Smaller alternative to the big mountains but with all the charm.
The weather had been amazing prior to this month’s C.R.A.S.H. lookout. Craig and I managed to sneak a ride in from Reeth on Thursday when the sun had already dried the trails setting us up for a good ride at the weekend. I couldn’t wait to come back today.
Setting away from home at 07:30 we arrived on the hour into Reeth on its cobbled market place come car park opposite the large green. The fog had seriously cut down the viewing pleasure on the drive but by the time we arrived we could feel the rising temperature beginning to burn the fog away leaving a sunny haze that frankly was out of character for March.
My riding pals today were Tinkering Mick who hadn’t been seen out for months but is still riding to work on his Spesh Rockhopper and itching to get out on some proper trails. Keith, bringing the heat from Dubai returning to Sunderland has been looking forward to getting out for a while now, and obviously still acclimatising to the UK cooler air setting off in his wind shell.
We head west along the B6270 to warm up the legs before turning right into a very steep ascent at the little village of Healaugh. The scene is very picturesque at this early hour, mist still hanging low across the Swale valley you can begin to make out the mass of Harkerside across the river and point out where I had been riding just a couple of days ago. It’s nice to take view on a fell side and think, I was up there, always seeming a bit more impressive from a distance. That’s the thing with Swaledale, you’re never to far away from somewhere you’ve ridden before or new trails you have yet to ride. But they are already highlighted on the OS Map OL 30 Yorkshire Dales Central and Northern Areas. It’s a huge crisscrossing network of fantastic bridleways. And there’s something for everyone, beginners as well as the more experienced will all find somewhere to ride off road.
But there are so many trails it can be problematic for some like myself who is well known for not paying much attention to the land in front at least from a navigational perspective I’ll miss the trail that peels off to the right because I prefer to the one I’m on and this get get us a little wayward at times, and I submit to calling out the map for everyone to gather around. Collectively we tend to have bit of an idea where we are. This was the case when as I realised the trail seemed to take a downward approach a little too soon. We weren’t far off and picked up the bridleway but were still not far enough up the fell. This came as a relief for some.
We rolled gently to Bleaberry Gill which on first impressions looked like a doable crossing. Mick took step stone precautionary method while Keith fancied a ride though which he did until the very last squared off river stone at the edge to stop him dead and throw him clean over the bars. He dismounted stylishly over the top to land very unstylishly on his face at the water’s edge covered in soft river verge brown stuff.
With the first CRASH out of way we set off steeply up to climb to Great Pinseat reached along a broad double track with vast views across Swaledale to the south and Arkengarthdale to the north. Grouse were everywhere I don’t like to think we spooked them but they are easily freaked out by anyone that gets within 50 meters of them, they make that distinctive raucous noise, which sounds a bit like a hyperactive child shaking one of those cow cans that you tip over to make a moo sound. I like grouse though, they remind my I’m somewhere remote and somehow they make me feel privileged to share the moors with them. Though they always do a better job of spooking me and often cause a bike wobble when I least need one. We pressed on at a nice leisurely pace swapping places occasionally and stopping for a couple of photos and just taking our time to the height of Great Pinseat. Topping out at 583 meters where you don’t quite expect the terrain to change so dramatically from lush heather to a moonscape with giant mounds of gravel. Keith’s suggestion of hiring a helicopter carrying tonnes of cement dust and dropping it before rainstorm was a genius idea of how we could turn it into our own Yorkshire version of Moab.
We took the obligatory photos at the cairn and scoffed our personal biking bites then set off for the open descent to Level House bridge and then through the Old Gang Smelting mills. The smelt mill at Old Gang was built in the early years of the 19th century. Click here: This section was the highlight of the day. It’s not at all a techy trail but a wide open big ring bonanza of a track where you cover ground so quickly you find the ride is almost at its end and all over too soon. We bounded over the drain pipes spaced nicely apart, with speed and timing you have a great time practicing compressing your bike for long jumps, and without any concern for bends or corners. Even a couple of walkers could see us in plenty of time to step aside and give us cheery smiles as we zipped along in single file.
At Surrender Bridge we checked over the map to consider the option of the road ride back into Reeth or climb north again to pick up a moorland track traversing the steep scar across to Cringley Bottom. Agreeing it was a no brainer we turned our back on the tarmac. This is the only ‘not doable’ part of the ride forcing one to shoulder your bike cautiously down a narrow footpath
to cross the beck up to the wall to rejoin a grassy track. A little soft going from here made hard work on the legs.
Mick was feeling it and dropped himself into the heather under the sun now at its warmest; it could have been a midsummer’s day in July.
