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Well, I'm back from my annual spiritual retreat/rejuvenation session in the Lake District.

Do I feel refreshed?  Er, no.  Do I feel rejuvenated?  Absolutely not. 

This is nothing to do with the Lakes. Or with the Lancrigg Vegetarian Country House Hotel, which was its usual self. The food was awesome, the hospitality wonderful, the scenery (when it could actually be seen!) spectacular.

But alas, the nasty, pernicious horrid little bug I went down with last week has lingered, and my style has been well and truly cramped.  I managed to stagger around my usual 10 mile circuit which runs Grasmere-Ambleside-Rydal-Grasmere - you will note, however, that if it hadn't been for the massive brick of Victoria sponge which adorned my plate at the Rattle Gill cafe in Ambleside, I'd have opted for the bus.  Every time the gradient went up, I wheezed and puffed and wound up collapsing into paroxyms of coughing.  So much so, that the Coffin Route shall henceforth be known as the 'Coughin' Route' - though there were times when I wondered if I'd end up in a coffin myself before the end.

And then there was the carol concert at Allan Bank...

The weather was pretty dire, but the rain stopped for one day out of the four, and this morning, we actually saw the sun! 

All things considered, we had a lovely break, and I'd much rather have felt ill in the Lake District than felt ill at home. The only source of major disappointment came in the form of the Grasmere Chocolate Studio.  We visited them on Thursday evening, bought some yummy chocolates, and pledged to return over the weekend to buy new stocks once the next batch of handmade goodies came in. We were assured that they'd be open on Saturday, but to my dismay, the place was locked shut (with the mail waiting there to be picked up) all the way through Saturday and right through into Sunday.  My 'raspberry ripple' and 'very berry' chocolates which I'd requested were there on the shelf, waiting to be purchased (and eaten!) and there they must remain, because I'm home now.

Ah, the perils of frequenting the small business.  What's more perturbing is the possibility that they're closed because of family illness or disaster - fingers crossed that they'll be back to normal in February when we next return, because they're a damned good chocolatiers and they're usually really hard workers staying open all hours. All was not lost - we popped into Rheged on the way home and discovered another chocolatier which provided sufficient decent chocolates to fill the void.  And some fudge for J's Christmas present, too.  So at least that's the last of my Christmas shopping sorted.

Though we still need to get some sprouts from somewhere. And chestnuts. And veggie bacon...
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I have returned.  Our holiday was excellent, though at times it seriously felt as if The Powers That Be really can't be bothered to promote tourism in England.  Over the last few years, the little tourist information centres that proliferated in the market towns and which were a Godsend for vistors have all been closed, and if it hadn't been for a bit of detective work and dedication on our part, we wouldn't even have picked this destination.

What's even more depressing was the number of people who said to us, "Oh, so you're on holiday in Wantage.  You must be visiting family then."  And when we responded with 'well, no, we're here to SEE the place,' they'd just blink and go, 'Oh! That's interesting. What on earth made you come here?'

Sigh.... 

Here's a photo.  Sadly, I haven't done the market place in Wantage much justice because it was raining a lot of the time, and on the days when the sun came out, it was full of random people who cluttered up the views as if they owned the place (which they probably did!!).  I'm sorry about the lack of images, because the place, though filled with modern 19th century shopfronts, was very picturesque:-


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Anyway, here, listed below, are my Reasons for Picking Wantage as a Holiday Destination (not arranged in any particular order...):-

1) It has connections with King Alfred.

2) It has connections with John Betjemen.

3) It's within easy travelling distance of the Vale of the White Horse. 

4) There's loads of brilliant (and not too strenuous!) walking in and around the town.

5) They have a second hand bookshop that is seriously TO DIE FOR!!  It's not just colossal, it's completely labyrinthine (literally) with a history/archaeology section that's mind-boggingly vast.  The variety is combined with really modest prices. I bought about eighteen books for fifty quid, for heaven's sake, and we're talking big academic tomes here, not pamphlets!

6) A plentiful supply of red kites.  We walked two consecutive days, and spotted kites on both days.  Which was an unexpected bonus...

7) Plenty of hostelries which serve good food and decent beer. Plus a delicatessan called Umami's where the staff are lovely, the food is delicious and there's space to chill out with some tasty grub.

8) Lastly, there is The Shoulder of Mutton.  We were recommended this place as a good option for veggie dining.  We were nonplussed at first, because it just seemed like a regular pub, and it was quite hard to actually get a table (probably a sign of how popular it is!). Turned out the recommendation was the understatement of the century - despite an unappetising inn-sign featuring a butcher hacking up a flayed sheep haunch (well, it is the Shoulder of Mutton!) the menu was veggie heaven!  Not a dead sheep in sight, and oh, boy, I could  have munched my way through the menu for a week and still have been trying different things.  Okay, so things were a little chaotic at times, because the chef is clearly a one-man-band who loves what he's doing and cooks for the sheer pleasure of it, but...  How can I possibly extol the virtues of the spicy red lentil and carrot flan????  Having been 98% veggie for the last twenty four years, I've had my fair share of lentil flans, but...  This has to be the queen of flans.  If I were Rabbie Burns, I'd write a poem extolling its virtues.

