Owing to the festivities of Friday night – a work’s Christmas ‘do’, I felt a little fragile on Saturday and decided to opt out of the planned walk with Karl up to the summit of bull hill. Instead I opted in to Karl and Sue’s walk on Sunday which would feature “walking a round over Steel Fell near Grasmere” … sounds almost innocuous doesn’t it? Read on.

As I drove from Southport to Darwen via Bolton at 06:30 I couldn’t help but notice there was a lot of mist around. This was evident in Croston and then again in Bolton. I had reservations. All the same, it appeared to have lifted by the time I got to Darwen but then two hours later as we set off from Steel End car park, next to Thirlmere (what isn’t next to Thirlmere?), it became all too apparent that the mist was here again. Not that I mind mist-meandering, because  let’s be honest, we do go off course when the grey stuff descends upon us. Why only last year I completed (again with Sue and Karl, and Lynne) the Fairfield Horseshoe in mist (the first five fells were!), so it’s not as if I am unaccustomed to traipsing around in the grey nothingness.

The first quarter of a mile was deceptively easy, too easy. A gentle stroll along a tarmac road…we should have known better and in fact Karl did, the swine! All too soon the terrain transformed into the Devil’s playground as the grass became shorter and thus more slippery and the gradient seemed to be imbued with a wicked grin, an inaudible mocking sneer that one senses on the very periphery of one’s subconscious. This was no longer a walk, it was a trial, a battle against gravity and I was losing, badly!

I gave up many times on that first ridiculous slant! Then, after a brief stop at an abandoned quad-bike, which practically screamed the word “PORTENT” at me,…the terrain went from forty-five degrees to more like thirty, hell had arrived in the lakes and its resident demon was after me. I watched Sue and Karl become engulfed in the fog – after they had shrunk to the size of garden peas! For some time I was on my own, to be honest, that was the best thing for me, I could vent, childishly vent that this walk was {multiple expletives deleted} / quite challenging. Within an eternity, just about, I happened to stumble my way up to my waiting co-walkers.

All smiles and thumbs up Karl mocked “Bit of a steep section that isn’t it!”. I refrained from swearing, much! For a time we then traversed a much nicer gradient, but now came the second wave of walking nastiness – the boot swallowing underfoot water. We were quite definitely within a marsh. Nothing on any of the walks I had done this year could have prepared me for this wave (pun intended) of slosh from practically every footstep. I thought Longworth Moor was bad, pah! Child’s play compared to this lurking green lagoon!

We reached a summit, or did we? The fells of the central lake district have one thing in common, multiple rises, knolls and outcrops. In the absence of a triangulation pillar – although these are seldom really at the highest point, one never can be truly sure of where the apex of the hill really is – unless one has the desire to roam around the apparent top of the fell with a g.p.s. device taking numerous readings…most of us don’t want to do this. A little time passed and we undulated with the terrain, up and down whilst sloshing around…all good clean misery! By way of chance we happened upon yet another summit and decided to take lunch there.

It was nice to sit down and take a breather, but all too soon the demon who was controlling the weather took note of our buoyant disposition and cranked the temperature down a tad…just enough to make (for me at least) shivering the order of the day. I had to stand up and move around or else give in to the cold. Often I heard distant people noises. Having now completed the walk I can imagine that what I heard were the faraway expressions of woe of others who had just lost a knee’s-length to the wretched marsh. This is a horrid terrain! I had the feeling that we were halfway into the walk…I was to learn much later that we were not.

We met two gentlemen who had come up from Grasmere to do a similar ’round’ to ours. After a few moments of chatting they bid their respective farewells but within another few minutes we were upon them again sat atop Calf Crag. This was my second Wainwright of the day and in all honesty what made this summit more worthy for inclusion in his pocket guides; than Ladyside Pike and Sale How; to the late great Alfred Wainwright, eludes me.

