Helvellyn from Thirlmere – Monday 6th August – Week 4

Lakeland’s most popular mountain

The summer of 2012 is and continues to be remembered for the constant rainfall. June was already recognised as the wettest since records began. I guess as a  resident Englishman one shouldn’t be surprised by a month of rain drenched weekends, which is tolerable I guess, but April, May, June and July have barely offered up a few good days for walking. The SMASH diary had in mind the high peaks to be tackled in what should be the drier of months; clear blue skies, long days, sunset desents. We had already postponed our ascent on Skiddaw scheduled for early July, remains un-smashed. Helvellyn would be our last climb before Scafell Pike in August so it was kind of important that we set our expectations right by getting in some of the big peaks beforehand.

After postponing Helvellyn from its original planned date of 29th July again due to poor weather conditions we figured the next weekend would give us a good spell, but it didn’t! Talking to the SMASH regulars, we all remained uncertain about the chances of getting out at all and were feeling properly down trodden about cancelling another walk.

However after keeping a close eye on the forecast there looked like the weather might break just a bit on Monday so on a bit of whim I grabbed the little people and made the journey to Thirlmere.

Jack and Emily were less than impressed with the weather but at least the rain was holding off and we set off up the clear stepped path beside Helvellyn Gill. I already knew this walk was going to be less inspiring for them and started a trivia quiz to keep our minds from the task. At this juncture I had my doubts about the weather and set in my mind this was more about just getting outside and seeing if Jack and Em would deal with the conditions. The walk would be straight forward though and had no intentions other than to reach the summit and come back down on the same path.

The cloud line was around 500 meters and so we disappeared into the soft white cloud admiring the surreal nature of how new features suddenly appeared from the mist.

The quiz went well. Emily thashed Jack and I for not knowing any of her horse based questions which of course remains her specialist subject.  I fought fire with fire and hit her with a bunch of questions about mountains and bikes. Jack on the other hand read like a book of general knowledge leaving me wishing I had room in my head for the more fascinating facts of our world rather than passwords and work based garbage that would send a glass eye to sleep.

We met no one on the way up. There was a guy on the summit who we spoke to and learned he had ascended from Striding Edge which I thought was brave in these conditions. The four of us all had that look on our faces that said, what are we doing up here? But equally it comes with a wry smile that expresses the inner pride that you bothered to go out at all today and climb over 900 meters to see absolutely nothing at all when you got there apart from each other and a wet trig point.

It could be any trig point against a featureless backdrop

I directed the guy over towards the shelter from the trig where he continued toward Dollywaggon Pike. Jack, Emily and I fumbled about for our lunch bites with wet gloves pulling at draw strings and clips in that panicky shivery style when your eager to get at some food that you know will make you feel normal again.Just then a group of about 6 teenage girls rocked up carrying back packs that looked like they might have more teenage girls inside them. It turned out they were on their third day of a 4 day walk across the lakes and were clearly trying their best to remain upbeat about the journey knowing the weather had been cruel and would remain that way. They took their places on the bi-directional shelter from the wind and had lunch and then they were up, onwards and upwards as they say and they headed toward Whiteside.

Are we pleased to be here?

We had our fair and took some very uninspiring snaps if only to prove we were on Helvellyn. There was no view at all and in a way this was kind of amusing to Jack and Emily, they found it bizarre to climb all this way into the cloud and see nothing. How do you deal with that? I guess they could have attacked me and pushed me over the edge. Surprisingly Jack was joking about it remarking that it was typical of me to make them come up here.  They were great though and now we had had enough of the wet clouds we wanted to get down quickly and the moment it was suggested Emily visualised herself back in a warm car wearing dry clothes and hugging her favourite cushion for a sleepy ride home. It sounded like a nice idea, so we stepped up the pace. In doing so though Emily took a trip and though I was holding her hand she went down and grazed her leg and to make matters worse I accidentally trod on her arm.  She was a bit tearful but her determination to get off this mountain was reignited and she manned up to walk off the beating she had taken.We dropped down below the cloud line and could see the start-finish as others were making their way up. I have to say too many looked less than prepared for what they were planning. One father dressed in black jeans and a t-shirt leading his wife carrying a hand bag and an umberalla, his daughter in similar inapproapriate garb. He asked if he was going the right way for Helvellyn. Without being direct or suggesting he wasn’t really equipped for the cold, wet and poor visibilty. He had no map or a shell jacket, I confirmed he was on the trail for Helvellyn but added there was nothing to see thinking it would disuade him from pressing on. I detected a slight gesture of thanks from his daughter. I hope they didn’t continue.

So with Helvellyn SMASHed I was confident that Jack and Emily and myself were better equipped in our minds and physically able to take on Scafell regardless of what the weather could offer in August. So it was a successful walk in as much as it was grim. Were we glad we come out?

Of course!

Walk Route Summary:– The Swirls Car Park Thirlmere, Browncove Crags, Lower Man (Helvellyn), Helvellyn,  The Swirls Car Park Thirlmere.Vital Statistics for this Walk

  • Length/Distance: 13.50km (8 miles)
  • Total Ascent: 1005m (3296ft)
  • Allow at least: 4.50hrs
  • Walk Grade: 5
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Tour of Helvellyn – 45km/28miles – Grasmere – Monday June 18th

High Mountain Classic

With the Big 4 Day Epic looming l needed to get in some distance rides on terrain that would mimic that Keith and I would ride on the 12th of July from Pooley Bridge in the North Eastern corner of the Lake District in Kentmere, the Howgill Fells then southeast into the South Yorkshire Dales aiming for every high pass in our way. My riding conditioning was in need of a boost and the only way to do so would be to ride long and high.

To Patterdale from the A591

The Tour of Helvellyn is a well known classic ride, not classic in the sense you can see it off after a day in the office way, but classic in that it represents a purist lakeland ride that has a bit of everything. Steep rocky packhorse roads a well graded coach road and busy lakeside roads whizzing with tourists.

My attempt on this route was a solo effort which I enjoy sometimes when I know the going is not exactly what one would call a good ride but simply getting around and completing the tour not always sat on the bike but rather underneath it as required for the first third of journey. I parked just north of Grasmere at the Travellers Rest pub on the A591on the provision I would have a drink and a bite to eat to the sum of £5 when I return. Fairly doos I thought and took a raffle ticket and popped it on the dash hoping it doesn’t get pulled out the hat.

A good trail to Great Tongue

I set out in search of a good bridle path that turned right and climbed steep. No messing here opting for granny ring immediately just to spin the legs into a gentle warm up and grind out the ascending stoney track towards Great Tongue following Little Tongue Gill. The recent weather that has remained wet since High Street has gills and becks gushing white with rain falling from the fells feeding the lakes around either Grasmere or Thirlmere. The gradient steepens to G.O.A.P (Get Off And Push) status. No amount of hanging on the bars will keep the front end down so I resort to pacing out the climb it stages. This scenario always reminds me of the climb up Bram Rigg in the Howgill Fells to the Calf. Killer! The stone trail fades to that kept grass that only sheep can offer. I use the footsized steps to get a grip on the hill and begin to feel the effects of what can only be described as a full body work out pushing my bike decisively through my legs and chest out through my arms. I’m assessing the magnitude of the climb and how much is left of the ride after what is an incredibly slow start to a long day and imagine what time I would get round to Thirlmere. It seems like ages away with some much mountain before me. The only indication of progress here is clear when looking back to the view of Grasmere which looks very inviting. I think about lying in the park with a book and a beer.

