EXPLORATIONS OF ESKDALE & ATTEMPTS ON PEN (2500ft)

 


Summary

Date - 27th October 2011 & 12th November 2011 Distance - 10 miles & 9 miles
Ascent -
1850ft & 1520ft
Map - OL6 Start point - Car park at foot of Hard Knott Pass (NY 214011)

 

Summits Achieved

No summits reached on these walks

 

Preface

"Just one summit to go now to complete the Birkett challenge", mused Tetley, tucking into one of the delicious triple chocolate cookies with his mug of tea.

"Mmm", replied Grizzly.

"It has been a long long journey, with miles upon miles of walks and goodness knows how many thousands of feet of ascent that Dad's poor legs and knees have had to contend with" sighed Shaun.

"Where's Allen?", said Little Eric. "He's such a tea belly, that it is not like him to miss a brew."

"He'll be along soon, as he can can smell it a mile off", replied Tetley, letting out a bellow of laughter.

Sure enough not more than a couple of minutes later, Allen came rushing in, worriedly calling out, "I'm not too late? There's still some tea left?"

"Yes", replied Shaun, handing him a steaming mug and offering the biscuits.

"Thanks pal", replied Allen gratefully accepting the mug. Then he went on, "I come bearing good news. Dad has spoken with Uncle Bob, who is staying in the Lakes at present, and they have arranged to walk on Thursday, and we are walking in Eskdale, with the hope of getting to the top of Pen and thereby completing the Birketts."

While he had been speaking Tetley had booted Dad's laptop and was looking closely at the weather forecast. It shows a lot of cloud and as we are to be amongst the highest mountains we will just have to see how we go on, as the ultimate objective is in an area we have not walked in before.

We were to remember Tetley's forebodings, on each of the two attempts to get to Pen. The Scafells and indeed Pen which is a lower acolyte, were each time covered in low cloud. The length of the days too played a part, with the long walk in and return, we really did not have enough daylight. Still Pen is going nowhere, and reaching its summit was to become the prime objective of 2012.

 

The Walk

Before we start, we should point out that the narrative and all but one of the pictures relate mainly to the first attempt in the company of Uncle Bob. In each the approach route was the same. Whilst in the first walk we made a circular route returning via Lingcove Bridge, the second time we just returned via our outwards route.

We had to be up early, especially for the second walk, when we set off at 06.00. That day we made the sandwiches the night before and put them in the fridge to keep fresh! The route was familiar as we have been this way many times.

As we drove along near Broughton, Shaun said, "the road works at the bottom of Birker Fell should be over, if the signs we saw last time were anything to go by."

However our hopes were dashed, as when we reached Duddon Bridge the road closed signs were still in place.

"Oh heck!", exclaimed Little Eric.

"Well, it can't be helped", replied Dad. "We will just take the roundabout route over Corney Fell and then along the Birkby Road to get to Eskdale.

Corney Fell was familiar to us, having walked from here in the past, but nevertheless it is narrow especially the last section down to the A595 at Waberthwaite. We had never been along the Birkby road, but had seen it signposted at the bottom of Birker Fell many times. This too is a very narrow and winding road, and there were quite a number of occasions that we were glad not to meet traffic coming the other way. We can quite definitely say that Dad will not be making this his regular route!

Soon we were driving along the road to Hard Knott Pass, passing the telephone box by the track to Brotherilkeld Farm, climbed the short distance to cross the cattle grid, and find the parking just beyond on the right by Jubilee Bridge, where we met Uncle Bob, giving him a cheery good morning. We waited patiently while they got ready, then settled ourselves comfortably in Dad's rucksack, starting down the road about 09.30. By the phone box we took the track that leads to Brotherilkeld Farm.

The footpath skirts the farmyard, and over a stile then goes on ahead up Eskdale towards Lingcove Bridge. "We need to go left very soon, crossing the River Esk by the footbridge and over the field to Taw House" called out Shaun.

Passing through the gate, we turned immediately right the path stretching away before us. As can be seen the cloud, or clag as Uncle Bob says, was down on the fells, a situation that was to persist all day.

The way led up over pasture and on to pass Scale Bridge, muddy at times after all the rain, we had had. Still unlike the south of England, our reservoirs were full, so we would not face any water restrictions next year. There is a path that then continues along the west side of Eskdale, but we turned up the zig zags climbing steeply the slopes of Brock Crag.

"That makes a lovely autumn scene encompassing the rushing Scale Gill, in spate today", cried Grizzly.

Once the the zig zags are climbed the rather desolate country stretches ahead. Rough featureless and perennially boggy moor, the path winding its way through undulating terrain, crossing at one point a stream by a narrow plank bridge.

We continued on and Grizzly, remarked, "this is the way we returned after that long day when we climbed amongst others Scar Lathing. Another was Silverybield, there over to the right and High Scarth that crag to the left ahead being its eastern extent."

"It covers a large area, and the summit is a long way up as we found out that day", added Allen.

Our beloved Herdwick sheep were all about wandering the fells at will, for much of the time left to their own devices. We call them the mountain goats of Lakeland. On the occasion of the second walk, Dad took this shot of them on these very crags.

The way climbed ahead, where Upper Eskdale would be revealed, but before this we paused to look back. Besides Silverybield, a line of crags, forms the eastern boundary of this desolate area, of which the only named one is Round Scar, nearest the camera.

Just minutes later as we walked along, some Herdwicks were browsing the grass. One kindly paused and posed for his picture. Dad could not get the camera out fast enough. What is he like!

