Our second trip to the Western Fells results in another long day; a day of mixed weather, with rain, cloud, wind and bright-blue skies. As we head through Holme Wood from Maggie’s Bridge next to picturesque Loweswater, clouds steam off the sides of Grasmoor and the surrounding fells. The tops are capped by translucent-grey cloud that lingers, though in places the sun breaks through and patches of green speed along the valley like spotlights on nature’s stage.
Holme Wood, a delightful mix of conifer and deciduous woodland, flanks the side of Burnbank Fell and nestles along the southern edge of sleepy Loweswater. The humidity, even this early in the morning, is overpowering, and as we walk underneath towering trees and between swathes of ferns, mist climbs into the canopies and settles there waiting for the light of the sun to burn it away. A path winds delightfully upwards through the forest and we follow it towards the stile at Holme Beck.
From Holme Beck a wide track that leads invitingly around the base of Burnbank Fell and impulsively commands us to sit for a while on a strategically placed bench to gaze over Loweswater, Crummock Water and bask in the beauty of these valleys. The mighty brooding mountains of Grasmoor and Mealbreak, with wisps of clouds tickling their heads, act like sentinels guarding the western approaches into the heart of Lakeland’s mountain scenery.
Burnbank Fell (475m) is not impressively significant. It is the end of the ridge which runs north from Gavel Fell (526m). Our route follows the fence posts that line the tops; we may possibly add-on Hen Comb, should time permit. From the gate the path follows the obvious contour and passes by an impressive pile of stones that command surprisingly excellent views of Grasmoor and Loweswater. Yet Carling Knotts, just across the the valley proudly lays claim to being the commanding viewpoint and glares down onto this ‘pile of stones’ as the OS map describes it. Today though, we are happy to settle for this lesser subservient viewpoint and rest and snack while gazing over the lake towards Low Fell and Fellbarrow – hills that we climbed last month in mist and driving rain. We never saw these views then and could hardly stand on Low Fell as the wind blasted us this way and that.
Cotton Grass Bobtails
Cotton-grass (Eriophorum Angustifolium) covers the fell in fluffy, white pom-poms, much to Hannah’s amazement. Mark comments that her t-shirt is made from these flowers, although I doubt the accuracy of that, yet we go with it, and Hannah delights in moving through the wispy, waving, clumps of soft white fronds that resemble rabbit’s tails.
Apparently, these intriguing plants are technically not grass at all but a member of the sedge family. I just know that they grow in bogs and marshland, which soon becomes evident as we squelch our way through them. They were once used as pillow stuffing in some regions – but not for t-shirts – that dubious honour belongs to the plantations in the USA – the blues begin to beat through my mind.
Burnbank Fell’s cairn lies forlornly over a fence. As though someone, in a moment of hilarity, threw a few stones over and proclaimed it as the summit, or maybe the fence was built around the cairn. The ground is flat, we are obviously on the highest point. Is there any need for a summit cairn, and if so, then it could be anywhere within a 30 metre diameter.
But, in true peak-bagging style I climb over to reach the highest point and take a picture. It didn’t really matter that I did this, but there you go! Mark and Hannah decided to watch, wonder and carry on walking.
It is at this point that we start to discover an incongruity on the path. At one point it is on the left of the fence, next it appears on the right. The new fencing seems to be splitting the path in two, but as long as it heads for Blake Fell, our next Wainwright, we just follow it. No point in keep jumping the fence.
At times paths can become a bit of a nuisance, taking away the enjoyment of discovering the fells for yourself. A good map and compass, a knowledge of navigation, and the hills are your oyster, so to speak. If this exploratory attitude prevailed among walkers then maybe the erosion would not be as extensive as it is and there would be less walkers asking which hill they were on, or which was the way down.
Weather – never a done-deal
A short descent followed by a climb of 123m onto Blake Fell sees us walking into cloud and wind as we reach the comfort of the summit shelter. I have no complaint about ‘this’ pile of stones, as we hide from the biting westerly and each our sandwiches. A couple appear, with their dog, a Collie. Apparently last week it was still windy but the views were fantastic, they reassure us.
The sunshine is late, and so we wait, huddled together in the shelter, sheltering from high winds that berate the summit. I laugh, as I remember putting suncream on before we left home, expectant of a day strolling along the tops under a blue sky and blistering heat. Amazing Lakeland weather, it is never a done-deal on the hills. The sun refuses to play, so we set off for Gavel Fell our third Wainwright today.
It is virtually impossible to get lost up here. Fence posts wind all over the fell like tram-lines, and as long as you are following the correct one then you should reach your objective safely, but be warned, if you stray away in the mist you may end up in Cleator Moor! Not that I have anything against Cleator Moor, it’s just that there are no hills there.
Gavel Fell’s summit is similar to Burnbank’s: a few stones scattered on the floor. I am not against cairns, but reflecting on our wanderings over the last six months a lot of them are totally excessive. Already there is a move afoot to begin dismantling many of the ones that have become intrusive. If you are proficient with a map and compass, which, lets face it, you should be, wandering over these misty summits, then you shouldn’t need cairns.
And anyway, should you come across a cairn in the mist, how do you know it is the right one? On more than one occasion I have met walkers appearing out of the mist and asking the name of the mountain they are standing on. Graciously, I have directed them to their destination, but it never ceases to amaze me that people venture onto the summits in poor conditions without a map, or the ability to navigate.
Cotton-grass bobtails spot the valley like drops of white paint. From White Oak we head towards Hen Comb, but we will not be climbing this mountain today – we have run out of time and need to be back in Kendal by 4pm. The distance and time involved in reaching these Western fells is an ongoing a problem. Their distance from Kendal necessitates an overnight camp if we are going to get them all done before winter returns and the days shorten.
We pick up the track which leads out on the Eastern side of Whiteoak Beck. There are splendid views of Grasmoor peeping above the northern shoulder of Hen Comb and the valley reminds me of some of the smaller Scottish glens. It has been another great day out – another three Wainwrights under our belt. We drive through the winding lanes around Hopebeck and head for Whinlatter and home.