Grasmere from Little Tongue

Waterfall under Fairfield

The track turns stoney but this time it’s knarley and the pace remains slow keep you from gaining enough speed to carry you across the roughest sections. The scree from Seat Sandal is responsible for what makes you think, “what’s the point of this again”? I revert to rolling to a stop and pushing before I can ride to the next unridable boulder field. It’s not a bridleway really. It’s not a path if only for the fact it’s a series of green dashes on the map. I hoist the bike onto my back as more rain falls from under my helmet, it’s head down to start the hike a bike section up to the highest point of the ride through Hause Gap below Seat Sandal to Grisdale Tarn. The role is reversed and I’m taking my bike for a walk because it’s given up and  doesn’t intend to turn another wheel until we head down. Typical!

Grisedale Tarn from Hause Gap looking to Ullswater – A banana stop.

Despite the grueling climb and lack of any proper riding I’m lifted by the view of the cool looking tarn. The sky is a mix of broken grey and white clouds occasionally interrupted with blue but not nearly enough to make a pair of sailors trousers.

I was also lifted by the prospect of a fast descent. You can bare a major G.O.A.P. for the

Just a matter of line choice eh?

promise of an equally major screaming downhill. From Grisedale Tarn the trail looked good . I can remember years ago riding from the side of Dollywagon Pike on my rigid Cannondale m300 (in mango). Yes is was hard going but i was new to riding then and now after 17 years and some upgrade to riding machinery I could make a better go of  this descent. At least that’s what I had in mind. Either my memory has been romanticised over the years or it’s just plain poor, or this trail is now more technical. Do we say technical for those parts of the trail we can’t or won’t ride? The parts where we don’t dare clip in for fear of bailing it onto something that would not only hurt but would put you out of action for a while. This was not my intention today. Live to ride another day is my motto. Beside I had a big ride ahead next month and accommodation is booked an paid for. As I surveyed the trail ahead I was met with regular should I or should I not moments, do or dies that that begged the question. What would Gee Atherton do here? Could he ride it. I figured he could but as I shouldered my bike down through the boulders and steps. When I say steps I don’t mean a tidy line of equal sized treads and risers, but steps that had be kicked about forming no discernible line to choose. I stood looking at the next place to put a foot. I was convinced Gee Atherton would at least find it tricky and if he took a tumble then I’d have to say I was right to walk this part.

The trail continued in this manner for some miles. Walkers were looking puzzled at me for thinking I could ride down here. One feels a need to give it a go a bit more when faced with a group of walkers anticipating your skills on the mountain. My only hope here is they catch you on a section that is knarly enough to rattle your teeth but not enough to knock them out with a spectacular face plant. I recalled Keith’s favourite entry for the blog in this scenario is to write, “it was at this stage of the ride I realised my bike was nothing more than a very expensive walking stick.”

Ruthwaite climbing Lodge at 373m.

Sure enough at this point I confessed to have carried my bike further than I’d ridden it. Reluctantly known as Dismountain Biking. Technically this was not true it just felt like it. I was eager to make some progress with my wheels under me and hoped for a trail to ride on. At Ruthwaite lodge (climbing hut) I took another break. The trail ahead did look civilised in that it was actually man made. A bumpy supersized cobbled path punctuated with rain channels. The path was steep and required a large amount of weight over the rear wheel as the front did it’s best to dive and send me over the bars. A new found technique that seemed to work well was the pedal slowly in a high gear with the back brake lightly applied. It felt strange to be pedaling down a path this steep in this way but was satisfying in that I was at least riding at last.

The start of “the ride” the end of the walking. From Ruthwaite Lodge along Grisdale Beck to Patterdale.  Place Fell is seen through the valley.

Boats at the coffee stop at Glenridding opposite St Patrick’s Well

The ride now was a pleasant cruise in Patterdale. From super knarly to clean buff broad track with a few gates thrown in. One extreme to the other, but fast approached Patterdale and Glennridding where I pulled into a fine coffee hut opposite St Patrick’s Well on the shores of Ullswater. I shared the moment with a few tourists taking in the tranquility of the day. A coffee and my own Soreen to replenish lost vitals to set me up for the next stage of the ride. A road section on the A592 along the shores of Ullswater to pick up the A5091 turn climbing toward Dockray.

Ullswater

Glencoyne

The road to Dockray is a slow climb and but offers up great views of Ullswater. From Dockray I turn left at the pub through High Row where the Old Coach Road can be joined.

I met a three mountain bikers taking break here and stopped for a natter. Typically the chat was centered around the disappointing summer we’ve had. They were on the way to Keswick planning to use the Old Coach Road too. I set off and they followed shortly after. The old coach road is a well graded track it remains relatively level as it contours below Clough Head but evidently it’s well used from the resurfacing work taking place, but probably more to do withthe heavy and persistant rainfall suffered in the recent weeks. A heavy digger trundled along taking up the full width of the track. There was more work to be done as puddle after puddle appeared, deep to the pedals were a measure of the heavy rainfall here. This should have been a hard packed dusty road. I promised myself a return when it dried out, if ever.

The Old Puddle Path (Old Coach Road)

There are good views of the North Pennines to the north east with little in the way . Great Mell Fell and Little Mell Fell the last of the Wainwrights signifying the edge of the Lake district. Clicky this link for some HD video… Eventually the road begins to descend and dirt and puddles give way to hard stone. Gravity builds and builds as the track opens on the approach to Thelkeld common. Blencathra is massive to the right and my ride is now nudging grin factor ten as I’m blasting down Hauswell Brow. It’s on trails like this where I feel the Nomad works best, encouraging me to leave off the brakes and attack the descent. It’s a brilliant trail and I’m buzzin at last.

Great Mell Fell and Little Mell Fell from the Old Coach Road

I arrive at Wanthwaite and grab breath totally pleased with myself and in love with the riding today as the slog of the previous hours blend into the experience of the whole ride. It’s a Tour of Helvellyn. It’s got it all. I descide the tour has three experiences. The first is a hard and frustrating grind to Patterdale. Secondly, pleasant, fun and adrenaline fueled to this point where the third section begins as a tame and tranquil road ride around the back of Thirlmere Reservoir.

The last section of the Old Coach Road descent to Wanthwaite

I pick up the grassy single track bridleway at the Foot of High Rigg through St John’s in the Vale. It’s a roller coaster trail of short up and down blasts. A good workout for the fingers and thumbs as well as the legs. The weather now was ideal. The sun was out. I was reveling in the surroundings taking a step back for the riding giving more time to look around. At Sosgill Bridge the bridle way comes to and changing to a footpath so I turn left onto the B5322 as far as the Green where I cross the A591 and head for the dam, the head of Thirlmere Reservoir.

Thirlmere Reservoir

The Reservoir was built in the 19th century to supply Manchester with water to keep up with the increased growth of industry.  The reservoir and surrounding forested valley is owned and managed by United Utilities, a private water and waste water company.

Dam plaque.

From here the sun dipped behind the fells that make oy the likes of Bleaberry Fell and High Seat, I decided to take the quieter back road the edges around Thrilmere. I nice meandering section of tarmac if the was ever such a thing. Actually after the strains of the day I didn’t mind the easy road back to the Travellers Inn espcially as I could look across the reservoir to admire the back of the Helvellyn range, the Dodds and Helvellyn itself lit brightly by the late afternoon sun.

Overall I was feelling very pleased about how I faired against the test of this tour. It was intended to bench mark my riding condition and I was now confident that I could attack the 4 day epic dispite what it had in store. All I needed to do now was continue to putin some regular distance rides from home and I’ll be ready. I finished the day with £5 odd worth of goods from the Travellers rest in exchange for parking there all day and took home a snickers and bag of crisp and some nuts. Should have gone for the cream tea.

Great Gable and Green Gable from Honister Hause –Sunday June 3rd– Week 3

Easy to follow paths – a Lakeland classic

The Wasdale region of the Lake District is quite unfamiliar to me. It generally takes about two and a half hours to get here, more if you choose to take on Hardnott Pass then it’s more like three hours. It’s home to the Scafell massive of course and Great Gable was our first ascent and would be a marker for how we would fare on the next few walks leading upto and attack on Scafell Pike itself in August.

