Saturday, 1 February 2014

Barf, Lord's Seat & Broom Fell

GPS Track
Date: 01/02/2014
From: Powter How

Parking: Layby at side of road
Start Point: Powter How
Region: North Western Fells

Route length: 4.8miles (7.7km)
Time taken: 02:37
Average speed: 1.8mph
Ascent: 593m
Descent: 617m

Wainwrights on this walk:
Barf (468m), Lord's Seat (552m), Broom Fell (511m)

Additional summits: None

Other points of interest: The Clerk, The Bishop

Route: The Clerk, The Bishop, Barf, Lord's Seat, Broom Fell, Aiken, Beckstones Gill, Beckstones

Windspeed 90mph.

Gusting 120mph.

Walking torturous.

These are just a few of the words that I should have read and decided that today was not a fell day. Today was a gear shopping day in Ambleside. Or a day to simple accept defeat and head home. But that would be cowardly. I've heard many people say that if we decided to go out only when the weather was nice, we'd never go out, such is the fickleness of our island's weather. That said though, the forecast did make for an easy decision to abandon the Coniston Fells and head to areas un-explored, the Lord's Seat group.

Chosen primarily because the fells lie underneath 600m, the Lord's Seat group; including Barf, Lord's Seat, Broom Fell, Graystones and Whinlatter, seemed like an ideal choice for a pretty miserable day. I'd also wanted to climb Barf for a while and investigate the Bishop on its slopes but more about that a little bit later.

After bidding farewell to the YHA in Coniston, we made the trip north to the shores of Bassenthwaite, almost to the location of my previous days endeavours. Dodd definitely looked less wintry today, but no chances were to be taken given the forecast. The axe and crampons were coming with me this time.

There's plenty of space for 4 or 5 cars in a large layby at the foot of Barf, that's where we ended up leaving ours. Though tempting, the even bigger parking area on the other side of the road seems to be privately owned by the Swan Hotel so we avoided it, just to be safe. Now, the decision on how to tackle Barf. Two options are presented, a longer, steadier climb up through the woods alongside Beckstone Gill or an all-or nothing tramp straight up the scree. Wainwright seemed particularly tenacious in making Barf as an impressive sounding a fell as possible; 'no fell small or large presents such an aggressive profile'. His words, not mine. And straight up that profile we were heading.
The profile of Barf through the trees
The Clerk, now donning a white coat of paint
Passing the Clerk (now painted a splendid white, contrary to Wainwright's writings), the objective of The Bishop seems an awfully long way away up a steep, slippery scree slope. It's a tough climb, no doubt about it but you do gain a lot of height in a very short distance. Glancing back, the road and pub suddenly seem very distant below. After a number of minutes of plodding, pausing and repeating, we reached the aforementioned Bishop of Barf.
The Bishop stands away up the steep scree slope
Dodd across the end of Bassenthwaite
Looking towards Keswick and the Eastern Fells
The Bishop of Barf
The Bishop, a huge white-painted boulder, supposedly marks the spot where, in 1783, the Bishop of Derry and his horse were killed after drunkenly claiming to be able to ride to the summit. It is also claimed that the Clerk (the unassuming gentleman at the foot of the hill), marks the vague location where the Bishop is buried.

After pausing for a much needed breather at the Bishop, we ploughed steadily on, climbing up towards the seemingly insurmountable Slape Crag. As the weather men and women had suggested, the wind was starting to pick up, though we were reasonably sheltered from it by the mass of Whinlatter. It had also started to sleet making everything that bit more slippery and perhaps perilous, especially the short, exposed scramble that's required to breach Slape Crag.
The Bishop looks over the valley of Beckstones Gill
Looking towards the Eastern Fells
The climb is still very steep towards Slape Crag
A short, awkward scramble is required to climb over the rocks
Slape Crag aside, the difficulties in climbing Barf are not over as the path splits, heading off in opposing directions. We chose to head to the left, contouring around towards the head of the valley before making a heather laden dash up the slope to meet the main path from Beckstones that leads directly to the summit.
Maybe the weather forecast wouldn't turn out too bad? Sunshine over Coledale
The wooded Whinlatter
The path follows a contour towards the head of Beckstones Gill....
...before disappearing
After a trudge up the bracken we found the main path. And the bad weather
The path leads to the summit
It was at the summit of Barf we started to feel the full force of the wind, giving us a good battering for the brief moment we were on the summit. At this point, mid-morning, the wind speed still felt manageable so we decided to plough on towards Lord's Seat and Broom Fell. Given that the two are connected by a great sloping ridge, it was always this section that I thought the weather would pose us the most problems.

