pony track up Ben Nevis - we reached Boo Tarn. Boo Tarn is described in the Wainwright guide "The Southern Fells" as a small reedy pool which is exactly what it is. Perhaps Boo Pond would be a more appropriate name though in "The Southern Fells", Wainwright also describes this route as one of the best ways up Coniston Old Man - also true.

Passing the wide track - which actually leads to a quarry - we followed the narrow path just beyond it with the stream in a small ravine to our right. This led us steeply up the fellsides the views opening out behind as we gained height. As we ascended we wondered about the mine workers. They would have faced a long climb before even starting what would have been a physically hard job, in all weather too - the Coniston Fells are not often as benign as today - then a long walk down at the end of the day.

Lunch and a long rest was had on some rocks that could have been made for that purpose with wonderful views over Coniston Water and most of South Cumbria. The sun had gone in now and a few spots of rain fell from a high overcast though it was still warm. After some considerable time - my own lunch stops are rarely more than 15 minutes - we set off once again and followed the path across the mountainside and up towards where Brown Pike appeared over the intervening slopes.

Presently, as we rounded the side of Coniston Old Man, the hidden valley leading up to Goats Hause appeared below with the mountain tarn of Goats Water shining blue green below the grey precipices of Dow Crag opposite. Here above an old mine building, the path began a steep climb of the slopes above until after a while the angle eased and we arrived - rather hot as the rain had stopped and it was still warm - on the broad easy slopes of the south ridge. The path here became sketchy in places but the large cairn could clearly be seen on the summit maybe a quarter of a mile ahead.

A short time later we were enjoying still and warm conditions on the summit, taking in the wonderfully expansive views that Coniston Old Man has to offer. The distant detail was somewhat obscured by a haze but to the north was one of my favorite Lakeland scenes - that of the cirque of mountains surrounding the head of Eskdale from Scafell around to Crinkle Crags - a wild aspect indeed. Closer at hand the ground fell steeply away to where Levers Water and Low Water sparkled among the rocks far below at the base of the craggy slopes. It was though with some relief that we looked down the zig zag track to Coppermines Valley, glad we'd not come up that way. It would have been hot work today!

The Low Water route was an option for descent but as Mike was now over the moon at finding the going much easier than expected, we opted for the longer but more interesting route to Goats Hause and down past Goats Water below Dow Crag. From there we'd follow the Walna Scar track back to the car and Coniston where 3 pints of Bluebird awaited.

Posted by PeteB 07:39 Archived in England Tagged mountains lake_district walking hiking vacation holidays Comments (0)

Skiddaw and Longside Edge

The Route from the Bassenthwaite Side

Most visitors to the lakes will recognise the classic outline of Skiddaw, the graceful lines rising high above Keswick’s busy streets or as a back drop to those famous views of Derwentwater that adorn so many calendars and postcards of the region. Of those who choose to walk up England’s fourth highest peak, most do so by the wide path from Keswick along which the world and all his dogs can be encountered. There is however, another and unfamiliar side to this most familiar of mountains.

Leaving the A591 about a mile south of the Ravenstone Hotel near the path to the Osprey viewing platform, a pleasant forest trail runs northwards following the road, the way being indicated by yellow markers. After a short while the track leads out of the trees and Bassenthwaite Lake is seen below – incidentally the only major body of water in the Lake District with the name “lake” , the others being “mere”, “water” or “tarn”. Shortly afterwards we part company with the yellow markers which lead back to the right and 50 yards further on the the way veers right over a stile before slanting steeply across the hillside above.

A steep ascent brought me to a well placed rest rock on the grassy ridge above. Here the path doubled back on itself and ascended the ridge towards the sharp peak of Ullock Pike. Skiddaw itself was to the left – a huge green and grey mass – while the west Cumbria plain spread out beyond the hills of Bassenthwaite. Steadily climbing this fine ridge with its ever expanding views, brought me up in good time, by my standards, to a last short scramble which led to the top of Ullock Pike – Oh not quite – the real top was a couple of minutes further on! As false summits go though, far better than being faced with another half hour to walk.

