“Are you wearing sun cream?”
A short stout gentleman with a round red face under a securely tethered Tilley hat against a non-existent breeze looked at me expectantly. I was in the process of greeting a band of silver walkers on a path under Grasmoor, the rest of whom had conformed to the usual passer-by ritual of responding to me with hello, hi, or good afternoon. Captain Mainwaring though was on some other mission.
“Why wouldn’t I?” I queried, rather taken aback at this unprovoked question.
“Well, it’s important in this hot sun,” he returned.
He was clad in trousers and a long-sleeved check shirt and was clearly bothered by my shorts and T shirt approach in the high fells on a warm and sunny day.
“Yes, I am liberally covered in factor 50,” I assured him, wondering if I had inadvertently raised the Pike flag of surrender emblazoned with “I’m stupid, Please help me”.
“Oh, I see, well then, that’s very good, very good,” he said and turned away to continue walking as his colleagues backed up behind him on the path.
I walked on, baffled.
The forecast for Friday had stayed good all week so I had dared to dream of a day in the fells. I wanted to return to a route I had found a couple of years ago and was in the middle of what was a perfect walk. The route starts at Lanthwaite Green Farm next to Crummock Water and heads NW and straight up over Whin Ben onto Whiteside. The path is a lovely mix of walking and easily avoidable small scrambling sections that are liberally scattered with heather. Some was past its best but bell heather fairy lights decorated remaining white ling carpets, the tiny purple blooms filled with morning sunshine.
The path levels out from Whiteside’s summit as the ridge then takes the walker onto Hopegill Head. Slopes drop away on both sides, every contour brought into sharp relief by the light and dark shadows cast by an autumn sun casting low rays over my shoulder. It was an absorbing place to be except for the occasional distractions of a silver winged Typhoon slicing its way across Crummock Water and a few comments from picnickers on Hopegill Head who were disputing where they had walked near Oban in 2015.
The descent from Sand Hill is loose stone and gravel so I was aware of running feet coming down behind me before I reached Coledale Hause. As I turned to let Running Man pass, he exploded.
“Oi, Oi, Hugo, no, c’m ‘ere, COME HERE, Oi, Oi, HUGO,”
His shouts fell on deaf ears as Hugo, a standard poodle, was more interested in three sheep.
“Oi Hugo, COME HERE,” he yelled frantically.
The dog was clearly in playful mood. The sheep weren’t aware of that.
Running man looked at me. I had turned to see the commotion.
“He’s never done this before,” he said, hastily gathering the lead and starting to pursue his errant animal.
“If you’re not careful, he’ll be shot,” I warned the back of his head.
“Yes,” I heard him mutter, ‘by me, when I get my hands on him”
I continued down the path, his continued pleas to Hugo ringing in my ears.
Running man caught me up a few minutes later with the dog dutifully in tow.
“That’s the first time that has happened,” he repeated. Hugo was panting vigorously; his jaws wide giving him a rather leery grin. He looked as though he had been crafted from giant fluffy paint rollers, each section of his body either brilliant white or a matt black. There wasn’t a speck of dirt to be seen on him.
“He’s 18 months old. I’ve never had a problem with him with sheep in our fields at home,” Running Man continued.
“Maybe he’s having a final teenager fling?” I suggested, smiling. Running Man looked relieved. I wondered if he thought I was going to pass some form of judgement
“I think I’ll call him Kevin for now then, you know, Kevin the teenager?” he offered.
We both laughed at that and, explanation over, we traded route ideas before he and Hugo/Kevin galloped off along the path.
I followed along at a slower rate.
The path wanders into a valley between Grasmoor and Crag Hill, where the land rises gently on either side and the space between is filled with sky. In winter, when snow eiderdowns the contours and cloud pillowed skies touch white linen fell horizons, dreams traverse and envelope the valley floor where other feet have running stitched the track ahead. It is a lovely place.
Sheltered from the prevailing wind and hot kettling the warm sunshine, it was a different world today. With a silent sudden stillness and weatherwashed stones under my feet, I entered the Valley of Dry Bones.
I found it unexpected and unsettling.
I couldn’t fathom either why the Typhoon of earlier hadn’t yet appeared despite a distant rasping engine rumble. I stopped, expectant yet puzzled. Where was it?
Footsteps quietened, I realised that the sound came from below, not above. To my right, tucked away in the grass, the infant Liza Beck hastened towards Gasgale Gill. The stream had steadily undercut its banks leaving green mossy canopies over and along each side. The resulting acoustic chamber amplified the soft rush of water into a jet roar and I marvelled at Nature’s shout bringing the valley to life.
Cheered up and on by the beck I followed the footpath over the shallow col of Wandope Moss and onto Whiteless Edge where I traded the fading acoustics of the beck for that of someone’s radio. With no one in sight, the upper reaches of Rannerdale Beck under Grasmoor’s Lad Hows shoulder provided a sonic amphitheatre for Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith who accompanied me onto Whiteless Pike before disappearing from the airwaves. I’m not quite convinced as to the value of sharing music quite so publicly in the hills but today, as the sun shone a leisurely blue sky warmth into the afternoon, I really didn’t mind.
The steep trail off Whiteless Pike takes some foot keeping concentration but the views swinging over the fells, Buttermere, Crummock Water and Loweswater and on to the coast are unparalleled. The path pain is worth the panorama gain, especially when weather conditions are good. I chatted briefly with a chap in search of a stream to cool his border collie off in and a couple who were more interested in finding icecreams.
The final mile or so along Rannerdale and Crummock Water is a good stretch out for hill fatigued legs and a beautiful place for reflection. Rowan berries red glowed in the afternoon sun streaming over Mellbreak as I walked the freshly mown green baize path through bronzing bracken under Grasmoor’s pink hued flanks. I have a soft spot for this great lump of a hill and regretted avoiding the mountain’s summit today. I had wanted to walk high forever but, in the end, reality and time prevented me from detouring the extra 2 miles to reclaim the top and my day felt unfinished as a result.
Which is sufficient reason to return.
- Mellbreak and Crummock Water
- a) Bridge over Liza Beck below Whin Ben b) ling and bell heather
- Ridge from Whiteside to Hopegill Head and Sand Hill
- Windswept tree above Gasgale Crags and Gill
- The Valley of Dry Bones!
- Typhoon over Crummock Water
- Buttermere and the High Stile range sit beyond Whiteless Pike
- Mellbreak and Crummock Water with Loweswater in the distance
- Grizedale and Lad Hows from Whiteless Pike