Walk Date – 11th June 2018
Distance – 6.5 miles
Weather – very warm and sunny, a lively breeze
‘If the climb is made from Eskdale, as it should be for full enjoyment, the whole walk is a delight, best saved for a sunny afternoon in August’ – AW
Well, it wasn’t a sunny afternoon in August but sunny in June is just as good, apart from not seeing the heather in bloom, and we had a super little walk up to Green Crag today. Of the three routes to the top of this fell which AW suggests, this one is, in our humble opinion, by far the best. The route from Seathwaite in the Duddon Valley, via Wallowbarrow Crag, was interesting as far as Grassguards but then deteriorated into a very wet and uninspiring trudge. Perhaps the damp weather on that day coloured our judgement. The Birker Fell Road route we found to be a dreary grassy plod on a hot and muggy day with plenty of swampy areas to avoid so we weren’t keen on that one either. As we haven’t been to Green Crag since 2013 we decided to give it a go today, we’ve had a very dry spell lately so there was a good chance that it wouldn’t be as wet as on previous visits, and as it was set to be another very warm day we didn’t fancy sweating our way up a high fell either. We had another early start for the drive over to Eskdale and things were going very well until we joined a long queue of cars and lorries, somewhere north of Gosforth, with all of us trailing behind a tractor and trailer and no chance of anyone getting past it. That slowed things down considerably and, after a few miles of this with no sign of the tractor and trailer turning in anywhere, we were relieved when we could finally turn off at last and make our way along Eskdale to the Woolpack Inn. My driver was not best pleased with the delay or with some of the skills of the car drivers we met along Eskdale, ” Its not the M6 you idiot, its a narrow country lane, slow down”, although it was a bit more colourful than that to be honest. Equilibrium had been restored by the time we had parked up at the inn and kitted up and so we set off on what turned out to be a really enjoyable little walk.
The Woolpack Inn – Doctor Bridge – Low Birker – Green Crag – Crook Crag – below Dow Crag – beside Kepple Crag – Penny Hil Farm – Doctor Bridge – The Woolpack Inn
The Woolpack Inn where a weekend beer festival had just taken place. Inside a large marquee people were busy dismantling all the equipment, hauling beer kegs away and generally putting things back to normal again. It was a fabulous weekend of weather for the event and with the close proximity of several campsites I expect it would have been well attended. A couple of faces had late nights and too much beer etched across them with one chap in particular looking very much the worse for wear. Its great fun on the night but blimey, don’t you pay the price the following day? Never again, you say, but that’s soon forgotten when the next occasion comes around. We leave the toilers to their dismantling and set off down the road with a lively breeze swirling around and throwing clouds of dust everywhere. There wasn’t supposed to be anything much by way of breeze today but one has snuck into Eskdale unbeknownst to the forecasters.
Just a short distance from the inn we turn left onto little lane and follow it round to cross the River Esk at Doctor Bridge. It was originally a packhorse bridge, probably built in the 17th century, but a local surgeon, Edward Tyson, had it widened in 1734 to allow him to cross in his pony and trap. The bridge is now a Grade ll listed building.
Across the bridge we follow the dusty track up and around Low Birker. This used to be a farm but the buildings have been refurbished transforming them into what looks like a very modern des res. It was all very quiet and no-one was around, perhaps the occupants were sleeping off the effects of the beer festival. The path swings around the buildings to meet this wider track, an old peat road, running across it. The right hand turn leads across to Dalegarth so we take the left hand turning here and carry on up the walled track.
The view back to Low Birker from the gentle incline and its very welcome shade. Thanks to the long drive and the tractor delay its getting on for mid-morning now so the heat is beginning to build although its not too uncomfortable at the moment.
The shade of the trees disappears and we are soon out onto the open fell and the inevitable bracken although it hasn’t obliterated the path so there was no fighting our way through it. Gradually the dramatic Eskdale skyline begins to appear. Along the way there is the option to make a slight diversion to view the Birker Force waterfall but as all the becks and rivers are so low at present we didn’t think there would be much of a waterfall to view so we didn’t go over.