This is what we’d all been waiting for. Just to see the dust smoking off Mick and Keith’s tires earlier immediately transports me deep into summer. It’s one of those mind shots you remember for ages, and nothing beats it for the UK mountain biker. I’ve continued to persevere with the worst of the winter. It’s not been a bad winter but it’s been long. Next year I figure it’ll seem longer unless I forget the imagery of sunny days in the dales. I always come out of the simmer fitter than I went in. It’s too easy to sack a winter ride in favour of something else that’s not so much of a hassle really. It’s not that I don’t enjoy riding in the winter; I’d still rather ride in the rain and snow than do anything else at all other than ride in the sunshine of course. I think it’s the gear, thick gloves, biblongs, water-proof trousers and jackets, balaclavas and glasses that steam up in the rain and the wet muddy clothes. Being told off for trailing trail though the house on the way to the bathroom for that wee you’ve held in all-day. It’s the constant cleaning your bike while you stand with the hose in the back garden shivering because you’re not moving anymore and now you want to be warm, not pampered, just warm with a brew on. Today is what we want, every day we ride, just wearing shorts, t-shirts and shades.
When Keith caught up we all jumped into the heather, arched belly up wearing our camelbaks. We can make beds from this heather we thought, it’s that comfortable, even luxurious. Most people would pay well to have their quilts at home smell like Yorkshire heather too, I’m sure my misses would go for it. Something like it will be on sale in Boundary Mills I’m sure.
We chose well to pick the off road return to Reeth. A good variation of terrain, a grassy single track to double track to gravel track to grassy no track to stony boulder trail impersonating a stream track finally spitting us out onto the B6270 exactly where we started. Mick picked up a slow pinch flat on the very last 50 yards before hitting the road into Reeth. This offered him a fantastic opportunity to tinker for a bit and by the time we were sitting down outside the Black Bull with a pint of Sheep his tire was flat. Brilliant! Back home for 14:00.
S.M.A.S.H. Pay Tribute to Wainwright’s favourite mountain.
It’s not often I admit that one of the lasting memories of this particular outing was formed in the car on the way. The Lakes are home to some fine passes. Kirkstone, Hardknott. I wasn’t expecting such a scene as we turned into the Butteremere on the Honister Pass. Wedged between Dale Head and Fleetwith Pike we rolled down the steep ribbon of road to Gatesgarth. The enormous fells either side and the view in the valley is a mixture of claustrophobia shared with the immense space that opens out before you. I’d have been satisfied with that view alone.
I’d never been to this valley. I’ve climbed to Dale Head a few years back and only searched back through old photos to see if I’d shot any of Buttermere from there or maybe Hindsgarth. If I’d known just how stunning this valley was I’d have come here well before now.
Today my walking buddies are S.M.A.S.H’s founding father Abs of course, bringing a fine selection of shades under his Aussie hat. A welcome return of John last out on Latrigg in October bringing a suitable wide lens this time. Nicole, obviously impressed from the last walk up Wansfell and Baytones, up for another challenge bringing a dry boot. Then there’s a full Bowen squad. Lesley (my wife), with her pockets full of trepidation and the small people Jack and Emily bringing chaos, entertainment and mountains of energy.
So spring has sprung and the sun shone between massive white clouds. When it dipped behind them you were reminded that it’s still early and a slight chill lingers about you.
We leave Gatesgarth and it’s dairy cows and head straight down the BW to Peggys Bridge and stop to take in the beauty of this valley from the pasture so green and set against the painted blue sky evoking a real feeling of summer. Short sleeves, shades and packing light jackets in case winter decides to make a surprise return, it was good to be up and outside.
There’s an added silence to this valley that was apparent from the other walks. Warnscale beck was even respectful enough too by just keeping the noise down and not rushing to fast as to interupt the peace but just babling along gently.
From Buttermere fell we aim for Scarth Gap easily visable. Getting there though was not so easy. We negotiate the wet boulder garden where the path fades and you just tend to step up onto anything that looks like it won’t roll away. This is where the small people excel. Their low centre of gravity lends well to scampering over this type of terrain and before long they are out of sight. We don’t see them again until we reach the gap.
Most of us adults kind of flop down on the short grass mounds that make up the various view points at Scarth gap where as Emily seems to get charged from any summit. She’s not a valley person, her mood dips in the lowlands, but once she feels the breeze and the openness of a pinnicle she’s all full of energy and constant chat. She knows what it is to celebrate on a summit.
