A head for heights

“This moss is easier than the sheep trod,” declared Christine as she waded through it up the steep flanks of Carling Knott.

I had to agree with her. We had been searching for Wainwright’s suggested route to the summit that had referred to sheep tracks and heather but had yet to find anything bearing a resemblance to the book diagram. We had wandered along a very narrow sheep trod following a contour at one point but, with the steep gradient either side it was easier and safer to head straight up.

Moss walking above Loweswater

Which was where the moss came in. Lush deep pillow sized hummocks provided snug lime green boot placements complete with a little added spring and we clambered summit wards at a good rate.

For a busy Saturday in the Lakes with a good weather forecast, I had suggested exploring some of the lower Wainwrights. Crowd avoidance was part of the strategy, as was ice and snow levels above 500m and a stiff wind. I’d recently had a wonderful day near Crummock Water and, while standing on Grasmoor, had made the fatal mistake of wondering what the hills were around Loweswater stretching away from me to the north west. That is usually enough to provide a focus for the next walk and I just needed a reason to return to the valley.

Holme Beck

Which was why Christine and I had found ourselves moss hopping our way up Carling Knott, a route declared by Wainwright as that of having “interesting detail and lovely views.” Whether we were on his path or not didn’t really matter. He was right. It was a beautiful walk to the top with plenty to pepper the conversation amongst a discussion more taken with favourite TV programmes of our childhood. Crackerjack, the Herb Garden, Bonanza, Champion the Wonder Horse, The Clangers and Little House on the Prairie shared time with moss varieties, route decisions, twisted trees and Loweswater lying indigo below our feet.

Low Fell and Loweswater from Carling Knott

Our target was actually Blake Fell but we didn’t see the fell at its best; the cloud swirled in gently around our lunch spot enroute and the summit disappeared from view. Clouded tops feel foreboding; dark grey mist shrouds the peaks and shadows the fell flanks below. The wrathes arrive on a new wind, a brief portent warning of the loss of view and perspective. I invariably avoid them as a result.

Which is a pity. I forget how much I love cloud walking. Horizons blend, the world shrinks and there is a mystery around every corner. Map reading becomes instinctive; knolls, tarns, fences and various other features highlight the route and confirm the correct path. Summiting becomes a greater satisfaction; the tail has been pinned on the correct part of the donkey.

Blake Fell tomato eaters

We found a couple sharing a punnet of tomatoes in the shelter on Blake Fell. They had come up from Croasdale and were clearly happy navigators.

“Well, we think we know where we are,” she said, munching on a sandwich, “we’ve never got lost anyway”

I could see Christine looking a bit concerned at the casual comment.

“Well, you can always return to where you knew where you were if you do get a bit thrown?” I suggested

“Oh yes,” sandwich woman replied, “and we do have a map and compass”

“We did meet a chap on Fairfield last year who wanted to go to Patterdale,” tomato man went on, “we had just come up that way so suggested the route back for him. He promptly ignored us and headed off in the opposite direction to Rydal.”

“How odd,” I said, “it is a bit of a huge Piccadilly Circus plateau up there but you would have thought Windermere would have given him a clue he was heading the wrong way?”

Burnbank summit with its micro cairn

We puzzled over the folk you meet on fells together before Christine and I headed off into the gloom to find the fence to follow along to Burnbank Fell. Dropping down, the views over the Irish Sea and Solway Coast reappeared under sunny skies and we made the most of the moss pillows to bounce our way off the fell and back to the car.

Heather tones across the wood

“Was it very energy consuming?” a blonde lady asked. I was a bit puzzled by the question.

“Well, we’ve walked for about 4 hours or so but,” I looked at Christine, “it wasn’t difficult, was it?” Christine shook her head.

“No,” she agreed, “it’s just been a nice fell walk. No problems. Why? Have you been walking today?”

The blonde woman looked at her partner.

“We’ve been up Catbells,” she explained. “it was hard work.”

“We had to do some scrambling at the top,” her partner explained. He seemed surprised.

Loweswater from Waterdale

Christine and I looked at each other again, with the knowing that comes from a rather windswept ascent a year or so ago. This was the couple’s first foray into hill walking and had picked Catbells, on a day trip from Morecambe, thinking it would be a walk in a Keswick park. Blonde woman had an air of post traumatic stress disorder about her and her partner was endeavouring to come to terms with what had been an unexpected adventure for them. I hoped that the Lingholm Gardens refreshments would go someway to restoring the balance; cream teas had certainly bitten nicely into our energy deficit. I discovered later that Facebook friends had also climbed Catbells that day with their family and had found a whole new side to Grandad and their son as a result.

I’m beginning to think that hillwalking brings out some hidden and rather interesting traits. Wonder what ours are, eh Christine?

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