On the skyline is the not quite so dramatic Whin Rigg – Illgill Head ridge. This is the ridge’s more benign side, on its other side along Wast Water its a different matter altogether. It presents a dramatic and overwhelming towering wall of buttresses, riven with deep gullies and fissures, plunging precipitously into Wast Water. A truly awesome sight no matter how many times you gaze upon it. No such jaw-dropping sights today though as we pass through the gate and pause to take a look back along lower Eskdale wearing its new summer outfit and looking pretty as a picture.
A slight film of haze affected long distance views today but it wasn’t too difficult to identify the fells on the skyline, on the right is the huge bulk of Pillar, Yewbarrow, across the middle foreground, in front of it, and behind Yewbarrow the two distinctive tops of Wasdale’s Red Pike.
A look back along Eskdale as we continue to climb the zig-zag route up the old peat road. Its not a hugely steep climb but climbing anything at all in hot weather soon gets the sweat glands working overtime so we pause for a mop round. The fells on Eskdale skyline are beginning to show themselves a little more and on the left is Esk Pike, then Bowfell, followed by the bumpy line of Crinkle Crags with Hard Knott and Border End to their right, and Hard Knott Pass snaking up the fellside below them.
Beyond the zig-zags the path levels out and we pause briefly for another look across lower Eskdale towards the Whin Rigg – Illgill Head ridge with the buildings of Low Birker now some distance below ……
….. and directly across the valley where Scafell and Slight Side, on the right skyline, are beginning to loom larger.
The outcrops of Gate Crag ahead of us as we cross this little beck with barely a dribble of water running through it.
The derelict peat hut alongside the path. AW’s sketch of it shows it still with a roof in the 1950’s. The inhabitants of Eskdale used to extract peat from the plateau and, after cutting, the peat turves would be stored in these peat huts to dry out, after which they would be brought down and used as a heat source during the winter. The peat turves would be brought down to valley level on horse drawn sledges hence the existence of the well graded paths many of which are still used by walkers today. As can be seen the path is just lovely to walk along as it climbs ever so gently upwards …..
….. the bracken has been kept at bay, its easy on the feet, follows a mostly level course and then swings around to …..
….. offer up the view of Crook Crag, on the left, and Green Crag on the right. The path remains more or less level until it reached the slopes of Green Crag so we have another pleasant stretch of walking to look forward to.
A little further on and Low Birker Tarn comes into view.
A little sapphire gem in an emerald setting with an old circular sheepfold adding a little ornamentation. It looks very pretty today but the area around the tarn is called Low Birker Pool, an indication of its wet and marshy nature. We lingered for quite a while just here because it was so peaceful, well, until some other walkers came by and broke the spell.
Below Crook Crag and Green Crag is another soggy area known as Foxbield Moss which you only have to look at to know its somewhere you don’t want to be putting your feet. The path skirts around it over to the left where the walkers who came by us at the tarn can be seen. We were in no hurry to catch up with them either because this isn’t a very long walk and we wanted to make it last as long as possible, it was too nice a walk to be taken at a rush.
A look back beyond Foxbield Moss to Tarn Crag, on the right, which overlooks Low Birker Tarn and which is now hidden in the greenery of the basin. The whole area can be very soggy but not today, the path was dry and firm. There was only a very slight give under our feet across some of what would be very squelchy areas in wetter conditions, with not even a hint of the usual tell tale circle of water around our boots.
A closer look at Green Crag as the path begins rise towards it but its not as hard as it looks. There’s no rocky scrambling to be done as the path sneaks its way around the left hand side of the high point and leads up a short grassy rise round the back of it.
A look back at some of the outcrops making up the knobbly crest of Crook Crags as we begin the climb up towards Green Crag.
From the climb I took a look across the shallow depression between Green Crag and Crook Crag towards the magnificent Eskdale skyline. I took a few shots of the individual tops although they weren’t looking their best thanks to the hazy conditions …..
