Sunday, 18 May 2014

Green Crag, Harter Fell & Hard Knott

GPS Track
Date: 18/05/2014
From: Eskdale

Parking: Layby at side of road
Start Point: Brotherilkeld
Region: Southern Fells

Route length: 11.9 miles (19.15 km)
Time taken: 05:08
Average speed: 2.3mph
Ascent: 1,145m
Descent: 1,149m

Wainwrights on this walk:
Green Crag (489m), Harter Fell (654m), Hard Knott (549m)

Additional summits: Demming Crag (525m), Horsehow Crags (433m), Yew Bank (499m)

Other points of interest: Hardknott Roman Fort, Eskdale Needle, Lingcove Bridge

Route: Whahouse Bridge, Penny Hill Farm, Kepple Crag, Foxbield Moss, Green Crag, Long Crag, Harter Fell, Horsehow Crags, Peathill Crag, Hardknott Pass, Eskdale Needle, Hard Knott, Yew Bank, Lingcove Beck, Lingcove Bridge, Brotherilkeld

This walk may go down in history as the first walk that I've not particularly enjoyed, half of it at least. While camping near to Coniston, I had decided to walk the trio of fells that lie either side of the Hardknott Roman fort; a distant and remote Green Crag, the Eskdale variant of Harter Fell and the fell that lends it's name to the famously steep motor pass; Hard Knott.

I'd parked the car in a layby at the foot of the pass, at the end of the mountainous part Eskdale where I would end up finishing. A long walk through a number of fields is required to reach the necessary path that leads steeply underneath Kepple Crag and into an area known as Birker Fell. A quick change or route was enforced by a quite angry looking bull though actually ended up cutting a reasonable corner. Silver linings and all that.
Harter Fell from lane leading to Brotherilkeld