Ullock Pike seems out on the edge of things. The cluster of familiar peaks around the head Borrowdale seemed almost as distant as the hills of Galloway in Southern Scotland seen behind, across the sands of the Solway Firth, and it was here that the mountains ended. Between me and Scotland were low hills and farmland leading to the coast and all was far below.

Now I followed the narrow ridge, known as Longside Edge which is just as good as the one leading up to Ullock Pike, which could now be seen behind framed against the pastoral landscape beyond. I stopped again at the top of Longside, where a small cairn on the narrow ridge marked the highest point. From here the main track led down and across to Skiddaw but I left this at the bottom and headed over springy turf to the cairn on Carl Side where views down the steep slopes to Keswick could be had just beyond the summit.

Leaving the deserted top of Carl Side I rejoined the main path abd began the climb up Skiddaw. The grass rapidly gave way to grey shale as the path climbed steeply and the people I saw coming down appeared to be finding it just as hard work. Eventually with knees aching I reached easier angled slopes and people could be seen milling around on the summit just ahead. The ridge brought views of Blencathra looking somewhat grassier and less imposing from this angle and of Helvellyn to the south separated from the central lakes by the deep trench containing Thirlmere.

I had lunch in the north top shelter which protected me from the cold wind which blew up here at 3000 feet. People could be seen toiling up the wide track from Keswick past the cone of Low Man but the lands to the north of here and Blencathra showed little sign of human influence, a total contrast to Keswick and its valley to the south. Here the hills of the north stretched wide and lonely beneath the empty skies.

My chosen way down would lead me first to the North Col. This is not the Tibetan Route to Rangbuk Monastery but a wide grassy saddle between Skiddaw and Broad End to the north. Leaving my lunch spot a short descent to the north brought me to the namesake of that famous col where the wind was doing its best to make the experience as authentic as possible. Now I followed the steep edge around past the col and picked up a faint path which led slowly around to the left. Ahead were views of Scotland and the sea and to my left a wild valley below the steep slope of Skiddaw.

The path became more obvious the lower I went and back in the heather and bilberry zone there was an obvious crossroads. The main path led straight on but a consultation with Wainwright and my map suggested the narrow left hand fork was my route. This led across the heathery slopes – below the steepest parts now – towards a sheepfold visible in the bottom of the valley below. I presently crossed a stream and turned right onto a grassy trail that had been visible from above and now followed the river for five minutes before taking a left fork onto a shallow col.

This whole area of Barkbethdale and Southerndale was completely empty of people and I saw no-one at all on the descent until I reached the forest trail again. I wouldn’t recommend this way down in misty weather though, there are far too many opportunities for getting lost although missing a path here would result in a longer walk than intended rather than falling off anything.

From the col I followed a bumpy ridge down with Ullock Pike and Longside Edge high above to my left. Rejoining the main path at the bottom there was a wooden bridge over Southerndale Beck by another stone sheepfold. From here it was briefly back uphill towards Ullock Pike and so to the col where I’d stopped at the first rest rock.

Posted by PeteB 09:52 Archived in England Tagged mountains lake_district walking hiking adventure foot Comments (0)


The Route from Cockley Beck

Anyone beginning the drive over Hardknott Pass from Cockley Beck today, may have noticed a blue Citroen parked near the start of the pass, with a sign in the back saying Easy Way Up. Do not believe everything you read. The author did not in fact drive over the pass - nor does he have any intention of doing so, preferring to have 2 feet on the ground in places like this.

Following the road for a couple of hundred yards, I watched the expressions on the faces of motorists seeing the pass ahead for the first time and was reminded of people waiting to get on a particularly scary roller coaster or do a bungy jump. The mixture of excitement, apprehension and pure terror!