….. starting on the left is Scafell with the bump of Slight Side just showing in the middle of the shot, and to the right is Scafell Pike which is higher than Scafell although it doesn’t look it from this angle …..
….. then a closer look at Scafell Pike with its recently restored summit marker clearly showing on the topmost point …..
….. followed by Ill Crag and Pen …..
….. next comes Esk Pike …..
….. after which is the mighty Bowfell. For some reason I didn’t continue a little further to the right and include a close up Crinkle Crags, something must have distracted me I suppose and then I forgot all about it.
Never mind, here’s a view of Harter Fell instead, which is just across the way but not quite to impressive to look at. We walked the route that can be seen across there in August last year so we don’t feel guilty about not having been there for a long while. That was a very enjoyable route too.
So, here we are climbing the bouldery slope around the side of Green Crag. No rock climbing, its just a simple matter of following the grassy path through the boulders to the low point over on the left and then sneaking up on the summit from there. This was as steep as things got today so not at all difficult, just a bit sweaty thanks to the heat.
The walkers mentioned earlier were still on the very topmost point and chatting away to another solo walker so we didn’t disturb their conversation and settled ourselves down a little lower instead and wrapped ourselves around our lunch. We were in no hurry and enjoyed a leisurely break in the sunshine and out of the breeze which was even livelier up here. The summit threesome eventually broke up and went their separate ways so we made our way up and took in the views. Here we’re looking at Stickle Pike, one of the Dunnerdale fells, with …..
….. the Duddon estuary just a little to the right of it.
A longish zoom over to Devoke Water with the rocky tor of Seat How overlooking it. The blue murk beyond is the west coast of Cumbria but exactly where the sea and the sky formed the horizon was hard to make out today. If it wasn’t for the waves breaking on the sands you could be forgiven for thinking that it was nothing but blue sky.
Another of the Dunnerdale fells is Caw over on the right.
Back to the summit view of the Eskdale skyline with Harter Fell edging its way into the shot over to the right. This little fell punches way above its weight in respect of the views to be had from its summit, its the fourth lowest fell in AW’s guide to the Southern Fells, while the six fells at the top of the same list are all across there on the distant skyline, and the views from some of them are not as extensive as they are from Green Crag.
Crook Crag below with the return path visible over to the right.
Caw and some of the other Dunnerdale fells behind J, all very hazy though. I would have liked to have included some of the Coniston ones but the haze prevented getting a decent shot of any of them, a greyish green line of distant fells was all that was available so I didn’t bother taking any shots of them.
Sitting in the noonday sun and busy doing nothing on Green Crag summit.
A closer look at some of the distant fells on view through the depression between Scafell and Illgill Head. Yewbarrow occupies the middle foreground and on the skyline are Scoat Fell, the two tops of Red Pike, and Black Crag separated from Pillar by Wind Gap.
So, we’ve had lunch, taken a good look round and, short of taking an afternoon nap to spin things out a little longer, the only thing left to do is drop down to the depression and continue our walk across Crook Crag.
AW noted that there was a standing stone, marking the parish boundary, in the depression so we had a little hunt round to see if we could find it. Its not always straightforward to find all the little peculiarities that he mentions, you can be in the right place but fail to find the exact thing you are looking for. I took AW at his word and hunted around at the very lowest point of the depression, J searched off path and slightly higher up and eventually located it. So here it is with Green Crag in the background.
Satisfied that we’d located the parish boundary we continued threading our way across Crook Crag.
A look back at Green Crag as we cross over.
The path across Crook Crag is clear to see, bone dry and its a very enjoyable walk across as it leads us through its many twists and turns.
There’s that fabulous skyline again, constantly in view as we make our way along.
Harter Fell is gradually being left behind, but not so the moisture loving cotton grass which was everywhere, the fluffy white heads swaying this way and that in the lively breeze. Its really a sedge plant and not a grass at all, and the white ‘cotton’ was once used, instead of goose down, to fill pillows, its strands not being long enough to spin into thread and weave into cloth.
