Sunday, 7 September 2014

Ullscarf & The Central Ridge

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Route: Stonethwaite, Eagle Crag, Sergeant's Crag, Long Crag, Greenup Edge, Ullscarf, Standing Crag, Long Moss, Watendlath Fell, Shivery Knott, Armboth Fell, High Tove, The Pewits, High Seat, Bleaberry Fell, Low Moss, Walla Crag, Rakefoot, Castlerigg Farm

Date: 07/09/2014
From: Stonethwaite

Parking: Stonethwaite
Start Point: Stonethwaite
Region: Central Fells

Route length: 13.6 miles (21.8 km)
Time taken: 06:01
Average speed: 2.3 mph
Ascent: 1,214m
Descent: 1,101m

Wainwrights on this walk: 
Eagle Crag (525m), Sergeant's Crag (571m), Ullscarf (726m), Armboth Fell (479m), High Tove (515m), High Seat (608m), Bleaberry Fell (590m), Walla Crag (379m)

Additional summits: Standing Crag (611m), Watendlath Fell (515m), Shivery Knott (491m)

Other points of interest: Langstrath

I have viewed Lakeland's central ridge with a lot of trepidation, given that all I'd read about it was that it was not for the faint hearted. Not because it contains precipitous falls or unnerving arĂȘtes, however. If you have an aversion to bogs, please look away now.

A vast ridge of high ground stretches northwards from High Raise (the most central of all fells) all the way to Keswick. Along this ridge lie a number of domed fell tops, most notably High Seat and Bleaberry Fell but also including the seemingly insignificant High Tove and Armboth Fell. The ridge forms the watershed between Thirlmere and Derwentwater and, subsequently, is the wettest place in the Lake District. The boggy, wet ground extends some 5 miles from the foot of Ullscarf to the respite of High Seat, culminating in The Pewits, perhaps one of the single worst places in the whole National Park for attempting to keep dry feet. As a result, I decided to embrace the wetness and set out wearing a pair of well draining trainers, rather than the traditional Goretex boot.