Lesley asked “where now”? It’s fair to say this is all new to Lesley and she’s still scoping out this fell walking malarky, constantly assessing her mood and how she feels about exerting herself on the fells for pleasure. I think we’ve all been at that place where you kind of wonder what there is that’s so enjoyable when the effort required to get to a peak does not outweigh the satisfaction from standing on one. She openly admits to not enjoy the climbing but understands it’s an unavoidable part of what we’re here for, so talks herself to accepting that she must push on but unfortunately upwards. I point over to Big Stack on Haystacks, not playing it down but setting the expectation. I say “it’s right up there, over that crag”. A wall of rock somehow to be walked over. She looks at it thinking ropes must be required at some point. We set off, the small people lead the way and again out of sight dashing towards the rock section onto Haystacks. This is where having the kids lead is somewhat encouraging to Lesley. She can see they are enjoying themselves and making it look easy too. She want’s to see them show her mum which way to go. The stand high up on the side of Haystacks shouting down to the rest of us. “Come on”. We smile, thinking, cheeky little so and so’s. It’s encouraging though and we put or hands on the rock and take more consideration to each step.
On the peak we gather together for the big arms photo.
Next we push on towards the manmade spoils of Dubs Quarry. A much contrasted landscape from the views so far. This quarry was closed in 1932 after it employed over 100 men producing 3000 tones a year in 1891. Just over 100 year later the mines were reopened by Mark Weir in 1997 who developed the quarries into a thriving tourist attraction, and at the same time producing small quantities of roofing slate. Mark Weir was killed in a helicopter crash at the mine on the evening of 8th March 2011.
With spirits lifted once more the end and Gatesgarth was in sight but not before we clambered down Fleetwith Edge. Again Emily was energised on the summit and took off with her brother down through the channels and narrow paths on the edge.
We all realised how tired our legs were, now trembling as we resisted the gravity of the drop. Fairly soon Jack and Emily were nowhere to be seen. Occasionally appearing where the ground leveled clear of any technical features. John and Nicole dropped back. There must have been over a quarter of a mile between Jack and John.
Then I saw Abs running down a section of single track. Wondering if this was a burst of energy he’d acquired, was he inspired by the small people? Or was this an example of involuntary running because it was just easier to run than hold back any longer by walking. Lesley and I found it was just easier to let the forces of gravity take over as we giggled all the way down to Gategarth.
Jack and Em had sniffed out the Ice Cream van. Needless to say they got what we deserved
After taking the small people to school, unashamedly dressed ready to ride, I dashed home to gather my biking belongings into the car but not forgetting a healthy dose of Soreen of course and a newly ripped drum and base CD for company. I grabbed the map for the Yorkshire Dales,North and Central area, OL 6 and with a highlighter quickly traced the route. The sky was a promising blue and set the scene for a perfect day out for a ride out from Reeth. Today was a school day, so I was going solo.
Reeth is where I normally think of when I have a bit more time than a quick blast out from the doors. A bit further to go than Hamsterly but not as far as the Lakes. I was thinking I could have a blast around the moors to the south of Reeth and still be home in time to get to work? It would be tight but doable. Still there was no need to worry about time constraints today. I was taking day off and going to make the most of the quiet trails, devoid of any weekend city folk. I arrived at Reeth with 3 tracks still unplayed. Not bad time despite the diversion at Richmond sending me north up on the moors. I wasn’t complaining though, it’s a great drive.
Reeth is a perfect spot to start a ride. It has every thing in proportion. 1 church, 1 post office, 1 newsagent, 1 craft shop, 2 tea shops, 3 pubs and an ice cream parlour all carefully laid out around a well kept village green and the smell of coal fires and old ladies filled the air, adding to that country village ambiance. I was in two minds whether to take some tunes with me. I did and set off down to Grinton Bridge passing over the Swale at 10:45 aiming for the right hander just past the church sign posted Harkerside. I wanted to pick up the trail that runs alongside the River Swale.
I’d not ridden this part and figured it would make a nice meandering warm up for the ridiculously steep climb later.
You have to go through a medley of gates before the trail opens out and steers you close to the river past the mini suspension bridge across an open plain.
Parts of the trail near the river are obviously liable to be submerged after heavy rain so to keep from being washed away it’s been cobbled. I think I was following in the tire tracks of those weekend warriors long go now, I hadn’t seen another biker or walker or anyone for that matter. I was relishing the peace, bar the drum and base tunage in my ears. I know some will think I should have been happy enough to ride along to natures song, but sometimes I find I can keep a more upbeat pace with 127BPM. Try it!
At Stubbin farm the route climbs steep to the Yorkshire Dales Cycle Way and very quickly you begin to get some view of the Healaugh and Calver Hill across the valley. From here the trail swaps from narrow and muddy to wide and grassy as it turns to Low lane just past Scabba Wath Bridge. You gotta love the names that come out of Yorkshire. Wath means Ford, I have no idea what Scabba means.
The Low Lane track takes you along a tree shaded trail that has your back end fish tailing all over the place ending at Low Houses and literally into Hollin’s Farm.