Cresting the rise, the path then continued across the lower slopes of High Scarth, to finally reveal Upper Eskdale. A fine view opened up with to the right this group of fells.

Scar Lathing is to the right foreground, with Low Gait Crags rising behind and then higher beyond High Gait Crags. On our round in April that took in Scar Lathing, we additionally had to make a detour from our route to take in High Gate Crags as this was another of the Birkett tops to do. No paths and rather rough rocky terrain too, added considerably to the effort required, but thankfully Dad was up to the challenge.

Ahead could be seen the River Esk running down the valley, by the huge expanse of Great Moss, before turning left on its course down to Lingcove Bridge and beyond.

Lost in the low cloud to our left was Scafell and Scafell Pike, England's two highest mountains, and below the latter was our objective Pen, it too lost in the cloud.

"Where do we have to go now?", asked Little Eric, rather overawed by the scale of the landscape.

"To just beyond the furthest descending ridge we can see", replied Shaun, who was looking closely at the map.

"Ooh that seems a long long way", sighed Little Eric in reply.

It was too, the rough and extremely muddy path winding its way along the valley undulating up and down over the intervening ridges. Below Scafell reared the massive Cam Spout Crag, part seen here the top lost in the cloud.

Then beyond the crag, we had this terrific view of Cam Spout, tumbling down the fellside.

"That's got to be worth a picture", enthused Tetley.

"Sure is" replied both Dad and Uncle Bob, as they hauled their camera out of the bag.

Finally the last ridge was crossed and we arrived at the base of the ravine Little Narrowcove. We found the narrow trod that climbed above the south side to reach the easy gully. Yes, it is not a particularly difficult ascent but the rocks were very wet and slippery, making it today more dangerous and great care was necessary to reach the top and level ground. Here Uncle Bob makes the ascent.

Pen reared up to the left lost in the cloud, and checking the altitude on the GPS, there was a further 600ft of ascent to reach its summit. By now it was about 14.00 and both Dad and Uncle Bob felt that there was just not enough time to do it and get down and back in daylight. Uncle Bob left the decision to Dad, who without hesitation agreed that we should abandon the summit on safety grounds. It was disappointing but safety is paramount. It was the last top, in the challenge, but it will be there next year, and at least we will only have this one to do!!

Suddenly Dad spotted a small dog who initially appeared to be on his own, but then a group of walkers emerged from behind a rise. Three young women and one man.

"Where are we", the man asked.

Uncle Bob replied, "have you got a map, so I can show you."

"We haven't" he replied.

How absolutely foolish we thought. Both Uncle Bob and Dad are vastly experienced and know the Lake District extremely well, but they never ever set out without the relevant map. Further questioning revealed the group had ascended via the main path from Wasdale climbing to Scafell Pike. Here in the cloud they had got disorientated, and descended in completely the opposite direction. As they made to descend the gully we had just climbed, Uncle Bob told them it was far too dangerous, judging by their level of experience, and in any event, then in Eskdale they would be many miles from their car.

Up here it was cold and damp, and some of them were not properly clothed for the conditions. One poor girl was in tears, but despite this we finally convinced them to return the way they had come to Scafell Pike and then ask someone to direct them onto the correct path down to Wasdale. It was a classic example of inexperienced walkers getting into trouble in poor conditions. Both Dad and Uncle Bob worried about them for the rest of the walk and even days afterwards wondered if they had got safely off the mountain.

Seeing them on their way, Dad and Uncle Bob, returned down the gully taking extreme care and then at a convenient point crossed the River Esk, and turning right to walk along beside it. By a broken wall a stop was made for lunch.

Shrugging his rucksack off, Allen passed the sandwiches round and also poured us mugs of steaming hot tea. "I'm gasping for a drink", he said, taking a large mouthful.

Then we posed here for our picture. Well you did not think you were going to get away without us making an appearance.

On the walk out on the other side of the valley, we had passed some huge stones as large as houses. We could now see them and scrutinising the map, Shaun said, they are called Sampson's Stones.

Soon the path turned left following the course of the River Esk, and we passed below Scar Lathing and Throstlehow Crag, at the latter passing above where the river passes through a gorge.

Beyond, a steep descent followed down to Lingcove Bridge. It is at the confluence of Lingcove Beck and the River Esk, the bridge itself spanning the former. On its final rush to the Esk, is this waterfall.

And here too, is the pretty packhorse bridge.

From here, we then walked along Eskdale to Brotherilkeld and the start. At one point we suddenly noticed that our beloved Herdwicks were, coming down off the fell. We thought it might have been our pal Shaun, but then they were in front, padding along in a line. If you think that there is only a few, many more came down after Dad had taken this picture. Perhaps they gather at a lower level during the night?

Well finally tired and rather footsore the cars were reached. Dad changed, then we all said our goodbyes to Uncle Bob, and Dad drove us home. After a long and tiring day, we all slept very well that night. And finally thanks Uncle Bob for your company on the walk.

As we said at the beginning, about a fortnight later Dad made a second attempt, starting very early, due to the shortening days. However the cloud conditions were even worse this time, and when we got to the foot of Little Narrowcove, we could not even see the gully we knew we had to climb. The previous night had been very wet, so Dad knew that it would be very dangerous climbing that gully, and the fact that he was on his own, in the circumstances he made the right decision to once again abort the ascent. He has vowed that when we make the third attempt it will be on a day when there are clear blue skies and Pen will be clearly in view. It will be in the spring most probably, when Uncle Bob is once again staying in the Lakes, as he has said he wants to accompany us to this last summit. Thank you!!

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