Oh, and according to J, its selection of real ales was mighty good, too.  And the prices were really, really modest. 
So yeah, a bit off the beaten track, perhaps, but with much to recommend it.  The monuments were excellent, too: beam engines, Neolithic chambered tombs, hill forts and a certain white horse....

There are photos, of course.  Which I will share with you soon!
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There are two classic short walks from Grasmere village which most folk who holiday in the Lakes have done at one time or another.  The first takes you to Easdale Tarn, with the second being the walk to Alcock Tarn.

We've been holidaying in Grasmere since 2000 or thereabouts, and  - shock, horror!! - this is the first time we've ever been to Alcock Tarn. It's rather intense as short walks go, so it was way down the list in the old days when I was a fledgling walker, and these days, well...  We're always trying to do summits, so Alcock Tarn has remained sadly neglected on our itinerary.

But last weekend being very wet, we found an ample opportunity to go exploring on Monday afternoon, when, after a very soggy morning, things began to dry up and we had a few hours to actually DO something!

So Alcock Tarn it was.  We had ulterior motives, because the Alcock Tarn route allows access onto Heron Pike, which is one of the peaks in the Fairfield Horseshoe, so in a way this was a reconnaissance trip for more ambitious walks to be undertaken in the future.

It's a very short walk of one and a quarter miles. What they don't tell you on the signposts is that it's an intense one and a quarter miles which goes UP pretty much along the entire route. The path begins in woodland, with scenes reminiscent of Tolkein:-


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From quite early on, you start to gain a bit of height, and the views are excellent. Here's Helm Crag, with Steel Fell to the right:-


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Here's our destination, a little tarn which nestles up at quite a high level. The pointed peak to the rear is Great Rigg, which was the objective of our February walk this year. The disturbance in the water was caused by a very single-minded duck who was swimming purposefully along...


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Here's a better view of Great Rigg and the shoulder which leads down to Stone Arthur. The brooding bulk of Helvellyn can be seen in the background:-


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And a better view of Helm Crag in its wider context, bathed in sunlight this time. Sour Milk Gill, the stream which flanks the path to Easdale Tarn, can be seen as a bright white strip above the trees which lie to the left of Helm Crag:-


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Being intrepid, we declined to travel back the way we came. Instead, we followed the path as it carried on beyond the tarn. I was hoping I'd get some indication of where we should cut off for Heron Pike, but nothing seemed to jump out at me, unfortunately...
As I'd suspected, the path carried us down the opposite side of the ame burn that we'd followed in our February walk to Great Rigg/Stone Arthur.  Here's the 19th century aqueduct, which forms part of the big water transportation systerm which carries drinking water from Thirlmere to Manchester and which I think I featured (from a greater distance) in a February post:-


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Even though it didn't include a summit, this was a very pleasant walk which took us up to a fairly high level (with all the advantages this brings as far as views are concerned!) and which improved our knowledge and understanding of the walking routes around Grasmere.

Despite being hard work, it was pretty straightforward and very rewarding. If you ever find yourself in Grasmere, and you fancy an introduction to fell walking, it's an ideal place to start!
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It's official.  The British Summer has been a complete wash-out.

Our weekend in the Lakes was very wet indeed. So wet, in fact, that we didn't actually get out onto the tops. Though we did try....  In fact, I don't think we've had it this wet in the Lake District since December 2009, and we've been there a few times since then, believe me!

The target of the holiday was Ullscarf via the Wythburn (pronounced Wy-burn) valley.  Ullscarf itself isn't given a very good write-up by Wainwright, his description, in The Central Fells, is as follows:-

'Of the Lakeland Fells over 2,000 feet Ullscarf will generally be adjudged the most central, and it is a pity that Nature has not endowed it with a distinctive superstructure worthy of the honour. If only the crags extended a thousand feet higher, and if only the summit took the shape of a Matterhorn! Instead of which, the top of the fell is the dullest imaginable. The most central, perhaps, but not, alas, a very distinguished pivot!'

Unfortunately, I can't prove or disprove Wainwright's analysis of the summit in question. The weather forecast for Saturday didn't seem too bad, and when we set out, 'showers & sunny spells' seemed to be the order of the day:-


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We followed the Wythburn Valley, along a delightful (though rather marshy!) route which proved to be virtually deserted:-


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The path skirted this dramatic waterfall:-


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And after that, the terrain flattened out into a geographer's paradise, full of moraines and a wide morass called, appropriately enough, 'The Bog'.  (Or, as Wainwright puts it, 'The Bog' (with a capital T & B deservedly)').