We reach the boggy plateau, largely occupied by yet more cotton grass, and keep to the dry boundary between it and the bracken as we head over to Kepple Crag.
The view back across the plateau as we track around the marshy ground.
The Herdwicks didn’t seem to mind getting their feet wet as they roamed freely around the plateau, they’re still in their thick winter woollies so maybe it was quite nice to have cool feet. There was no breeze in this little basin so it was akin to walking over a hot frying pan across here. Before reaching Kepple Crag the thin path more or less disappeared so we hopped up onto an outcrop to check out the lie of the land, knowing that the head of another old peat road began around Kepple Crag, and plotted out our descent route to it.
Down to the top of the Penny Hill peat road, the only wet place we set foot on today and even that didn’t last more than a handful of yards and very quickly we were back on a dry, firm path again and making our way back down to Eskdale.
From there the route along the old peat road was a thoroughly enjoyable stroll with the Eskdale skyline, and its subtle changes, in constant view.
Scafell, Slight Side and Ill Crag.
Another look over towards Red Pike and Pillar.
A picture perfect afternoon as we saunter along the old peat road.
A closer look at Bowfell and Crinkle Crags.
The path drops down to one more damp hollow with only a small puddle left in the middle, and another derelict peat hut beside it.
Scafell and Slight Side from the old peat hut. As I mentioned at the time this is one of those days you wish you could bottle or package in some way so you can bring it out on a wet and gloomy winter’s day and experience the sunshine, the sounds, the smells, the colours and the sheer joy of it all over again.
Our view along upper Eskdale …..
….. and a closer look at the lovely scene as the path makes another turn down the fellside. Bowfell and Crinkle Crags to the left of centre, with Border End and Hard Knott to the right. Hard Knott Pass can be seen a little more clearly now so we stood and watched as drivers slowly inched their vehicles along the road, probably wishing they hadn’t chosen this particular route. Hard Knott Pass and Wrynose Pass are two heart stopping and challenging routes, much more difficult than they look and will test the nerve and skills of drivers to the utmost.
Still descending the peat road with Wha House Farm nestling snugly in the valley bottom.
A view of Harter Fell as we take a couple more turns …..
….. which lead us to the sheepfold and gate leading onto the Penny Hill Farm road.
Mum’s seen it all before and completely ignores us, but the Herdy lamb watches us intently, perhaps its experience of walkers is rather limited at the moment so it can’t quite work out what or who we are. Its goggle eyed face is very appealing though.
Down at ground level and walking the track to Penny Hill Farm.
The farm track brings us back to Doctor Bridge and there on the left is the path we followed at the beginning of our walk.
A peep over the bridge at the crystal clear water of the Esk and then …..
….. a view of Harter Fell across the fields as we make our way back to …..
….. the Woolpack Inn and the end of our walk. Well we’ve spun it out for as long as we could and its still only a quarter to one. We could spin it out a little longer if we call in for a drink, after all its a hot day (yes it is) and we’ve had a long walk (no we haven’t) so we deserve one don’t we? Well, in that case, go on then, and I’ll have a grapefruit juice and soda, no ice. Righto, I’m going to have a pint, it’ll last longer than a half. Like heck it will, a half gets nursed but a pint gets walloped. No matter, there’s no rush to drive back just yet so we can sit in the garden and enjoy the sunshine for a while, which is exactly what we did, once J had recovered from the price he was charged for the drinks. Just as well we’d had our lunch. He took the eye watering bill for the car’s MOT, service and various parts in his stride, but he draws the line at paying over the odds for a soft drink and a pint of bitter. That small annoyance aside we had a grand little walk, taken at a very leisurely pace, which we both thoroughly enjoyed. If you want to climb a fell on a hot sunny day without reducing yourself to a puddle of liquid humanity this would be a good one to choose.