Walk Date – 12th February 2018
Distance – 3.5 miles
Weather – mostly cloudy with a few sunny spells, very, very windy
Snow, thaw, rain, freeze, more snow, another freeze, thaw again, more rain plus strong winds – just repeat as often as necessary and you’ll get the picture. The only predictable feature of the weather of late has been its unpredictability, or what the Met. Office regards as ‘unsettled’. It settled enough to provide a bright day on Sunday 4th Feb but we had to travel south on that day and all I could do was look back at the sun illuminating a sparkling, snowy panorama set against a sapphire sky, as the Lake District fells retreated into the distance. When we returned home a couple of days later things settled back into the ‘unsettled’ routine and we just had to bide our time. Today was set to be the ‘best’ day of the week, in other words there would be some snow showers early on but they would become fewer and less heavy as the day wore on. We put together a few possibilities but all of them would depend on what was on offer when we peered out of the window this morning. A morning of heavy snow and strong wind turned up so we decided to wait. By midday the snow had turned to rain and the rain eventually stopped. All of that put paid to the possibilities we had in mind so, as it was a bit too late in the day to go very far afield, we turned to our favourite stand-by, Gowbarrow Fell, for this afternoon’s short walk.
Aira Force car park – Gowbarrow Fell – Green Hill – Bernard Pike – Aira Beck – High Force Bridge – Aira Force car park
A view of Gowbarrow Fell from the Aira Force car park alongside the A5091 at Park Brow, just below Parkgate Farm. The car park has been created in an old quarry area where once you could park for free, and opposite it there used to be a lay-by which was also handy for free parking. Alas those blissful days are long gone, the lay-by has been removed and the National Trust now charges for use of the car park. Its a handy starting point for a walk up Gowbarrow if you don’t have much time to spare or if the weather looks as though it might thumb its nose at you. At the moment we have some feeble sunshine, a few splodges of blue sky and some broken cloud as we cross the road and head for the gate on the opposite side.
This morning’s snow is clean and fresh and crunches very satisfactorily under our spikes and boots as we approach the gate. In the distance we can’t help but notice the large accumulation of cloud over Place Fell and the eastern fells beyond.
The gravel path is almost hidden beneath the fresh snow as we make our way down to the gate and then swing left towards High Cascades Bridge. Once across the bridge we’ll swing left again and follow the track through the wooded area towards the open fellside. It looks deserted but there were plenty of people around and, as its half-term week, quite a few parent and children groups too. Lovely to see how much the youngsters were enjoying their outing in the snow.
Before we cross the bridge a shot of Aira Beck tumbling over the rocks on its way down to Ullswater.
Out on to the open fellside now and a look back at the woodland we’ve just walked through. It’s not a long walk through there but it was very wet and unpleasantly muddy through there so we were glad to be out of it.
We leave the path just as it approaches a handgate and turn up to the right alongside the wall. This is always a muddy path even when there hasn’t been any rain/snow for a while so today it was very, very muddy. Place Fell is just about visible over on our right but its almost impossible to pick out any of its neighbours.
We enjoy a sunny spell as we continue on up alongside the wall. The walkers below us were a family of four, Dad leading the way, then Mum, with older daughter in the red jacket, with younger son, in the black jacket trailing behind them. We had passed the little group when we emerged out of the woodland onto the open fellside. They were walking quite slowly and as we turned off the path to begin the climb up I noticed that they had stopped and were watching us making our way up, almost as if wondering where we were going. As I stopped to take this shot I could see that they had decided to take the same route as us and I did wonder if they had made a spur of the moment decision to follow us up or whether this had been their intention from the outset.
A little higher and a shaft of sunlight pierced the cloud giving Ullswater a beautiful silvery sheen.
Still climbing alongside the wall and we have another sunny spell. We’re well above the stand of trees now so we have a view across Dockray towards Watermillock Common on the left and, if you peer hard enough, a view of Blencathra, just visible through the cloud, on the right.
The sunny spell comes to an end, the distant Dodds, over to the right, coalesce with the low cloud and begin to disappear, leaving just a view of Hart Side beyond Watermillock Common over on the left.
Looking back as we continue climbing alongside the wall, where its grey enough to camouflage a battleship but not enough blue to make one of its sailors a pair of trousers …..
….. and things are still very indistinct beyond Place Fell.
We’ve reached the top of the climb now with a view of Blencathra beyond Threlkeld Common. At this point we join the gravel track which will take us over towards the summit …..
….. but before we continue another burst of sun lit up the view towards Hart Side and Dowthwaite Head to the west of us but there is too much cloud to see much of the Dodds behind them. Two young women are coming up behind us but there’s no sign of the family of four at the moment.
On the laid path now which is hidden under the fresh snow. Alongside the path is one of the many frozen pools we passed, together with Gowbarrow’s own version of ‘moguls’. Yes, we’ve been watching the Winter Olympics too. Ploughing your way through Gowbarrow’s softer mini version still makes your knees ache after a while though.
