Saturday, 14 April 2012

Castle Crag

Castle Crag is the lowest of the Wainwright fells standing at only 951 feet and therefore you would think would be an easy stroll.  In my view however, this little fell has character that some of the larger fells can only aspire to.  There are streams, crags, rocky paths, steep stiles, scree-like slate slopes, memorials and a history that is fascinating.  I climbed it first in June 2011 and then several times since (once being in August 2011 with a large family, but that is a story for another day) from the lovely hamlet of Grange in Borrowdale.  Grange is such a pretty hamlet situated just over a double stone bridge on the river Derwent  and has wonderful tea rooms for when you have finished any local climbs (or indeed to provide sustenance in advance!)
Castle Crag

The walk takes you along a path next to one of the tea rooms and towards the River Derwent at the foot of Castle Crag.  There is plenty to hold you up here as the river, especially on a warm day, looks extremely inviting and I confess I have paddled in it on several occasions (I will add at this point that one of those occasions was by accident when I was looking too much at the beautiful surroundings and not where I was putting my feet and consequently slipped off the rocks and into the river – please note that paddling is best done after removing your boots!)  On this day (a dry boot day) the sound of the water rushing over the rocks, catching the sun as though there were a thousand stars just below the surface and the deep green leaves hanging overhead from lazy trees was superb.  Yet another of those “good to be alive” moments.  

There is a clear path up to the right of Castle Crag through a gate and after a short walk you bear left up the slopes of the fell.  This is where it gets steep and rocky amongst the trees and you think you should be on the slopes of one of the much higher fells!  At the top of this steep part you cross a stile and end up in a clearing that opens up views further into Borrowdale.  It is an unexpected little haven.  On each of the occasions I have climbed this fell there have been primary school parties making the same journey.  It is wonderful to watch the reaction of the children when they see this area – the “wows” and “oohs” are plentiful.  When I was that age I think I was more one for phrases such as “are we nearly there yet” and “this is sooo steep” and actually had not improved my comments much when I did an A-Level Geography trip to the Blencathra Centre when I was 17 years old! 

Slate Path
After enjoying the views from the clearing, I started the next part of my ascent and this is where the history of the fell starts to become clear.  Castle Crag has been mined extensively and you can see the scars of this activity at various points on the walk.  At this point on the fell there is what looks like a vast slate rock fall but actually if you look carefully, is a slate path up towards the top of the fell.  At a glance it looks an impossible task but it is well crafted on closer inspection and besides, if parties of school children could do it, so could I!  I did make sure I was looking where I was putting my feet this time that is for sure!

As you emerge from the slate path just below the summit, you are met by a mini Stonehenge.  The story goes that someone for some reason (and no one really knows who or why although there are variations) has arranged pieces of slate in various upright positions surrounded by other pieces of slate – like little slate islands in a sea of green grass.  It is really eerie.  Apparently sometimes they are knocked down yet someone takes the time to rebuild them.  Who and why?  Fascinating and very mysterious!
A climb of a few more feet gets you to the summit where there is a War memorial forming part of the cairn.  The views down into the valley and back towards Keswick and Derwent Water are stunning especially for such a low fell.  You are captured by the majesty and pride of a mountain that is small but feisty and should not be underestimated. 

Summit Rock & Cairn
The first part of the route down on the opposite side of the fell is totally different to the ascent.  It takes you over grassy slopes, through woods and next to streams.  There is less evidence of the scars of mining but there are plenty of quarries, crags and caves to explore.  One of the caves was occupied for many years in the summer by a hermit called Millican Dalton, who died in 1947.  He started occupying the cave at the age of 36 and became a climbing guide.  He has left the words “Don’t waste words.  Jump to conclusions” engraved inside.  

Emerging back at the paddling area, after climbing this fell I was left feeling I had conquered something much grander than I had expected and with so much character that I have been back to it several times.  As I said at the beginning, some of the higher fells can only aspire to have the character and history of Castle Crag and it may be small but it is a cracking fell.
Clancey the beautiful Lurcher on the summit

Follow Heelwalker1 on Twitter

Monday, 2 April 2012

My Top Six Ridge Routes: Part Two

My first three ridge routes featured walks around Buttermere, Wastwater and Grasmere.  The final three cover Haweswater, Helvellyn and Ennerdale.  Whilst all in the Lake District, they are very different areas with Haweswater and Ennerdale being quite remote in the far east and far west of the Lakes and Helvellyn being very central and popular.  These ridge routes continue again the wonderful feeling of being on top of the world with ever changing views that are stunning in any season and (in my view) whatever the weather (although clearly there are less views to be had on misty and cloudy days!)