The plan for the day was to park a car in Stonethwaite and tackle the twin rock battlements of Eagle Crag and Sergeant's Crag before joining the central ridge at Greenup Edge. From there, after an ascent of Ullscarf, we'd walk the entire ridge to Walla Crag and to our well-appointed campsite at Castle Rigg. It's a long walk but one that successfully negotiates one of the least frequented areas of the park.
High Spy and Stonethwaite Beck
Langstrath Beck
The first order of the day was to follow the sketchy guide to climb the imposing (and seemingly impassible) face of Eagle Crag. After successfully managing to find correct starting point in the valley (always the most difficult part), a very steep pathless climb follows a broken wall through the bracken and heather to the footings of one of the many crags that guard the summit. It's a difficult climb to say the least and, to be quite frank, other than allowing us to find the broken wall in the first instance, the illustrations we were using as a guide were pretty sparse. Either way, after much debate and head scratching, we found ourselves alone on a grassy terrace, high above Borrowdale below.
The slopes of Eagle Crag
The broken wall we'd follow to the crag on the right
A look down to the valley far below
The slopes of Ullscarf - Eagle Crag is to the right
Stonethwaite looking towards Rosthwaite
Langstrath guarded by Bowfell and Esk Pike
After the initial climb along the wall and around the first crag, the going improves and a noticeable path leads to a series of small terraces and rakes that provide a more hospitable route to the summit. Though I've only written this short section, the climb took us nearly two hours, such was its challenge in both physical exertion and navigational know-how. That said, the majority of the climbing for the day was complete and Eagle Crag has a wonderful summit, crowned by a sharp rock outcrop that peers down to the valley below.
One of our heather-clad terraces looking towards Sergeant's Crag
Sergeant's Crag and Langstrath
Eagle Crag's summit
We sat for a while, discussing war stories with a couple who had found a different way to the summit and agreed that it was simply a case of following your intuition, rather than a series of sparse notes provided by someone else. After exchanging some pleasantries, we continued on for we had a very long distance to cover and were behind our proposed schedule. Fortunately for us, Sergeant's Crag stands a short distance away along a rising ridge.
The route to Sergeant's Crag from Eagle Crag
High Spy
A gradual climb to Sergeant's Crag
We passed by Sergeant's Crag fairly swiftly, opting to remain on the summit no longer than necessary. Sergeant's Crag is a twin of Eagle Crag, standing on one of High Raise's descending spurs. Its views extend up Langstrath to the beckoning slopes of Bowfell and Esk Pike. Continuing on, off path now, we made our way uphill to the top of Long Crag before using it to cross over to Greenup Edge, the pass between Grasmere and Borrowdale (though not named as such).
Eagle Crag from Sergeant's Crag
Sergeant's Crag summit
The path heading towards High Raise
High Raise - we crossed the top of the horizontal crag below the summit
The twin tops of Glaramara
Generally heading off-piste towards Long Crag
The view from Long Crag into the coombe of Greenup Gill
The view to Easedale from Greenup Edge, Fairfield dominates the skyline
From here, a slow, easy climb reaches the summit of Ullscarf, were we paused for a moment to try and witness a very unique event. The Lancaster bomber is probably as famous as it comes, and just as rare. Just two examples remain airworthy from over 7,000 that were built during the war; one owned by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and one owned by the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum. For the first time in over 50 years, the two planes have been brought together for a UK tour, during which a flypast over Windermere co-incided with our day out on Ullscarf. Unfortunately for us, we were just too far away to really seem them but we did glimpse them from afar, making their final turns over Grasmere and Rydal. Still, it was special to hear that unique sound reverberating around the fells.
The path up from Greenup Edge to Ullscarf
Ullscarf's summit cairn
A distant Fleetwith Pike
An even more distant Lancaster Bomber
The backs of Helvellyn, Nethermost Pike and Dollywaggon Pike
With the excitement of 1944 subsiding, we returned to the task at hand as we were close to entering the notorious section between Ullscarf and High Seat, a very long tramp through one ofthe wettest parts of the ridge. You really are almost dropped right into it as a steep fall off Standing Crag plunges you straight into the mire.
A small unamed tarn resides on Ullscarf
The route we'd be taking to High Seat follows the obvious fence
The imposing Standing Crag
What's it like? It is wet, extremely so. Thankfully, my trainers were doing thier job, letting the water in (so accepting wet feet) but actually letting it drain out again. I'm sure I would have enjoyed this experience much less had I been wading around in some leather boots. The benefit of having wet feet is that you aren't inclined to tip toe around the mildly wet bits, instead ploughing straight across them which holds a certain satisfaction. The larger ponds and bogs do require a bit of route finding in order not to get stuck for find yourself up to the knees in the stuff.
