Sunday, 29 July 2012

A Lake, Cave & Tumble

Brothers Water
I have been fascinated to see photos of a cave on the slopes of Dove Crag called the “Priests’ Hole” as the photos from inside show extensive views across mountains and valleys beyond and the cave itself looks eerie.  It is marked on Ordnance Survey maps and I was determined to go and see if for myself. 

Cascade on Dovedale Beck
After consulting an expert I had my route planned, starting at the small lake called Brothers Water near the village of Hartsop.  Brothers Water used to be called Broad Water but the name was changed in the 19th century when two brothers tragically drowned there.  The sister of the famous Lakeland poet William Wordsworth, Dorothy Wordsworth (a poet in her own right) referred to it as a “glittering, lively lake” and that is just how it looked as I walked along the path beside it with tree branches hanging over.

Taking time to admire the flora (view stop)
The walk up the valley towards Dove Crag was beautiful with the rippling streams and many cascades of Dovedale Beck and the imposing crags getting closer.  It was a lovely place to be that day.  The gentle incline after a couple of miles turned into a steep final ascent to the cave however!  From a distance, it did not look like a route was possible up the scree slope but fortunately an old stone-pitched path was still in existence and whilst it did not lessen the gradient, it did make for easier climbing.  The path to the cave is off from the main path and an erratic boulder marks the spot to turn off and you can see the mouth of the cave from there.  A short scramble later and I had arrived at the cave.

"Priest's Hole" Cave
Looking from the Jaws of the Cave
It was just as striking as I had imagined with the dark jaws of the cave leading to views down the valley and across the fells that were every bit as lovely as I had hoped.  Even though it was a bit cloudy, it was mesmerising.  Having mastered the timer on my camera, I even managed to include myself in one of the photos.  The cave is natural but a stone wall has been constructed over part of the front for additional shelter.  There was evidence of camping activity inside such as candles and some matting but it was all neatly stacked and someone had also left a book for people visiting the cave to sign – I signed on the very back page as the rest of it was full.  Mission accomplished!

However, I decided to continue the walk onto Dove Crag summit and as I could not see a clear route from where I was, I dropped back down to the main path near the boulder.  After Dove Crag I headed to Hart Crag which was only a short distance away.  Both these fells are part of the Fairfield Horseshoe and I had not been on them since the “Mystery of the Rucksack” incident back in February!  The sun even started to emerge as I sat on Hart Crag having lunch and whilst it was cold for July, it was a great day for walking.  I headed off over the fell Hartsop Above How.  This is not one of the most frequented fells in the Lake District but the ridge route over the top is gentle and there are excellent views of the surrounding crags and valleys and down into Hartsop.

View Down the Valley
The final part of my route took me off the side of Hartsop above How to return to the shores of Brothers Water on a grassy path.  This was the most straightforward part of the walk.  Or so I thought.  However, I lost the path.  The map and GPS said there was a right of way where I was but there was certainly no path – just a lot of bracken!  I could just about see another path further down the slope so putting thoughts of bugs and snakes to one side, I decided to head through the thick bracken to the path.  This was a mistake as when I took my first step, I tripped over a rock I had not seen and fell forward in what was actually a rather graceful roly poly movement and ended up a few feet further down my route than originally intended with bracken in my hair and sitting in a little muddy stream.  I sat there for a few minutes wondering what on earth had happened (but secretly impressed that I can still do a roly poly) and then managed to get up, brush myself down and join the actual path with a flick of the hair.  So much for glamorous walking!

Brothers Water & Surrounding Fells
The short walk to the car-park from there was uneventful (I am pleased to say) and after changing out of my rather wet and muddy trousers and removing the final traces of bracken from my hair, I headed off to Glenridding for a well-deserved drink.  A great walk but next time I will attempt to do it without the roly poly!

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Sunday, 22 July 2012

Friends, Gables & Tarns

I have been made to feel very welcome in the Lake District and made many new friends in my first few weeks.  Gina and her husband Dave are two of them and through knowing Gina (a social butterfly who makes legendary chocolate brownies) I joined a Twitter walking group on a Sunday morning in July to climb Green Gable and Great Gable.  A “tweet-up”!  I had the advantage of a lift from Grasmere with Gina, Dave and Si and we met Ray (our route master), Phil, Bruce, Gary and Ray’s dog Holly (‘The Beast’) in Seathwaite, Borrowdale.

