This was the walk on Sunday, July 31st, 2016 with Sue, Helen and Karl.
Having not climbed a hill since the successful ascent of Snowdon, what felt like an epoch ago, I was chomping at the bit to get back up to the Lake District and had pleaded with Karl “Anywhere will do!”. By Thursday of that week he had got back to me saying that his next outing would be on Sunday and did I fancy coming along to do Grisedale Pike? Did I ever! This had been one visible hill on most occasions that I’d visited the lakes for the last year or so. Sunday morning came around and I set off to Darwen amidst all manner of suicidal animals. I was lucky to not run over two cats, a rabbit and countless birds – this always happens when driving around near Southport in-between the hours of 06:00 – 08:00. I did manage a wry smile at what I thought was a tall horse in the field on my right- yes that’s right it was essentially two horses, having sex. Sunday mornings!
Without more coital observations I arrived at Karl’s in time to be half an hour early – It’s not just the case that I am bad at judging the timing of journeys, I’m just well aware that I’ll get a cuppa made for me if I am more than 15 minutes early.
Within the hour we were off in Sue’s car up to Braithwaite. The views on the M6 revealed that this would be a fine walking day for us. I didn’t have the slightest idea as to how to get to our start-off point and to add more confusion into the mix we picked up Helen just outside…I want to say Braithwaite but I really don’t know. It was nice seeing Helen again as the last time that we met it was in 2012 when the same four of us were treated to all the mist that good old Pendle Hill could throw at us.
By ten o’clock we had parked and set off – straight uphill towards the path that would take us up the eastern face of Grisedale Pike. And what a face it was! From relatively early in the route the last push to the summit was clearly visible. However, the views which encapsulated magnificently the other fells from the vicinity served to take one’s mind off the steep slog to come. Most noted was the spectacular vista of the area known as Coaldale Hause (54.579008, -3.256508). In conjunction with this were the lofty summits of Causey Pike and Crag Hill and the lesser peaks of Barrow and Outerside. Further afield a great number of the eastern fells were plainly visible, even i picked out Catstye Cam and Helvellyn, but also on show was Clough Head and Great Dodd from my last trip up to the area. It was mildly amusing that even though my eyesight is nowhere near as keen as it used to be: I could still make out the Weather Radome atop Great Dun Fell with its smaller sibling to the left of this and mighty Cross Fell slightly more left. Even Mickle Fell was plain to see.
Running parallel to our path – Sleet How, was one which begins at Whinlatter, or more accurately Hospital Plantation which looked like one of those dead straight, relentless paths, I’m usually drawn to paths such as these like an iron filling to a magnet! The path was very kind to us and levelled out a number of times which afforded us countless opportunities to take in the fantastic views of our neighbouring fells and mountains. It was something of a novelty to be walking amongst so much bracken which would eventually give way to seemingly endless bands of heather. Causey Pike tends to dominate the horizon when heading up Catbells or walking around Keswick in general and such was the case – every so often, today with its distinctive knuckles bordering on omnipresent.
As usual, Karl made it to the summit of Grisedale Pike first, I was inspired…but the heat was slowing me down, it was a case of off-again, on-again for my coat. When I was parallel to him I did spy a much younger woman dressed in blue (I think) who might just have made it to the summit before me. This was unacceptable and I quickened my pace to a sprint whilst shouting to Karl “I’ll be dammed if someone’s going to overtake me fifty yards from the summit!” at which he scoffed! Those were the longest fifty yards of my life! Thankfully the girl magnanimously yielded this one-player-race and let me get to the summit before her, I maintain that if she had wanted to be first, she would have been without breaking sweat. All the same, on my way back to Karl I took her photograph.
I rejoined Karl at the fringe of the summit and waited for Sue and Helen to catch up with us, it wasn’t a long wait. We engaged a mountain biker in conversation, he was waiting for his less-fit friends to make it to the summit and from there they were to film themselves flying down the paths of descent. I remembered the joy of having a mountain biker coming hurtling towards me from March’s Skiddaw ascent. Whilst the others busied their selves with lunch, I decided to keep mine for later and attempted to satisfy myself with one on my pineapple caffeine gels. The gel must have gone passed its use by date as it tasted horrible but did give me some energy – around eight calories worth.
