Birks Fell and Arnison Crag

Walk date – 18th January 2020

Distance – 5.1 miles

Weather – broken cloud, sunny spells, cold, windy

After a truly awful week of bad weather this weekend was forecast to be a little oasis of calm and settled conditions so the runes were favourable at last. We would have preferred to go out on Sunday which was set to be the better day of the two but having something else in the diary for that day we decided to make the shortish drive over to Patterdale and take a walk over Birks Fell and Arnison Crag. As Pooley Bridge is out of action until the spring we took to the A66 by way of a detour and from there we could see the cloud building up over the fells ahead of us so we were more than pleased that we’d decided to stay in the east of the county. All in all it was a reasonably good day, the cloud had plenty of breaks which provided some good sunny spells, it was cold but that had been predicted, but despite the forecast for light winds it was very windy which rather took the icing off the cake, so to speak, as it eventually prompted a change to our intended route.


Patterdale – Glenamara Park – Thornhow End (lower ridge) – western path on Birks Fell – col between Birks and St Sunday Crag – Birks Fell – Trough Head – Arnison Crag – Patterdale

Having parked up in the increasingly busy car park opposite the Patterdale Hotel we crossed the road and headed towards the village store. We could have started from the path at the back of the hotel but a visit to a public amenity seemed a good idea before starting out and such a public amenity is available beside the path which starts out beside the village store. None of which anyone needed to know but it explains why we opted for that path instead of the closest one. Be that as it may, here we are walking along the muddy path alongside Mill Moss shortly after starting out. It looks a little more cheerful in summer.

We negotiated the icy rock steps further back along the path with care and arrived at the gateway to Glenamara Park unbloodied. Just ahead of us is a group of about half a dozen male walkers who somehow managed to disappear completely somewhere along the path.

We reached the stepping stones across Hag Beck still wondering where the group of walkers were. They should have been in sight just ahead of us all the way along and we just couldn’t work out where they might have gone. Anyway we crossed the beck and continued on  through Glenamara Park until we came to …..

….. the junction in the path beside these two trees. The main path continues on into Grisedale, the one I’m standing on leads up the lower ridge of Thornhow End. This is where the heavy lifting begins because the path rises steeply and even with the help of the pitched path it is hard work and it isn’t long before my leg muscles are complaining loudly.

Higher up now, where we stop for a breather and I remove my fleece layer as I’m beginning to overheat. While we were here we noticed a group of walkers coming up behind us and realised, from the colour of their jackets, that it was the group who had been in front of us in Glenamara Park before they’d simply disappeared from view. They should have already been on this path and some distance in front of us so somewhere along the route they must have taken a wrong turning and then eventually realised that something wasn’t right. We still can’t work out where they had been.

Another breather stop and another look back over Glenamara Park towards Ullswater. The group had just passed by as I was taking the shot with the group’s tail ender arriving as I put the camera away. He stood on the path just below us where he paused to draw breath and to tell us that he was ‘not in shape’ before carrying on up to join the rest of the group. Even if you are ‘in shape’ this path is always likely to get you breathing hard thanks to its unremitting steepness.

At last we reach the wall and the little grassy knoll just below it which provides this wonderful view along Ullswater …..

….. however the group of walkers were more interested in removing their waterproof trousers than gazing at the view. The one in the blue jacket on the right had brought with him a short yellow snow shovel which is leaning against his red pack. Perhaps he was planning to use it on Saint Sunday Crag. The ‘out of shape’ walker can just be seen entering stage left.

I took another couple of shots while we were on the knoll, this is looking west across Grisedale towards Glenridding Dodd and Sheffield Pike …..

….. and this one looking eastward towards Place Fell. Note the difference in cloud cover between the two shots. West didn’t look like it was best today.

Beyond the cross wall the path continues steeply upwards again but the gradient does ease eventually. As a result walking along here should have been much easier than it turned out to be. The direction of the wind was supposed to have been from the north west but along here it was barrelling through Grisedale directly at us and walloping us full in the face. Maybe it started out north west, got stopped in its tracks by the bulk of Saint Sunday Crag then decided there was nowhere else for it to go other than to turn tail and whoosh down Grisedale like a runaway train. Anyway, having wiped my watering eyes I stopped for a couple of shots of the snowy views across the way. On the skyline above is the Striding Edge route to Helvellyn and …..