I left the road on a track to the right and followed this gradually up the open fellside heading into the lonely side valley of Mosedale, with the river on my right and rugged fellsides rising on both sides. After a short ascent the valley opened out into a wide grassy area with views ahead to the Scafell Range, the jagged peaks looking dramatic under the moving cloud shadows and bright sunlight. This valley progressed towards a low pass which could be seen ahead and was delightful walking country though it became wet underfoot just before the pass was reached. Following the slightly higher path to the left avoided the worst of this and I was soon on the pass, which doesn't appear to have a name, enjoying the view into the Upper Eskdale region. In fact the valley here is that of Lingcove Beck and is a tributary valley to the Esk itself.

The whole region is virtually wilderness and probably the remotest part of the Lake District. True fellwalkers' country this - no roads penetrate here and the buzzards soar above countless crags and outcrops that see few visitors. Needless to say that it's one of my favorite parts of the Lakes. The pass is a grassy saddle with just a fence and stile to indicate man's presence. It doesn't seem to have a name either - how about Mosedale hause? Onwards I went and down a short distance to where Lingcove Beck meandered between the rocks. Here a path crosses the beck and heads off towards the area of Sampson's Stones below Scafell and Mickledore but my way led right to follow the beck upstream.

Heading more or less towards the prominent peak of Bowfell, I followed the path up valley for no more than a mile where it appeared to fork with the right branch heading up towards Three Tarns and the fainter branch continuing along Lingcove Beck. This right branch climbed gradually then more steeply and after a stony ravine-like stream bed was crossed, the ground became steep and bouldery as Three Tarns was approached. The going became harder for a while until the land levelled out all of a sudden and there was Langdale below on the far side of the ridge. Here too were the day's first groups of walkers who had ascended from Langdale. I paused for a while by one of the tarns - only 2 are prominent - the third appears as a damp hollow rather than a Tarn.

From here the route to Bowfell was obvious - a none too pleasant eroded track led up roughly southwards from the col. Once past the steep section it got better though with fine rock scenery in the area of Cambridge Crag and Flat Crags. This side of the mountain provides an impressive vantage point from which to view the Langdale Pikes opposite.

The path led past the peak of Bowfell and up round the back on easier ground. Here were some wonderful views of the peaks around the top of Eskdale, with Scafell Pike presenting its most rugged side across the wilderness of Upper Eskdale. The ridge continued to Esk Pike and Esk Hause while in the other direction was Boot in the valley almost 3000 feet below with the Irish Sea beyond. Unfortunately haze obscured the distant views of the central Lakes to the east.

Returning by the same route found me back at Three Tarns where I again left the groups and the beaten track to thread my lonely way back down the far side of the col towards Eskdale. An option for today was to continue south along the fabulous ridge of Crinkle Crags with its many craggy summits, a way which would have brought me to the mysteriously named Adam a Cove just after reaching the highest peak. From there, I could descend to the grassy col at the head of Mosedale avoiding the crags. Time didn't permit today though so I was soon back on the enjoyable path following Lingcove Beck down towards Eskdale.

Back up the short ascent to Mosedale Hause or the nameless grassy col - whichever it is to be. It's a wonderfully tranquil spot I thought, as I rested and took a last look back towards Bowfell and the Scafell Range. That view will not have changed since the Romans occupied the fort just the far side of Hardknott. There are not many such places in the Lakes in summer.
Bowfell_from_Eskdale.jpg Three_Tarns.jpg

Posted by PeteB 06:36 Archived in England Tagged mountains lake_district walking hiking Comments (0)

Helvellyn the Quiet Way

A little used route from Glenridding

overcast 9 °C

The very name of Helvellyn inspires one to go and climb it. That combined with its stature as one of England’s four peaks of over 3000 feet and ease of access, conspire to make it one of the most popular ascents in all the Lakeland Fells.

