Monday, 26 May 2014

Silver How & Loughrigg Fell

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Route: Chapel Stile, Meg's Gill, Robin Gill, Lang How, Brigstone Moss, Silver How, Wray Gill, Grasmere, Town End, Dove Cottage, Corpse Road, Rydal Mount, Rydal, Steps End, Rydal Cave, Scartufts, Loughrigg Fell, Loughrigg Tarn, Tarn Foot, Little Loughrigg, Skelwith Bridge, Cumbria Way, Skelwith Force, Elterwater, Chapel Stile

Date: 26/05/2014
From: Chapel Stile

Parking: Side of road
Start Point: Chapel Stile
Region: Central Fells

Route length: 12.0 miles (19.31km)
Time taken: 05:18
Average speed: 2.3mph
Ascent: 1,188m
Descent: 1,188m

Wainwrights on this walk:
Silver How (395m), Loughrigg Fell (335m)

Additional summits: Lang How (414m)

Other points of interest: Rydal Cave, Skelwith Force

Separating Great Langdale from Grasmere is a large area of interesting fell, with no real discernible characteristics. Ultimately, this land rises up to High Raise, perhaps the single most central point of the National Park. The area contains much of its parents' features; undulating, grassy fell side lacking in any real drama or difficulty. That said, the ridge falls over the secondary summit of Blea Rigg before reaching Silver How, an abrupt termination towering above Grasmere. Though not even the high point of the ridge it belongs to, it provides a grandstand view of Grasmere and Rydal and the neighbouring Loughrigg Fell, another small but hugely popular hill.

Our route would cross both of these fells in a circuit from Chapel Stile to Grasmere and back which included a decadent stop for lunch. It's not often you get a warm butty while you're out tramping the Lakeland fells. It would also avoid most of the inevitable Bank Holiday crowds who are inordinately drawn to the higher, more famous peaks. These small fells though, nestled in between and underneath their loftier brothers, do have the benefit of hosting spectacular views without the effort of a long, weary climb.

After leaving the car on the road in Chapel Stile, the small village that guards the entrance to Great Langdale, we quickly made our way to the church where, a short distance beyond, a path starts a steep climb up out of the valley. It's an interesting little climb, part stepped path, part scramble. It was going to be an entertaining morning above Grasmere.
Entering Chapel Stile
The path leads from the road to the gate and beyond
Looking along the end of Great Langdale past Raven Crag
Once the path begins to become slightly less steep, it veers towards the edge of a deep valley containing Megs Gill, flanked by the spur of Raven Crag, before continuing its march towards the plateau. It would be Megs Gill that we would use to reach the top of the slope as it flattens out and becomes Brigstone Moss, a large marshy area that is the birthplace of streams that feed both the River Brathay and Grasmere. There comes a point where a decision on which path to take has to be made, though ultimately they all generally lead to the same place - nowhere.
Megs Gill
Black Fell in the distance
The plateau is a generally featureless affair, a couple of outcrops break from the surface to form some inviting climbs but other than that, it remains an undulating, grassy no man's land. As I mentioned, we used Megs Gill to reach it, an entertaining scramble up a mostly dry, rock-filled gully. It's not marked as a route on the map but it's very straightforward and certainly beats a path any day. A delicately balanced tree marks the top of the steeper section before the rocks abate and grass starts to take over.
The foot of the scramble in Megs Gill
The gill provides an interesting route up
Inside Megs Gill
Sara bypasses the tree at the top of Megs Gill
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Looking out of Megs Gill into Great Langdale
A final fall to negotiate
One of a number of outcrops on the plateau
We were teased by the prospect of a glorious view up Great Langdale so we made our way over to edge of the plateau. It is a splendid vantage point, though the dark clouds did their best to hide any detail, casting a deep gloom over the towering Langdale Pikes.
Lingmoor Fell and Great Langdale
A moody Langdale Pikes
Lang How provided an irresistible little peak to climb, it is the high point of this fell after all. It's easy to see why it has been ignored, particularly by Wainwright; it sits in the middle of the vast green ocean of grass that shrouds any real views all directions. The lower, but more impressive, summit of Silver How sits a short distance to the south-east.
Lang How above a small, unnamed tarn
Atop Lang How
Silver How forms an abrupt end to the majority of Blea Rigg's eastern ridge (a narrower finger crosses Red bank in a more stately, well-behaved manner on its way to the valley floor). While not the highest point of the eastern ridge, Silver How presents the best view, the kilometre-long crag looks directly at Grasmere and Rydal Water beyond. After a few photos which confirmed the alarming fact my camera battery hadn't charged very well, we headed north, crossing Wray Gill and descending through the dry stone walls into the village of Grasmere.
Helm Crag and Seat Sandal remain cloud free
The Langdale Pikes remain looking moody
The view of Grasmere from Silver How
Silver How summit
Grasmere and Rydal Water
Crossing Wray Gill
Helm Crag
Helm Crag and Steel Fell as the cloud starts to lift
It was here that we paused for some dinner, not the usual hastily arranged sandwich that a lunch stop usually consists of but a hearty, over-filled sausage sandwich from one from one of the local shops. It really hit the spot. By now, much of the cloud had started to disappear and it was shaping up to be a wonderful afternoon, the perfect opportunity to survey the scenery from Loughrigg Fell, once we'd reached it of course.