The big flat summit to the right with its sloping approach is Ullscarf.  We got just beyond the conical mound in the middle of the picture, and by then the 'showers' had become so heavy and prolonged that we were wet through and getting a bit cold. I was willing to plod onwards, but J, in a spectacular display of what I can only describe as 'anti-Spartanism', declared that 'there's no shame in turning back and tackling the summit another day. The shame lies in getting carted off the hill by the mountain rescue'.  With about another hour and a half to the summit, I reluctantly conceded, and the retreat was sounded.


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On the way down, we passed this lovely boulder:-


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And by the time we descended back to the road, the weather really was closing in. Here's the view towards the lower slopes of Helvellyn during the return journey:-


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The right decision was made, I suppose. What's the point of scaling a summit if the views at the top are vague to negligible??  At the very least, it was a good reconnaissance trip, and it's certainly a route I'll want to try again in the future!
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Anyway, as I intimated previously, I never made it to the summit of Bidean Nam Bien.  To those of you who are accomplished high level walkers, I salute you.  To those who've never ventured up to the high levels before, believe me, things start to get pretty serious after around 3200 feet.  Could I work up to this??  Probably.  A couple of years back, I would never have dreamed that taking on such a challenge was possible.  Even Helvellyn seemed like an insurmountable challenge, and believe me, compared to this one, Helvellyn was fairly easy...

In Thursday's blog post, I left you with a view of the Lost Valley, looking up to the route which led up to the ridge and the summit.  Here's a view of the Lost Valley from the start of the ascent onto the ridge.  After this point, when the scrambling began, photography was pretty much impossible:-




At last the ridge was reached.  Here are the views, which speak for themselves.  The Lost Valley is a mere speck in the distance now, and for those who are wondering, the big body of water in the middle distance is Loch Etive:-












So...  After all the effort, and the trauma of the ascent...  Was it really worth it????

I'd say 'yes!', even without the bonus of adding another summit to the palmares.  Because views like this are a rare treat which make the ridge a worthy goal in its own right.  On the strength of them, I'd do it again tomorrow - I think!!!

Have a great weekend, everyone!!

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To the Lost Valley, now, and some photographs which illustrate what is arguably the most iconic medium level walk in and around Glencoe...  When Julia Bradbury featured it on one of her television programmes, she implied it was an obscure route, but it didn't seem very obscure to me.  It was hoaching with folk the day we walked there - in fact, it was far busier than the Thirlmere route we'd travelled up Helvellyn the week before.

A view of the route now, as seen from the car park.  The hanging valley between the two peaks was our destination - yes, that's snow you can see there, the late May/June snowfall known locally as the 'deer-calving' snow (so our B&B hostess told us when we last stayed with her, six or seven years ago...)  But you can't see the path from this distance - it runs up the right hand side of the gully where the trees are located:-



Once you start climbing, there are fabulous views across the main road to the infamous Aonach Eagach Ridge - it takes in five named summits, and I'm reliably informed by J (who's one of those hardy folk who have tackled it...) that once you embark upon this perilous path, there's no turning back.  Like Helvellyn, it's been known to claim its fair share of victims from time to time.  And yes, you can rest assured that's one walk I'm not tempted to try in the future:-



The route to the Lost Valley takes you through a rocky cleft where a small river tumbles down from the valley above.  There are tumbled boulders and birches everywhere:-


Walkers must then traverse the boulder field, which is an obstacle course par excellence.  There's no set route - the boulders shift every winter, meaning that the path is always changing.  Our particular route crossed the river and skirted the boulder field, missing it almost completely.  Which is probably just as well, because it's a bit of an ankle-breaker in places:-


Beyond this point, a view back down the valley show how much the route has climbed even by this point:-




And finally, this is where the weary traveller emerges.  There's no sign of the river which has accompanied the path throughout: the streams which feed it vanish into the ground at the head of the valley, leaving just a dry gravel bed.

Traditional tales say that the local MacDonald clansmen used the valley as a place to hide stolen cattle, though I can't imagine how even the most agile and athletic of cows could have made it this far as a willing accomplice, let alone under protest.  Unless it was airlifted in by helicopter, that is.  And helicopters, as you all well now, weren't exactly standard equipment for your average clansman, way back in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries...

And the snowy patches at the far head of the valley, just to the right of the pointed peak?  They mark the only route up to the summit of Bidean nam Bien...


It's traditionally said that the local MacDonald clansmen once used this valley as a place to hide stolen cattle, though I can't imagine how even the most agile and athletic of cows could ever have made it this far.  Unless it was airlifted in by helicopter, that is.  And helicopters, as you all well now, weren't exactly standard equipment for your average clansman, way back in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries...

