Yesterday we dined at the best table in the Lake District and traversed ledges to discover a needle. “Today,” I told Hannah, “we are going to meet a lion and perhaps fire a cannon. I received a look that only girls can give. I just smiled. “Wait and see,” I said, laughing. “It’s true!” She continued to stare at me, as though I had just dropped in from another planet. “Really!” she said, as we opened the gate and set out towards Steel Fell.
My original idea had been to traverse the Langdale Pikes, including High Raise, and bag a clutch of Wainwrights. I decided to save that for summer; when we can bask on soft, golden grass, swim in Stickle Tarn, sunbath on Harrison Stickle and …. I’m dreaming again.
Today, isn’t going according to plan. It should be the best day of the week, according to the forecast, but drizzle continues to splash our jackets as we head across Dunmail Raise. I intend a circuit of the Green Burn Valley. It should be an easy and enjoyable day, once we get over Steel Fell that is.
Rather than slogging up from Ghyll Foot, we started from Dunmail Raise, heading for the corner of the wall to join the main path. Again, we are the first on the hill; which is quite amazing, considering that I have to wake Hannah up at 6.30am – and on her holidays!
The view across Dunmail of Seat Sandal and Helvellyn are fantastic, or certainly would be on another day, in better weather. The summit of Seat Sandal hides under a cap of cloud, while Helvellyn and the ridge to Fairfield are not even visible.
The exposure, as we gain height, is intimidating. Below our feet, Steel Fell sweeps down for over a thousand feet into the valley.
Our car resembles a toy, camouflaged against the hillside. Seat Sandal rises like an upturned bowl, steep flanks lead unrelentingly to the summit. Hannah shakes her head as I tell her that we will have to climb it one day. “It doesn’t look to bad from farther down the valley,” she said, pointing to Little Tongue its southerly ridge. I smile.
Rusting, abandoned fence posts stick out of rocks. There are two summits. The western summit, the first one, affords the best vantage point to gaze over Helvellyn and Fairfield. The cloud has lifted, just in time, although the wind doesn’t let us dawdle. We fasten our hoods against the wind and sleet, and turn west towards Calf Crag, our next Wainwright, which we can see across the moor.
The Lion and the Lamb
“Where’s the lion then?” Hannah asks. I point to Helm Crag and the lumps of rock. From here we cannot see it. The ‘Howitzer’ points menacingly over Grasmere – a military deterrent against those who would invade! She still doesn’t get the picture, so I explain that on top of Helm Crag, which is at the end of the ridge, there are some rock formations that resemble a cannon, and a lion sits with a lamb between its paws. She isn’t impressed, but I know she will be.
The route to Calf Crag is quite pleasant, if you keep to the eastern edge of the plateau that is, and do not venture into the bog. It only gets messy as we reach the two tarns and follow the path across the moor towards the summit. A little side stepping and jumping, the occasional squelch as my boots sink into waterlogged peat, followed by sucking noises as I drag them out before they can fill with water, make for a rather unpleasant crossing.
Wolves and Bears
I take the opportunity to explain to Hannah the features of a glacial valley left over from the last ice age. Pointing out the u-shaped depression that was carved out thousands of years ago by the progression of a glacier. I point out the moraines: the deposits left behind as the ice melted. Then explain that at one time the valley was full of trees and nearly impenetrable; the haunt of wolves and wild boar. Sheep and farming have produced what we see today. We gaze down the beautiful Green Burn valley and out towards Grasmere. Geography lesson over, she was already on the move. “I suppose I’ll learn all that later,” she said.
We climb out onto dry land, away from the bog, and among the rocks which lead to the summit of Calf Crag. Behind us two people are following the path. In front, a head appears over a rock, followed by another. We are not alone any longer. “It’s lunchtime,” Hannah reminds me. We sit behind a rock, away from the wind, and settle down for a splendid table by a window, looking down upon Far Easdale Gill and Tarn Crag. Over our shoulder are the snowy wind-blown slopes of High Raise. Impressive as it is, it doesn’t compare with my favourite table on top of Pike O’Blisco. Perhaps I should start a list of the best eating places on the Lakeland Fells, we could call it the ‘Whitehead’s’.
Refuelled and away
Hannah is off down the ridge; two lion bars, refuelled, and eyes fixed on Helm Crag. I can’t stop her. Hastily pushing the rest of the gear into my rucksack I chase after her. Her pace has quickened. I wonder if it is the promise of fish and chips at her favourite chippy in Kendal that has spurred her on. She keeps looking back, waiting for me. I keep stopping to take pictures. The lighting has improved. The clouds are breaking and like a spotlight the sunshine sweeps across the ridges, highlighting peaks and sweeping across the valley floor. Soon Hannah is nowhere to be seen. She must be getting fitter, that’s great. I am encouraged.
Just before the summit of Gibson Knott, I catch up to her, then stop to take pictures. A patch of sunlight races along the top of Steel Fell. I wait for it to hit the summit, then click, picture in the bag. A couple of walkers are moving along the ridge. I wait for the sunlight to touch them, perfect, another picture.
Hannah is lying on the summit, in the sunshine, waiting. “Come on, dad,” she jokes. A couple of walkers smile, as dad drags himself up to the summit, rucksack hanging off one shoulder, camera off another. Then she’s up and off again.
In the distance, someone stands on the top of the ‘Howitzer’. I throw the rucksack on the floor, using it as a support for my lens, while I snap pictures of the brave person teetering over a precipice.
Hannah reaches the summit of Helm Crag, our final, and fourth Wainwright of the day. Already people are trying the make the ascent of the ‘Howitzer’. I pass them and head for the lion. Hannah races ahead. Swarms of people, breathless after climbing up from Grasmere, wander around the summit. Children climb the lion and stand on its head, their parents hold onto them with white knuckles and bated breath. Hannah makes the ascent and I get a picture. She’s used to scrambling now. I leave her to it.
On the way home, she describes the walk as fantastic, and fairly easy, even though we did drop into the valley after Helm Crag, down the steep zigzags from Bracken Hause and up the other side to meet the wall and our path back to the car, which she didn’t enjoy one bit!
We are not going to get a consecutive third day on the hill. Her little legs have had enough for now. It’s definitely ‘lion-in’ for tomorrow, after her fish and chips tonight. Saturday looks promising. Fairfield?