There’s a gorgeous Georgian house there with its own water falls.
From here I’d start a climb directly away from the river crossing the closest of contour lines on the map. I figured it would be steep but wasn’t counting on the climb being G.O.A.P (get off and push) steep and to make matters even more impossible the ground was soaking and bombed with mole hills. I was getting no purchase from either bike or shoes and resorted to side stepping up the bank. I’d ridden down here years ago and don’t remember it being quite so steep. In fact I’m surprised I managed to ride down it in one piece without crashing into the farm.
There must have been some sort of drainage problem here. Birks Gill is just yards away so all this water should have been in there. It took ages to get onto the tarmac of High Lane. I was in a right state. I picked the mud from my SPD’s with a stick and scraped about 2 kilos of mud from the down tube.
After the push to Birks End I felt a Soreen break was in order. From here you get a great view down through Gunnerside. There’s more great trails to ride there too. I was pleased to know that I’d be back over here an a couple of weeks with the some some pals and was sure they’d enjoy this area which I’ve always considered to be a mountain biking playground that offers good all year round riding. From Birks end turn right along the lane for about 500m then a left where the trail opens up wide. It’s a steep granny ring grind, but this was sweet resistance compared to the earlier mud-fest.
I was about to hook up onto the balcony track at Whitaside Moor. Craig and I rode this excellent trail last May in ferosous wind. It was one of the best rides of the year and couldn’t wait to have another shot at it on the Santa Cruz, with the advantage of knowing what’s ahead should let me go for it and hope to leave off the brakes. At least that’s the intention.
This portion of the ride is really why you would choose this route. Sure the river section is a nice relaxed affair and I dare say if you chose to you could just take your time along the skyline section too, but it’s a track that begs to be ridden fast so I gave it my best and immediately found myself grinning at the first sign of a ‘downy bit’. I really nice kicker in the trail to compress off and clear about 12ft, it felt great and the Santa Cruz felt very at home too. This is what it was about and peddled as hard as I could to keep the speed high. The view up here is fantastic and as much as I was enjoying the blast I had to grab a shot for you the readers.
Then I remembered I had the Go Pro out so set that away. There’s a tidy Bothy along the trail on the left that’s got an overnight stay written all over it for a long epic weekend’s riding at some point. It’s well equipped too.
The balcony ride, – don’t mind the tunes, it’s what was listening to at the time and is in no way in keeping with the pace of the ride but merely added to drown out the sound of me wheezing on the ‘uppy bits’. So click here to watch in HD. It gets faster later at about 10 mins in.
At the road you do a steep right for about 500 yards to pick up another grassy single track has a really good mound in the trail. One that would be fitting on a BMX track. If you can see it early enough at hit it a speed you’ll get some airtime, I never knew it was there because Craig and I never rode this next section on Hirst Ridge to Gogden the last time we came. As I rode away, it was hard to believe that jump was natural, a nice surprise. They don’t make them that good in the trail parks. I was going to go back do it again. I had the Go Pro turned off so missed it. I wish I had gone back now. I drop down to Gogden Gill then climb for a bit looking for a BW on the left to take be back to Grinton. I was just a head of this old guy out for the day on his bicycle. He took a breather on the Bridge and looked up the road with a face that said “I should have stayed home and sat in the garden an dosed off”. I paused at the gate and let him catch me just so I could give him some words of encouragement but could only say, ” you picked a good day to come out, he agreed the weather was fine but I think he wished he’d retired to Norfolk where it’s devoid of hills and valleys. Personally I couldn’t think of a worse place to live. Sorry if you are from there, but from a mountain bikers perspective I think I’d end up chucking myself in the Norfolk Broads, or take up kayaking or something.
Click here: On a broad track fast all the way back to Grinton with a nice ‘hold the line’ sweeping right through a gate which is a test of nerve as well as relief to find the gate open, otherwise I think I might have quartered myself. Then turn sharp left on a muddy track then through the farm at Cogden Hall. I short road ride in Grinton and a chance to stop at the
Dales Bike Centre to give my bike a bit of wash down because it was not fit to throw in the car and was smelling a bit nasty too. As old folk often say about their Grandkids, ” if they come home dirty then they’ve had a good time.” It was certainly true in my case, but the bike was dirtier than I was. I had a natter with a bloke at the Dales Bike Centre who had the best and most exaggerated Yorkshire accent I’ve ever heard. I actually thought he was doing an impression of someone from Yorkshire, you know how people do when they do accents? He kindly enquired as to where I’d been. I told him about the shitty push/ride up from Low Houses.
