WESTERDALE, KENSGRIFF & YARLSIDE
from CROSS KEYS HOTEL, CAUTLEY

 


Summary

Date - 9th January 2011 Distance - 5.5 miles
Ascent - 2000ft
Map - OL19 Start point - Cross Keys Hotel, Cautley (SD 698969)

 

Summits Achieved

Name Height (ft) Height (m) Grid Ref
Kensgriff 1883 574 SD 6884 9927
Yarlside 2097 639 SD 6856 9853

 

Preface

Allen & Tetley wandered in to find Grizzly, Shaun and Little Eric pouring over a map.

"What are you looking at?", enquired Allen.

"Where we went last Sunday", replied Little Eric. "It was a very lonely walk, but it was nice to see the wild horses as we approached Rispa Pike"

Tetley replied, "Now that you have bagged Rispa Pike, of the northern Howgill fells and valleys, there is just Langdale Knott that you have not climbed. Over the years we must have done about ten walks, exploring these, and in all that time we have hardly met a soul."

"If it is peace and solitude you want, these fells and valleys are the place to be", added Grizzly.

By now Allen was sitting in front of Dad's laptop, tapping away with this paws.

"What are you doing?", said Shaun.

"Checking the weather forecast for this weekend", he replied. After a minute or so, he went on, "Sunday looks to be the best day, although unsettled early on, following rain and snow over high ground overnight."

Little Eric piped up, "I wouldn't mind doing some more of my outstanding Howgill fells, that's if you do not mind pals."

"All right by me", replied Allen.

"And me", called out Grizzly, Shaun and Tetley in unison.

"I know that Uncle Eric would like to do some of them again with us, but for sure he does not want to do Kensgriff and Yarlside, as the route up Yarlside is extremely steep as is the descent too", said Shaun.

"Well they have got to be done sometime, so I had better go and ask Dad nicely and see if he is agreeable", said Little Eric.

"I'll come with you", said Shaun. Adding, "you can have a ride on my back too."

"Thanks pal", Little Eric replied.

While they were away Allen passed round the tuck tin and we munched away on a chocolate biscuit with a mug of tea from a flask Shaun had made up earlier.

A few minutes later, the patter of Shaun's feet could be heard, and Little Eric had a smile on his face.

"It's on", he called out excitedly. "So let's hope the weather forecast stays the same."

"Great", replied Allen. Adding, "here's your mugs of tea, and help yourselves to biscuits from the tuck tin."

 

The Walk

We got up early to get the picnic ready and stowed into Allen's rucksack, then calling goodbye to Uncle Brian, ran out and settled in the car ready for the off. The weather was quite bright with some blue skies, so we were hopeful of a good day.

However, as we went along the slip road of the M6, Allen said, "oh dear, it is ever so dark ahead and raining."

"Never mind, we may well drive through it by the time we get to Sedbergh", replied Grizzly, optimistically.

The rain indeed poured down as we headed north, but it looked like Grizzly was right, as by the time we left the motorway and made our way down Black Horse Hill, the sun was shining on Winder and the other fells above Sedbergh. Through the town we took the road towards Kirkby Stephen, and soon we were pulling into the road side layby, just a few yards past the Cross Keys Hotel. As we had driven up the Rawthey Valley everywhere was green, in complete contrast to the fells that were blanketed with snow.

"Looks like we will have an interesting day", enthused Little Eric, who was eager to be off.

"Sure does", replied Shaun. "It's a good job that Dad is sure footed."

Dad got ready, then we settled in his rucksack and off we went, descending the steps to cross the bridge over the River Rawthey. At the junction we turned right along the path towards the farm called Narthwaite. Behind was this dramatic view of Great Dummacks white under the snow with Cautley Crag to its right, just about to disappear into the mist.

We were walking away from this and Tetley said, "let's hope that cloud and rain drifts away south."