And the snowy patches at the far head of the valley, just to the right of the pointed peak?  They mark the only route up to the ridge which carries on to the summit of Bidean nam Bien,
which isn't even visible on this photograph...

Yes, I told you it was an epic.  I'm exhausted just thinking about it.... 

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Poor old Nethermost Pike.  It's earned itself the reputation of being the unloved little sibling of its more celebrated neighbour, Helvellyn.  Wainwright sums it up nicely as follows:-

'Thousands of people cross the flat top of Nethermost Pike every year, and thousands more toil up its western slope.  Yet their diaries record "climbed Helvellyn today." For Helvellyn is the great magnet that draws the crowds to Nethermost Pike: the latter is climbed incidentally, almost unknowingly, only because it is an obstacle in the route to its bigger neighbour.  The grassy west slope trodden by the multitudes is of little interest, but the fell should not be judged accordingly: it is made of sterner stuff. From the east, Nethermost Pike is magnificent, hardly less so than Helvellyn and seeming more so because of its impressive surroundings.' (The Central Fells, Nethermost Pike 2)

Last summer, when we scaled Dollywaggon Pike, we struck out for Nethermost Pike and missed it.  We made up for this omission last Saturday.  The summit itself is fascinating: covered with shattered pieces of rock that make it look like it's surmounted by an enormous cairn (it isn't...).

Here are the views that were just reward for our effort. They were spectacular: at 2920', Nethermost Pike is a respectable mountain in its own right.  There's an awful lot of foreground, I'm afraid, because I was too feart to go venturing close to the chasm.  Okay, the wind was blowing away from the long drop, but still....

This is the view towards Helvellyn, showing Striding Edge in its wider context with the beautifully named 'Catstycam' visible beyond:-






The view below is almost a dead ringer for one of Wainwright's illustrations, and according to the Man Himself, we are looking down Grisedale towards Place Fell with Ullswater just visible in the distance:-




Another view of Grisedale now, with St Sunday Crag to the right:-





One last view of the descent now, showing a wider view of the central fells, with Steel Fell, Gibson Knott and Helm Crag in the middle distance, and the outline of Harrison Stickle visible to the right:-



 And that was that.  I'm already planning the next onslaught on the Lake District fells, even though I've already exceeded my annual target of three Wainwrights.  If we wind up doing the Fairfield Horseshoe this summer, I'll have managed to tick off nine Wainwrights in a year, which would be pretty good going, I think! 
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To my second post on Helvellyn now, and a guide to the summit.  The pictures aren't too impressive, because it was far too blowy on the top to try and venture too close to the edge.  But this'll give you some idea of what it was like.

The classic approach to Helvellyn is via Striding Edge, the route which claimed the unfortunate Mr Gough, and which still claims the unwary or unlucky traveller to this day.  If you look closely, you can see the little stream of figures, tramping their way along this narrow ridge...





Here's another view of Striding Edge, as seen from the summit:-




The other classic route to the summit is via Swirral Edge, equally dramatic, but considerably less terrifying!  In fact, it looks so inviting that this knitted, woolly walker almost feels inclined to tackle it some time:-





Here's a monument I found upon the summit.  It wasn't, I'm afraid, commemorating Mr Gough: instead, it was acknowledging the moment when someone landed an aeroplane on the mountain, then promptly took off again....





Looking away from the summit, we can see the rocky bluffs that represent the eastern faces of Nethermost Pike and Dollywaggon Pike.  Dollywaggon Pike was the objective of our walk last July, and it was to Nethermost Pike that we were heading following our ascent of Helvellyn on Saturday:-




 And that's where we'll be going tomorrow... 
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I've been in awe of Helvellyn ever since I started walking in the Lake District.  By Scottish standards, it's not a BIG mountain, though at 3118 feet, it easily falls into our Munro category.  It is, however, the third highest mountain in England, and it's not exactly a pussy-cat.  It claims victims on a semi-frequent basis, and should not be approached lightly, particularly in winter.

I came across one of its more celebrated victims in a fascinating book called The Unfortunate Tourist of Helvellyn.'  I've mentioned him before: Mr Charles Gough, who fell to his death one April day in 1805 and whose shattered corpse was only found a few months later.  His faithful dog was allegedly found by his body, and being an artist, he was carrying his tinted Claude glasses when he plunged to his death, perhaps from the infamous Striding Edge...

As I scaled Helvellyn on Saturday, I thought of Mr Gough, who is commemorated by a monument on the summit.  There were certain parallels between myself and Mr Gough. though instead of a faithful dog, I had a soft tiger in my daysack (he's climbed three Wainwrights now, which is quite impressive, for a cuddly toy!), and I was also carrying a modern equivalent of the Claude glasses, my digital camera. 