The Lake District is, in the opinion of many people me included, not one of but the most beautiful area of England. The immediate downsides of this are the crowds and traffic jams that can plague the region through the summer months. For this reason I wanted to find a route up to this high summit which would avoid the crowds even at busy times. Unfortunately that would rule out the well known Striding Edge route which is usually busy though it is one of the best ways up. To compensate, I planned to descend via neighbouring Swirral Edge which is arguably just as good.

Reeling from the shock of having to part with £6 for the privilege of parking at Glenridding, I followed the signs through the village towards the Helvellyn Youth Hostel by the old Greenside Mine. I don’t begrudge paying this money to the National Park Authority who own the car park as it will hopefully be spent on keeping this area looking as it should but £6 is a bit much.

The route leads away from the hikers following the signs to Helvellyn who looked at me as though I was going the wrong way. No – they were going to Striding Edge and I was going the way nobody else was! I followed the road which became a track, out of the village with the old mine buildings visible a mile or so ahead. There was no-one around at all as I passed an area of woodland and reached the mine area about half an hour from the village. The slate buildings themselves consisted of an outdoor centre, a ski club and the aforementioned Youth Hostel. Just beyond these, I turned right before a gate where the path led up steeply for a short way before emerging in a wide and deserted valley.

There now follows a fine walk with a gradual easy ascent in great surroundings. The impressive looking peak right ahead is Catstycam and I had to resist the temptation to go off up there instead. I’d visit the peak on the way back if I came back via Swirral Edge. I’d done it years before and it’s one of the best summits in the Lakes.

Where the path forks after beginning to climb more steeply, I took the right fork up and away from the river. On the opposite bank the striding edge trail also left the valley near this point. The left fork of my trail leads into the cirque of Keppel Cove.

As the track began to climb the steep slopes of Raise in a series of wide zig zags, first Helvellyn Lower Man then the summit itself revealed themselves from the cloud hanging above the head of the valley. Nearing the top of these zig zags Ullswater reappeared far below in the valley I had left, its grey-blue water framed by the green fell sides and woods which surrounded it. Distant views too opened out as I climbed above the plateau of Birkhouse Moor opposite and the trail headed, less steeply now, onto the crest of the main ridge. Below in Keppel Cove was what used to be the reservoir of Keppelcove Tarn built to supply the mine, but the dam had breached leaving an empty tarn. It was strange to see just the dam wall stood there with only a grassy area behind it.

Apart from a group of 3 fell runners I had seen nobody since passing the Youth Hostel but here on the main ridge more people were making their way to Helvellyn’s windswept summit. The first top, that of White Side revealed wide views over a rather misty Lake District to Skiddaw and Derwentwater with Thirlmere directly below while the further reaches of the Western and Southern Fells merged into a grey distance to the west. There now followed a short descent followed by a fairly steep ridge leading to Helvellyn Lower Man which looks a good peak seen from this angle. It is just over 3000 feet but is a subsidiary top of Helvellyn.

The ever present wind began to strengthen as I climbed the ridge making it difficult to stand upright at times. From this ridge there are great views down to Keppel Cove and across to Swirral Edge and Catstycam but when the wind threatened to whisk me from the ridge for a speedy descent to Keppel Cove I decided to leave Swirral Edge for a calmer day!

Indeed on Helvellyn’s summit it was too windy to safely stand on the edge to photograph Red Tarn so I opted to go back the way I’d come up. The highest point is actually the stony rise by the shelter not the trig point and it was in the shelter that I had lunch. Here I got chatting to a chap of 79 from Bolton who’d done all the “Wainwrights”- the Lakeland fells documented by AW Wainwright in the best series of guidebooks yet written on the region. He went on to tell me that he’d only taken up fell walking on retirement. I was put to shame there as I’ve not done them all and have been walking in the hills since I was a kid.

My return to Glenridding was as pleasant and quiet as the ascent and I’d had a good day out, despite not doing Swirral Edge again. Walking past the pub in the village it occurred to me that a pint would go down well but sadly a quick check of my pockets revealed that I’d spent all my money on the car park! Never mind

Posted by PeteB 14:28 Archived in England Comments (0)

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