Walk Date – 13th September 2016
Distance – 9.3 miles
Weather – mainly overcast, some sun around midday, very hot and humid
As we walk into Grasmere from the A591 lay-by we can’t help wondering where our share of the current hot sunny weather has got to. Much of the country seems to be enjoying blazing sunshine, cloudless blue skies and record breaking temperatures, but here in the north west all we have are dull overcast skies, stifling heat and high humidity. Beneath those heavy clouds we can just about see Helm Crag and Steel Fell, everything else is reduced to a dull grey blob on the horizon.
We take the Easedale Road out of Grasmere and leave it at this point to take a left turn across the bridge and head off into Easedale. It looks like there has been some overnight rain as everything is very wet.
We heading for Tarn Crag today, that’s it straight ahead of us, so we have an easy stretch of walking through Easedale to warm up the muscles before we have to start climbing. Its already hot and I had to do some brow mopping after I took this shot. We’re on the flat and we aren’t rushing but still we are sweating quite a bit, it doesn’t bode well.
The cows seem to have decided its too hot to do anything other than enjoy lazing around and contemplating the view, which in this case is Helm Crag.
On we plod through Easedale, the air is still, heavy and clammy. We have brought plenty of liquids but you begin to wonder how much fluid you will need when sweating so much even on a path as flat as this. If we drink everything we’ve brought it won’t be a disaster as there are plenty of fast flowing becks to provide a refill. We’re walking alongside one at the moment but refills aren’t needed for the moment.
The ‘heavy lifting’ has begun as we start the climb up to the waterfalls in Sour Milk Gill. The path isn’t difficult or extra steep at all, its a very popular walk with holidaymakers, it was simply the energy sapping humidity which made it trying.
A quick stop for a photo of the falls before we continue on the path just above them, which you can see over on the left. I could have happily sat under the waterfall all day just to keep cool. I suddenly felt water on the back of my neck which at first I thought were spots of rain. When I put my hand there to wipe it away I discovered that it was sweat dripping off the ends of my hair and creating my very own waterfall.
Just a little further on from the falls the path turns a corner and begins to flatten out. This particular flat area is very wet so the path skirts around it. The path too was quite wet today thanks to the overnight rain, so there were lots of puddles and slippery stones to sidestep as a result.
From the same spot I turned round for a look at the view behind us which is the Helm Crag to Gibson Knott ridge. While we were here we treated ourselves to a good ‘towelling down’. My hair now looks as though I’ve just stepped out of a swimming pool and I’m doing a passable impression of Worzel Gummidge.
Tarn Crag across Easedale Tarn. The lady in blue had passed us a little earlier while I was taking a photo of the falls and she was just putting socks and boots back on having treated herself to a foot spa treatment in the tarn. There were quite a few people taking a break at the tarn. They must have been here quite a time as only this lady and a pair of walkers passed us whilst I was taking photos on the way here. I did see one couple standing and looking around, then consulting a map, then having a sit down for a while, consulting the map again before finally leaving the tarn and going back down again. The packs they were carrying suggested something rather longer than a walk up to the tarn so perhaps they abandoned their plans in view of the humid conditions.
After a short break for drinks and snacks we make our way across the outflow and around to the far side of the tarn.
There was a very, very slight breeze along here as you see from the water surface but it was nowhere near enough to bring any cooling relief. Across the water the bracken is dying back and its beginning to look very autumnal.
A look back at the tarn outflow as we make our way around. There are still a few people back there but most have either gone back down or continued on with their walk.
Tarn Crag reflections.
Wet grass, wet bracken and a steep climb coming up so there’ll be a few pit stops on the way up there then in this heat.
We’ve reached the point where the path, over there on the right, begins to steepen. Even if there was any wind we would now be sheltered from it as we are in the lee of the fell side. As it is, we can already feel the heat and the moisture wrapping itself around us.
Looking back down our route from one of our many pauses simply to gulp down some air. You can feel the lack of oxygen in the humid air, and even when you stop and breathe in deeply you feel very little benefit. This is very slow, uncomfortable hard work and we couldn’t have been more soaked if we’d hurled ourselves into the tarn.
To add to the general discomfort the sun decided to put in an appearance while we were on a section of the path just below this col so now it became even hotter. We had hoped that there might be a bit of a breeze once we reached this point but we were disappointed. Looking across at the hazy conditions over on the Helvellyn range and I didn’t envy anyone who was climbing up there today. Tarn Crag is only about 1800′ above sea level and that’s hard enough today. Helvellyn, at over 3000′, must have been something of a nightmare.
From the col a look ahead and the only way is up. The sun is blazing on our backs so the brow mopping towel is tucked into the waistband in readiness. The worst of the steepness is behind us and this sort of gradient wouldn’t normally be a problem, today its starting to look like the north face of the Eiger.
A look back at the little col which we arrived at from the right hand side as you look at it. The path on the left is the one coming in from across Tarn Crag’s east ridge.
Another look back down the route as we stop for another gulp of air. Its slow progress but we’re getting there.
The end is in sight and Tarn Crag summit is over to the right of the dip in the skyline straight ahead of us.
Eight gasping minutes later and we are at the little col with only a handful of yards to go before we are on the summit.
Three minutes later we’re on the top, the camera is out and I’m taking this shot looking along Easedale towards Helm Crag and the hazy fells beyond, all the while being bombed by a cloud of flies who were obviously lying in wait for the unwary traveller. They got short change out of me though as I had lathered myself in insect repellant before setting out this morning and, although much of it must have dissipated along with the sweat on the way up, enough must have remained to deter them and I escaped without one single bite.
