One of the joys of reaching a summit, especially a new one, is in the views it affords. They are always different to that offered even by a neighbouring fell and there is much satisfaction gained in identifying far away peaks as a result. They usually inspire the next walk too.
I’d stood briefly on Hart Side recently and looked west to the Dodds. They were as yet untrodden by my boots and could have been added to the Hart Side walk but I’d decided to keep them for another time. There was plenty there for a day out as I discovered when I woke with the notion to explore them at the end of a hot and sunny week.
I say hot.
Make that very hot.
Not as hot as in the south of the UK or the Mediterranean or the tropics, but pretty hot for the north of England. The kind of hot that appeals to river bathing and icecream and lying in hammocks under the shade of trees with a book, wafting at the occasional buzzing thing. I’d done the book and icecream bit in the cool of my living room and marvelled at the tall tales of sweaty summit bagging by friends. As much as I enjoy summer degrees I’ll own up to not being particularly comfortable in the heat that suddenly arrives – I need a steady warm up!
By the end of the week though I was so chilled I was ready for some hill borne exercise. Temperatures had dropped slightly too so I returned to the idea of visiting the Dodds. Once I’d checked my Wainwright list I realised that I couldn’t recall walking over Raise and White Side either so plotted a walk that included them in the mix. I’ll highlight now that these are summits in the middle of a ridge I know fairly well, having wandered over its northern tops (Clough Head, Calf how Pike and Great Dodd) and most of the Helvellyn massif to the south. It was just these four summits in the middle that I’d so far ignored.
I wasn’t in a hurry either. Being on holiday I was in vacation mode with no early alarm calls to stir me into cool morning starts. I arrived at the Legburthwaite car park at the time when most folk would have been settling down to an early lunch. The Lakes are busy with visitors and it had dawned on me that a late arrival could prove problematic for parking. Thankfully, the car park was only half full and quiet when I turned up. The morning rush hour well and truly over, I had the path onto Stybarrow Dodd to myself, the only company a Hercules flying low and slow beneath my feet above Thirlmere.
It was still hot work though in the warm sunshine. Walking uphill always generates a head of steam usually tempered by cool hill breezes. These however were peculiarly absent and for one section towards Sticks Pass I could empathise wholeheartedly with any self-basting turkey being roasted for Christmas.
The ridge brought some much-needed relief with soft wind wisps reducing the call on my drink bottles and a soothing breath wrapping me in drying coolness as I discovered a delightful food combo on Watson’s Dodd. I’m not a fan of boring snacks on the hill. Beautiful views deserve good food and there is nothing better than something delicious to eat after a hard slog. It doesn’t have to be complex, just tasty and easy to carry with a bit of variety. I haven’t quite made it to the duck or pheasant sandwiches on homemade bread that a walking friend occasionally waves under my nose but, on a more serious note, I do seek to avoid high levels of saturated fat – the silent heart hijacker.
A cardiac nurse had explained the myth cyclists and walkers believe where eating a lot of high fat items is deemed OK due to the calories consumed during exercise. Unfortunately, saturated fat isn’t metabolised quite in the way hoped and usually ends up as arterial insulation.
The stuff is bad, very bad.
So, whilst I need the energy, I now seek it in alternative and varied forms. Which is why I was sat on Watson’s Dodd with an ice-cold yoghurt (cool bag in rucksack) and a disappointingly crushed to crumbles oat crunch bar which I’d forgotten to keep safe and been looking forward to. Solution? Tip the crumbs into the yoghurt. It may not seem a big deal if you’re reading this a long way from a hill, but on that top the mixture was a marriage made in heaven.
Suitably cooled and refuelled I spent a wonderful hour or so wandering along the ridge, linking Watson’s Dodd and Stybarrow Dodd to Raise and White Side. There were a handful of others on the path and one lass who I spoke with as I finally headed down Brown Crag and the car. She was looking for a spot to wild camp, but not til after she’d had a pint at Thirlspot’s King’s Head. With two now very empty drinks bottles I was resorting to streams for water and the idea of an ice-cold beer appealed immensely as I walked down into Stanah. I didn’t have to wait though to reach my car and then drive to the pub. Floating mirage-like before me, the Lodge in the Vale appeared around the corner. With its still open coffee bar and a glass and bottle in the fridge with my name on, I have not enjoyed a delightful drinks terrace so much in ages.
I blame the beer for the following day’s activity. In the pleasant haze afforded by a cool drink and comfortable chair, Raven Crag, briefly glimpsed across Thirlmere, had that ‘come hither’ look about it. Even after a good night’s sleep and another lie in, the idea had been sown and I found myself the next lunchtime at Armboth car park on the west shore of Thirlmere. Again, there was space to park amongst families and various couples enjoying the shingle beach.
Canoeists, paddle boarders and small dinghies with hopeful rods splayed every which way dotted the mirror calm water. Dogs yapped over thrown balls and children were wrestled into suncream and water shoes for unofficial paddles. Thirlmere is a reservoir so swimming isn’t allowed. I guess that means you aren’t allowed to fall in either? There was also a notice warning of blue green algae.
No one seemed to mind following the guidance. Just sitting next to the soft lapping of water with the trees whispering their wind songs was enough.
My walk started along the lake shore under the very welcome shading canopy of waterside trees. The climb onto Raven Crag was short, sharp and blazingly hot in the midday sun but the summit was a surprise. The crag rises around 250m vertically from the valley sides and offers an imposing face to the Thirlmere dam below. However, the top is softened by woodland planting, remnants of conifers provided by the Manchester Corporation Waterworks in their attempts to stabilise the soil after the reservoir construction. The subsequent owners, United Utilities, removed the ban on public access and made the area visitor friendly with some tree clearing and path creation. The path in the woods offered a beautifully lush green and cool ascent option and I reached my own lunch spot feeling bizarrely refreshed and very ready for my newly adopted yoghurt/crunchy bar snack. The view over Thirlmere complimented it perfectly.
I took the long way back to the car – by climbing High Tove, Armboth Fell and an eight-foot deer fence.
On this broad ridge, paths disappear into bog and heather and the walker is generally left to find their own way between the Wainwrights on terrain turgid with rainwater and colour. From coal black bog peat, buttercup yellow tormentil. sandy seedheads of bog asphodel bobbing gently above limegreen moss to ling heather’s sunlit filled purple bells, my feet walked through a cosmopolitan kaleidoscope of botanic civilizations arrayed in soggy splendour. The western fells too drew my gaze, washed blue Payne’s grey under the heat silvered skies and I began again luxuriating in naming the silhouettes, some familiar friends, others still on my dance card.
Armboth Fell brought me gently back to land with a glorious tramp through a tiny but very Heathcliffe wild heather and rock-strewn valley to the top of Fisher Beck and the path down to the car.
There was no cooling pint to finish my day this time, just a reflective pause by Thirlmere as the late afternoon breeze washed away the heat of the day. The families of earlier had packed up and gone. A wife videoed her husband wobbling his paddleboard over the wind stirred water. Two lads with bikes sat on rocks and chatted contentedly. Three chaps attempted to hitch a trailer to a Land Rover and then, for some reason, gave up and drove off. A solo kayaker paddled onto the shore and, leaving his boat on the beach, headed up to move his car closer for the inevitable carry over the stones. There was no hurry. No fuss. No bother.
For another hot day it was the coolest place to be.