Saturday, 21 July 2012

Ennerdale Outing

The opportunity arose the other day for Robert (aka The Solitary Walker) and I to climb some hills in Ennerdale in the Lake District.

Ennerdale lies on the Western side of the Lakes. This is -unless you happen to live close to the North West coast- more difficult to access than the Eastern side and, consequently, less frequented by tourists. The villages tend to be what people round here in the Dales refer to as "working villages" - places people live and work rather than places people visit for holidays. In the East it is easy to find yourself in a long, slow moving line of traffic snaking from one tourist hotspot to another - not so in the West (well, not so often).

We parked in a car park beside Ennerdale Water, under Bowness Knott. There were only a handful of cars there when we arrived. We grabbed our backpacks and set off along the forestry road that runs along the edge of the lake passing, as we did so, the only people we saw all day. Once we left the track and crossed the River Liza we had the valley to ourselves.

Our intention was to walk the ridge that runs from Haycock (797m) to Pillar (892m), crossing Scoat Fell (802m) in the process. From the lakeside we had only the evidence of the map to tell us where they were: an unbroken blanket of cloud hung in the sky at around the 550m level. All we could see of our first objective, Haycock, was a brown tongue of ground that rose up out of the pinewoods to the left of Silver Cove and disappeared into the cloud. We made our way cautiously through the woods - we had a bad feeling about the accuracy of our old map where the areas of forest were concerned. (This was well founded. I checked later and the Forestry Commission information on the map dated from 1981!). We followed a path by a stream through the trees to the foot of the tongue, crossed the Silvercove Beck by a footbridge and started the long slog up to the ridge of the mountain.

We stopped to eat half way up, enjoying the view over Ennerdale Water as we did so. We had to enjoy the view while we could: a short distance above us the hillside faded into the clouds. We set a bearing for future reference and, fed and watered, carried on up.

Soon the views vanished and we found ourselves envelloped in a white glow. It didn't take long to reach the ridge. A dry-stone wall runs along its length so route-finding was a simple matter of walking up to it and turning left. A few minutes' walk interrupted by a short easy scramble  over Little Gowder Crag led us to the summit of Haycock.

I don't really mind walking over mountains in cloud. Though they obscure spectacular views, clouds make up for it by contributing to the grandeur of the situation. And when the clouds are torn apart to reveal the view below, the view seems all the more spectacular for it. Not only that, but navigating by map and compass is a satisfying game best played in poor visibility.

Dry-stone walls, on the other hand, lull one into a false sense of security.  The one we were following  ran along much of the ridge, over Haycock and on to Scoat Fell. When it came to an end we were still envelloped in cloud. I was all set to go off in the wrong direction (I would have taken us on to another top, Steeple - not necessarily a bad thing). Robert spotted the ridge proper through a break in the cloud.

We soon found ourselves on Wind Gap, a narrow col that joins Scoat Fell to Pillar. Breaks in the cloud were becoming more frequent and we were treated to more spectacular views of the valleys either side of the mountain. We pushed on up the steep, loose rocky slope on the far side of the col. I wondered how long it would take us to reach the summit as there were a lot of contour lines on the map at this point, all very close together. We were pleasantly surprised, though, and soon found ourselves on Pillar Summit which Robert immediately recognised as he had climbed the hill before  (he had previously approached it from the opposite side). We sat in the stone shelter close to the trig point, consumed more sandwiches and set a bearing that would lead us through the cloud, down back into Ennerdale.

There was a "right of way" shown on the map. However, we found little trace of an actual path. There was precious little grass either: for most of the descent we were picking our way over huge natural rockeries or running down scree. The shortcomings of the map soon became apparent: the forest below looked significantly different to the one shown. A whole new area had been planted, had grown and been felled since the map had been drawn. We soon found ourselves picking away down beside a desolation of felled conifers, their bleached, skeletal remains simply left where they had fallen. We were slightly worried by this - we had both heard of initiatives to "re-wild" Ennerdale and remove some of the forest (it had been heavily forested during WWII as part of the war effort) and hoped the felling would be followed by a clean-up, to allow the land to recover. (Anyone interested can find out more at

As it turned out, the lack of a useable map made the walk more enjoyable, not less. It did momentarily cross my mind that we might find ourselves benighted in a huge conifer forest, but only momentarily. So long as we kept working our way downhill we would get back to the start, eventually. It doesn't get dark until quite late at the moment and we had plenty of glimpses of the hillsides through the trees to guide us. After a while we found ourselves on a magnificent path that wound down the hillside, through the trees, along the bank of a roaring, tumbling stream. This came out on a forestry track close to the valley-bottom. All we had to do was head West.

It had been a day of low cloud although, luckily for us, the rain had held off - until now.  Light mizzle suddenly turned  into large, saturating drops, thoroughly soaking us on the long, final trudge back to the car park. Who cares? It would take more than a bit of rain to spoil a walk as good as that.

Unfortunately, neither of us had a camera with us. Fortunately, plenty of other people have been snapping away up there so it's not the end of the world. Just click here.


Gwil W said...

Dominic, I see your friend the Solitary Walker has walked the Camino 5 times, including once from Geneva. By coincidence last night I went to see the film The Way with Martin Sheen starring in the main role. Four unlikely companions, Sheen whose son has died in a storm in the Pyrenees, a wine swilling pot smoking Dutchman , an Irish writer with writers block, and a chain smoking divorcee from Canada fall in together and have many adventures along the way. If you haven't seen the film you should make a point of doing so. Great camera work, some good songs, plenty of laughs and just a few tears.

A Cuban In London said...

Like you, I don't mind clouds when trekking. In fact, I welcome them, as they provide drama and entertaintment (all that shape-shifting). One of the reasons why I loved your post is that I'm halfway through Rory Stewarts's The Places in Between, a book about his trip from Herat to Kabul, ni Afghanistan, on foot. It's fascinating, just like your post. It's funny that only recently, whilst looking back twenty-odd years, I've come to realise that I've always been a walker. That's why I like going on walks here in Britain. You guys have some of the more spectacular sceneries I've ever come across. I have to go to the Lake District at some point in my life. My mother-in-law has been there many times and always comes back with plenty of stories to tell about the landscapes and the people. Thanks for that tip about the west coast. Now I know where to head.

Greetings from London.

The Weaver of Grass said...

I think this sort of writing benefits from not having photographs Dom - leave it to the imagination I say. Glad you really enjoyed the day.

The Solitary Walker said...

It was a great walk, Dominic — we must do another one soon.

George said...

What a great walk. Wish I had been there with the two of you. As it turns out, the Wainwright C2C goes through that area and I had a chance to see it a couple of years ago. Great country!

Dominic Rivron said...

Thanks for these comments, everyone.

GwilW: I'll look out for it.

Cuban: Do try to get there. (And to North Wales, if you haven't been already. Oh, and the Scottish Highlands).

WG: I agree.

SW: We must.

George: We realized and we thought of you!

GOAT said...

Hey, great report about what sounds like a terrific walk, Dominic. As I commented on SW's blog recently, I too spent several excellent hours in low cloud on the weekend, hiking up, along and down an old fortress-topped ridge near Busan. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it was photographic heaven, moisture notwithstanding. In fact I even cowboy camped in it for the first time ever.