Next we picked up the Coast to Coast path…and without realising it, at some point put it back down again as we entered another bog / marsh / wet cauldron from the mouth of Hades! For over an hour we seemed to circumnavigate the fog and mist and wet. Sue and Karl were of the collective thought ‘we might as well do Ullscarf now’. I’d heard of this summit before but had forgotten that it is in fact a mountain and to put it in to perspective – it’s ten feet higher than Ingleborough! Thankfully the climb up to the summit from our aspect was far more forgiving than any approach to the Yorkshire icon and soon we were within eyesight of it.

On our way up to the top of Ullscarf we were treated to views of nearing fells which seemed to emerge from the murk, announce their presence and then promptly bugger off back into the mist once more! Sue and Karl suddenly became engrossed in the pursuit of Broken Spectres – I thought this was a James Bond villain! Apparently (pun also intended!) this is a phenomena whereby “the magnified shadow of an observer, cast upon the upper surfaces of clouds opposite the sun causes a halo of light to be cast around the shadow of the subject”. I maintain that they both hadn’t been drinking enough water and had the auras associated with migraines, possibly owing to dehydration. I lied and insisted that I too could see what weirdness they were hallucinating…my colourblind eyes do not afford me such luminary luxury, unless I have a migraine! We played a short game of guess the fell…amazingly when one’s feet are wringing wet through this isn’t half as much fun as one might think!

I was a bit freaked to notice that the afternoon was getting on. The light that we did have (not so bloody much) would soon be fading and a dreaded the prospect of being stuck out on this sodden moor at dusk or even darker. I must admit to giving in to my doubts and worries at this point. I thought we were lost, we had a g.p.s. with us but it seemed to be saying left, right, left like some insane Regimental Sargent Major. Helvellyn and her cronies across the valley were joyfully laughing at us. But if that range across the void was not Helvellyn then who was it? I seriously did not care which mountain range was gaping at us! I wanted off the moor, now! We ascended and descended, I fell over, then fell over some more! I lost a leg, then I lost the other one. I was black and blue and wet and miserable. I do find it difficult to believe that some people find this enjoyable.

Ultimately, thanks to Sue’s magnificent navigating and Karl’s almost infectious sense of optimism, we arrived back in a sloping field from where we could clearly perceive Thirlmere on our left and Steel Fell on our right. We’d almost made it back. We descended a third of the way down the field, then Sue theorized that there might not be an easy exit to the road. So, we ascended to the head of the field once more only to be reassured by Sue that there was a right of way after all – this would later manifest itself as a blooming big gate! Before we reached it I had time to fall over twice more and to turn the sky blue with a barrage of expletives!

Finally, a little after four o’clock we reached Sue’s awaiting car, we were safe…if not altogether dry!

Summary.

I hate wet field walking!

I may well be in the minority from the perspective of ‘seasoned walkers’ but in regard of humans in general I have numbers on my side when I question, “What’s wrong with real paths? Y’know the type that Fix the Fells and the National Trust spend pounds sterling on repairing every year.” Why do we have to get so dogmatic in our belief that grass is best when it comes to trudging up and sliding down the Lake District paths? In summer this walk…would have been just as bad. That water comes from rain and as everybody knows the Lake District is the rainiest part of England. Thus it would take a really dry summer before I came back to this particular environment. In future I vow to stick to real ‘on the ground’ paths. One’s that have evolved or been constructed and don’t just vanish from before our very eyes. Pendle has them in spates! Ultimately I have to say that I was glad of the exercise, it’s all been a bit easy whilst Chris has been recuperating. In addition it is always great to be out and about with Karl and Sue. One thing is for sure, next February, when next I traverse the God awful Longworth Moor whilst walking the Anglezarke Amble, I won’t feel quite so bad about a mile-wide stretch of marshland now that I’ve walked this route!

Walk distance: 8.5 miles

Ascent: 2,000′

Time: six and a bit hours

Song(s) of the walk: Chandelier by both Sia and Mollie Bylett (Cover) 

 

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