Leading anyone onto fells of such magnitude as Green and Great Gable should and did cause me some concern. Just to acknowledge the responsibility that comes with it and that while anyone who cares to come along does so at their own risk I can’t help feeling a little bit anxious. The weather of course is first to consider and given that summer still hasn’t started properly all eyes were on the forecast for days before. It was looking like a mixed bag weather wise but generally it looked like it would be dry but cloudy.  The mountain forecast alluded to early fog in the south clearing from the north and so figured Skiddaw as a second option. By Sunday morning I decided that Great Gable was still on so we left the grey skies of the north east behind fingers crossed for better in the west.

Very steep path from Honister Hause to Grey Knotts

Today we rustled up a little crew formed from previous companions. Later riser, bed headed Cherry Cheeks/Hip Hop heppers AKA Paul, made the last shout from Abs who leavered him form his pit with a phone call at 8am. Abs of course back from the dead since missing Blencathra was buzzin to be back on the fells again. Lesley was keen to come along but her participation in this event was still hanging in the balance since she was struck down with a bout of sickness that couldn’t be explained, so she came a long for the ride with the small people Jack and Em.

This outing was going to be special because we were all about to S.M.A.S.H our altitude records. I was especially excited for Jack and Emily because they would do so on the same day as me, meaning that we had something to share and remember as a joint achievement. Furthermore Jack would have bagged another 4 Wainwrights taking his total to 30. Not bad for a 9 year old who not that bothered about walking, though with every successful S.M.A.S.H he takes on a greater appreciation for what we do an a Sunday each month.

We arrived at the Slate Mine on Honister Pass familiar to those that made the ground breaking walk of Haystacks and Fleetwith Pike in March. Squashed between Dale Head and Grey Knotts it’s alive now not only for those wanting to take home a special piece of the lakes in the form of some real green slate, but also people looking for thrills outdoors. I’d read about the recent planning applications to establish a 1.2km zip wire here which would run from Black Star on Fleetwith Pike to the car park at the slate mine making it the longest in Europe. The BMC (British Mountaineering Council) formally rejected the development in May 2011 argued it to be inappropriate in an area of such tranquility. What it does have though is a Via Ferreta which is Italian for the iron way. A system of cables and iron rungs attached to the rock face historically used to move soldiers through the Alps. It gives ordinary people the experience of rock climbing without any mountaineering experience to get close to the rock at heights they would never previously thought possible.http://www.honister.com/via_ferrata_at_honister.asp. Of course the plans sparked a huge battle of words between those who believe the Lake District is a national park that should remain an oasis of peace and tranquility and those who want to make it the adventure capital of Britain and develop it into a playground for thrill seekers and extreme activities. It’s a tough one. Personally I can see it from both sides. I tend to object when I imagine the hordes of cars passing through small villages like Seathwaite and Buttermere. The infrastructure to support visitors would be too intrusive and would certainly loose that unspoiled aroma that Buttermere has managed to hold onto unlike it’s Windermere relation. Though like many others that appreciate the outdoors and the lakes as a place to visit then I do want access to it. Wether I’m walking, mountain biking or hanging from a rock by a wire then I don’t want to be told I’m spoiling the tranquility. But I do understand it if Jack is issued with a dispersal order.

After almost heading off in reverse we tracked back and began the steep ascent to Grey Knotts a stepped thigh busting climb among  the crags and crevices that make up this side of Honister’s hause. Jack quickly began to boil up complaining he was too warm. We discovered under his jacket he was layered up to the eye balls thanks to his mother who has a tendency to over dress the small people. Removing a mid shirt Jack was on his way up.

Ascending Grey Knotts

We used the fence line to track a straight line across the contours then out of nowhere a fellow sporting a red sash and running short cross our path and hooked himself over the boundary blowing a horn as he went. This was odd and saw him run aimlessly into the distance. Then just minutes after another guy did the same but he was looking less comfortable and not wearing a red sash, in pursuit of the previous guy. It was evident something was going on and I hadn’t a clue what it was but it sounded familiar if only for the horn that was just like the ones huntsmen use on a fox hunt.

Gaps began to extend between us with Abs setting a healthy pace while I hung back with Jack and Emily. We clambered though the rock formations and arrived at Grey Knotts as a stiff wind gathered strength now we were in the open. Views opened up all around. Behind was Dale head with it’s obvious tall cairn though it was just a tiny pin from here and Haystacks and High Stile on our right and Kirk Fell straight ahead. You could go on spotting peaks all day from here.

Emily’s a spring chicken and she’s having a ball and Paul’s an extra from Oliver.

A little person taking a rest on a bundle of toothpicks. Great Gable behind with a cloud top.

We picked out our next goal and Brandreth but it’s unimpressive against a backdrop of much mightier mountains. With the wind firmly behind us we set off and cock a leg back over the ruined fence line to follow a wide path strewn with boulders punctuated good cairns. Small pools and tarns meant that the going was easing. The next Wainwright, Brandreth would probably be the easiest peak we’ve Smashed yet as we cruised onto it not entirely sure we were even on it. There are a number of cairns around here so asked sput nick to point us to the correct pile of stones. Brandreth forms a triangular plan that falls away gently to the north to Grey Knotts and Honister. To the west it drops to Ennerdale and east it falls very steeply to Gillcoombe amd Seathwaite. Thus Brandreth is the only fell that feeds the three lakes of Derwent, Buttermere and Ennerdale.  It’s a large plateaux and barely feels like a ridge walk to Green Gable.

From Brandreth – Left to right – Pillar – Ennerdale Water- Haystacks and High Stile – Buttermere and Emily.

Excitement mounted as Green and Great Gable dominated the view ahead. Green Gable

Jack climbs Green Gable from Gillercomb Head. A fine view of Ennerdale Valley and the River Liza

looked like a challenge while Great Gable was daunting since it held it’s cloud cap from the time we could see it. No other peak did, not even those on the Sca Fell range, and this seemed to reinforce it’s height. We took off easily downwards toward Gillercomb Head making up the path as we went through the massive stones that gathered evermore dense. We all agreed to walk as far as the foot of Green Gable and shelter from the growing wind to take out lunch and fuel up for the climbs ahead.  Jack and Emily nested among the stones and passed around a fine platter of chocolate muffins and turkey sandwiches. Abs took a back seat and was quietly breathing the air while Heppers had relieved a passing walker of his lighter for a lunch time tab to complete his Artful Dodger ensemble, all he need now was my accent and the part was his. We filled our cake holes, leave the shelter (and maybe one of Emily’s pink gloves). We make straight for the tidy peak via an equally tidy path that slices through the grass banks of Green Gable.

Gillercomb Head and Green Gable and Great Gable

Green Gable – SMASHed!

Green Gable is an outstanding viewpoint in every direction. The view down to Ennerdale and Buttermere holds much interest. There’s lots to take in. Separated by Haystacks so familiar to us since we were there on sunny Sunday in March. Behind us we could still see Dale Head and Robinson, Maiden More now from this height. Great Gable is so close, so enormous it can just about fits in your eyes.

Gable Crag from Green Gable

To the south east below Great End the tarns of Styhead and above, Sprinkling Tarn. On the horizon, The Langdale Pikes of Harrison Stickle and Pike of Stickle.

The was no doubt about our position as far as Emily could tell. I’d traced her finger over the map on Saturday night stopping at Windy Gap. Today it was worthy of it’s name. Emily smiled and shouted against the power of the wind in the col between Green and Great Gable. “This must be windy Gap!”

Broad Crag, Sca Fell Pike and Sca Fell as seen from the Windy Gap

The fun part started now on the climb or scramble if you wanted too up Great Gable itself. We crossed and zig zagged our way through the loose rock. A wrong foot here could end a walk as sand coloured boulders rolled and slipped under the boots, it felt better to get a hold here and there. The passing places are narrow. Waiting to let other walkers by was safer than trying to pick another line. Jack and Emily always enjoy this kind of climbing, they seem to crawl over the rock but often end up making their own route up simply because they cannot see the path being that bit smaller, they need guiding back to the trail.