Leaving Grasmere, we passed Dove Cottage, home to William Wordsworth for 8 years and location where he wrote many of his more famous pieces. We also passed the pleasant cottage we used for a week-long holiday a year or so ago. It's the perfect base for walking around the Grasmere area, you can start the Fairfield horseshoe from the front door. You can read about that day out here. Beyond the cottage is the corpse road, an ancient route where coffins were carried from Ambleside to be buried in Grasmere. There is even a large stone, some call it 'the coffin stone' or 'the resting stone' that was used by the pallbearers if they needed a stop.
The resting stone
The corpse road, as its name suggests, is generally a wide undulating track, easy to follow though lacking in any real interest. Trees and dry stone walls often hide the best of the views though there are a few tantalising glimpses down to Rydal Water and across to Loughrigg Fell. The path eventually reaches Rydal Mount (Wordsworth's home from 1813 until he died in 1850) and the busy main road between Ambleside and Grasmere, it's quite a challenge to cross thanks to a series of bends that hide any oncoming traffic. Once successfully negotiated, a small footbridge crosses the infant River Rothay to the lower slopes of Loughrigg Fell at the moss covered tree roots at Steps End.
Sara on the corpse road
The footbridge crossing the River Rothay
Rydal Water from the slopes of Loughrigg Fell
Throngs of people were out in force by now, it's great to see so many people enjoying the great outdoors, especially those with younger children. Loughrigg Fell provides the ideal opportunity for parents to take the first tentative steps into rearing a brood of new mountaineers. I used to hate walking. How times have changed. Being careful not to take the path to Loughrigg Terrace, we found our way to the vast and imposing Rydal Cave. Though not strictly a cave (it was formerly a slate quarry), the opening forms a dramatic mini amphitheatre, much of which is now flooded by a stagnant pool, which teems with small fish and insect life.
Rydal Cave
High Pike and Low Pike on the Fairfield Horseshoe
From Rydal Cave, a path leads directly up the hillside, climbing around 100m to the interesting lap of Loughrigg Fell. There are a huge number of paths (some faint, some distinct) that criss-cross the fell. The paths lead from the small villages that surround and are popular with a wide demographic. Much like Latrigg and Rannerdale Knotts, a short climb is rewarded by extensive views. We reached the summit by climbing a steep path alongside a small, dry stream and were pleased to see that the trig point wasn't too busy when we arrived. A vast panorama is revealed that stretches from Windermere to the Coniston fells and on to Langdale and Grasmere. I'm sure you'll agree that it is excellent and a worthy place for another short break.
The interesting slopes of Loughrigg Fell
The final climb up to the summit
The trig pillar atop Loughrigg Fell
How many fells can you spot?
The pass of Dunmail
The Langdale Pikes
Elter Water
To take us back to Chapel Stile, a built path falls steeply down the southwestern side to Loughrigg Tarn, a favourite of the aforementioned Wordsworth. We continued along the path to Tarn Foot before a short road section past Little Loughrigg to Skelwith Bridge. Our intention was to follow the Cumbria Way past Skelwith Force and on to Chapel Stile along the River Brathay.
Leaving Loughrigg Fell
The path heads towards Loughrigg Tarn and Tarn Foot
Loughrigg Tarn
Skelwith Bridge
Skelwith Force is, apparently, one of the smaller falls in the Lakes and one of the least frequented. I find this hard to believe given its proximity to a well marked, accessible footpath. Despite this, we shared our moment gazing at its cascading waters with few other people, who seemed determined to stand in front of my camera at every opportunity. You can get really up close and personal with this one and I've heard it's particularly dramatic after a spell of heavy rain.
Looking down Skelwith Force
Skelwith Force
Skelwith Force
Beyond the fury of Skelwith Force lies the graceful bends of Great Langdale Beck, prior to its consumption by Elter Water. The water was as still as a mill pond providing a nice foreground for the immense Langdale Pikes beyond. The sun was shining and it was an all-round agreeable stroll along its banks until you reach the village of Elterwater which, in turn, joins Chapel Stile.
The Cumbria Way heads towards Great Langdale
Reflections in the River Brathay
Harrison Stickle dominates the skyline
This is a great walk, made all the more enjoyable thanks to our excursion through Grasmere and a hearty bite to eat. Silver How, while an easy fell to access, has great views of the valley below and impressive views of the famous Langdale Pikes in the opposite direction. I'd also heard a great deal about Loughrigg Fell and I wasn't disappointed. The views are truly excellent for such a small fell, well worth another visit on a lazy summer afternoon. After such a tempestuous winter, it seems that the summer has well and truly arrive in the Lake District and long may it continue.