No real need to tackle the ‘mini moguls’ though, the track is even, solid and rises gently up to the trig point with a satisfying scrunch, scrunch, scrunch as we keep up a steady walking rhythm across to it. Another sunny spell adds to the enjoyment but the wind has picked up speed now that we’ve reached the summit area and it has a bitter and biting edge to it. Hoods go up and get pulled in tightly.
The cloud finally clears off Great Dodd, on the right skyline, and its long sweep over to Stybarrow Dodd, on the centre skyline, just as we reach the summit …..
….. and further to my right, across Threlkeld Common, is a view of Lonscale Fell on the left, with Blencathra to the right of it. Hall’s Fell ridge, rising to Blencathra’s summit, is beautifully highlighted for a few moments.
A little further to my left and now Lonscale Fell is over on the right of the shot with Clough Head immediately opposite it.
One of the two young women who have been following us up approaches the summit as I take this shot looking towards Great Mell Fell with the Vale of Keswick stretching along below it. Across from it are Souther Fell, Bowscale Fell and Carrock Fell.
Up at the trig point where the wind is doing its best to blow us over and where the two young women only took a quick look round before heading down to seek some shelter. Another view of Great Mell Fell from the trig point as I battle the wind.
The wind is rattling our trouser legs and jacket hoods and we have to resort to holding our hoods a little way away from our heads and speaking directly into each other’s ears so that we can talk to each other. Its blowing at my back and J does a sterling job of facing into it so I can lean against him to take a few shots. This one of Little Mell Fell from the trig point. The family of four reached the top while we were here and I wondered how much they were feeling the cold given that what they were wearing would have been much more suitable for a warm spring day. Still, some folks just don’t feel the cold, unlike me whose hands are now so numb that its proving awkward to get my gloves back on again.
We dropped down from the summit and made our way across towards Green Hill. It was only at this point had my hands had warmed up sufficiently to be able to get the camera out and take a look back towards the summit area. Nobody had trodden this path so it was quite enjoyable ‘To Boldly Go Where No Man Has Gone Before’, well not today at least.
Cloud threatens to envelop Blencathra again as we make our way across.
With more ‘mini moguls’ on either side of the path we are walking directly into the wind with flurries of powdery snow being blown straight into our faces from time to time. On our left, across Ullswater, are Arthur’s Pike, Bonscale Pike and Loadpot Hill, all with another good covering of snow and looking very appealing. Less appealing is the thought of what the wind speed would be like up there today when its this strong on lowly Gowbarrow.
Saint Sunday Crag on the centre skyline ahead of us as we make our way towards the turn off path for Green Hill.
Another untrodden path to anoint with our bootprints as we turn left and follow the winding trail which will take us over to the cairn on Green Hill. Also making an exit stage left is the last of the blue skies and sunny spells as a jumbo bank of heavy cloud pushes them away to the east.
Place Fell beyond the cairn on Green Hill where the strong wind is still trying to take our legs from under us with the added extra of peppering us with tiny, but very sharp, hailstones …..
….. and above it shafts of sunlight puncture the cloud layer casting another lovely glow on Ullswater.
Behind us, across Gowbarrow’s snowy undulations, Arthur’s Pike and Bonscale Pike have also said goodbye to the sunny spells for the moment.
We leave Green Hill and rejoin the descent path, Ullswater still has a lovely sheen but its getting smaller …..
….. and dimmer as the clouds join forces again and the hail continues to pelt us.
No hailstones over yonder though as some of the eastern fells stake their claim on another sunny spell. The enormous bank of white cloud over on the left could be easily mistaken for another snow covered fell.
The thin white line on the slope below us is the lovely terrace route leading to and from Gowbarrow summit.
The sheen returns to Ullswater as we gaze down at Aira Point …..
….. from the outcrops around Bernard Pike where …..
….. the surrounding views are enjoyed despite the wind, the hailstones having stopped pelting us for the time being.
However, they are soon back with a vengeance as another shower hurtles towards us and …..
….. the weather closes right in. I had to put the camera away for a while and it didn’t come out again until the hail stopped and we were sheltered from the wind …..
….. as we walked the higher path above Aira Beck and its many waterfalls. This one is High Force which is very difficult to get a good shot of thanks to its steep and rocky sides and the abundance of bushes and small trees growing around it.
Its a little easier at the start of the fall where there are fewer trees and a rock platform provides a viewpoint although in today’s conditions this was as close to the edge as it was sensible to go.
Just a few steps up from the falls we are back at High Cascades Bridge again and more or less back where we started, so before we returned to the car park I took a couple of views from the bridge …..
….. this one looking downstream where the water flows smoothly and swiftly over the flattened rocks over to the point where the beck begins to fall at High Force …..
….. and then looking upstream at this small but very pretty set of falls. With that we make our way back to the car park having had a very enjoyable couple of hours or so despite the wind and hail trying its best to spoil things, and as we climb into the car we deliver our usual phrase – “Good old Gowbarrow”.