Sunday, 3 March 2013

Black Fell & Holme Fell

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Route: Glen Mary Bridge, Tarn Hows, Cumbria Way, Iron Keld, Black Fell, Arnside, Oxen Fell, Hodge Close, Holme Ground, Ivy Crag, Holme Fell, Uskdale Gap, Harry Guards Wood, Glen Mary Bridge

Date: 03/03/2013
From: Tarn Hows

Parking: Small National Trust car park at Glen Mary Bridge
Start Point: Tarn Hows
Region: Southern Fells

Route length: 6.7 miles (10.78 km)
Time taken: 03:16
Average speed: 2.0 mph
Ascent: 545m
Descent: 600m

Wainwrights on this walk:
Black Fell (323m), Holme Fell (317m)

Points of interest: Tarn Hows, Hodge Close

In a bit of change from the norm, walkers like myself are often required to be reminded that the Lake District isn't all about 2,000ft+ mountains and towering crags. No.

Great satisfaction can be gained from clambering up many of the smaller fells that encircle the highest land in the country. Two of these fells are afforded chapters in Wainwrights famous Guide to the Lakeland Fells; Black Fell and Holme Fell. In addition, we would walk around the delightful Tarn Hows, an artificially enlarged tarn now owned by the National Trust and the impressive Hodge Close, a favourite among climbers and cavers alike.

After monopolising the small car park just off the main, our gang made the short climb up the path adjacent to Lane Head Coppice to the foot of Tarn Hows, a climb that was enough to loosen any stiff joints from the previous days walking. From here, the path joins the Cumbria way as it skirts around the western edge of the The Tarns that are found at Tarn Hows. The Tarns, as named on the maps, were originally three small tarns called (with startling simplicity) Low Tarn, Middle Tarn and High Tarn. in 1862, James Marshall acquired the land containing the three tarns and embarked on an ambitious landscaping project that included expanding the woodland and building a small dam at the outlet of Low Tarn.

The damming of Low Tarn lead to the three tarns merging together to create the scene found today, and what a scene it is. Tarn Hows is a haven for everybody and anybody and is accessible to all thanks to several improvements made by the the current owners, the National Trust. The wonderfully still waters of The Tarns create perfect, mirror like reflections that are difficult to ignore, especially when viewed through the screen of a digital camera. Todays walk, you may have guessed, was not about distance or height but more about the beauty of the Lakes and appreciating the lower lying land that is often overlooked by most.
We arrive at Tarn Hows
The still waters of Tarn Hows
After savouring Tarn Hows as we continued along the Cumbria Way, the path turns off, up onto a bridleway and onto a small part of the Furness Fells, an undulating area of land to the north east of Coniston that fall in the Furness area of Cumbria, hence the name. The bridleway, known locally as 'the mountain road' links the hamlet of Knipe Fold to both the A593 and Little Langdale. A short climb further, the path takes another abrupt turn to continue up through Iron Keld towards the summit of Black Fell.
The mirror like qualities of Tarn Hows
The scenery is stunning, even in the very early spring
We depart Tarn Hows, bound for Black Fell
Ambitiously named Black Crag on the OS maps, the summit of Black Fell is owned by the National Trust and, despite its small stature, has tremendous views of Windermere to the east, Coniston Water to the south and Esthwaite Water sandwiched in between. Black Fell is also located at the far end of Little Langdale and has a surprising, almost uninterrupted view towards Bowfell at the head of Mickleden and the Langdale Pikes that guard the valley of Great Langdale. Belying its modest height, an impressive National Trust branded OS trig pillar marks the summit and a tall cairn marks the best viewpoint of Windermere a short distance to the south east.
The view towards Little Langdale
The path as it climbs to the summit of Black Fell
The graceful curve of Wetherlam
The trig pillar on the summit of Black Fell
A large cairn marks the viewpoint for Windermere
Tea break and snack stop completed, we left Black Fell to descend back down to the Cumbria Way before rounding the farm at High Arnside and reaching the A593. The busy main road was a startling contrast to the quiet tranquility of Tarn Hows and Black Fell. After dodging the traffic to dash across, we made our way along the lane up towards High Oxen Fell and eventually to Hodge Close.
Bowfell and Rossett Pass
The path descends among some impressive scenery
Holme Fell is now clearly visible
Hodge Close Quarry was one of many slate workings in the Tilberthwaite Valley, between Langdale and Coniston, worked until the early 1960s. It is a massive excavation, sheer-sided and, surprisingly, unfenced. The walls fall away to the original worked depth from ground level of about 100m though half of it is now flooded. As you may have guessed, sheer face is a favourite with abseilers, while, as you may not have guessed, the deep flooded quarry workings are popular with cave divers. The watery depths are also home to a submerged transit van, hard to imagine how or why it ended up in Hodge Close.
Hodge Close
Holme Fell across on of the disused quarry reservoirs
After tearing ourselves away from the awe inspiring sight of Hodge Close, Holme Fell was now the objective. The path continues past another disused quarry, this one firmly at ground level, before heading up towards a pair of abandoned reservoirs, built to power the old funicular railway that served Hodge Close. From here, the a pair of routes will guide you to the summit, two obvious rakes between the rocks both lead to more or less the same place. A subsidiary summit at Ivy Crag (one I climbed first by mistake) is marked by a tall cairn and overlooks the Uskdale Gap and Yew Tree Tarn, another waterbody artificially enlarged by James Marshall. The true summit lies to the south west and is marked by a rough cairn perched on top of a rocky outcrop.
The Langdale Pikes
The view from the summit of Holme Fell across Holme Ground to Lingmoor Fell
While smaller than Black Fell, Holme Fell feels more mountainous and has a steeper, rockier profile. Its isolated location offers fine views in all directions including the near entirety of Coniston Water, the Langdale Pikes and Wetherlam. The word Holme (or Holm in some instances) is thought to be word with old Norse roots, referring to a dry place in a marshy area. Its a surprise that all the fells in the Lake District aren't called 'Holme'.

Leaving the summit, we dropped down into Uskdale Gap, a depression that carries a small beck down into Yew Tree Tarn. Several large boulders mark the well trodden route down into Harry Guards Wood. Despite this though, we still managed to find ourselves on the wrong side of a fence surrounding a cow field. After backtracking and picking our way around the dozy bovine, we reached the A593 once again and made a return to the car park.
Leaving the summit, Uskdale Gap separates the summit from Ivy Crag
Uskdale Gap
Large boulders line the route
The path became a little indistinct
Holme Fell
It's always nice to find a walk in the Lake District that can be done if the weather forecast look a bit grim. I certainly need to build up my armoury of 'low level' walks so that I'm not left with a large number to do towards the end of my Wainwright quest. That's not to say that they are second best to the high level walks though, they are unique and interesting in their own right and this one in particular provides a variety of splendid scenery and some unexpected views of a number of Lakelands finest mountains. All that is in addition to the delightful Tarn Hows and a pair of easily accessible Wainwright fells. What's not to like?