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Langdale 16 March 2008

I was out with the Ramblers again today. I swallowed my pride and did the numpty's 'C' walk, starting from Ambleside, proceeding over the very modest Loughrigg Fell and thence up Great Langdale to the New Hotel for a pint ot two of locally-brewed beer ("Tag Lag", from the Barngates Brewery, since you ask).

The heights attained may have been modest, but the views were spectacular. Go on, be honest, you'd be hard pressed to find anything as dramatic as the Langdale Pikes even in the Swiss Alps. And snow on the loftier heights - Bowfell and Crinkle Crags at the head of Langdale, Fairfield away to the east, even a bit on Wetherlam), made it all the better (click on the picture for more by the way.) Oh, and get the rainbow over Grasmere lake...

Langdale 16 March 2008

It was chilly in Ambleside at the start of the day, and blowy on top of Loughrigg, but once down in the valley again there was a real taste of spring in the air at last.
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A walk around Threlkeld

I went out with the Barrow Ramblers for the first time today. A day spent in the Lake District is never time wasted, but this one was considerably less successful than I might have hoped.

The day was spend in the fells around Threlkeld, where the three groups were scheduled to meet at the end of the day, in the Horse and Farrier pub. Barrow Ramblers does three walks each Sunday, of difffering rigour but al;l ending at the same place. This week the A walk was working over Blencathra (pictured, an impossibly handsome mountain which many Lakeland devotees regard as their favourite fell despite being only the fifth highest.) The B group were doing the Dodds, a high ridge that forms a northern outlier of Helvellyn, and the C group were doing a valley walk. In the circumstances - weather, having had recent respiratory problems, and not having been up there for several months - I felt I had to swallow my pride and join the B group, which was first off the bus. And then it all started going wrong. The walk leader - half my height - came up to me and demanded to know where my rucksack was. I said I hadn't brought one (I don't have a daysack, only a full-size rucksack, and that would have been over the top for the matter in hand, especially as I had map, compass, emergency rations, gloves, hat and so on distributed about the pockets of my waterproofs. Then she saidf rather huffily that she didn't think I should be going with them. I explained as calmly as I could that I have known the Lakes from a very young age, I am very much aware of its considerable dangers, and I was in fact prepared. Within reason anyway - this wasn't a scramble, it was a steep ascent to a high grassy plateau. She said it was my own responsibility then. So we set off on the very steep climb to the summit of Sticks Pass. And then...

And then I felt an asthma attack coming on. I was already marked. I did the decent thing, said I was going to descend before I might have got into a situation that made things difficult for the party, and would make my own way to Threlkeld and meet everyone later.

From there I improvided my own walk, taking in the slopes of High Rigg, dropping down to Wanthwaite across the Vale to start climbing the Old Coach Road. I had half a mind to carry on and meet the B party coming the other way, but I stopped off to investigate the neolithic settlement on Threlkeld Common, and from there, because Threlkeld Common is neither fish nor fowl and time was getting on (and because I find something unfathomably sad about that corner of the district because it feels like the wild country is running out and all that's left is the dull pastoral of the Derwent Vally, not to mention the depressing A66 for which somebody should have been shot) I dropped down into Threlkeld and the Horse and Farrier. As I say, time in the Lake District is never time wasted and this was no worse than many other solitary walks I've had there, but that wasn't the point of the day. I had the worst of everything: I didn't get on the high tops, even alone, and I didn't have the companionship, even ona valley walk.

When the B leader arrived, she said I would have had a wonderful time on the C walk. Well, that was me put in my place. Not even second-class B, but third-rate C. Perhaps even uniquely awful - almost all of these people were older than me and they were skipping up that steep slope and nobody else was puffing and wheezing.
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So yesterday, after a grizzly few days, I called Gavin to ask if he was up for another walk like last week's gentle amble around Wallowbarrow Gorge, because that seemed like the best cure for a difficult time. So today I met him and William in Lindal, bright and early, and he took me on the most challenging walk I've ever been on. Ok, I probably did more challenging ones around here as a child, and as a teenager in the French Alps, but at that age you skip over the hills like a mountain goat, don't you? Quite a bit of rough scrambling, and a ridge route with three serious summits rather than straight up and down.

I'm knackered now, have just soaked sore feet in a hot bath (Truffle got over-curious and fell in, with resulting panic and injured dignity. But I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a beautiful clear day for it, although there was a bitter wind up on the tops.

Just to make things difficult, my Flickr Pro account has expired and I'm a bit boracic for the next few days, so I wasn't able to upload more than a fraction of my pictures. Boo! Hiss!

Anyway, here's a sample uploaded straight to LJ of where we went.

Wetherlam (762 metres)

Wetherlam is lower than its neighbour, Coniston Old Man, but it's a big bulky mountain, and a rough, tough old thing. I seriously thought at one point that I wouldn't make it to here.

Swirl How (802 metres, the highest point of the day)

The top of Swirl How is reached by an even nastier scramble than the one up Wetherlam. I'd got my wind by now, though, and enjoyed this rather exhilarating climb despite the bitter cold.