According to the map there is a footbridge that avoids the ford that the path leads to. So as we came to the wall on the right, Dad cut back and descended to Backside Beck. No path here, nor any sign of the footbridge either. So rejoining the path we just walked down to the ford, which we had crossed before last year, in the opposite direction, with Uncle Eric. Picking his way carefully, Dad crossed without getting wet feet, then through the gate climbed the track to Narthwaite Farm. Passing the first buildings, we turned left, to climb steeply uphill by the wall on the right, then taking the left fork with the wall to the left, along the slopes of Wandale Hill, above and up Westerdale.

Tetley's hopes were dashed, as by now the sky had darkened and the wind was blowing hard as a hail storm swept up the dale, blotting out sight of our first fell, Kensgriff, across the valley. We dived for cover in the rucksack, but poor Dad had to plough on getting thoroughly wet, screwing his eyes shut at times as the hail was coming horizontally. Further on a tree provided some cover to wait it out.

"It will be awful in conditions like this on the hills", said Little Eric, downheartedly.

"You're right", agreed Dad, "but the good news is that the sky has lightened across the valley and I think it will pass over soon"

Indeed this was the case, the rest of the day being bright and mostly sunny.

The long whale backed ridge of Kensgriff was clear of cloud, and we could see that it would be a long ascent, to it's summit. Following that we would continue down the slope to the left to what is called the Saddle. That was for later.

All here was white, but looking back through the misty conditions, the valley with the river Rawthey snaking through it was all green. As Dad lined up the camera, Tetley remarked, "what a contrast."

Westerdale is now totally uninhabited. Once the only habitation was Mountain View Farm, whose long abandoned buildings could be seen below as we walked on. They have been unoccupied for at least 40 years. We asked Dad to pause and take a picture. Structurally the house looks sound, but we noted that some of the slates were missing from the roof.

The interest in the valley duly recorded, Dad then continued on up the valley on the snowy path.

The wall that can be seen, eventually dropped away left, and further on the path swung away right towards its end at Adamthwaite.

"We need to descend and cross the valley so we can get to the start of the climb to Kensgriff", called out Shaun.

"That's right", replied Dad, making his way carefully over the rough snow covered ground.

To the right was a ravine through which runs Spen Gill, and we made our way below this to its confluence with Stockless Gill. The combined streams now become Backside Beck on its way to join the Rawthey. We had crossed this earlier at the ford.

Having strode across, we commenced the long slog up Kensgriff. The first section was steep and rough to gain the ridge. It was hard going in the snow, Dad sinking up to his calf at times, any path having been totally obliterated.

"Look at those icicles", called out Little Eric as we passed below a small depression.

"Just shows how cold it has been", added Shaun.

Along the way there were many rises and we began to think we would never reach the top. Here is the view looking towards the summit, the next but one rise from here.

As we climbed the wind increased, blowing continuously and fiercely from right to left. Although not clear in the picture, the snow at times was whipped into plumes, and blown over the ground as high as Dad sometimes - it rather got in our eyes and we kept having to screw them shut. Finally we were there and despite the wind, the cairn provided enough shelter for us to sit for our picture - ever plucky we are!! As you can see from the background, we enjoyed terrific views of the surrounding snow covered hills.

So, safely tucked in the rucksack, it was onwards in the same direction, descending to the Saddle between Kensgriff and Yarlside. There have been many expeditions to the Howgills, but despite their benign looking nature when seen for example from the M6, the climbing can be very tough, with lung busting ascents and knee crushing descents. This was precisely what Dad was faced with on Yarlside. For the ascent there were three choices. Climb the facing 500ft of near vertical slope, second, cop out and return on the path below the fell, or third, try to find an easier ascent by descending to Bowderdale and climbing the ridge from there. Dad was desperate not to disappoint Little Eric, so option two was definitely out. Option three, although maybe easier, involved losing far too much height that then had to be reclimbed, so that left just option one.

"Right Lads, here we go", said Dad, putting his best foot forward.

