Last week I took a couple of days off and enjoyed two nights of camping and a couple of days’ hike around the Northern Fells. This is the group of Wainwrights that I am closest to finishing, and is often regarded as the least enticing, making it ideal for a leisurely-paced solo trip.
Arriving in Mungrisedale on Saturday night I put the car in a layby and followed a path through the bracken to the top of Souther Fell. I must have seen this hill hundreds of times from the A66 without giving it a moment’s notice, but climbing it as the sun set it became clear that it enjoys some fine views of the Eden valley right across to the Pennines and Cross Fell. With a fairly flat, grassy top it is ideal for pitching a tent and stargazing on a calm September evening.
I woke early in the morning and had a muesli bar breakfast on the way back to the car before heading north towards Mosedale – the base of operations for the next couple of days. To make the return leg easier I decided to walk about a mile and a half of road towards the base of Carrock Fell by Stone Ends Farm.
It proved a steep little climb via the Rake Trod, weaving past solitary rowan trees towards the top. The reward at the summit were the remains of an Iron Age hill fort and a great big stone cairn. Feeling good after the ascent I was quickly brought back down to earth when I saw a couple of lithe fell runners gliding over the boggy terrain with ease as I trudged through ankle-deep puddles towards High Pike (which was my Trail 100 fix for this trip).
I caught up with a pair of older walkers; one of whom was on his third round of the Wainwrights. We talked about our favourite hills as we made our way up to the stone bench that sits atop High Pike, and spent a good ten minutes chatting about the damage a lifetime of tennis had done to his wife’s knees. I left them to explore the remains of mining activity on the northern side of the hill as I pointed myself in the direction of Lingy Hut; the day’s designated lunch spot. A chance (and dull) encounter with a lonely geologist cut the stop short, but the hut was nice if a little sparse and would definitely be an enticing overnight refuge for a tiresome walker or six.
The day’s highest point, Knott (710m), was awash with people and dogs. I didn’t take any pictures because I don’t much care for dogs. On to Great Calva’s rocky top.
I took an odd path down through the heather towards the River Caldew and successfully completed my first river crossing. Unbeknownst to me, water is wet, leading the shoes to require a spot of draining and the tent to be pitched beside the river. I took my Kindle along in an attempt to get through Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness. As impressive as he is as a runner I found the book a bit dull, especially towards the end.
A sunset dinner of my own version of cowboy mash (recipe coming soon) was followed by about 45 midge bites and a spectacular view of the Milky Way overhead. Unfortunately my camera couldn’t pick up the vast swathe of stars.
In the morning I took my time getting up, feeding myself and packing up my kit since my planned walk was a lot shorter than the previous day’s. A pleasant breakfast by the river consisted of porridge with dried fruits and a couple of cups of strong coffee.
The day’s walking began with a moist hike up Mungrisedale Common and a GPS-assisted hunt for the tiny summit ‘cairn’. In his 1962 book The Northern Fells Wainwright says, “Mungrisedale Common’s natural attractions are of a type that appeals only to sheep” – I think the sheep have upped sticks and left in the intervening 52 years as there was not a single strand of wool in evidence on this sodden plateau.
Leaving the Common I was gifted with magnificent views of the back of Blencathra, over Foule Crag to the infamous Sharp Edge. The light played beautifully over Saddleback as RAF helicopters bobbed and weaved over Skiddaw House towards Derwent Water.
The final two summits of the trip were Bannerdale Crags and Bowscale Fell. I made fairly short work of both and enjoyed a hairy descent down to Bowscale Tarn, the home of Wordsworth’s two alleged immortal fish:
“Both the undying fish that swim
In Bowscale tarn did wait on him;
The pair were servants of his eye
In their immortality;”
A distinct lack of fish led to the only possible conclusion for this trip – a 20 minute drive to Kewick to grab a plateful of The Old Keswickian’s finest cod and chips. Happy days; and only 4 more summits to go until I’ll have completed the Northern Fells too!