….. this is a longer view showing the majority of the Helvellyn range towering above Grisedale. The group of walkers came by us as we were walking along here and, apart from occasional glimpses of them up ahead, that was the last we saw of them. Hope the snow shovel came in useful after all. At the broken wall a little further on we stopped for a coffee break, which was more to do with drinking it before it cooled down to lukewarm/cold than being in actual need of a hot drink but it was nice to have a break anyway.

When we started out we had intended to walk up Saint Sunday Crag and over to Gavel Pike but during our coffee break we decided that we’d had enough of battling the wind, which was still merrily funnelling its way down Grisedale, and that once we reached the col we would turn back on ourselves and head on over to Birks.

Up on the col now with another look over towards the Helvellyn range …..

….. followed by a slight turn to my left for a view of the col with Saint Sunday rising beyond it.

Turning around on the spot gives us a view of the route ahead, nothing terribly steep just a steady walk over a few gentle undulations but still accompanied by yet more gusty wind which is now coming from the predicted north west direction. Some days are just like that and you arrive back home feeling as though you’ve been through the washing machine’s spin cycle.

Anyway, despite the windy conditions, its nice to be in the sun now because until we reached the col we had been in the shadow of Birks so it was mighty chilly down there. The skies to the west seemed to be breaking up a little and were definitely looking less menacing than they had been as I took another look back towards Saint Sunday Crag …..

….. and across to the Helvellyn group.

Icy paths or muddy, squelchy grass, its take your pick time as we cross over Birks. We had our spikes with us but couldn’t be bothered with stopping to put them on so it was the muddy, squelchy grass for us.

A look back from the frozen pool as I wait for J to catch up with me …..

….. and a look ahead from the same spot where there’s nothing much to see other than more of the same at the moment.

We had thought the clouds to the west were beginning to break but everything closed up again after a few minutes and it was back to square one across there.

Another look across Grisedale as we carry on along the top of Birks. Birkhouse Moor is occupying most of the centre ground with Sheffield Pike playing a bit part over on the right. Catstycam, on the left skyline, and the Dodds stretching across to the right of it, add a snowy wintry touch during another sunny spell.

A sunny Birks Fell summit, and the path leading over to it, come into view with Place Fell right behind on the left. Its usually an enjoyable little jaunt across but the strength of the wind somewhat diluted the enjoyment today. Its difficult to appreciate the views when looking at them through eyes which are full of water with endless tears dribbling down your cheeks. I won’t mention noses for the sake of common decency.

Whilst stopped, yet again, to wipe my eyes I caught sight of this view across Patterdale where the sunlight was landing on any hillside which just happened to be facing it. The slopes of Brock Crags to the left of Hartsop village, the fields at the bottom of Gray Crag just above the village together with the lower slopes of Rest Dodd and The Knott just behind that were all catching their own little piece of sunshine and looking all the prettier for it. On the skyline the tops of High Raise, Rampsgill Head and High Street just adding that essential winter ingredient, snow.

From the same spot but a little further to my right and on the skyline now is High Street, the just visible bump of Thornthwaite Crag in the centre with Caudale Moor over to the right. Below them in descending order of appearance are Gray Crag, Hartsop Dodd and Hartsop above How. The air quality is good today so there’s plenty of detail to be seen across there.

Only one summit photo when we reached the cairn on Birks. It was so windy that we stood back to back so I could brace myself against J to take the shot.

More bracing required from J as I took this shot across Grisedale and Birkhouse Moor towards Sheffield Pike and the snowy tops of the Dodds beyond. The collapsed mine hole surrounded by snow on Green Side caught my eye as I looked across.

A close up view across Grisedale to the point where the wall coming up the slope on the left meets the one coming across Birkhouse Moor at the point known as ‘The Hole in the Wall’ and the starting point for the route across Striding Edge. No long queues of walkers over there today, well none that I could see anyway. Behind the ridge are the very snowy tops of Catstycam and Raise but Stybarrow Dodd is hidden by a bank of cloud over on the right.

Looking back at Saint Sunday Crag and Gavel Pike from Birks summit. I’m now wondering if the yellow snow shovel came in handy.

The sunny spell continues as we begin to descend and take another look at the grand view towards Hartsop village and its surrounding fells.

Still descending Birks and heading for Arnison Crag which is directly below us to the right.

Immediately below us, and where we are heading for, is the elongated mass of Arnison Crag …..