His response was a screwed up face and sucking teeth. “Arrgh we don’t do it that way, we only come down that bit. It’s good fun coming down when it’s slippy”. But he agreed with the ride and knew of course where I’d been and could tell I was buzzing off it. He was living the dream of course, because his job is taking groups of mountain bikers on guided tours around the dales. But today he had to work, by that he meant he had to cut the grass. Nightmare!
Back into Reeth I did my bit for the local economy by taking a seat outside the King’s Head with a Theakstons trying to count how many school days were left until Christmas. I was home by 3pm. Bonus!
A healthy turn out this month from the C.R.A.S.H lads bolstered by another new face on the scene. Rob (Gary’s brother-in-law) who claims to have not ridden since before bike were invented, so is getting used to his Trek Fuel borrowed from his son. Nice one Rob.
So the crew line up is as follows: The neighbours, Alex and Craig, then Gary who’s nearly 50 and Rob who isn’t and yours truly.
Alex piled in with Gary and Rob to catch up on some needed shut eye, while Craig and I lead the way over to Sedbergh, England’s book town at the foot of the Howgills Fells and the Upper Rawthey Valley. You’ll find the area on the Ordnance Survey Map OL 19. We set off from Washington at 07:30 and arrived there around 09:30 and parked up behind the well kept public toilet in the main street.
A quick blast back along the A683 we peel off left down a narrow country lane heading to Thursgill Farm where the climbing starts as the road turns to a well surfaced stony track. Barely giving you much of a warm up we cross our first beck that inevitably drops steeply followed by an equally stiff climb. Gear management was set to be the order of the day as much of this side of the ride at least would see us traverse many waterfalls and becks on this east side of the Howgills.
From here we all search for the granny ring up Fawcett Bank making every effort to bag the climb on fresh legs.
The weather here was nowhere near as clear as we had left it in the North East. There had been some serious downfalls from the looks of it and we were about to find out how this would shape up the ride.
The trails were drenched. On a technical incline we were all dabbing, searching for traction from the little that was on offer. A series of soggy dabs and false starts, trying to get some momentum going to be taken out by a wet angled stone or a devilish root, it was bordering frustration. But the frustration soon began to look like a test that we all eventually came to accept as a path for the course for this ride in slippery February conditions.
This whole section was a lesson on riding off-camber mud and Alex was about to show me how to stop spectacularly on wet grass. An innocent 180° skid turned into a cartwheel for Alex and a backflip for his bike leaving them both laid out on the grass. Unfortunately I only saw it but didn’t capture his acrobats in quality HD video for your viewing pleasure. I left without the Go Pro today. It would have been off to Harry Hill like a shot. I think only Alex and I were laughing while all others were busy studying the ground for any morsals of grip.
The trail did eventually open out into some cracking flowy single track albeit in short bursts into dips and troughs.
Despite the low cloud there was enough to see that we were in fine surroundings as we bunched up at the plains below Cautley Spout. Crossing the footbridge looking out for the stone trails hugging the River Rawthey I was just pleased to be out. The damp air took nothing away from the enjoyment of messing around and larking about on our bikes getting filthy dirty.
Everytime Gary even looks at water he threatens to just get in. This was a regular occurrence last year in Morzine. Today he stood up on the footbridge, arms aloft looking as if he’d throw himself into the beck. On a slightly more temperate day he’d have been in there for sure.
We crossed to the River Rawthey onto the A683 again at the Cross Keys and proceed on tarmac on the look out for a bridle-way on the left. To cut a long story short, neither of us could locate a bridle-way squeezed between the road and the river because on closer inspection there was no bridle way. The dashed line that seemed to be in the river was in fact a boundary and not a bridle-way. Needless to say we got a bit off the intended route and pressed onwards up steeply to Murthwaite. This steep push a bit ride a bit trail was a good excuse to break out the Soreen and my recent trail snack of choice Banana and Peanut butter wrap. No one was keen to share it. I wasn’t complaining. Our (my) navigational mishap, meant we had to find some way back down onto the road again. The only option was a quick shoot down a footpath to pick up a BW part way down that would spit us out on the road. With no real trail to make out it was each to their own on how they got down. Bums hanging out back to avoid any over the bar bailouts was the obvious approach.
We’re spat out onto the A683 finally and look up the road for a BW. However we first negotiate a fast flowing Sally Beck. I think we all managed to get across with relatively dry feet. Though the faintest BW was in such a soft and boggy state this would soon change that. A G.O.A.P stint followed, where I nearly lost a leg in the mud. Alex also to a dive and got an arm full of mud. Gary likened him to Cockle picker,It took me a while to suss the full extent of his humorous observation. Onto the lane leading us to Udale House there was nothing in front of us but the vastness of Baugh Fell. Another short BW signposted Bluecaster (very soft) which looked like a good downhill blast, forced me to make a rapid dismount or risk being buried in the squelchy mulch track.