The summit is a massive boulder field, a rounded summit with a number of cairns indicating the way up, or the way down. We climb onto the summit behind the memorial plaque set on the summit rock commemorating those members of the Fell and Rock Climbing Club who died in the First World War. I hadn’t told Abs about the view from here and just before we arrived I set him for the surprise view which was that over Wasdale and Wast Water. It didn’t fail take your breath away. This view is just stunning and considered a favourite of many walkers that love the fells. So many other peaks can be seen grouped all around. No wonder this place is often chosen to scatter the ashes of loved ones. I point out to my friends that we stand on the summit of the mountain that sits at the centre of Britain’s favourite view if seen from the far end of Wast Water. The silhouette of the Wasdale range made of Yewbarrow, Great Gable and Lingmell is depicted in the emblem of the Lake District National Park.

Time to bring out the thermos. It’s getting colder now as we shelter behind the cairn out of wind and pass around the binoculars to survey the fells around, notably spending most of the time spotting other walkers ascending Scafell Pike. There appeared to be no one on the Pike. The shelter was easy to make out. But on closer inspection and a slight tweak of focus the shelter was actually mobbed by walkers, changing shape as people bustled about on the summit. Also seen were scores of walkers in single file heading up too. It was like Fawcett Street up there, (or Piccadilly Circus depending on your upbringing). Abs avoided the offer of tea, not wanting to foment a toilet break. Jack messed on with the GPS forcing a new altitude record beyond the official 899 metres by standing high on the cairn with his arm stretched high it clocked 900 meters. I fear he’ll be bringing a set of steps on the next outing. He was highly amused. We polished off the remains of our bait and sat back and watched the cloud roll in behind us. The view began to fade and signaled the best time to descend but not without a SMASH peak photo, though it was devoid of any scenery, replaced with the grey cap we’d seen Great Gable wear all day. Jack offered to do the honours as we stood battered against the moist wind. Just before leaving though the cloud lifted ever so slightly and grabbed this shot of the small people who I have to say am so incredibly proud of. They really have made this day so fun. I now marvel at how at ease they are outdoor in such openness. They entertain us by entertaining themselves. It’s great to share their effort with them and listen to them pointing out the next peaks they want to climb. Scafell Pike for them now looks very achievable with Skiddaw and Helvellyn to SMASH in July they should be set for a successful assault on England’s highest.  So big up the small people!

Brother and Sister – Jack 9 and Emily 8 years on a very windy Great Gable summit.

Descending Great Gable. Yewbarrow and Wastwater make the backdrop.

We set away down the north west face of this pyramidical fell into a bombed maze of rock and car sized boulders overlooking Kirk Fell. Steeply down, holding the stone and checking our feet. It’s tricky. Lead by Jack and Emily we descend below the cloud line the view begins to open up again for a sharper look at Wasdale. Jack and Em begin their usual teasing of the older members of the crew by wondering out loud about what was holding us up.

I don’t mind being teased far taking it easy but there’s a time and place for speed and this particular descent needed a little patience as Jack soon found when he wrong footed tumbled off the narrow path. He rolled over lengthways a couple of times fortunately the sides were stable enough that he went no further. We all gasped. At first we thought he would keep going. He was ok but a bit shaken. Shocked I think from the idea he had just fallen off a mountain. His leg hurt near and his hip, apart from that he was ok. It could have been worse if he’d knocked his head or something. I checked him over and  he began to cry, he knew he had been a little too excited, sliding down on his backside as sometimes he and Emily do when it turns steep. I think his back pack served as some protection too cause I’m sure he fell onto some rock embedded into the ground. I was a little cross with him but it wasn’t a time for being cross, he needed a quiet word of warning about taking his time and not to get over excited. A reality check for Jack and reminder of what can happen when you loose concentration for moment. I explained that when accidents happen it’s the cold that is the real danger if you cannot move you get cold quickly out here and it can take a long time to get you off the mountain. We had a hug and held hands for while until the trail eased a little and made down to Mosses trod which we would follow to Drum House.

Paul in Stone Cove

We got caught up in the game of Hare and Hounds and this time we quizzed a guy about what was going on. In essence he was just playing tig. He was a senior looking fellow with stork like legs. He surveyed the fell all around but set sights on a man with a red sash. He was the hare and this old “hound” we were with pretended to be with us doing his best to disguised himself as a fell walker so he could get closer the hare. We carried on walking and he backed up the fell. We talked to another younger couple of hounds and they explained there are four hares and twenty hounds. The hares are generally made up of professional runners, cross country runners, tri-athletes, people of that persuasion. The game is a tradition that takes place every Whitsun and has done since 1898 and is essentially a manhunt that history tells was really a woman hunt. She was known as Black Sall, she was a notorious smuggler in the 17th century, so the story goes, who was torn to pieces by dogs. They had chased her over the fell as she tried to escape with her booty. She had been smuggling plumbago (graphite) from Seathwaite mines – a then precious commodity used in the manufacture of cannonballs. Today there’s a bothy called Black Sail Hut just below Haystacks.

Mosses trod named after another smuggler.

Leaving Great Gable along Mosses Trod

The trail dips into Ennerdale slightly to give good views of Haystacks and Black Tarn before turning right to Drum House. Whilst Paul pondered the merits of running a calculated probability model in order to increase one chances of winning the lottery, he let out a yelp of excruciating pain. He went over and hit the deck grabbing his ankle. What a fright! But he’d just twisted it and got up and carried on almost as if nothing had happened. 20 minutes later he did it again. This time we weren’t nearly as concerned despite the same cries of pain.

Black Tarn and Buttermere

The walk was a gentle stroll from now on and the mood was ever relaxed but for Abs and Jack quizzing each other on the worlds geology and national flags. Anything to pass away the slow descent to Honister knowing full well a big mug of tea was waiting at the slate mine tea shop. Abs lead the way down with Emily then Jack and Paul and myself holding back and holding my bladder. I should have taken heed to Abs’s advise on Great Gable.

Chatting about small matters.

Honister Slate Mine in miniature


Walk Route Summary:– Honister Pass, Honister Hause, Grey Knotts, Brandreth, Green Gable, Windy Gap, Great Gable, Westmorland Cairn, Beck Head, Beckhead Tarn, Moses’ Trod, Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Walk, Honister Pass.Vital Statistics for this Walk

  • Length/Distance: 9.00km (5.75 miles)
  • Total Ascent: 731m (2340ft)
  • Allow at least: 4.50hrs
  • Walk Grade: 


High Street North -22 miles – Hartsop – Saturday 19th May – Week 1

High Street has long held a certain appeal to me. Ever since I was asked to tackle Helvellyn on a my bike just weeks after buying my first mountain bike I knew it was the high mountain rides that I would always grab my attention. I first rode High Street back in 2004 shortly after I got my Scott Genius. With a bloke named Dave, from Blackpool. I met Dave on a ride heading for the Garburn Pass in Kentmere. For some reason Dave and I refused to settle for the obligatory knod that bikers do when they pass by each other. We ended up riding the whole route together. I remember clearly that he wore a disturbing combination of Lycra shorts and a full face helmet. Later in the ride I found a way of asking him about his opposite apparel. I casually asked, “Are you not hot in that big lid?”.  It turned out the fall face was in reaction to a major crash that resulted in surgery to his face. He wasn’t taking any chances but still wanted to ride fast. It made me question what could happen. Dave said it wasn’t like he was being daft, quite and innocent off really that went bad. We seemed to get along well, he rode an old Scott Voltage with a Stars and Stripes paint job. It was a tired looking bike against my spanking new Genius but I admired his carefree just ride and get on with it and use what you have approach. He had just been married and had just moved into a house which needed a load of work, added to this his wife was expecting their first baby. His ride out that day was a means to clear his head and recharge. Well after that first ride Dave and I agreed to meet up again in Hartsop so he could show me the thrills of High Street. I was as keen as a badger.