It was here, I hoped, that the similarities would end.  Though one of my aims for the day was to visit his monument, so I could pay my respects in person.

This is what Alfred Wainwright had to say about Helvellyn:-

'Legend and poetry, a lovely name and a lofty altitude combine to encompass Helvellyn in an aura of romance; and thousands of pilgrims, aided by its easy accessibility, are attracted to its summit every year....  There is some quality about Helvellyn which endears it in the memory of most people who have stood on its breezy top; although it can be a grim place indeed on a wild night, it is, as a rule, a very friendly giant.  If it did not inspire affection would its devotees return to it so often?' (A Pictorial Guide to the Eastern Fells, Book One: The Central Fells)

I can't really disagree with Wainwright's description, though on the day we climbed it, Helvellyn's summit was not exactly 'breezy'.  J's description - 'tempestuous' - was somewhat closer to the mark, though you'd never believe it from the photographs...

We climbed the mountain from Wythburn, on the western side.  Wainwright describes it as 'one of the most popular ways up Helvellyn', but things have changed since Wainwright's day.  On a marvellous May morning, the route was almost deserted: we met about a dozen folk during our walk.  Striding Edge, by contrast, the 'unusual' and undoubtedly spectacular route recommended by Wainwright himself, was like a conveyor belt, with an endless queue of walkers trailing along it.

And now to the walk...

We began at Wythburn Church, which undoubtedly merits a closer look, so I'll have to try and explore it again at a later date:-




Helvellyn is a spectacular mountain, but ehe views aren't as fine on the western flanks.  In fact, the mountain itself is a featureless bulky mass, as if it crouches down with its back to Thirlmere, Grasmere and Wythburn.  But as we climbed higher, we got spectacular views of Thirlmere and the western fells:-



I even stumbled across some archaeology: in the picture below, the pile of stones represents the footings of a rectangular bothy or hut:-
 


The first part of the climb was very steep, but eventually, it levelled out into this winding path (buffeted by the most horrible winds, which, of course, cannot be depicted pictorially...):-




And in the background, we see Steel Fell to the left, which was a target of our walk in February 2010, and which looks almost miniscule from this height.  Beyond Steel Fell, we can see the outlines of Harrison Stickle and High Raise.
And at last, we could see the summit.  Which deserves a post in its own right, so I'll be continuing the tale tomorrow!





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Well, a couple of days, actually, but let's not split hairs...

I'm back now, and I'm so glad we made the most of weather and decanted ourselves down to the Lakes for the weekend.  Our destination was the Lancrigg Vegetarian Country House Hotel, where the food was at its usual scrumptious standard, and the views were absolutely breathtaking.

I've featured similar photographs before, but the scenes have usually featured mist, snow, leafless trees and bleak mountains covered with dead bracken.  These days, we visit so often in the off-season that I've almost forgotten how wonderful the Lake District is in summer, when the sun's out and it's not raining:-




So yes, we bagged our fells.  We scaled Helvellyn and Nethermost Pike, as planned, and pictures will follow.  It looks idyllic, but reality was ever so slightly different, as I shall explain in due course:-




And look!  Colourful rhododendrons!  In bloom!!!



Now that's something you don't see in midwinter...

Apologies for fans of Lastours.  I shall be pausing in my French tour to take you on a virtual hillwalk, because Helvellyn and Nethermost Pike are definitely worth a detour.  But tonight I'm going out to the Writers' Group, so I'm signing off now.
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It's that time of year again - we're starting to plan our British holiday for later in the year.

At the moment, it's a toss-up between Wantage, Abingdon and Cirencester...

With the focus on Uffington, Wayland's Smithy and various other things.  Yeah, there's going to be a bit of a prehistoric theme here, for once...

Thanks, [livejournal.com profile] inzilbeth_liz, for giving me the inspiration to actually start progressing this one...
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Some gratuitous photographs of the fells now, before I leave Grasmere....

Obviously, we had plenty of photo opportunities in the course of our walk.  Here's a suitably bleak view across the later reaches of Stone Arthur towards Gibson Knott, Calf Crag and (I think!) Ullscarf in the background:




A similar view, but this time with an interesting tree in the foreground:-




And lastly, a piece of nineteenth century industrial archaeology.  Wainwright would no doubt describe it as an eyesore, because I don't think he had much time for industrial archaeology, but naturally I spotted it and went "ooh!  Look!!  A nineteenth century aqueduct!"





And tomorrow I'll be featuring Hardknott Roman fort, which for the very dozy and inattentive, was the subject of my earlier 'Guess the site' feature... 

Great Rigg

Feb. 28th, 2012 06:53 pm
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Up another 900 feet now, to the summit of Great Rigg, which at 2513 feet in height falls into my 'Great Big Bruiser' category of fell - in Scots terms, it's a Corbett!