We crossed a bridge over the source of the infant River Rawthey. It was here we or I decided to get a group photo to send to Keith, our absent friend .
The next section was a moorland ride that skirts Bluecaster. A singletrack crossing dozens of gills. A mix of boggy grass and wet trail that really did drain the legs in parts. This section felt more like a hard training session that I felt was about making it pay for those long summer rides we all have our sights on. Which ever way you look at it we were riding and that’s all that mattered.
From here on we got our heads down and made our way down to the road where we would make a dash back to the carpark in Sedberg around 14:45. But before returning home we dropped into the ‘dry pub’ that is the Cross Keys with no beer, ridiculously low ceiling beams for a mid-afternoon lunch and a coffee next to an open fire served by a bloke nearly 7 foot tall. Suitably wiped out we slumped by the range fire. No one felt like moving, dispite the relatively short 16mile ride it felt like we had put in twice the effort.
In March we go to Reeth…
Finally! A Walk with a View for the S.M.A.S.H Crew.
It was all change for S.M.A.S.H this weekend. We’ve changed our outings from Saturday to Sunday and today for the first time we head to the Far Eastern Fells. We also introduce Nichol, who fancied a look out too. We call met up at 08:00am at Doxford when just as we were about to leave, Paul AKA Heppers, AKA Cherry Cheeks pulls up completely unannounced, last seen out with us when we SMASHed Latrigg in October so a welcome return.
So our walking companions today are SMASH veteran, Abs, Paul, Nichol, Anth back in the fold, myself (Dean) and the small people Jack and Emily aged 9 and 7 respectively.
We arrived in the main car park in Ambleside at 10:15 after a long drive from Sunderland via the A66 turning south past Ullswater. The temperature now was a balmy 10° with very promising clear blue sky. The last time we were blessed with good weather was way back in October. Paul (Heppers) was with us then so he could turn out to be our sunshine mascot.
Everyone seemed to be making the most of the sunshine. Parents wrapping up the kids and taking them into the woods and some of them using a dog as an excuse to go fell walking. There was a sense that we should make the most of it because summer was still months away. Tripping over a few roots, slipping on steps and getting slightly wayward we backed up to find the exit through the penitentiary style gate.
All criminals were clear of the woods after 30mins, gaining height we could clearly see Wansfell Pike and the path leading the way. This is very popular walk from Ambleside and over the years the path had suffered terrible erosion. As responsible walkers we swapped our rugged hiking boots for some soft carpet slippers (not really). In the 1990’s the path was restored with massive stone blocks and now it takes on the look of a giant staircase. Today it was a frozen water feature, thick in solid ice which made the going a bit tricky. Abs dared me to try some grArse sliding but I thought it best to pass it up this time.
Already the view from part way up was spectacular. Ambleside and Loughrigg dominating the foreground with the Langdales and Coniston fells behind wearing snow caps it looked almost alpine in the clean cool air.
Such was the effort required on this steep path meant we had to peel off a layer or two. Hats and gloves were promptly stuffed packed away, with heads down we pushed up towards the summit.
Emily was setting a good pace, a little too enthusiastic though, we knew she’d burnout later. This walk was a change to a grade 6 for the extra height and distance over previous grade 4’s. The struggle to the summit was well worth it. For the first time we could see over the fell straight along Windemere, Blackpool and to the Irish sea. Anth and Abs agreed the view was breath taking. The prominence of Wansfell Pike is excellent and little wonder it’s such a popular walk. It was said that Wansfell Pike is to Ambleside what St. Paul’s is to London.
We sat down on the craggy top and searched out lunch from our packs while Jack and Emily continued smashing ice with stones and generally amusing themselves. It was easy to imagine being here on a summers day this would be a great spot to sit and read, maybe write a book or just ponder a little. But with only a slight breeze added a chill that invoked a far from relaxed mode. We jostled about taking photos of each other, ate lunch then set off along the ridge to Baystones.
The ridge from Wansfell Pike to Baystones follows a dry stone wall over crags and gingerly across icy bogs. Nichol took a booty call, she measured the depth of the bog and found it to be exactly knee deep and pretty cold too. Fully equipped though she took out a towel to dry off a soggy foot and pressed on.
From the ridge you can look towards the Kirkstone Pass and the struggle down to Ambleside. Baystones is higher than Wansfell Pike, technically it is the true summit of Wansfell, but due to the pike’s prominence and fine views most people consider the lower Pike to be the summit.