The Nomad out with fresh new rebound cartridge for the fork and wider bars. Despite it’s racked stance it climbs superbly.

Hayes Water Gill

8 years later Mick and I arrived in Hartsop carpark amass with muddy puddles from the recent rain. It was cloudy Saturday morning we were full of excitement for what I described as a full on Lakeland mountain biking experience. I’ve known Mick since he started riding about 2 years ago and was aware he’d not tackled anything like a high mountain pass. I tried to paint the right kind of picture for Mick so that he’d look forward to it, emphasising the 5 mile descent, or did I say 6. How many of you always add a mile for descents when inviting your mates out for ride. I think I take a mile off for climbs as well. But I needn’t bother where Mick is concerned he’s always bang up for a good climb.

We set out on the well graded bridleway after checking to see I was’nt going to take the

Is that not the Knott? I’m off!

footpath instead. There’s absolutely no chance to warm the muscles or stretch the lungs before launching hard into a grueling series of gated bursts. Ascents that have you hanging down hard on the bars, and butt perched down hard on the nose of the saddle to get the rear tire to scramble some traction from the loose trail. From the off we were egging each other not to dab. Breaking the peace of Patterdale was the sound of rushing water of Hayeswater Gill and that of two southern wide boys growling out ‘Goo on mar san’. The leg burn was immense as ten minutes ago they were couped up in the car for an hour and a half so this was a rush of blood to the legs. Every gate was a goal as we sectioned our way around Gray Crag towards Hayeswater. The trail eases before turning into Hayeswater Reserviour.

G.O.A.P mar san!

The next goal was the Knott. A slippery climb and a 350 metre G.O.A.P ascent was the only way to go. Along the way we crossed an Australian dude in his late fifties, sporting long blonde hair that hung out from under a black wooley hat and looking fairly relaxed. He opened up with, “I thought you brits were crazy, now I know you are.”  I’m not sure what’s crazy about taking a mountain bike on a mountain, it’s been going on for a while now and I’m sure he’s heard of mountain biking. Anyway I’m not the one that hails from a hot country finding himself plodging about in mud. It turned out he was from Perth and reminded me that Lesley’s uncle Ray was due over and has passed on a message to me to get a good walk ready.  We exchanged our intended routes for the day and parted company and I set off for a quick sprint towards the next unrideable section and lofted the bike again and now was set to go non stop to the Knott and no holding back. I just wanted to ride again!

Mick passing along the Straits of Riggingdale and the Knott seen left.

High Street summit.

High Street was in view with a cloud just skimming the top. The slog up this far had made me reconsider the climb over onto High Street itself, knowing we’d plan to have a look around then turn around and come back down again. We agreed to swing left away from Haweswater towards High Raise.

The trails was sweet for riding. Firm with plenty of obstacles to negotiate. Step ups, raising rock gardens and sharp slices of stone like racks of toast to slip between were all entertaining and the added height of our position all went to make up that high mountain ride I had been looking forward to. We cut left over to the cairns at Ramsgill Head to get a good look into Martindale. Mick was preoccupied with the workings of his front mech. A tinker was on the cards for certain. Out came the lube and Mick was satisfied it had restored it back to normal operation, while I was admiring the moving cloud getting caught on High Raise.

It was much cooler up here and the perspiration from all the up hill exertion was now chilling on the skin so time to move on and warm up again. We looked out for the trail I nosed ahead searching for a suitable line onto the old Roman road known as High Street which would descend for about  6 miles to Loadpot Hill over crossing over RedCrag and  Wether Hill.

The Northern Fells from High Raise

A quick burst up to High Raise for a sit down for snackages and to soak up the view. Though we were already doing enough soaking up ourselves. My shorts were feeling a bit heavy without a mud guard to catch the rain. Mick did a 360 video from High Raise at 802 meters while I needed to send a picture to absent friends, just to show them what they were missing of course.

You put your Soreen down for 5 minutes and someone rides over it!

The problem was as we soon found out, the path of which there are many are not so easy to navigate on a bike. The bridleway is not always as well defined as some of the footpaths. Mick sped off in front, launching huge rooster tails of rain water from his rear tire, giving me a power shower soaking. We soon found ourselves slipping down a vanishing singletrack off to the left of Red Crag slowing to a boundary wall at the head of Mere Beck. There was no definable path ahead. We checked over the map to realise our unintended position meant more pushing up onto High Street. We rejoined a trail presuming to be the High Street bridleway.  The going was soft to softer still to say the least. Short bursts of riding interspersed with technical meanderings around boggy sections that looked like they might but probably wouldn’t swallow you whole. I’m always way to cautious around deep puddles that I can’t see into. Ever since I trashed my Scott, dropping my front end at speed, square onto a stone edge buried on the far side of a deep bog. It was some years ago. Folding a front wheel like a pringle, stressing a head tube and busting a pair of forks then launching me into a superman grass slide on my face, well it just makes me edgy now. The damage to me had nothing on the damage to my wallet after that spill. A new frame, new forks and front wheel to put it right again.

The remainder of High Street was slow and frankly frustrating.  It just never gets going. It was flatter than I remembered but the flattness was only brought to mind because I needed to understand why it was so wet. It was much drier when I rode the roman road so many years ago, so never considered the geological aspects of the descent other than I remember it was very fast. So where was the fast bit today? It was there but it wasn’t being fast.  Just lots of hanging arses of rear tires to keep the front light to avoid ditching the front end into soggy quagmires.

Singletrack terrace for 3 miles down to Howtown with superb views across Ullswater

We eventually pulled up at Cockpit after finally getting some speed above Barton Fell but it was ill reward for the effort attained by pushing to over 800 metres. I don’t think I’ve ever lost so much height so slowly and ending with the feeling of fatigue in the legs at half way. I wanted to give more for the next section of the ride which was far more promising. The trail cuts back west and south west onto sandy coloured hard pack. A welcome contrast to the spongy grass we’d been subjected to for the past 2 hours. The sun was shinning on Ullswater inviting a cluster of white sporting boats out from the yacht club.

I set off hard, hungry to build some speed up and rid me of the ride experience so far. The trail does not disappoint here but sadly my legs did and began to feel the grip of cramp setting in. I lifted myself off my saddle and found holding that position was not helping but the terrain said I should. I figured I’d ride it off and pushed on eager to turn a bigger gear. The stiffness eventually eased as the trail descended ever quicker. The rhythm of the track inspired more speed and and an attacking position. The trick now was to make out the details in the trail between what were deep puddles and what could be ridden through at speed knowing that the wrong decision at pace could result in a big off. The trail narrows and broadens. In parts it’s smooth and others it’s sketchy. We learned the area was subjected to 2 days of hard rain. We were pleased we’d just missed it but it still made for a very wet ride turning sections into shallow streams. This path was also enjoyed by walkers too. We came upon a couple of families out for the day and slowed to a crawl, they ushered their little people as well as their nana to the side of the track. Having fitted new bars on this week I’d forgotten to replace my bell and was beginning to miss it. The squal of a disc brake is not nearly as polite as the tinkle of a bell to warn walkers of your presence. After a couple of nice fast kickers for long jumps, we throw out an anchor and swerve into Howtown catching our breath grinning about what had just been a great mountain biking experience. All over too quickly, but then great trails like this are never long enough. Clicky here for some HD video that includes a short view of the High Street bog section to start with some accompanying drum and bass i’ve been listening to recently.

Dirty boy!