If someone had told me a year ago that I'd have made the decision to hike up a 2500 foot summit in February, I'd probably have scoffed and said 'don't be daft!'  But this woolly walker seems to be getting a bit more intrepid in her old age, and somehow a six mile round trip to Great Rigg and back seemed quite do-able.

Here's a view of the summit, seen from just beyond the summit of Stone Arthur:-




Like yesterday's peak, Stone Arthur, it's not really a very popular fell for walkers.  Not on its own, anyway.  Instead, it's most often visited as part of the 'Fairfield Horseshoe', a ridge walk which takes in a grand total of eight summits, and which gets its name from Great Rigg's better known neighbour, Fairfield. 

If we hadn't pencilled in Helvellyn and Nethermost Pike for our summer walk, I'd be tempted by the Fairfield Horseshoe, because it looks like a lovely walk.  I'm not sure I'd have wanted to walk the Horseshoe on that particular day, because I'm far too knitted to have contemplated a big long exposed ridge walk when the wind was that strong!  Summer 2013 seems like a much better bet...

Here's a taster, looking down from the summit of Great Rigg along the ridge towards Heron Pike, with Lake Windermere to the left:-




Here's another view from the summit of Great Rigg, looking between the summits of Seat Sandal and Dollywaggon Pike towards the ominous bulk of Helvellyn:-


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And another view of the scene I featured yesterday, but this time seen from a higher elevation.  Easdale Tarn can be seen beyond the ridge running between Helm Crag and Gibson Knott, with the summit of Harrison Stickle visible (to the eagle-eyed) above the tarn:-




And lastly, a final view of Lake Windermere, with the sea visible as a bright silver band in the difference :-



Ah, yes.  It was a classic fell walk indeed.  And now I have to wait until July until the next one....
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Stone Arthur doesn't get much of a write up in Alfred Wainwright's A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells.  In fact, in a minimalist account which reminds me a little of Ford Prefect's edited summary of the Planet Earth which is quoted in that eminent tome, The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy (e.g. 'Mostly Harmless...'), its qualities can be summarised in one small paragraph:-

'Without its prominent tor of steep rock, Stone Arthur would probably never have been given a name for it is merely the abrupt end of a spur of Great Rigg although it has the appearance of a seperate fell when seen from Grasmere.  The outcrop occurs where the gradual decline of the spur becomes pronounced and here are the short walls of rock, like a ruined castle, that give Stone Arthur its one touch of distinction.' (Wainwright, 1955).

At 1652 ft OD, it's modest in size.  This makes it an ideal destination for a winter walk, and an equally perfect destination for novice fell-baggers who've cut their teeth on Loughrigg Fell, Silver Howe and Helm Crag, and feel the urge to conquer something a wee bit more imposing.

I've been fascinated with this fell ever since I  first started visiting the Lakes in 2000 or thereabouts.  Its name - Stone Arthur - appeals to the romantic side of me, and most of all, seen from a distance, it reminds me of Weathertop.  It's that little crown of rock on the summit that does it - here's the view from Grasmere, with the rocky tor at the summit just visible in silhouette:-




To reach it from Grasmere, the intrepid walker is required to - gulp! - cross the road!  This is why it's taken me so long to visit Stone Arthur - until last summer, I'd stuck to the fells immediately overlooking Grasmere, but now I increasingly find myself wandering further afield.

There's a brief stretch up a picturesque lane before the real climb begins:-




It's quite a tough slog to the summit, which isn't even that easy to find.  It's quite prominent from various locations on the ascent, as pictured below, but the higher you go, the more tricky it is to discern the actual summit from the rocky outcrops that litter the shoulder of Great Rigg.




In the end, we wound up overshooting the summit the first time, heading on up the slope to take in the summit of Great Rigg before coming back down the hill again and taking in Stone Arthur on the descent.  It was no day to loiter on the summits, unfortunately: Stone Arthur in particular was battered and buffeted by a strong, cold wind that seemed worse at low level than it did when we were on the higher peak.  I assume Helvellyn's massive bulk was providing Great Rigg with some degree of shelter...

Anyway, the view was, as ever, spectacular, all shifting patterns of light and shade, with the muted colours of winter looking particularly beautiful.  Here's a view over to Helm Crag and Gibson Knott (December's destinations), with Easdale Tarn and Sergeant Man (last February's destination) seen in the middle distance. According to AW (and I'm not going to argue with him, because he knows what he's talking about much more than I do on regarding such matters!), the peaks beyond are Bowfell and Scafell Pike.




Another similar view now, with Helm Crag more centrally framed and the outcrop which rings the summit of Stone Arthur more prominently featured:-




And now I've visited it in person, I'm now even more convinced that this must be Weathertop! I can just imagine Nazgul swarming over the rocks in the dead of night, and Aragorn fighting them off with a heroically-wielded firebrand!!