Back to Barf though, the summit is capped by little more than an outcrop of rock, reminiscent of Gridesdale Pike. I'm sure I could probably fool even the most eagle eyed Lake District veterans by putting that picture up instead of the one belonging to Barf. I can assure you though that the picture below is definitely Barf and is certainly mine. The photo would nearly spell the end of the photography for day as you'll see in a moment. View-wise, nothing for us today but Skiddaw provides the focal point on a fine day.
Barf's summit outcrop
Lord's Seat stands just 1 short kilometre from Barf, across an undulating ridge though strictly speaking, Barf is an outlier to Lord's Seat. Approaching the summit, the wind was noticeably strengthening and walking was, as predicted by the MWIS, becoming extremely difficult. So much so that I decided to put my crampons on to get more purchase on the increasingly icy approaches.
The undulating path towards Lord's Seat
The snow was falling quite readily now
Lord's Seat emerges from the gloom
A view back to Barf
Lord's Seat lies at the very heart of the fells that its name is associated with. A number of ridges branch off in all directions; some crossing other, known fells and some ending at small, subsidiary features like Aiken and Ullister Hill. We didn't have much time on the summit, the wind making just standing still a severe chore so, after a quick picture, we dropped down to a slightly more sheltered location to consider our options.
The post atop Lord's Seat
We decided we'd try for Broom Fell, the penultimate fell on the ridge and see how we'd get on en-route. Visibility was still reasonably good (as in, we could see our objective) but the wind and sleet made for a very slow, tiring slog along the ridge top head first into the wind. We were pretty knackered by the time we reached Broom Fell and barely (an I really mean barely) made it to the summit, such was the strength of the wind. We decided enough was enough. The wind had had the better of us.
Broom Fell presented the next objective
Looking back towards Lord's Seat
Fighting the wind on the ridge
Broom Fell
Broom Fell is topped by a large cairn, made from the detritus of a nearby drystone wall that seems to contain nothing (as ends on the summit, unattached to anything else). We didn't make it as far as the cairn though, hence why I have no photos of it. Interestingly though, looking at the map, we did reach the very summit of the fell, a small ring contour with an elevation of 511m to the south east of the cairns location. That would do for me for now, considering the struggle we had endured to get there in the first place.

Unfortunately, there's not handy escape route from our location, we'd have to retrace our steps to the slopes of Lord's Seat and then drop back to the car via Beckstones Gill. That meant a further half hour battle with the wind. Never have I felt so exhausted while covering so little distance. It took the best part of half an hour to get to the fence to the south of Lord's Seat and finally, into something resembling a bit of shelter and a chance to catch our breath.
The ridge leading back to Lord's Seat
Barf and the edge of  Whinlatter Forest
From our location, there were no real marked paths that would carry us back to the car so we used the abrupt line of trees of Whinlatter Forest to keep us going in the right direction. The enemy was no longer the wind now but tussocky grass that made walking that more difficult than I wanted it to be. By now, the wind driven sleet had turned to rain. Very heavy rain at that. Fortunately, approaching the head head of Beckstones Gill, the shelter from the trees would afford us some protection from the elements for our final downhill section.
A very soggy forest path
Despite being the more sensible route up the Lord's Seat group from Bassenthwaite (compared to our slog up the face of Barf), the path descending is still very steep and would probably still be pretty hard work for anyone ascending it. The rain made everything that little bit trickier as well, loosening the already slippery rocks. After what seemed like all afternoon, we'd made it back to our starting point.

This walk was exhausting despite covering less than 5 miles. It just goes to show how difficult conditions can be in the winter, even on the lower fells. I'm glad we didn't attempt a trip up into Coniston, that would have been foolhardy and downright dangerous. It's been a difficult few weeks to get any decent walking in, thanks to the turbulent weather we've been receiving. I normally like the winter months but in this case, roll on Spring.