We were mud splattered, but beginning to dry out under the sun. The sky had broken up into blue and white in time for a pint and a sit down in the charming rear garden of the Howtown Hotel. It was fairly busy with walkers taking a well earned break in the sunshine. Mick and I provided some spectacle in our a riding garb looking like we’d been dragged across the moor backwards. Had the pace been any slower we may well have been going backwards! The rush of the Ullswater single track had perked us up and knew the rest of the ride was of a different character altogether.

Before we might be embedded into the garden bench we gathered ourselves together and attempted to start the legs up once more. We head out up the steep and twisted road. We made a quick pit-stop to apply some lube. The sodden trail so far had washed off any chain lube invoking that dry annoying squeak. Silently on then we searched about the roadside to pick up the next section of bridlepath above Sandwick continuing along the lakes edge. The trail again starts out buff and gives way to loose baby head boulders and some sunken stones to be hit square on or wiggled around into more technical decsions. Simply go for it or back off to avoid any over the bars dismounts? Hanging out over the rear wheel was the order and then let the brakes off to swoop down then up again. The dropper seat post was a god send on this trail as was a rapid rise gear shift. There are a few sections that just can’t be ridden. If only there was more time to carry some speed then maybe. The technical nature of the trail was not so much about what was on the ground and deciding line choice and such but just as much about gear management.  Although I was cursing some parts I sensed I was some way ahead of Mick now. I hadn’t heard from him in a while and turning round to see if he was behind, he was no longer there. I think I just got into a zone, enjoying the challenge of this trail, it was absorbing and must have stretched out a gap.  I pulled up a by an old fella that was out walking the fells, when he commented that it couldn’t be easy on a bike. I got talking and found out he’d been a moutain biker in his younger days before the term mountain bike was coined. He was fit looking old man and his walking pace was to be admired. Naturally walkers assume you have no interest in walking, considering it too laid back for someone wearing protective armour.  I’m always keen to set them right and recount a few fells recently SMASHed with friends and family. It always raises an eyebrow.  I sped off but not long before I figured i’d use another G.O.A.P section and the old guy caught me up a again.  I slowed and this time made it an excuse to wait for Mick to show. As I waited I had chance to take in the location and the peaceful surroundings. The time of day was perfect for riding here. As I predicted we would be riding in sunshine , though admittedly I wasn’t so sure on the sunshine part but it would light this side of the fell,over the lake. I’d seen it before from the other side as the sun made it’s way down behind Helvellyn catching one of  Ullswater steamers making it’s last pass of the day. It was delightful place to be.

After about 15 minutes Mick appeared over the grey stone. He wasn’t complaining but he was spent. As I was, but he admitted he was feeling it more an a hard tail. But credit due, he’d done well. My concerns about taking friends out on trails like this cause me to wonder how they will react. I’ve had some poor reactions in the past from friends I’ve invited on rides and I’ve never seen them for company again. Mick, I’m pleased to say is more forgiving  and made of better stuff, he relishes a chance to challenge himself. So when a couple of mountain bikers heading in the other direction come by I’m pleased because it reaffirms that I’m not making this up. In my mind I’m saying, ‘look we’re not the only ones slogging it out here.’

All the character of a footpath, great for riding.

After weighing up the technical merits of the ride after such a hard time on High Street we agreed we were not feeling as nimble as we might have been. That spring in your legs and the dexterity needed to pull the bars up quickly was not there. We were just a couple of miles from the finish and coasted down to Patterdale onto the tarmac return to Hartsop. After just 22 miles we were surprised how exhausted we felt. For me it was a big wake up call that shouted out to get more saddle time in before the big 4 day epic in July. This was the kind of riding I’d do with a bit more each day for 4 days. So I was pleased if anything that I’d at least put myself to test. With a tour of Helvellyn in June of nearly 30 miles I knew I had to get some distance training in fast. Mick would miss that ride on account of getting married on the same day. I’ll be sure to let him know how it goes. But if I don’t show at his reception party then I guess he’ll know why.

Tinkering Mick will me Married Mick next time out.

Blencathra from Threlkeld – near Keswick – Sunday 6th May

Blencathra’s ‘other’ ridge

For anyone who visits the Lake District from the North East over England’s spine the Pennines via the A66 will most likely face the mass wall of mountain with the distinctive ‘Saddleback’ shape. Blencathra is one the most accessible of mountains, at least if your hail from over our way. I can recall (before I ever walked on any fell) the times I passed by this range so close to the motor way. It runs so close you have to crane your

Hall’s Fell Ridge to Hall’s Fell Top

neck to see the top from the car. It’s imposing and to me back then looked far from accessible. In fact I don’t believe I had a notion that anyone would walk on it. I mean how could you, more over, why would you want to? But I think even then as someone who had no comprehension of the pleasure it gives to take a path up to the top of a mountain, I still wondered what it would be like to stand on it. The weather concerned me. It always looked grim and unwelcoming as if it was saying, ‘you can have a go, but you need to know what you are getting into.’ I’m not an experienced climber, mountaineer by any stretch of the imagination but I look at these peaks now and just want to be at the top, now with more of a sense of curiosity. I wonder what you can see from that one?

Those early musings must have had some sort of impact on me. This will be my fourth visit to Blencathra having always ascended from Scales. One failed attempt at Sharp edge with my wife’s uncle Ray trying to ignore the fact I had a viral infection that had me stopping after every 10 steps, you can imagine what peering over the Edge felt like. I don’t really do heights as it is. Ray swore blind we needed ropes to scramble the last hands on section onto Atkinson Pike. He talked me out of it, we retreated back to Scales Tarn and ascended via the common route to Hall’s Top.

I wanted to make this walk a little different. One where we could get our hands on a mountain and figured the way up should be a scramble via the other ridge on the face of Blencathra. Hall’s Fell ridge is a prominent rib that has some excellent options for anyone looking for taster for scrambling.

Today was blighted only by the absence of friends and family. The week had mowed down some of our sturdy companions. Abs, with a chest infection and Emily with a cold. Nicole also worse for ware, threw a sicky. Lesley of course stay home with Emily which was a shame as I was looking forward to helping Lesley get her own back at Blencathra after I once misguided her first attempt on any fell, throwing her in the deep end. We bailed about two-thirds of the way up and didn’t speak for bit afterwards. But after her stirling effort on Haystacks and Fleetwith I figured she was better conditioned now for a crack at Big Blen. But after all the hype she missed out. 

Anth, was super enthusiastic as ever and  he’s clearly excited about the prospect of SMASHing higher peaks. They appeal to him, because Scafell Pike looms in August on the diary. Blencathra will wet his proverbial big peak whistle I think.

For Jack, it’s just another day out with his dad and whoever else might like a look out. It’ll be a chance for him to SMASH his personal altitude record. I think his highest prior to today was the Old Man of Coniston, 803 meters which he SMASHed when he was 5 years old. At nearly 10 he can’t remember much of it now. He prefers not to.

From Thelkeld we start out through the village to Gategill and pick up the footpath taking us directly onto Hall’s Fell Ridge. In no time at all the gloves were on. Can you believe it started to snow? I wanted to say it’s was sleet because it can’t snow in May surely? But it was snow. No chance of it settling on the ground, that wasn’t any concern but what was would be the state of things to come at height. Looking skyward we could see white clouds of snow moving in from Keswick and another one just below Knowe Crag to the left of the ridge. I wouldn’t describe it as threatening; but more bizarre. The temperature was just 9° when we left the car and the sky was breaking up and the lambs seemed joyful enough in the fields and generally it was still pleasant weather.

I decided to take the sting out of the first 150 meters by taking a faint track diagonally across the fell and then cut back onto the main path. The height gained quickly offering views west of Derwent Water and to the South-east, Great Mell Fell. We spread some yards between us making our own way onto the ridge stopping to watch the reaction of sheep to Jacks wooly hat. Sheep often loose sight of their little ones too and need to get by anyone in the way.