Sour Milk Gill
Seathwaite is the wettest inhabited place in England (there is even a slate sign highlighting this) and there is even a cottage there called “Rain Gauge Cottage”.  Given the recent weather, this did not bode well but as we started it was warm and there were no rain clouds apparent although the tops were a bit misty so we headed off and straight up the steep Sour Milk Gill path full of anticipation for the walk ahead.

Gina & Me - Seathwaite Valley behind
I have never claimed to be the fastest walker in the world (and there are plenty who can vouch for that) but as it turns out, I think I just may be the slowest walker ever!  The route up the Gill was steep and I had to stop often for a breather (I mean to take photos) whilst most of the others powered ahead with Gina leading the way.  Ray and Phil kept me company and gallantly tried to make it look as though it was not just me being slow.  There were lovely views of the Gill and the valley below however so stopping to look at them was totally acceptable and thank goodness Holly decided to go for a swim in the Gill at one point (a good photo/breather opportunity).  I did eventually get to the top of the steep part and the views to the valley were superb– this is why the pain of ascent is worth it and I love the photo of Gina and me.

The first fell was to be Green Gable and the route took us along the Gillercomb path.  I was still bringing up the rear and trying to avoid being captured in too many of Phil’s photos looking exhausted and having a bad hair day (not the look I aspire to in photos).  Gina and Dave started sprinting (yes sprinting) up the last part of the ascent to Green Gable (I will gloss over my thoughts about that other than to say we possibly have the wrong people in our Olympic team) and before long we had arrived at our first summit, which was free of cloud.  There were excellent views down to the surrounding valleys including Buttermere and Mellbreak (one of my favourite fells) and great views of the closer fells even though the tops of them were hidden in cloud.

Great Gable & Green Gable on a sunnier day
One of the recurring themes given my new role in Fix the Fells was everyone commenting on path erosion and where the Fix the Fells teams needed to focus next.  Seems like we are going to be pretty busy!  It was great everyone was so supportive of the work though and I apologise if I bored everyone to tears with my new knowledge of erosion, path maintenance and techniques to repair paths but I am sure somebody asked at some point and I feel very enthusiastic about it (as you may have gathered)….  And thank you Dave for not placing that large stone on the summit cairn as I think I would have struggled to move it back despite my statement to the contrary!

Summit of Great Gable (photo by @goldenorfephoto - Phil)
Sadly Great Gable was in cloud and that was where we were headed next.  Positions restored (yes I was last again) we made the descent to Windy Gap and then up the steep scramble amongst the rocks and scree to the summit of Great Gable.  Phil had given up waiting for me and it was left to Ray to give me encouragement to the top.  But we made it! 

We sat on Great Gable in the cloud and had lunch followed by Gina’s amazing chocolate brownies.  Word had obviously got around as two guys arrived at the summit and were also fed brownies.  After reapplying lipstick (Phil will no doubt share that photo at some point) we set off down to the stretcher box (named because it does indeed hold stretchers) near Styhead Tarn.  At the stretcher box we decided to take the longer route back via Sprinkling Tarn and Grains Gill.  I must have got my second wind as I led from the front and did not hold up anybody.  In fact, I found myself in the group waiting for others to arrive!  (What kept you guys?)

Piers Gill
Sprinkling Tarn
The route between Styhead Tarn and Sprinkling Tarn is amongst some of the most rugged fells and scenery.  The deep, dark cavern of Piers Gill on the slopes of Lingmell, the rock massif of Great End towering above us and the bouldery slopes of great Gable behind combined with the gentle grassy mound of Seathwaite Fell.  It is an area I love as it looks magnificent.  Sprinkling Tarn always looks beautiful and the walk down Grains Gill, which I have not done for many years, was just a joyous ramble. 

It was great talking to everyone as well.  It is amazing how much you can have in common with people you have not met before when you share a love of something – in our case, walking the fells.  We ended our day with a drink at the Langstrath Inn where I confess I had half a bitter shandy – sorry…you can take the girl out of the south but not the south out of the girl….  A great day and some great new friends – thanks for arranging it Gina (and thanks for waiting for me Ray).
Slate Sign in Seathwaite

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Sunday, 15 July 2012

Girl From the South Heads North Episode 2

I still wear heels I promise!
Hard though it is to believe, I have been in the Lake District for over a month! For those friends in Kent and Sussex who think I have lost my love of heels, let me assure you I have not.  Heels have been worn for board meetings, office days and social events. My floral shoes and black patent leather heels have had the most outings (spotty Dune shoes will be making an appearance in the near future).