Great Carrs (788 metres)

A bit of an anticlimax, really, because it's a nice easy ridge walk from Swirl How.


Although the views from the ridge, like this view of the Scafells, are far from anticlimactic.


This is Wetherlam from Wet Side Edge, our descent route. I was up there today!


This is Swirl How (left) and Great Carrs (right), with the ridge between. I was up both of those, too!


Somehow we ended up here, at the Manor Arms (highly recommended) in the too-pretty-to-be-true (or to be affordable) little town of Broughton-in-Furness.


Cheers m'dears!
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Fairfield Summit

So, like I said, yesterday I spent on the fells, taking the bus to Ambleside and setting out from there to walk the Fairfield ridges by way of Scandale Pass.

The thing about the Lake District is that it's a compact high plateau divided up by valleys, most (but not all) having lakes in them. Tall craggy peaks tower spectacularly over the valleys, and the high ridges offer spectcular views of lakes and valleys. In between there's a lot of unforgiving slog getting from the valleys to the ridges, and that's the killer! Once you're on the ridges then you can skip fairly easily from peak to peak.

The weather was near perfect, although there was a biting wind and above the 800 metre contour it was freezing, even though it was a balmy morning and evening down in the valley. The long trudge up Scandale wasn't very exciting, and the final descent from Nab Scar all but crippled me[1]. The famous Golden Rule pub - the last traditional pub in Ambleside, by the way, which is something to be regretted - was a great place to while away the evening and rest my poor sore feet!

You can follow the day in words and pictures here,

I'm indebted to Sean McMahon and his Striding Edge website, not only for his fabulous photographic diary of the fells, but for introducing me to the concept of Birkett-bagging, in which not only principal summits are counted, but also subsidiary heights (and you get to learn their names and shapes too!). So on this trip I can claim seven Birketts (Dove Crag, Hart Crag, Fairfield, Great Rigg, Rydal Fell, Heron Pike, Nab Scar) instead of just a single Wainwright (Fairfield - the others are all subsidiary peaks on its ridges.) Sean is much fitter than me and does all I did and more before breakfast!

[1] It was a salutary reminder that the greatest number of fatalities on the fells are people ab out my age having heart attacks after overreaching themselves.
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Nearly there

I'm breaking in a new pair of walking boots, ready for a new assault on the Fells and a new season of high-level book-releasing. So I thought I'd start off very gently with an amble up to the Sir John Barrow Monument on Hoad Hill, near Ulverston.

At only 110 metres it's not very demanding but the view from the top is pretty good and far-reaching even on a hazy day like today. It's a cousin of one of my other favourite places to while away an hour or so on a balmy summer day: the Tyndale Monument at North Nibley in Gloucestershire.

Naturally, it wouldn't be right not to wild release a book up there, so there goes Crack Down by Val McDermid...

Release

You can see more pictures from the trip here.
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the Slag Bank

This morning I was overwhelmed by a sense that I wanted to be anywhere but in the house. So I went for a long walk. Although my steps didn't take me quite where I intended.

I was planning to walk up the mainland side of the Channel and see how far I could get, aiming to get up to Roanhead if I could. It looked a little murky when I set out, so I was surprised when I was climbing the first, landscaped, bit of the slag bank (remnant of the long-defunct iron and steel works) to see the Isle of Man appearing, clear as you like, above Walney. From the top I was even more surprised to see that, even though the nearby Lakeland fells were somewhat hazy, the mountains of North Wales could be seen distinctly. Seeing Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) is a rare sight indeed up here. With a bit of imagination one could also make out the Mull of Galloway beetween the IoM and St Bees Head.

I had a wander round the further slag bank - not landscaped and without much evidence that it was open to public access beyond the undoubted fact that there was nothing to stop anybody scrambling up and down the scree. It really is a weird place, one that is a local landmark seen froma distance, but which I had not hitherto visited and explored. YOu can pick up bits of native iron very easily.

From there I made my way up the path by the railway - again no obvious right of way but also no obvious attempt to prevent me - until it petered out and turned sharply to a dead end at the shore. The tide was right out, and I was feeling reckless, so I strode out across the mud and sands for the North End of Walney. I had to wade the last twenty metres - despite what some sceptics might say Walney is an island even at low tide! From there I walked round the dunes at teh North End and back down the beach to West Shore. I good opportunity on what was by now a splendid, warm and sunny day to call in on my friend Lilian for tea and a natter on the deck!
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Across the last bit of marshes


It being as perfect a day as one could wish for in the middle of October (and if the weather is right there is no better month for it), I walked the eight kilometres down the beach to the bird reserve at the south end. When I got there I chatted with the warden for a while and then walked back up the beach, with the tide coming in. It was a four-and-a-half hour outing and it was exhilarating.

I'm no twitcher but without binoculars I recognised with certainty the following birds:

Herring gull
Curlew
Dunlin
Sanderling
Oystercatcher
Ringed plover
Shag
Goldfinch

PS - I forgot to mention that there are more pictures here!
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Well, we've done the sea and today, which was blisteringly hot down at sea level, seemed like a good day to start work on the mountains in search of a refreshing breeze.

Read awl abaht it 'ere )

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