Once on the ridge, the grassy fell gave way to a loose slate chipped path flanked with bare rock crags. We aimed at the false summits on the ridge and marked them out for a sit down. I figured halfway would be a good time to take a break. The experience so far was already so different from any other ascents on the S.M.A.S.H calendar. From this standpoint the shape of the peak is more pinnacle than the approach from Scales. Alfred Wainwright gave more pages to Blencathra than any other Lakeland peak in his guide books. I think he makes reference to seven ascents of Blencathra giving considerable praise to the Hall’s Fell route.

Anth enjoying a wide open space over looking Clough Head with Threlkeld quarry below.

From here on the ridge narrows and the stone crevasses signal the way forward.  Once on the ridge the temptation for me at least was to stay on it, despite knowing the path is just a few meters below. I invited Jack and Anth to take the hands on alternative. Before long we are all coiling ourselves and springing to the next ledge, flexing and grappling with the mountain and hefting our way upwards.  As we moved on we each take our individual view of the ridge seeking out the most interesting lines.

Jack getting a hold of the mountain in the snow!

The ridge was busy today with most choosing to make their descent on Hall’s Fell Ridge. A committee of unlikely looking fellas were having a meeting on the ridge and eyeballing the best way down across some slippery slab sections.

The only way is Up!

After 2 hours and 10 minutes we pop directly onto Hall’s Fell Top, the principle summit point of Blencathra. There’s none of that over the brow and walk 100 yards to the trig,  it’s there as soon as you peer over the last of the ridge to find a small sorry-looking cairn and a concrete ring in the ground marking the summit. There were a few walkers on the summit and asked one lone guy if he would take our photo. Jack has now bagged his 25th Wainwright at 868 meters, so well done Jack. He was modest as usual about his latest achievement. I wanted to show Jack and Anth Scales Tarn and Sharp Edge. We turned right dropping down toward Tarn Crags off the path to find a stone to sit on. The view north from here is dominated by the rounded face of Bannerdale Crags with Bowscale Fell to the left. The east has Souther Fell and the A66.

Sharp Edge and Scales Tarn. With Bannerdale and Bowscale Fell behind.

It’s deadly quiet though and we sat to try to hear the conversations of those down below at Scales Tarn beginning their ascent via Sharp Edge, regarded as not fit for walkers. You need a head for heights, which I don’t and besides in this changing weather it’s smooth and sharp edges are best avoided in my opinion. The deep bowl shape holds sound in and makes it easy hear others talking that would otherwise not be heard at such distance.

We picked ourselves up and returned to Halls Fell top to join the South East track to Gategill Top and onto Knowe Crags. We neared the edge to get a giddy view down one of the many gullies to witness snow blowing from below us, carried by the wind tracing the side of Blencathra.

On Stern Blencathra’s perilous height

The winds are tyrannous and strong:

And flashing forth unsteady light

From stern Blencathra’s skiey height,

As loud the torrent throng!                       Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The snow was merely a shower and passed over leaving a white muslin like veiled scene. It was a surreal view like someone had been messing with the contrast setting. From the foreground through to the mountains of Skiddaw, Latrigg, High Rigg, the Newlands and Clough Head had their own shade of grey. You could make out Great Gable and Sca Fell too on the skyline.

Tewet Tarn in the foreground – Thirlmere and Derwent Water – You can just make out Sca Fell in the distance.

“That’s snow right there lad.”

With each meter lost in height we gained a clearer view of the path ahead down a zig-zag trail. It’s slow and hard on the knees. But as the path leveled (slightly) we sat down on the long grass as the snow gave way to sunshine we finished our lunch and took out the binoculars. We could spy out some walkers on High Rigg and into the model town of Keswick.

The conversation continued to be dominated between Jack and Anth since Jack heard mention of Derwent prompting him to recount every detail of his time spent at Derwent Hill, the outdoor adventure retreat for school kids. As it’s funded by Sunderland Council, a lot of adults from the north-east can remember their tales of outdoor malarkey with their school-mates. Anth had a chance to immerse himself in nostalgic memories with Jack confirming nothing had changed and everything was just as Anth remembered about thirteen years ago. Every swing, splash and jump was relived in vivid detail. Jack is looking forward to going back in October to learn more crazy songs about a materialistic bird with a yellow bill.

Stepping over Blease Gill

We cut back into the ingress on a buffed track to Blease Gill and right into the wood. Threlkeld is a pretty little village with well-kept houses made from the local quarry. There are more pubs than you can shake a stick at too. The sun was out for good now and the perils of snow far gone.

The Horse and Farriers looks like a good setting for a pot of Earl Grey from Twinnings. It was by Anth’s standards a fine cuppa made all the better by taking it outdoors to chat about the day against a perfect Lakeland back drop. After nearly 6 miles this walk crams in everything you could ask for from a day on the fells. Strenuous walking to bust the quads and calf muscles, a scramble for beginners, massive views to try out your peak spotting skills and the obligatory changing Lakeland weather experience. Which ever way you prefer to scale Blencathra it will please anyone with the slightest appreciation for getting out on the fells.

Clicky here: Vital Statistics for this Walk

Walk Route Summary:-Threlkeld, Gategill Farm, Hall’s Fell, Hall’s Fell Ridge, Blencathra Or Saddleback (Hallsfell Top), Gategill Fell Top, Knowe Crags (Blease Fell),Threlkeld.

  • Walk Grade: 

Saturday 21st April 2012 The Langdales – 31km

I could be excused or accused of using the walking half of the outdoor exploits merely as a reconnoissance mission for scoping out potential for future mountain bike rides. It’s where SMASHing peaks serves the CRASHing around the great riding trails in Cumbria’s Lake District. Ah so what, it makes sense to do so. I make no apologies for pretending I’m out walking just for walking sake, why shouldn’t I eye up the quickest line on the trail in case I ever return on two wheels? 

So I got smitten by the very sight of a couple of mountain bikers on the last walk we did onto Loughrigg. We had originally planned to ride the Horcum gLoop in the North Yorkshire Moors, but after the two days of persistent rain that never fares well for a moors ride, creating a creamy, muddy sludge-fest that presides after heavy rain. So I decided it was not only wise to head to the slate and stone laden tracks of The Lake District but it would scratch that itch I picked up two weeks prior. The weather was looking like it should continue to stay dry too.

While the CRASH half of my circle of pals were largely absent from this ride, Tinkering Mick was bang up for a look out. No doubt a bit disenchanted with the hum drum of the daily commute to work and suffering a bit of tarmac depression. I get it after about 20 yards until I begin searching out rock gardens that are actually rocks in someone’s garden to ride over before I loose my mind.

So early start 07:00 or just after to pick up Mick and return once again to Ambleside via A66 and the Kirkstone Pass. Today I started the tinkering. The front tyre had lost air on the journey over. A patch sorted it out and not one of your quick fix types, a proper old school patch from a kit I picked up in Coniston last year during an emergency, one with a crayon, grit paper, french chalk and squirty glue. A proper job.

The Genius gets a look out today, while the Nomad is fork free in for a service with Fisher Outdoors since the compression cartridge gave up on The Reeth ride in March.

Like Batman trying to find the keys for his cave. Mick at the Caves over Jobson Close

I was concerned for this ride if only for the fact it was going to be tricky for me to navigate. I’m still no good at sticking to the intended route, especially on a bike. The map OL7 for this ride got running repairs last night and is beginning to take on the form of a laminated map due to the amount of sellotape applied to its fraying creases. I’d marked out a rather confusing looking route in an attempt to pull the best trails together in one closed loop.

I could think of worse places to get lost. I had enough Soreen to feed and small army, some go faster juice in the Camelbak and a GPS back up just in case we got completely wayward. We circled around the car park and coasted out of Rothay Park following the River Rothay to Pelter Bridge and make the stoney climb to the caves above Jobson Close and quickly down the excellent trails to Loughrigg Terrace.

Down to Loughrigg Terrace toward Grasmere, but take the right hand track next time to avoid unrideable step up on the left track.