Cascade on Tongue Gill (before I caught up!)
Back to the outdoors though and my first day with some of the Fix the Fells volunteers on Seat Sandal.  I had an early start in Kendal so had to catch them up.  This was a bit optimistic given my hiking speed (as some of you know) so I actually did not arrive until lunchtime where they were waiting patiently for me as I collapsed in a tired heap in front of them (hardly the professional look I was going for but by then I was just glad they were still on the mountain).  After a brief respite, I was handed a shovel to get stuck into the work of clearing the path drains of stone and mud to keep them flowing, removing any loose stones from the stone-pitching and generally anything that helps maintain the path and avoid erosion.

The volunteers do a wonderful job and Fix the Fells would not be possible without their support and commitment.  They made me feel very welcome and I learnt a lot that day.  They were also very gracious waiting for me on the steep final ascent of Seat Sandal, where my “view stops” were essential and when they carried my shovel down the mountain as I had forgotten it (yes I am afraid it is true - so much for my plans to make a good first impression!)

Alfie on the Gondola
Later that week, the weather forecast predicted heavy rain and storms so what better time to join some of the volunteers again out in Coppermine Valley near Coniston to repair one of the busy footpaths?  When I arrived, the first thing I saw was Hamish the West Highland White dog in his jacket sitting under a large golfing umbrella to escape the rain and another dog, Alfie, playing in puddles.  After toying with the idea of joining Hamish under the umbrella in his “supervisory role”, I spied a mattock (variation on a pickaxe) and got to work moving turf and rocks and collecting stones.  The rain was heavy and as I was filling another bucket with stones, a deep rumble of thunder rolled over the mountain side and the sky lit-up with a flash of lightning.  I looked at everyone else thinking it seemed a good time to make a run for it and they were still working so I kept going.  The thunder got closer and before long the sky opened up and the rain just bucketed down.  Within seconds I was soaked through, the path had become a river and everyone downed their metal tools (not sensible equipment in lightning) and we fair sprinted down the mountain (except Hamish, who was carried – honestly I am missing a trick here somewhere) and piled into the 4x4 vehicle to get back down to Coniston, amongst the swirling rivers, mudslides and floods.

My appearance caused much amusement in the office at Boon Crag as I had set out dry and wearing lipstick and returned very soggy with my hair forming a new style never seen before (and not to be seen again).  It was a great day in spite of the rain but the credit goes to the volunteers who braved the elements and who have been back up on the fells since - they certainly are not “fair-weather” volunteers that is for sure!
Wray Castle

My volunteer induction did not stop there.  The following week I was out at Basecamp at High Wray meeting a group of volunteers from the Community Drug Outreach Trust who were spending the day working on the Windermere shore path near Wray Castle.  This has become a popular route and a path is being created to stop the grass getting muddy and unwalkable.  It is a beautiful area and Wray Castle is also beautiful.  Basecamp is a residential volunteer centre working with people from all walks of life and the volunteer groups work closely with the Fix the Fells team.

Believe it or not that's me at the back!
Turning up in my pink t-shirt and waterproof jacket and cream walking boots (well I am what I am!) I was pointed towards the industrial strength black waterproofs and black steel toe-capped wellies (well if it protects the toe-nail polish it is worth it!)  Kitted-up (pink lipstick stayed on) we headed to Wray Castle and started work.  We split into two teams – one to dig turf, build the bank and clear the route for the path, the other to move the piles of gravel by wheel barrow to finish the path.  I was in the gravel team.  Before long, we had got into a great routine filling wheel barrows with shovels and emptying them on the path.  I confess that in spite of the high energy levels from the volunteers, I found all the shovelling tiring so I decided to take a turn at pushing the wheel barrow, which looked a lot easier.  This lasted a good few minutes until I realised it was actually much harder so I returned to shovelling (I know my place).
Enjoying the sunshine on the shores of Windermere

Progress was swift in spite of the rain coming and going and we were all having a great time.  On finding a large rock in the way of the path my stone-pitching day came back to me and I was determined to shift it.  I failed and it took about four guys to get it onto the side of the path (I was a little optimistic in my ability).  As we were finishing, the sun came out and we all paddled in Lake Windermere in our wellies before heading back to the Castle.  A great day with a really inspiring group of people that I feel privileged to have met.

Celebrating the path we made!
I cannot praise the work of the Fix the Fells volunteers highly enough.  Their commitment, skill and knowledge is a key part of the success of the Fix the Fells programme and I look forward to continuing to work with them and the rangers over the coming months.  I thank them for making me feel so welcome and sharing their expertise.
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