We head towards the wall at Baystones and then drop steeply on a fairly faint track. It was faint enough to completely miss, I used another wall to track us toward Nanny Lane
Nanny lane is a wide footpath that leads you to Troutbeck. In my opinion I would like to see it reclassified as a bridleway but then I know nothing of the reasons why it isn’t. I do know that it would be a lot of fun to ride a mountain bike down. Emily remarked her boots were giving her some grief so I carried Emily on my shoulders and we took off running while she giggled comparing the ride to that of her favourite horse Bramble. “Bumpy to say the least” she said! This trail is loose and very stony with jagged rock as Anth found out when he took a slide on the ice and cut his hand. Nothing too serious though, more of take home memorial of the terrain than a proper injury. I continued to survey the trail for a mountain bike line the whole way down.
In Troutbeck we tried to sniff out a Tea shop. I knew there was one here. We turned left along the road to quickly find the village end and the Mortal Man pub,is amusing pub sign that reads “O mortal man. That lives by bread. What is it maks thy nose so red thou silly fool. That lookst so pale. ‘Tis drinking Sally Birkett’s ale.” Realising the village was right at the road. We turned up at the post office housing the tea pots to find it closed in true English Sunday tradition . I guess this was one downsides of walking on Sunday, so we would have to stifle our thirst until Ambleside.
Emily spotted a Robin as we entered Robin Lane, I’m not kidding! But as we began climbing, the distance we had walked was now evident in our faces, this is the farthest we had walked. But the sun shone and we took in the continued panoramic view across Windemere.
What was on everyones mind now was, “how far had we walked and how far was it to Ambleside?” and further more,”what walk was next?” Given that we knew the diary held walks higher in altitude, there was a sense of trepidation about future exploits. Haystacks and Fleetwith Pike in Buttermere were next and a few testing big peaks like Green and Great Gable in June would be a bench mark for anyone looking to SMASH Scafell Pike in July.
We headed into Skelghyll Wood and took one last rest for a group shot before the comfort of a nice cosy tea shop in Ambleside. Earl Grey anyone?
|Walk Route Summary:– Ambleside, Stockghyll Force, Wansfell Pike, Baystones (Wansfell), The Hundreds, Nanny Lane, Troutbeck, Robin Lane, High Skelghyll Farm, Skelghyll Wood, Jenkin Crag, Ambleside.|
- Length/Distance: 12.5km – 7 3⁄4 miles)
- Total Ascent: 668m (2192ft)
- Allow at least: 5.00hrs
- Walk Grade:
S.M.A.S.H. Get Pasted again on Keswick Classic
January heralds the first walk of 2012 for the S.M.A.S.H. team and this time we go back to Keswick to bag that little Wainwright overlooking the town. Walla Crag is another of those much loved walks that proves you don’t have to get to the dizzy heights of the big summits of Skiddaw or Blencathra and the Helvellyn’s to really appreciate the beauty that surrounds. I was here in the summer of 2011 when Jack and I picked up Walla Crag on the way to Bleaberry Fell and High Seat for our first wild camp. The scene this time would like very different in the bleakness of January.
S.M.A.S.H. were very pleased to welcome on board Umar. Abs’s younger and equally charming brother sporting the same dark locks and shiny beard it promised to be a good day if only for the company. So what weather would January 2012 serve up. Well one thing was certain, changeable and lots of water all around and the previous days rain would race down off the mountain gullies into Derwent Water.
The three of us eventually found each other in the darkness of the EDF car park desperate to get the journey started as early as possible. The rain was well set in and the outlook was a dreak looking kind of day however the forecast for Keswick was suggesting a mix of showers and sunshine but very high winds from the North West. We arrived at the Headlands Car park in Keswick around 09:20 and layered up for a walk that was one of two halves. Starting out along the shore of Derwent heading south to find Ashness Bridge and then climb North East towards Walla Crag.
We all figured we may as well put on the water proof trousers now rather than battle with them in the wind. The last two walks we attempted to put trousers on you’d think we were trying to fly them rather than wear them. We picked up the clear footpath from the Borrowdale Road which lead down toward the lake shore into the edge of Great Wood on a rooty single track that squeezed us against the road and then against the shore line.The rock being wet forced one or two pre steps before really set your foot down just in case of a slip and an early bath. I remarked I was already the number one suspect to take a fall as I didn’t even make my own stairs on Friday without braying my knee so hard it made me dance about on the landing for a while. I’ll start wearing my boots at home more often I think. The view across to Catbells was very murky, dull and grey you could breath the moisture in the air. Derwent Water looked choppy, a lone pleasure boat was out obviously pleasure can still be found if just to see the mountains from the lake in complete solitude. I can appreciate that.