Mick and I were surprised to see bikes out numbering the walking sticks. The trails around here are shared by both walkers and mountain bikers alike and from what I could tell were happy to do so. I certainly don’t mind, it’s on trails like this where your bell is your best accessory to warn walkers of your presence and that is the key to keeping a good pace. But I never forget to thank someone for stepping aside to let me by, provided I’ve still got a breath to do so.

From Loughrigg Fell we made our way down toward Great Langdale. We did so but not via the intended route. We’d missed the fork in the road that would have taken us left the long way down to the picturesque village of Chapel Stile. I’m not sure how much of a road we missed or was it a good track? I guess I’ll go back again to find out. It was at this point that the weather looked like it was about to turn nasty so we ripped out the shell jackets, rammed in some sort of chocolate biscuit, and headed down the road above Elterwater and the walking section of the Cumbria Way. I point out the walking section in case you question why we did not pick it up to ride on. You can ride on parts and that part is found further along in Great Langdale .

The slate houses and the Holy Trinity Church in Chapel Stile

Chapel Stile is a pretty little village that sits at the foot of Great Langdale. It

I can feel a tinker coming on.

has these very distinctive slate houses that used to be home the quarrymen in the 18th Century. They mined the green slate nearby. Today it was the scene for an organised running event only today the runners would be dressed as Santas. At least that what one of the signs said. We didn’t spot any jolly old blokes, we were the only ones close to fitting that description and Mick wore a red coat too.

This ride started out with amazing views that grew with each turn. I’d never been into the Langdales before and now were beyond walking distance from Ambleside we were swallowed up by the stunning scenery that this area offers. Mick and I were in awe of the surroundings and feeling like we had escaped and were now somewhere very special and on our bikes too. This was my favourite view of the day.

Lingmoor Fell left and Loft Crag and Harrison Stickle on the right from Great Langdale near Harry Place Farm.

Understandably the Langdale Pikes are very popular with fell walkers, rock climbers as well as being irresistible to artists and photographers. Alfred Wainwright wrote “once seen, never forgotten” which truly describes the Langdale Pikes. John Ruskin also described it as “the loveliest rock scenery, chased with silver waterfalls, that I have ever set foot or heart upon”. On a day like this I would agree. The clouds were scattered in that way that creates windows on sunshine that light up the fells in small parts that stand out of a scene giving it contrast, depth and interest. I could tell I was going to be reaching for the camera frequently today. We turned left from the road at Harry Place Farm though the largest farm gate in the world and rolled down the wide track across the valley floor to the bridge over Great Langdale Beck, but not before flicking a sample of sheep poo from my rear tyre into Mick’s face. I thought he’d been eating my Soreen.

From the Bridge over Great Langdale Beck

Back on the proper trails now which were just delightful to ride on for a mountain biker. Up and down the gears through the becks and the streams.

Nice signage!

Jackets were off now, the shower was short-lived. I couldn’t believe it was not even lunchtime we seemed to have covered quite a bit of ground and were now heading into Baysbrown Wood to find a climb to take us over to Little Langdale. I clocked a bike rider on trail up on the left so questioned whether we should be up there. A clear bridleway was marked on the map about 400m before Elterwater Hall and looked on first impression like a better off-road alternative.  The climb was soon a G.O.A.P affair and reconsidered, but in a rush of enthusiasm I spied another track. We dropped back down in front of a handful of walkers rubbing their index fingers over their maps and we peddled upwards on a fine-looking trail that I thought would take us up and over to Little Langdale. I didn’t and ended at the disused Banks quarry. Still the view was worth the climb looking over the Langdale Valley to Chapel Stile and Elterwater village standing among masses of discarded slate. As we climbed I spotted a piece of slate  just laying there on the trail that someone had scratched into it “Keep going”. That sort of thing really does not help the likes of me, I’ll take it as a sign that we are headed in the right direction. Which we wasn’t!

Another check on the map and it was obvious the clear bridleway was not going to take us to Little Langdale but fade into a footpath come goat track

Chapel Stile Village from above Baysbrown Wood

back in the direction we’d come. But all’s well because we a had a chance to blast down the excellent trail we’d climbed.

We correct ourselves and dropped swiftly into LIttle Langdale  steering away from the pub, to crack on with the riding. We crossed to massive ford of Greenburn Beck and climbed over more slabs and slate to Hodge Close. Mick and I were enjoying the technical climbs that permeated the ride now. Challenging each other to clean the climbs without dabbing. Some dubious cheating from myself using the stone wall to balance a bit but in a way which I thought was acceptable.

Mick cleaning it.

From here on we were  climbing for Iron Keld around Arnside Take the highest point of this route at just 266m. We’d make this our rest point before the long steady descent to Skelwith Bridge.

Tarn Hows from Iron Keld

We dumped the bikes down and in a quiet vale overlooking Tarn Hows and fueled up on Soreen and other stuff. We walk up on Iron Keld to get a look at the view of the Coniston Fells

The Coniston Fells from Iron Keld

Somehow I’d managed to make right old monocle of my glasses, and left one of course. Fortunately Mick had a spare pair and took this shot complete with helmet hair and malt loaf teeth. Very fetching!

I wanted Mick to set off ahead of me so I could set up a shot him on the meandering trail. I used to say photography gets in the way of the riding, I’m not so sure now, I think they go very well together.The next part of the ride was just superb. It had everything a trail riding mountain biker could ask for. Narrow single track, stone and slab kickers, open grassy power ups into more step and drop offs. More variety than you could shake a stick at all in a non-stop descent. I did nearly throw myself over the bars. Not sure how it really caught me off guard, I just remember being launched forward I presume I had my seat post locked up to high. I’ve got out of the habit of lowering the post on downhill sections since I had been used to the dropper post in the Nomad. I really did think I was going off in a big way too. I’ve never had any high-speed crashes, more lows speed dismounts over something technical. I was lucky today to get away with it. I did video of the near miss but it didn’t look so bad from a pilot’s view. But was enough to turn my stomach at the time. What I could have landed on was not in any way going to be a soft landing.

Stephen How and I nearly went over the bars.

With arms completely pumped from the descent we made our way along the road to Skelwith Bridge and climbed back onto the sides of Loughrigg Fell underneath Ivy Crag

Is that Ivy Crag over there?
No that’s Ivy Crag behind you.

on the last leg now to Ambleside. I was just beginning to feel the onset of some muscle fatigue after all the climbs were steep and I took this as a personal fitness marker for future rides, given that they are planned to be less forgiving than this route. Mick was feeling good about his conditioning, affirming his daily commute to be paying off when you get into the places that are more demanding.

Once we climbed again onto Deer How it was all downhill from now on to Rothay Park. What a screaming descent that it. Did this ride just get better? It was in all without doubt one of the best. This area is superb mountain biking territory. I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to go back. It’s on the list for a re-visit so call me up if you want to explore the Langdales, I’ll take in all the navigational foppery as well, it would be hard to beat for all out variety and scenery.

We packed up and set off home via Kirkstone Pass and dropped in for a pint of Kirkstone Black which is black as the barmaid kindly pointed out. We chatted about the merits of the ride and that bits we enjoyed the most. The feeling was one of complete satisfaction. Tired enough to know it wasn’t easy but just right in so many ways. As we left the pub there was a group of roadies in full retina burning blue and yellow lycra. Aside from the spectacle of old blokes

Cheers for the ride!

in skin-tight get up, I couldn’t help but feel they were missing out on something, they couldn’t take their bikes into the places we had and that’s where mountain bikes can get you, deep into the wood and disused quarries, over the fells and crags and high peaks that is the attraction of this part of England. I love it and can’t wait for May to get up really high on High Street for more bike riding over the bumpy bits. Sorry lads, you can keep your spandex and skinny wheels!

Clicky here for some Go Pro video of just a few of the best bits.