….. which seems to go on forever.

It does come to an end eventually but it peters out gradually and fades away to nothing very much rather than ending with a flourish. No matter, we still have a very nice view over towards the fells around Hartsop

Following the line of the broken wall down the steep east facing slopes of Birks which are just as tough to deal with as its steep west facing ones.

Four walkers are making a very steady ascent of Birks using the path beside the wall, well the two ladies were, their male companions were standing a few yards below looking over towards Hartsop and having a break and a chat. When we reached them both ladies stopped and had a brief chat with us, I guess they were glad of the chance to stop for a minute or two. One of them mentioned that they hadn’t walked up here before so I had every sympathy with them having just walked up by the equally steep west side. Birks is a fell which just doesn’t have a ‘nice’ side whichever way you approach it.

A zoom in and a magnifying glass will help in spotting the foursome as they became silhouetted against the sky as they climbed further up beside the wall. Their figures are quite tiny but you might still be able to make them out. We’re out of the rough now, and the wind, and life becomes bearable once again as we make our way over to …..

….. the Hag Beck crossing at Trough Head and …..

….. from the Arnison Crag path a look back at Birks. From this angle it may not look all that steep, believe me it is.

There’s still plenty of sunshine to light up the far eastern fells across Patterdale where High Raise and Rampsgill Head are still clearly visible …..

….. and a little further to my right Rampsgill Head once again and followed by High Street. Gray Crag’s western slopes now getting the full benefit of the sun.

A closer look at the two tops of Angletarn Pikes as we cross over to …..

….. Arnison Crag. The craggy mound directly ahead is a little higher than the generally recognised summit and therefore the true summit but it lacks the one thing in the recognised summit’s favour, the view to be had from it. This doesn’t have that view so its never going to come top of anybody’s favourite viewpoint list.

We skirt around the ‘ignored’ summit and the ‘recognised’ summit finally comes into view although there’s still a bit of tramp to be done before we get to it.

A beautifully sunny view of Ullswater as we drop down and make our way over to …..

….. the generally accepted summit where there is still a little more climbing to be done but it is only a very short climb to the top.

We’re back in the wind again so before going up to the actual summit we find a comfy spot on the sheltered side of Arnison Crag and break out the soup and sausage rolls just as the long sunny spell comes to an end and the cloud rolls back in. Everything on the skyline becomes indistinct as the snow merges with the cloud …..

….. High Street is still clear enough but Gray Crag lives up to its name and the Pasture Beck valley turns ever gloomier.

Hartsop Dodd and Caudale Moor are similarly affected …..

….. and the cloud is so white and dense that it is difficult to clearly see the tops of Dove Crag, Hart Crag and Fairfield over yonder on the skyline.

After our lunch break we braved the wind once again and did a quick scamper up to the top of Arnison Crag for this one photo before scampering back down again just as quickly. You can see why this lower top wins out against the slightly higher one a little way back, its no contest really.

Heading down back to Patterdale and out of the wind at last. The sunny spells are considerably fewer and further between now, the thicker cloud is steadily moving across and it becomes a case of grab a sunny shot while its there.

The view across Glenamara Park and the path through it which we walked a couple of hours earlier. I had to wait a couple of minutes to take the shot as quite a few walkers came up around the corner. By the time everyone had gone by the sunny spell had faded to a faint glow.

The sapphire blue of Ullswater has morphed into a stainless steel grey as we descend towards Oxford Crag and this was just about the last little of glimmer of sunshine we saw. We were not at all surprised to see that large areas of land at this end of the water were flooded given the amount of rain we’ve had this last week. The water level of the lake is very high and is lapping against the roadside wall in quite a few places between Glenridding and Pooley Bridge. Let’s just hope that we will have a few dry days this week to give the water level a chance to drop back to normal because it wouldn’t take much now to have it overflowing the road again. Fingers crossed.

So, here we are back at the Patterdale Hotel and about to cross the road back to the car park. As the shot shows the cloud cover is total now and the afternoon has become very dull. Its still only early afternoon so there are lots of cars still waiting for their occupants to return from their day on the fells. The car park we used across the road was absolutely crammed with cars by this time, some of them crazily parked, so we had to shimmy our way through them before we could get back on to the road and make our way home. Not a bad day though, all things considered, and the long awaited bright sunny day more than made up for the windy conditions.