The fence we were following looking back to Ullscarf
The route ahead - High Tove (almost indistinguishable) and High Seat
Another shot of the bogs
We soldiered on, following the handy fence line towards High Tove. Prior to reaching the aforementioned fell, we detoured off, bound for Armboth Fell. I'd be damned if I'd come wading around up here and miss this one out.
Armboth Fell from the safety of the fence
Armboth Fell's rock crown
The summit looking towards Helvellyn
High Seat
Armboth is truly a disappointing fell, only visited by those with a tick list. The fell is named for the settlement of Armboth which stood on the shore of Thirlmere. When the level of the lake was raised to create the reservoir in the 1880s, the village was abandoned and submerged. I really doubt I'll return here again though may well be inclined to visit the precipitous Fisher Crag, an outcrop on Armboth's eastern slopes, as it overlooks the Thirlmere reservoir. It's a real wonder as to why Wainwright included Armboth Fell in his books. Perhaps it was a joke to all the future hillbaggers like us?
High Tove
High Tove's summit cairn
We cut back across to the main ridge, mistakenly crossing High Tove without realising, such is its relative insignificance. It is best seen from Watendlath where it's full profile can be seen, but on the ridge it appears nothing more than a small swelling with a cairn planted on top. The reason we overlooked it so spectacularly is that we had our sights set on High Seat, a fell that actually looks worthy of a climb, especially as it provides a respite from the bogs. Unfortunately, between us and it stood The Pewits.
The fence crossing The Pewits en route to High Seat
The Pewits contains the worst of the deep bogs and it provides a challenge, even to the already wet-of-foot. The fence does provide some aid in crossing the very deep bits, as does actually crossing to the other side of it. We passed Eddy Grave Stake, a curious post that seems unworthy of a mention on the map. Perhaps Eddy drowned? Seems reasonable enough.
The very worst of the bogs
More bog
And more
The result of our endeavours
Still more bog
The view back to High Tove and Ullscarf
Mercifully, as you start the climb up High Seat, the wetness starts to abate for the first time in a number of hours. Its a laborious climb, no doubt a result of the efforts required to cross the heather-clad bogginess of the Armboth / High Tove area. It's worth it though as High Seat, aside from being dry and firm underfoot, has an interesting summit, complete with trig pillar, and an excellent view as well. A rocky knoll, interestingly called Man, stands on the other side of the fence.
High Seat's summit pillar
Bleaberry Fell backed by Skiddaw
We left the comforting closeness of said fence, it had accompanied us along the entire route from Ullscarf; Bleaberry Fell was in now in our sights and marked the final substantial climb for the day. The surrounding areas began to take on a more civilised manner, with more cultivated paths being marked on the ground. For most people arriving from Keswick, Bleaberry Fell probably marks the extent of their adventure, the notorious bogs driving them back to the concreted streets below. To be honest, I don't really blame them.
The path from High Seat
Another interesting flypast - the Vulcan this time
Bleaberry Fell's large summit cairn
High Rigg
In fact, the summit is topped by a number of cairns and a large shelter, evidence that this is probably as far as most people get. It's a worthy spot though, a central position provides fines views in all directions, especially so at this time of day as the sun was beginning to set. From Bleaberry Fell, a well maintained path marches steeply down its face into a broad plateau of Low Moss below. We still had one final treat in store before we made it back to the campsite.
Low Moss and the Vale of Keswick beneath Skiddaw
Wind shelter on Bleaberry Fell
Following the path past some old buildings, it crosses Cat Gill to join the southern flanks of Walla Crag. The crag, really a terminus of Bleaberry Fell's northern ridge, is a 150m high wooded face on the shores of Derwentwater. Despite the woods, the highest prominence (still some 370m high) is clear of trees and provides an expansive vista across Keswick and Bassenthwaite, bathed in the late afternoon light. The fells of Skiddaw and Blencathra were looking particularly striking.
Blencathra basking in the afternoon light
Looking across Low Moss to Walla Crag
Skiddaw and Blencathra over Low Moss
Low Moss at the foot of Bleaberry Fell
Keswick and Skiddaw
Walla Crag summit
Moonrise over the fells
I was half tempted to remain on Walla Crag to watch the sunset but the call of the campsite and dry footwear was just too strong. For us, all the remained was an easy descent along a well-trodden route to Brockle Beck and a short march along a lane to the campsite.

And thus, this concluded our adventure. And an adventure it really was. It's easy to forget that the day started with a exhilarating climb of Eagle Crag, such was the long stretch between Ullscarf and Bleaberry Fell. Still, I wouldn't write this area off too quickly as it does hold it's own unique remote beauty. It's another classic example of the sheer variety of landscapes that can be found in the small confines of the park, this one in particular feeling wild and untamed. It's a walk for the enthusuiast, I'll admit that, but it does hold some great rewards. I'll just have to remember to pack my waders if I'm ever visiting again.