The summit of Tarn Crag with some of the aforementioned flying beasties circling above it. I politely declined to sit there and have a summit photo taken. Apart from the flies being such an irritant I still looked like Worzel Gummidge on a bad hair day so it wouldn’t have been a photo which ever made it into an album.
A longer view of the summit area.
I braved the flies once again to try for a better shot. Just behind the cairn is the Gibson Knott ridge, behind that is Steel Fell and then behind that, way over in the distance, is the Helvellyn range.
We retreated from the summit area and the flies to find ourselves a comfortable spot for lunch. Comfortable is a relative term, but we scout around for rocks with flat surfaces and which were more or less horizontal. When you find this particular pot of gold you are still sitting on a hard piece of rock of course, but at least its level and you aren’t having to continually stop yourself, and your lunch box, sliding off. Even better if you can find such a rock which doesn’t have sheep droppings all over it. Those rocks over there are no good at all, far too pointy and sloping. I bet you thought all this fell walking was just about putting one foot in front of the other. Not a bit of it, it can get very technical when you are looking for just the right rock, not to mention it being in just the right place. Will you stop this daft wittering on about rocks and get on with the walk please?
After our lunch break we continue along the ridge. Over on the left skyline is Harrison Stickle and next to it is the rounded bump of Pike O’Stickle. You can continue along the ridge all the way to Sergeant Man but that’s not on our route today, we’re going to head down to the left eventually to walk alongside Codale Tarn.
At this point we’ve turned off the ridge and we’re heading down towards Codale Tarn.
Heading down to Codale Tarn with some very wet ground to cross before we reach it.
Its an ideal habitat for this little frog though, the ground is very, very wet, there’s plenty of ground cover and an abundance of creepy crawlies to snack on.
A look back at the point where we left the ridge, and even though we’re walking downhill we’re still having to do plenty of brow mopping. At least I’ve got cool legs with all this wetness splashing up on them. A little further down from this point we met a couple of walkers who asked us about the route up there over to Tarn Crag. We had a bit of a natter, as you do, and the man happened to mention that they had just walked up from Easedale Tarn and the guide-book he was using said that it was quite an easy walk but that they had found it rather strenuous. I said that ‘easy’ might depend to a large extent on how old the author was at the time of writing. ‘Easy’ when you’re only 25 turns into something else entirely when you reach 55. They nodded and laughed in agreement and he then mentioned that the guide book he was using had been written in 1922! Now I’m easily lured by old books but for heaven’s sake, the routes that were there in 1922 could be impossible to find nowadays. Even AW found that to be the case when he was working on his guides in the 1950’s.
Uh, uh, cloud is beginning to appear and build as we reach the tarn.
For now though we still have some hazy sunshine and not a hint of a breeze so there are some nice reflections in the tarn.
The outflow of Codale Tarn. Good thing the tarn wasn’t over full today or there wouldn’t have been much to step over onto.
A look back at the tarn and the ridge as we continue on towards Belles Knott.
We passed round the back of Belles Knott and it was just a short grassy climb up to the summit.
The view down to Easedale Tarn and beyond from the top of Belles Knott.
The summit area has quite a few of these rock ‘fingers’ protruding from it and they make good viewpoints, it’s just a pity that the haze is rather spoiling things.
We descend the grassy back slopes of Belles Knott to cross the beck and pick up the path down there which will lead us back to Easedale Tarn. There’s no path on Belles Knott but you don’t really need one as there’s nothing dangerous back here …..
….. however, the front face would need careful consideration if you chose to descend down that side.
The front face of Belles Knott from the steep and, occasionally, awkward path alongside the beck.
A look back from one of the better sections of the path. A little higher up are some large, steeply angled and very wet rock slabs which can provide you with a very trying few minutes if you don’t have long legs.
Lower down still and there are stepping-stones to negotiate across this large boggy area.
The path eventually levels out and we make steady progress towards Easedale Tarn. As we were getting nearer the tarn I began to notice how dark it had become. My initial thought was to remove my sunglasses, which was instantly replaced by one that reminded me I wasn’t wearing any. We had already decided that when we got to the tarn we would have a short break before returning to Grasmere so when we got there we downed our packs and got out the drinks. So there we were just about settled for the next ten minutes or so when the rain came. Not the light, misty, mizzly stuff, no, this came down in big round drops and by the time we had the showerproofs on and the hoods up we were already soaked. Our tops and trousers were stuck to us and our hair was plastered flat to our heads. We abandoned the idea of a short break by the tarn and began making our way back down the path into Easedale in the torrential rain.
The camera didn’t come out of its case again until this point, where we’re almost at the end of the Easedale path. It hasn’t quite stopped raining but its only very light drizzle, and rather than put up with the sauna like conditions created by a jacket we’ve taken them off and stowed them in our packs. We were already wet before we put them on so walking through some light drizzle wasn’t going to make any difference.
The path through Easedale comes to an end at this footbridge, once across it you are on the tarmac road and a turn to the right will have you heading back down into Grasmere.
Grasmere was as busy as ever with the tea shops and cafes full of customers escaping the drizzle. We leave it all behind and make our way back to the lay-by with a reasonably clear view of Stone Arthur with Seat Sandal behind it. All in all its been a funny old day during which we seem never to have been completely dry. We sweated our way all the way up to Tarn Crag, we got wet socks and trousers when we splashed across to Codale Tarn, and finally received a thorough soaking in an unexpected downpour, and, of course, the minute we got in the car all the windows misted over. On the news this evening we saw that many parts of the northern half of the country had suffered torrential rain and flash flooding so overall we didn’t fare too badly.