All in all, it was a lovely destination.  It's one I'd recommend to anyone, whether they're an accomplished fell-walker or a novice recently converted to the noble art of Wainwright-bagging, and it's one which I hope I can return to in the future.  Hopefully when the elements aren't quite so malevolent as they were last Friday!!

And tomorrow I'll introduce you to Great Rigg!!
endlessrarities: (Default)
Back to reality, I'm afraid.  This morning, I was enjoying watching the antics of red squirrels and nuthatches whilst eating breakfast, and now I've returned!

We got up in the fells on Friday, but even though we succeeded in scaling Great Rigg and Stone Arthur, I managed to get a blister.  So the following day, my antics were somewhat curtailed.  I'm a bit disappointed: my trusty Brashers have served me well over many walks in the five years that I've had them, and this is the first time I've been blighted with a blister.

But there were other things to do.  As a result of my enforced rest I at last managed to get another one of the thousand things I want to accomplish before I die ticked off, by visiting a site that I've been meaning to see ever since I started visiting the Lakes twelve or more years ago.

Photos of the fell walk will of course be forthcoming, but in the mean time, I'm going to set you a little quiz.  I'm going to post you two photos of the monument we visited, and I'm going to pose you four questions:

1) (For two points!): What's the date of the monument?  Just a rough characterisation, nothing more than that...

2) (For two points): What type of monument does it represent?

3) (For three points): What exactly was the purpose of the building in the second photo, bearing in mind it's part of the same site?

4) (For three points)):  What's the name of the site??



 




And I'll give you an extra ten points if you say, "Oh!  I've been there!" in such a way that I'll actually believe you!

There's no prize for the winner, just a round of virtual applause.  And in case you're scratching your heads in utter bewilderment, there are a few clues which should narrow down any potential contenders.  Long term followers of the blog who've been paying attention to my posts should be able to make a calculated guess for at least a couple of the questions, too!

Answers will be posted in a couple of days, after the fell walking posts have been completed.

Helm Crag

Dec. 24th, 2011 02:09 pm
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Back to the Lake District now, and a visit to that most iconic of fells, Helm Crag.

Helm Crag is synonymous with Grasmere, a looming presence which overlooks the town.  It's famous for its rock formations: 'The Lion and the Lamb' are a familiar sight to visitors, so much so that Wainwright lamented over the fact that Helm Crag now often gets called 'The Lion and The Lamb' by visitors unfamiliar with its true identity...  Helm Crag sounds much more majestic and imposing, conjuring up images of Helm's Deep...

Like Gibson Knott, it's very modest in height, standing at a mere 1299 feet. A perfect goal for a winter's walk, and an ideal introduction to fell walking, if you ever fancy trying your hand at it.  It was one of the first summits I ventured onto - Silver Howe was my first, and Helm Crag the second - but it was way back in 2003 or 2004 that I last visited it in person.

We were well due a return trip, and I must admit that wandering along the ridge path that day, I felt like I was in the presence of an old friend.

Here's an unusual view of Helm Crag, seen from the path that travels along the ridge to Gibson Knott and Calf Crag:-




A Lion and a Lamb can just be glimpsed - Wainwright suggests that there are two lions, and two lambs, one at either end of the summit.  These rock formations do, however, have alternative names...

Like the 'Howitzer', shown below, with the dramatic backdrop of Steel Fell to the rear:-



At the other end of the ridge is another rock formation, which forms  the classic 'Lion and the Lamb' group that gives the summit its alternative name :-



I'm not sure if this is the case, but I think it's this particular formation, and not the Howitzer, that's also known as 'The Old Woman Playing the Organ'. 

We lunched that day hunkered down between some boulders on the summit.  This was the view, looking out towards the snow-covered heights of Helvellyn and Nethermost Pike (to the right) and Steel Fell (to the left).  Wainwright's description of the summit mentions a 'strange depression' strewn with boulders - I guess we found it, because I couldn't describe the bleak area in the foreground any better:-



The path back down the mountain was steep (not half so unpleasantly steep as the descent from Dollywagon!!) but Wainwright recommended it for the return route - most people ascend Helm Crag and return via the Borrowdale bridle path.  Wainwright was quite right in his advice - the view over Grasmere towards Loughrigg Fell was breathtaking.



I must be getting more accomplished at fell-walking.  When I first tackled Helm Crag, it seemed like a pinnacle of achievement.  This last trip was a pleasant walk with a wee bit of extra effort from time to time - I'm amazed it's taken me seven or eight years to go back there.

A lovely summit, and just the place to be on a midwinter's afternoon.

And now I'd better go - I've got a Christmas tree to decorate and some presents to wrap.