One of a number of ruined farm buildings
A farm track makes the steep climb up to Kepple Crag before petering out into nothingness leaving you and your map to fend for yourself. While I don't mind, being off-path, it is hard work at times, especially in the long grass and moist soils. Doubly so after tramping around the Coniston fells the day before. It's a real no-mans land in this area - one I had a few reservations about being alone in. Fortunately though, the enemy is water - not rock or crags, specifically water stored on the soils surface. Puddles and bogs to be precise.
The path reaches Kepple Crag
The Pike in the distance, hiding Green Crag for now
Green Crag
A pathless ascent
A marked right of way heads in the required direction though, as you can probably see from the map at the top, following it is easier said than done. Despite this, after rounding the craggy mass of Great Whinscale and The Pike, Green Crag looms into view. It's an impressive sight, a surprise almost given the docile nature of the plateau that surrounds it. Approaching from the southwest as I was doing, there are no paths so a series of steep, grassy climbs, one of an infinite number of routes, give way to the summit.
The desolate landscape beyond Green Crag
A fairly steep ascent
The dome of Green Crag that marks the summit
A cairn marks the summit - looking towards Harter Fell and Eskdale
The high Scafells lie only a few miles away
Its a quite unremarkable place - the views of Eskdale are a bit too distant to have any real impact and the view across to Harter Fell revealed only one thing - a huge pathless bog between me and it. The neighbouring summit of The Pike is quite impressive but not enough to offset the disappointment of Green Crag. Looking ahead, it was time for some old fashioned bog hopping.
The Pike sits below Green Crag
Harter Fell in the distance
A sort of path does lead of the summit to the north, heading for The Pike before turning and vaguely following the boundary marked on the map. It looked like all would not be as bad as I had anticipated until I had rounded Long Crag and entered the really wet section. The land is an elevated saddle, water draining the the northwest reaches Eskdale while water flowing southeast flows to Dunnerdale. The water that refuses to flow either direction sits there in a mile of flat, unpleasant marshes.
A look back to Green Crag
Entering the marshes at the foot of Harter Fell
It could have been much worse, a number of higher banks to allow for some reasonably dry, if not a little thorny, periods of walking. However where a channel cut across, separating a bank, there was nothing for it but a dash across in the hope that it wasn't too deep. A day up on Kinder Scout is ideal training for this sort of situation. Eventually, after repeating the odd, light-footed bog-crossing sprint several times, I reached the very edge of the great Dunnerdale Forest and, mercifully, a path sat on solid ground. Unfortunately, that path leads in only one direction; straight up the steep southern slopes of Harter Fell.
A fine erratic enroute to the summit
Green Crag and the dreadful bogs
The distant rolling Uplha Fells
It's a stiff climb by any account, made more unpleasant by that familiar seeping feeling you get when fabric boots start to let water in. I wasn't in the mood for hanging around and plodded up to the summit as fast as by legs would let me.
Straight up.....
Approaching the rock outcrops on the summit
Harter Fell is actually a very interesting mountain; from nearly all directions, particularly the direction of the Coniston Fells, it appears almost perfectly conical, with a pleasing symmetry on both sides. It also has an interesting summit, worthy of spending a few moments poking around. The true summit in located on top of a rock outcrop, requiring an easy scramble to reach the top. From here, the trig pillar is noticeably lower down but in an entirely more suitable position. It also gives you the chance to gaze upon the distant panorama of Eskdale, which we'll be seeing a bit later on.
The trig pillar and 'true' summit
The clouds over Eskdale
The Duddon Valley
Scafell and Scafell Pike
For now, it was approaching lunchtime and I had decided to seek a spot overlooking the Roman Fort. A path leads off the summit to the north, quickly descending to Demming Crag and Horsehow Crags; two of a number of outcrops that deceive anyone climbing this way into thinking they're near the summit. It was at Horsehow Crags, specifically Crowhow End where I paused for a bite to eat; just as the sun was starting to appear. Things were starting to look up a bit.
The descent towards Hard Knott
The Hardknott Roman Fort stands across the valley from Harter Fell, Horsehow Crags provides the perfect aerial platform to view its outlines. The dramatically-sited fort was founded under Hadrian's rule in the 2nd century. The remains include the headquarters building, commandant's house and bath house. Its chosen location was a result of the need to command Eskdale and to defend the Roman road to Ravenglass. I wonder what the Roman soliders, the Fourth Cohort of Dalmatians from the Balakans, made of Eskdale?
The Hardknott Roman Fort
Slight Side and Scafell
Hard Knott
A motorist makes the tricky crossing of the Hardknott pass
With spirits lifted (as food normally does) and boots a little dryer thanks to the afternoon sun, I forged on, down to the summit of the famous Hardknott pass, the steep and winding road that connects Eskdale to the more populous central Lake District. The summit of Hard Knott stands a few hundred metres above and beyond the road, an easy summit to achieve for most. However, my eyes were set on a slightly different target.
The crags of Border End, Hard Knott's subsidiary top
The Hardknott pass
The boggy plateau on Hard Knott
Standing proud over Eskdale on the north-western face of Hard Knott is the Eskdale Needle; a sublime finger of rock that has all the drama of Napes Needle but is infinitely more accessible. You can reach it by following a contour from the plateau that lies between Border End (one of Hard Knott's subsidiary peaks) and the summit itself. It's a marvel of nature, one that nearly everyone can get up close to, as I did, reaching is base and passing between the spire and its adjoining rock face. A more benign version of 'threading the needle'. Following that, a pathless, grassy climb reaches the small cairn on the summit.
The Eskdale Needle
The Eskdale Needle from the base
The Eskdale Needle from the other side now
The slopes of Hard Knott
A stunning vista is revealed to the north; all of the high fells surrounding Eskdale including the highest ridge in the country. From the summit, a long ridge descends northwards making for an easy stroll down to Yew Bank, another subsidiary top that, given it's a few hundred metres closer, gives an even better view of Eskdale. This was certainly making up for the miserable morning spent tramping between Green Crag and Harter Fell.
The summit of Hard Knott and its view of Eskdale
The highest land in the country is stretched out ahead of you
A cairn marks the top of  Yew Bank
A further panorama of Eskdale
The full scale of Bowfell
The final section of the walk remained simple; return to the car. Following a pathless descent off Hard Knott, a long footpath guides you back down Eskdale, passing the old packhorse crossing of Lingcove Bridge on the way. I've read that apparently Tenzing Norgay lost his teeth in a pool around here but can't actually find an information on whether he even had false teeth or not.
Lingcove Beck
The long valley of the River Esk

Lingcove Beck as it enters a series of waterfalls
The lowest fall is impressive
Lingcove Bridge
Pushing on, the footpath continues alongside the beck as it disappears into an exciting series of ravines and gorges, one of which spills out into an impressive waterfall. By now, the sheltered valley had become a bit of a heat trap and there were a few people around enjoying the pleasures of the water. High on the horizon appeared the Eskdale Needle, plainly obvious from the valley below. From this vantage point it looks an incredibly long way away.
Eskdale and Great Gill Head Crag
The Eskdale Needle from the valley floor
A view back towards Bowfell
Bluebells in Brotherilkeld
Macro settings
The intimidating sign at the foot of the pass
The path continues on still, beneath Yew Crags and, finally, into the valley at Brotherilkeld at the foot of the Hardknott Pass. It had been a long day, the morning had been not the best few hours walking but I think that Hard Knott and its views of Eskdale made up for the dullness of Green Crag and its surrounding marshes. Maybe for the first time I'll say it's unlikely that I'll be revisiting that one. Hard Knott and Harter Fell though, they are worth another look.