The slope is extremely steep, pathless and difficult when dry, but with snow was very tricky, as ice was in places, concealed under it. So Dad just took his time, picking the route carefully to avoid the ice and risks of sliding back down, leaving a track of footprints in the virgin snow, as he had since the start of the walk. Stops were made to see which was the best way to go next and to rest his legs and catch his breath.

"Phew I can feel the strain on my calf muscles", sighed Dad as he climbed on upwards.

"I bet you will feel the effects tomorrow", replied Allen.

"Well never mind, the exercise will do me good and get me in training again for the Lake District climbs to come", Dad said.

The route was trending to the right. "This is no good Lads, as we will end up on the ridge, but too far down the slope towards Bowderdale. There is nothing for it but to head straight up no matter how steep it is."

"Oh Dad, I am sorry for dragging you up here again", said Little Eric.

"Don't worry Lad, I promised that you will complete these hills and that's what is going to happen", replied Dad.

So taking a deep breath Dad plodded on again and before too long the gradient was easing and the ridge was attained. To the right below was this fantastic view of the deep valley of Bowderdale, the fell above it to the left being West Fell. We have walked along this valley on the path that is intermittently discernible on the lower slopes of West Fell. That day we went on to summit The Calf (2218ft), the highest fell in the Howgills , before returning over Hazelgill Knott (1896ft) and West Fell (1778ft).

Turning left, there was just a short stroll on an easy gradient to the summit cairn, that again provided just enough shelter from the fierce wind for us to sit for our picture.

The views were breathtaking, and Dad snapped just a couple of shots, but then having got us settled in the rucksack, he urgently got his gloves on, such was the wind chill that was causing him to lose all feeling in his fingers.

Here looking west. Beyond the immediate foreground, the valley is the head of Bowderdale, with the ridge running left to The Calf, behind. The highest distant hill is Fell Head (2070ft), another lung busting climb, with to its left Bush Howe (2044ft). We liked the sky in this shot too.

Then looking east, to Wild Boar Fell (2324ft) & Swarth Fell (2235ft), with behind on the left the ridge on the opposite side of the Mallerstang Valley.

"Those are two of my outstanding tops", said Little Eric. "Uncle Eric has said he wants to accompany us when we climb them."

So all that remained was the descent of Yarlside. At first this was not too steep, to the subsidiary summit, from where there was a nice view back to the summit of the fell, bathed in sunshine. To the right the highest hill is Randy Gill Top, and below this Kensgriff, our first summit today.

Then the descent steepened, and Dad had to be careful to avoid any ice hiding under the snow. To the left Cautley Spout waterfall came into view falling in steps down the steep ravine, with the slopes above thickly covered in snow.

With no slackening of gradient the path continued down to reach Ben End and finally we were below the snow line. Across the valley was this superb view of the magnificent and rugged Cautley Crag.

Although the gradient eased somewhat there was still another 700ft of descent, and Dad's knees were all but giving out by the time the path to the bridge over the Rawthey, was gained. We really felt for him!

We were following Walk 21 in Wainwright's book of Walks on the Howgill Fells, and we would like to quote the final lines from his route description. 'Now descend the grass slope half-left in a beeline for (a) the Cross Keys seen far below, and (b) a super meal of ham, egg and chips'. Well, what could Dad do, but follow the instructions. It was well deserved too, after all the effort. The Cross Keys, the building full of character, seen here below, is famous for its ham and eggs. This picture was taken on a wet morning last July. Yarlside rises behind.

The meal was a huge plateful - 16oz gammon, two eggs, tomato, pineapple, chips and peas, washed down with a glass of Sarsaparilla. Superb. We would recommend anyone to have a meal here. While Dad was eating, we had our picnic in the car, sandwiches and cakes, with warming flasks of soup and tea.

As we drove home, Little Eric, said "thanks Dad from the bottom of my heart for allowing me to bag those summits and giving us a wonderful day out."

"Absolutely", the rest of us called out in unison.

Dad was running out of chutney and marmalade, and Aunt Tish also wanted two jars of ginger marmalade, so we returned via the Lune Valley so that Dad could call at Mr Williamson's in Barbon to stock up.

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