Merry Christmas, everyone! 
endlessrarities: (Default)
Okay, I accept it.  Sometimes the Ancestors move in mysterious ways...

You know what the run-up to this short break entailed.  In case you'd forgotten, here's a brief summary:-

1) Weather forecast states that weather will be good in the east and foul in the west.  Therefore, an east coast destination is preferable.  We decide upon York.

2) The Langdale axe factories feature in last week's episode of The History of Ancient Britain, on the very day that we're told there's no accomodation in our usual B & B in York, and that we're not likely to find any, as Jorvik has organised a Viking festival that's attracted vast crowds (shudder!).  Now, if that's not a hint, I don't know what is.

3)  Ignoring the summons, we decide on Lindisfarne and Northumbria.  No accomodation is booked, however.  That night, our evening episode of Simon Schama's History of Britain DVD happens to feature Wordsworth and Grasmere,  Now, if that's not the Ancestors jumping up and down and waving and shouting very loud, "Hello, we're here!!!"  I don't know what is.

So the Lakes it was.  And, oh boy, were we lucky!! 

Here's one of the many spectacular views we were priviliged to witness.  It features my old favourite, Harrison Stickle, giving a marvellous interpretation of what it is to be a mysterious and wonderful Sacred Place of The Ancestors:-


As you may remember from a post I wrote last summer, I had unfinished business with the nearby felltop of Sergeant Man.  A return visit was on the cards this year, but we didn't think an eleven mile high level fell walk was going to be practicable in February.  Thankfully, we were blessed with reasonable weather for the day of our expedition, so Sergeant Man it was.  Okay, so we ate our lunch hunkered down at the foot of the summit while hailstones (very small ones!) bounced off our jackets, but when the end result was scenes like the one featured above, then what's there to complain about??

I must confess that as we strode down into Grasmere for dinner on Friday evening, I did think, "What am I doing here?  It's only been a month and a half since my last visit," but after that walk on Saturday (it happened to be the third spectacular late February walk in so many years) I knew exactly what I was doing there and there were absolutely no regrets.  It was wonderful, it was marvellous, and I even managed to fit in some building sleuthing, so expect many pictures and blog posts in the coming week!

I shall catch up with all your news just as soon as I can.  And in the meantime, here's Easdale Tarn as I've never been able to capture it before, complete with rainbow:-


 
Thanks for the summons, O Neolithic Ancestors of Cumbria.  You looked after us, as usual, and we're extremely grateful!
endlessrarities: (Default)
Okay, I accept it.  Sometimes the Ancestors move in mysterious ways...

You know what the run-up to this short break entailed.  In case you'd forgotten, here's a brief summary:-

1) Weather forecast states that weather will be good in the east and foul in the west.  Therefore, an east coast destination is preferable.  We decide upon York.

2) The Langdale axe factories feature in last week's episode of The History of Ancient Britain, on the very day that we're told there's no accomodation in our usual B & B in York, and that we're not likely to find any, as Jorvik has organised a Viking festival that's attracted vast crowds (shudder!).  Now, if that's not a hint, I don't know what is.

3)  Ignoring the summons, we decide on Lindisfarne and Northumbria.  No accomodation is booked, however.  That night, our evening episode of Simon Schama's History of Britain DVD happens to feature Wordsworth and Grasmere,  Now, if that's not the Ancestors jumping up and down and waving and shouting very loud, "Hello, we're here!!!"  I don't know what is.

So the Lakes it was.  And, oh boy, were we lucky!! 

Here's one of the many spectacular views we were priviliged to witness.  It features my old favourite, Harrison Stickle, giving a marvellous interpretation of what it is to be a mysterious and wonderful Sacred Place of The Ancestors:-


As you may remember from a post I wrote last summer, I had unfinished business with the nearby felltop of Sergeant Man.  A return visit was on the cards this year, but we didn't think an eleven mile high level fell walk was going to be practicable in February.  Thankfully, we were blessed with reasonable weather for the day of our expedition, so Sergeant Man it was.  Okay, so we ate our lunch hunkered down at the foot of the summit while hailstones (very small ones!) bounced off our jackets, but when the end result was scenes like the one featured above, then what's there to complain about??

I must confess that as we strode down into Grasmere for dinner on Friday evening, I did think, "What am I doing here?  It's only been a month and a half since my last visit," but after that walk on Saturday (it happened to be the third spectacular late February walk in so many years) I knew exactly what I was doing there and there were absolutely no regrets.  It was wonderful, it was marvellous, and I even managed to fit in some building sleuthing, so expect many pictures and blog posts in the coming week!

I shall catch up with all your news just as soon as I can.  And in the meantime, here's Easdale Tarn as I've never been able to capture it before, complete with rainbow:-


 
Thanks for the summons, O Neolithic Ancestors of Cumbria.  You looked after us, as usual, and we're extremely grateful!
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