Still, we made it back onto the Borrowdale Road again after hopping over the small stone wall at Barrow Bay and crossed over to join the lane climbing steady we began to warm up we took off our hats. White water falling from the Falcon Crag, (popular with climbers) and Brown Knotts one must always remark on the sound. We all agreed that it’s the best sound for anyone looking to de-stress and for me nothing captures natures sound better. In no time at all we arrived at picturesque Ashness Bridge. Turn back and you see one of finest views in Lakeland. One that has graced postcards and calenders for years.
Ashness Bridge is a quaint little pack horse bridge wide enough for just one car. It wouldn’t look out of place on the Shire as Umar rightly observed. Barrow Beck run underneath, over masses of smoothed stone creating dramatic falls and of course that wonderful sound. We stood and admired the view down to Derwent and to Skiddaw and took up suitable posing positions for the family album. Then Umar took up the lens duty and began snapping franticly as Abs and I did our best to ‘work the camera’ as Umar was clearly get a kick from directing us for best effect.
Now it was time to get a bit of altitude. A walk without it just would be right in the S.M.A.S.H. diary so we turned back to pick up the footpath and traverse the fells below Brown Knotts through the gate with the high tech rock on a chain closing device. Since we were not so far from the Bob Graham memorial it would only right we should come by a fell runner. They never fail to make you feel comparatively lame as we stood to take a breath, pretending we were just admiring the view as he jogged by in running shorts and waist bag. “He’ll catch his death.”
As we gained height the wind began to bite and gain strength. Now with nothing in it way, the crags we walked above were acting as a wind accelerator as the wind rams into the steep fell-side it has to go over the op and comes at you with huge force. Umar already looking like a ninja in his face buff tightened his hood and Abs battened down everything, refusing to look towards the wind incase his windows blew in. Umar started jumping up with his arms out hoping to be blown to some far flung destination. Then went chasing his headgear across the rough heather. The wind was immense. The view was ever changing, the clouds racing from the Newlands Valley across the lake in seconds. I lead us on towards Lady’s Rake shouldering the gale.
The falls near Cat Gill were a sign of how windy it was as the water was lifted up and back on itself spraying us as we made up to the last press up onto Walla Crag.
Walla Crag is not so much of a summit but view point made of a great baldy stone plateaux with plenty of room to run around. In the sunnier months this place would be filled with family’s on day trips from Keswick. Everyone and his frog would be up here. Today we had the place to ourselves.
I made straight for the outward view over Derwent across to Cat Bells and behind the snow capped summit of Grisedale Pike.
I then retreated as my cheeks were being hooked over my ears by the continued gusts. Umar and Abs holding onto their hats searched out a shelter round the back looking over Keswick. Calm at last and place to break out the Earl Grey and sarnies. A toast to those friends that couldn’t make it we S.M.A.S.H.ed Walla Crag and took in the view of toy town Keswick and Skiddaw wearing a grey hat. The clouds above were wrecked and chewed by the prevailing winds and broke up occasionally by clear blue sky. Then it would change again.
A pool of light gathered just behind Keswick and a lonely beam of sunshine made its way from Bassenthwaite across the feet of Skiddaw, so sharp and bright one could easily imagine some kind of UFO was searching for a landing place. I’d never seen anything like it. We took more photos of us messing about on the crag and then packed up for the descent to Keswick. We took in a few precarious steps towards the edge of the crag looking down in the wood below. A shear drop leaning into the wind. If Abs had control of the wind he would have switched it off to see of I went over.
We went through the wall and onto the grassy slopes toward Castle Rigg. The grass looked like it might be quite suitable for a round of GrArse sliding. Umar was up for it so I gave him a quick demonstration. A good first attempt from the new boy wonder with a rolley polley finish. It was good for a 6 each from Abs and I for comic value, but the stone wall faced Swedish judge was having none of it and marked him down for a poor line and distance. A couple more attempts were a mix of slides and trips. On one run I veered off the grass into the rocky trail and decided to call it a day in case I wouldn’t make it to the finals in the summer. Umar showed good technical ability. He’ll return again I’m sure with kevlar pants.Click here:
We sauntered down to the bridge over Brockle Beck knattering about growing up, bikes and games we played as kids inspired by our newest favourite game of sliding on your arse down a mountain side aiming for Keswick. We turned into Keswick onto the high street and market place. We made a visit to the Pitlochry for a quick feel for a Harris Tweed jacket that Abs and Umar have had their eye on for while and then we shortcut to the car now realising how clam it was compared to the pasting we took on Walla Crag. Again we paid our dues to the weather man, banking on some payback in the summer.
|Great views of Keswick and Derwent WaterWalk Route Summary:– Keswick, Friar’s Crag, Calfclose Bay, Barrow Bay, Ashness Bridge, Walla Crag, Rakefoot, Castlerigg, Brockle Beck, Spring Farm, Keswick.Vital Statistics for this Walk|