Thursday, 18 January 2018

Borrowdale to Ambleside

Thursday 21st December 2017

After two nights in the Borrowdale Youth Hostel I now travelled across to the Ambleside Youth Hostel for the remaining two nights of my short holiday in the Lake District. I could have lingered in Borrowdale and climbed some of the hills in the area before catching a bus to Ambleside, and various options went through my head, but in the end, partly due to poor weather, I decided to walk all the way to Ambleside by the shortest route. The weather had been gradually deteriorating during the course of the week and when I left the hostel it was really misty with very low cloud and a constant drizzle all day. I had little incentive to go up any of the fells in the area so headed straight towards the tiny village of Stonethwaite and into the valley that leads up to Greenup Edge. For most of the day I was following in the tracks of the Coast to Coast walk which passes over Greenup Edge, however that starts this section from the village of Rosthwaite requiring walkers starting from the youth hostel to make a significant diversion to the north to reach the village only to then turn south again to head into the Stonethwaite Valley.

I skipped all that by walking along the road, retracing my steps of two days previously, from the hostel to the village of Stonethwaite and from there across the valley onto the bridlepath that heads over Greenup Edge. At Easter 2010 I was thwarted in my attempts to get very far along this valley by exceptionally heavy rain (and snow melt), but I had no such problems now and was able to sail along the path into the misty weather awaiting me. Since 2010 I have walking down from Greenup Edge many times, most recently in 2016 in improving weather, but this was the first time I had successfully walked all the way up the valley from Borrowdale to Greenup Edge. The views were non-existent and the path is not particularly good. I don’t have a great opinion of this path, which is why I was considering alternatives, as it very rough underfoot with many scattered boulders to negotiate on a poorly defined path.

Slowly I made my way along the path to the foot of Lining Crag where the path steepens as it climbs the rock-covered slope up to Greenup Edge. It was satisfying to have good rock underfoot and be climbing this steep, craggy terrain, but all too soon I was at the top of Lining Crag where in better weather there is an awesome view down the valley towards Borrowdale. Turning away from the edge I headed up to the boggy terrain that covers the broad plateau that is misnamed Greenup Edge. The path is very sketchy at this point with small cairns trying to help walkers across this bleak landscape. It is astonishing how ill-defined the path is across Greenup Edge considering the many Coast to Coast walkers who cross it every year, but eventually I did manage to find my way across passing helicopter bags full of stones that have been left scattered around indicating that perhaps there are plans to make some improvements to the path across the edge.

The path coming down from Greenup Edge does show signs of recent path improvement so I had no problems coming down until eventually I reached the bottom of the valley where the path disappears amongst the boggy ground. I could see a path on the other side of the valley so I headed across the stream but found that I couldn’t complete the traverse so I had to wade back over the stream only to cross it a third time to reach the path that I had seen. Looking at aerial shots of the scene and studying the map I believe the crossing of the paths from Far Easedale, Calf Crag and Greenup Edge is now some distance north of where it used to be, and where it is marked on maps. The crossing is now at the point where the Calf Crag path makes a sharp left turn, beside a cairn, and this is where I reached it, however the path from Greenup Edge used to keep to the rough ground until it reaches the stream just after Mere Beck and Birks Gill join. A direct route across the boggy head of the valley from there leads to Far Easedale Head.

It is fascinating how paths move as people wander off the original path and in their confusion take a completely different line even though it’s often worse than the original. The misty weather continued as I headed down into Far Easedale to find a valley that I think is more pleasing than the Stonethwaite Valley that I had passed through on the ascent, and I quite enjoyed the descent, despite the poor weather, on a good path down the valley stopping off at one point for my lunch at the foot of a picturesque series of waterfalls and cascades. Eventually I reached the village of Grasmere and after a rest stop to grab something to eat I headed past Dove Cottage onto the Coffin Route. I had considered diverting from Grasmere over Loughrigg, but since I couldn’t see Loughrigg there seemed little point. Even the low-level Coffin Route was shrouded in mist so I don’t think this was the right day to be going up a fell. I think the route that I had selected, actually the most direct, was the best route given the weather conditions and I think, in the end, it was quite a pleasing walk.

After the roughnesses of the Stonethwaite Valley had been left behind the walk was curiously satisfying. I was even surprised by the Coffin Route, from Grasmere to Rydal, which I think I have used only once before, almost ten years ago, and it now shows signs of being, shall we say, upgraded. The path is now much smoother, which in most places in the Lake District would be, and is, a travesty, but I think here, on this low-level path, it is allowable and enables those less able to enjoy a little of what the better able can enjoy of the delights of the Lake District. At the end of the path I passed Rydal Hall and through Rydal Park to finally reach Ambleside at the end of a day that shows that the Lake District can still deliver even in poor weather.

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.