Rolling mountains and ridges under a beautiful sky
So the fourth ridge route is from Mardale Head and up Kidsty Pike and then a glorious tramp across High Raise and Rampsgill Head.  Mardale Head is at the end of a no-through road and it feels like the end of the get to the car-park at the end and are faced with the imposing massif of Mardale Ill Bell, Harter Fell and High Street and you would think there was no way to scale those heights.  I have conquered those fells but this route took me around The Rigg at the foot of High Street and the edge of Haweswater Reservoir and up the grassy slopes of Kidsty Pike.  It was another beautifully sunny day and the view down to Haweswater was superb with the sun catching the water as it lapped the lake edge, making it look like champagne bubbles (but then I have champagne on the brain!)  All the hard work was in the ascent of Kidsty Pike and as it is part of the Coast to Coast walk from St Bees in the west to Robin Hood Bay in the east, I met several people doing that route.
View along Haweswater Reservoir

Kidsty Pike in snowy December
Once on top of Kidsty Pike, it was just a wonderful stroll around the summits of Rampsgill Head and High Raise (not to be confused with the High Raise of the Langdale Pikes) with beautiful views towards High Street and the fells beyond and out towards the Pennines to the east.  On this occasion, I walked back down Kidsty Pike the way I had come but next time I do this route I will continue to High Street and descend the ridge back to Haweswater or continue even further over Mardale Ill Bell and down beside Small Water.  I have not climbed High Street since I was eight years old so I am sure it would be a nicer experience as an adult!

Helvellyn & Catsycam from Hartside
The Helvellyn range is not for the faint-hearted!  I did the range in the summer of 2010 with my husband from Dollywagon Pike to Clough Head – that includes the 10 peaks of Dollywagon Pike, Nethermost Pike, Helvellyn, Helvellyn Lower Man, Raise, White Side, Stybarrow Dodd, Great Dodd, Watson’s Dodd and Clough Head.  It is about 13 miles all told from end to end.  We went up from Dunmail Raise ascending the beautiful Raise Beck with the cascades and waterfalls crystal clear and certainly not as frozen as in the Seat Sandal episode!  Helvellyn was busy in spite of the mist and it was the first time I saw the plaque marking where a light aeroplane landed in 1926. Rather them than me and really not to be recommended!  The views were not the best for the first three fells owing to the mist but after we left Helvellyn, the mist cleared and Striding Edge looked striking and the views opened out to Thirlmere and the towards Keswick with each glorious step.  All the hard work is in the first fell and there is never more than a few hundred feet of ascent for any of the others – just a happy grassy stroll.  

My parents were on holiday in the Lakes the same week and fortunately, they picked us up from the bottom of Clough Head and drove us back to Dunmail Raise.  This was fortunate as after about 13 miles and over 4,000 feet of ascent, the thought of walking the six or seven miles back to the car was not appealing!  I confess this was not the first or the last time I have prevailed upon their taxi services in the Lake District!  I have also climbed Helvellyn via Striding Edge but that story is for another day and whilst I am glad I completed that challenge, is not one I would rush back to do again so has not made it into my top six ridge routes!

Ennerdale Water
The final ridge is a new one for me that I only did at the end of March in the amazing warm sunshine that engulfed the Lake District (and pretty much the rest of the UK) all week.  This was the first of two days I walked to complete the 214 Wainwrights.  I started at Bowness Point on the shores of Ennerdale Water.  I had not been to Ennerdale for many years and had forgotten how beautiful it is.  The walk took me along the lake shore for about two wonderful miles with woods on one side and the blue still lake backed by Crag Fell and Caw Fell on the other.  My mission was Caw Fell and Haycock.  It took me longer than usual to reach the foot of Haycock as I kept stopping to take photos (honestly, it is becoming an obsession) but the path up through the woods and across streams and then up a heathery path to the ridge was delightful.  The fells of Steeple (one of my favourites) and Pillar and the Buttermere fells (including the ridge route of High Crag, High Stile and Red Pike from Part One) were surrounding me on the ascent and I marvelled again how close everything is in the Lake District!

Looking back to the Haycock ridge
I reached the summit of Caw Fell first and the views to the Wastwater fells were stunning and you could see out to sea for miles towards the mountains of Scotland and the Isle of Man with a thin wisp of cloud between the base and the summits.  Inland, miles and miles of rugged and grassy mountains stretched out like a painter’s canvas.  The ridge to Haycock was wonderful with the views of the Wastwater fells (including my favourite Yewbarrow) becoming more magnificent with each step and the Scafells were basking in the sunshine.  The top of Haycock was one of the best views I have seen from a mountain top and given it is not one of the most popular fells by any stretch of the imagination, this was unexpected.  I would go back to that ridge route again and again however.  Seriously breathtaking and with the summit of Haycock reached, I had only three fells to go to complete the 214 Wainwright’s so I was euphoric!

Sunshine in the woods - just  because I like it!
These are my personal favourites.  Some of you will wonder why some of the most popular ridge routes do not feature here.  Until I climbed Haycock, the route from Arnison, St Sunday Crag and Birks was going to appear but Haycock has overtaken that one now.  I had a disaster climbing Crinkle Crags and Bowfell (a story for another occasion but let’s just say it was before I had GPS and anyone can confuse mountains in the mist in the early days of walking...!) so that has not made it and whilst it was marvellous being on Scafell Pike and the highest point in England, I would not rush back to it over others.  I like the Fairfield Horseshoe, the Coledale Horseshoe and the Coniston fells and the ridge route from Middle Fell, Seatallen and Buckbarrow from Wastwater.  It is all about personal preferences and choices and probably more importantly, the emotions you remember at the time of climbing.  I love hearing about the favourites other people have so do please share them....
Follow Heelwalker1 on Twitter