As could be expected, the views were all encompassing, Grasmoor was by now dominant but a great deal of the Lake District could be seen from this loft position at just under two thousand six hundred feet. With regards to altitude, we were now at the apex of the route, there would be more ups and downs granted, but we were not going to get higher than this. However, that being said we then set off downhill for quite some way, which of course meant that on route to our next summit Hobcarton Crag – we had to ascend once more. After the slog up Grisedale Pike, this was child’s play! What seemed like a long way was accomplished in just a few minutes and it was interesting to note just how many other walkers seemed to magically appear. Hobcarton Crag appears essentially to constitute Hopegill Head ( I did reference the point that I never saw Hope Gill, only its head, several times during the day) and within moments we were looking at the next destination Whiteside from the summit of Hopegill Head.
We said a temporary adios to Helen here whom we would rejoin later in the valley. Here the ridge-walk started in earnest as this picture blatantly plagiarised from Karl’s fantastic photo set demonstrates. A nearby fell caught my eye – Ladyside Pike, apparently Mister Wainwright could not fit it into his North Western Fells book, I’ll reserve opinion until I’ve climbed it but Sue was a fan and voiced her observation that from some angles it really does look like a lady on her side. Ah well, not everyone can see the dolphins on ‘Magic Eye’ autostereograms (I can), so I won’t mock or judge! The last time that I walked a real ‘ridge’ was over Longside Edge in March…and then up Skiddaw the scary way (yes, I will concede that route was scary), so it was nice to be on another of these ‘airy’ little pathways in the clouds. I have to admit that I spent a great deal of the time following the aforementioned Mister Wainwright’s advice…watching the ground beneath my feet. Thus ever time that I wanted to take in the scenery I simply stopped. This proved to be a splendid strategy and I never fell once, although I came close to so-doing on a number of occasions!
Once at the summit of Whiteside (and I’m guessing that there are large Quartz deposits on its side which gives the mountain its name), we took some more mandatory summit shots of ourselves and the immediate scenery and had a few moments breather. I’ve walked tougher routes than this, Sca Fell was a pig, the Pike had a good old go at crippling me and Helvellyn tried its best to freeze me to death, but I was feeling quite spent by the time we were face to face with Grasmoor.
From here the mountain which I would most like to climb (from the North Western fells) looked huge, not unassailable but certainly not something that I would consider attempting this afternoon and was relieved that I didn’t have to think about climbing it. It’s always impressive to see the route that you have achieved – whilst still on it and looking back at the ridge we had just traversed did fill me with wonderment, not least because we now had to go back over it to Hopegill Head once more!
Some huffing and puffing once more (yes, emanating from me) and we were back at Hopegill Head – none of us feeling the need to go all the way up to its unmarked and largely un-celebrated summit again. On the slopes of the mountain I finally ate my Marks & Spencer’s Jerk Chicken Wrap – it was rather nice, as we contemplated the walk so far and I learned what else was in store for us – namely Sand Hill. So after our leisurely, but much needed stop, we set off on route to Sand Hill, which meant aiming directly at Crag Hill…for a while as that was the direction in which our path ran.
Crag Hill does appear to be a mightily impressive land mass, it’s understandable that people chose to include this in their Coledale Horseshoes routes. We dropped down Sand Hill and passed by a number of waterfalls and becks – Low Force was quite impressive and audible from a great distance away. Finally we carried on down the valley via the path which runs alongside Coledale Beck, overtaking a large group whom seemed content to sit and dangle their feet in the beck. We caught up to Helen and later spied the disused coal mine – Force Crag Mine which had a distinctive “Good, bad and ugly, spaghetti western” feel to it.
A couple of miles later and we were all back at Sue’s car at the end of a brilliant day’s worth of walking. Sue’s GPS revealed to us that we had walked roughly three thousand, six hundred feet in altitude over nine point one miles. I hope to come back to this area soon to do the summits at which we gazed today: Causey Pike and its ‘knuckles’, Barrow, Outerside, Crag Hill and not least Grasmoor – I still have three more Wainwright number one’s to do – that is the highest mountain in each of his guides: Grasmoor, High Raise and High Street so it was agonising to be so close to one of them and not tick it off the list…there’ll be another time.
Song of the walk this time does not actually have a video on YouTube, but the delightful “I Need to Forget” by my former classmate and friend Joanna Koziel was in my head for the majority of the day.