Friday, 3 April 2015

Grey Crag, Tarn Crag, Branstree & Selside Pike

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Route: Sadgill, Easy Gully, Great Howe, Sleddale Fell, Grey Crag, Greycrag Tarn, Tarn Crag, Selside Brow, Branstree, Artle Crag, Swirle Crag, Captain Whelter Bog, Selside Pike, Hobgrumble Gill, Nabs Moor, Ash Knott, Mosedale, Brownhowe Bottom, Cleft Ghyll, Longsleddale, Sadgill

Date: 03/04/2015
From: Sadgill

Parking: Sadgill
Start Point: Sadgill
Region: Far Eastern Fells

Route length: 11.3 miles (18.1 km)
Time taken: 05:16
Average speed: 2.1 mph
Ascent: 1,033m
Descent: 1,042m

Wainwrights on this walk:
Grey Crag (Sleddale) (638m), Tarn Crag (Sleddale) (664m), Branstree (713m), Selside Pike (655m)

Other Summits: Great Howe (494m)

Other points of interest: Survey column, Mosedale, Mosedale Cottage

The weather certainly seems to be taking its revenge of late - pristine weekdays have given way to dreary, wet weekends. I think it may be a punishment for have some splendid days out during winter; Ingleborough and Bowfell to name but a few. It's winter when the weather is supposed to be at its worst and we were well into Spring by now. Still, I've said it many times - if we only went out when the weather was nice, we'd remain destined to stay indoors.

This week, it was the turn of the Far Eastern fells again, a relative million miles away from Lank Rigg where I was walking previously. That said, the surrounding rolling hills and rain-laden clouds made for an all-round familiar experience. These fells; Grey Crag, Tarn Crag, Branstree and Selside Pike were the final four peaks to climb from the Far Eastern Fells book so I was looking forward to the day, despite the gloomy forecast.

To save time, I decided to park at the end of Long Sleddale, rather than driving around to Swindale which is an extra half an hours drive away. The route was always dependant on the weather as there any many places to add too it or call time early. The main aim was to climb the four aforementioned peaks. Get those and I'd be happy.

We began from Sadgill, a farm at the end of the long road through Long Sleddale. There's room enough for a few cars but little in the way of alternatives if it's full. No such problem today. The clouds were low and it was raining on and off as we started, making our way through a gate onto the open fellside, aiming for the Easy Gully that climbs up to Great Howe. I had started the walk with the waterproof off, confident that the light rain wouldn't cause too many problems, especially during the initial climb. This didn't last long however, the rain becoming heavy enough to make the decision for me.
Low clouds linger over Longsleddale
The route head up the hillside to the first rock outcrop
Looking up Longsleddale
Looking down to Sadgill
The path passes up through Easy Gully to the summit of Great Howe, a small spur on the slopes of Grey Crag. After passing, the steepness of the path abates and it's a pleasant route up to the first peak of the day; Grey Crag, following a distinct path all of the way. There are two Grey Crags in the Lake District (though one is spelt 'Gray'), this one often being referred to as Grey Crag (Sleddale) just to be sure.
Looking up Easy Gully
Looking down into the mist from Easy Gully
Heading towards Grey Crag
The summit of Grey Crag
We paused for a moment before continuing on toward the oddly named Greycrag Tarn. Why odd? There's no tarn actually marked on the map, though there may as well have been. Following the safety of the fence down into the depression, we encountered the most horrendous bog. One of the worst I've come across in the Lakes. It was seriously wet and we were lucky to get past it without a significant detour. In fact, we sought salvation by climbing over the fence to the other side which was noticeably drier (relatively speaking!). It transpires that Greycrag Tarn was indeed a tarn which has since dried up. I the weather keeps this it, it may well make a return.
All seems easy enough between Grey Crag and Tarn Crag before....
....encountering the terrible bogs
We continued along the fence, swapping sides as necessary and made the gentle climb up towards Tarn Crag, eager to escape the clutches of the boggy ground. It wasn't long before we reached the summit which stands a little to the west of the fence. Once again, we paused momentarily on the summit, this time to to swap war stories with another passing group - the usual quips of 'lovely day' and 'I wouldn't be anywhere else'. Despite this, my interest in this fell was always captivated by the looming presence a few metres from the summit.
Summit of Tarn Crag
Standing tall is an odd construction, a rectangular column with a cleft built into the top, resembling a chimney or the column supposed to support a substantial bridge. What it actually is is an old survey pillar, dating back to the 1930s when the Haweswater valley was dammed to create the reservoir we see today. The controversial construction began in 1929, raising the water level of the natural Haweswater lake by nearly 30m and flooding the villages of  Mardale Green and Measland, said to be really beauty spots in the quiet valley. The reason behind this was to provide a source of public water for Manchester and the lake now provides around 25% of the North West's water. The survey column was used to sight the location of the aqueduct that would, and still does, carry the water to Manchester.
The survey column
A close up of the survey column - a wooden frame surrounded the cleft which has now since rotted away
The survey column with me for scale
Looking like something from Lord of the Rings
The weather began to ease slightly as we began the descent to the col that separates Tarn Crag from Branstree, enough to warrant stopping for lunch before the climb up Branstree. This pause gave the weather ample time to deteriorate again and it was raining steadily by the time we began the long, grassy climb to the summit of Branstree.
Descending to the head of Mosedale
The clouds momentarily begin to break up
Looking back towards Tarn Crag
Tarn Crag just before the rain arrived again
The summit of Brasntree
OS benchmark
There is little to see from the summit of Branstree, even on a fine day, so we weren't really missing much. This is due to the broadness of the summit area, limiting the views in all directions. Today was not a fine day so we passed the summit by fairly quickly, following the path north east to Artle Crag where a fine pair of cairns mark the way.
Cairn on Artle Crag
The path here follows the fence above Swirle Crag to Captain Whelter Bog which is assumed to be named after Capt. Whelter who, in 1366, led a band of Kendal Archers as they successfully ambushed a party of Scots at Castle Cragg, burying them nearby. His name is also attributed to the nearby Whelter Crag and Whelter Beck, both parts of High Raise on the opposite side of the reservoir. Despite the prominent name, the bog is fairly easy to negotiate, certainly nothing in comparison to Greycrag Tarn.
Captain Whelter Bog
Bound for Selside Pike
Ahead is Selside Pike, the final significant peak before the ridge peters out into Swindale Common. Had this been a clear day we would have been rewarded with views of High Street and the magnificent ridges that lead up from Haweswater to the summit. While I was sat in the shelter lamenting this fact, the clouds cleared for a brief moment offering a tantalising glimpse of Riggindale and the reservoir. I suppose it was the best I could ask for.

The summit of Selside Pike
A glimpse of Haweswater and Riggindale
Clouds swirl along the top of Branstree
There are a couple of options for our return leg back to Longsleddale; a descent to Haweswater and a climb over the Gatesgarth Pass or a long walk up the lonely valley of Mosedale. We chose the latter, put off by a steep climb at the end of the day and proceeded off Selside by following the line of fence posts that would lead us to Mosedale.
A line of fences lead to way off Selside Pike
Once the bed of an upland tarn
With the weather improving we reached the footings of Selside, crossing the entertainingly named Hobgrumble Gill which drains parts of the Captain Whelter Bog we had passed earlier in the day. A short climb over Nabs Moor provides a brief glimpse of Swindale and access to the lonely hanging valley of Mosedale.
Swindale catches the sun
Glistening crags below Captain Whelter Bog
Hobgrumble Gill
A look back to Selside Pike
The lonely valley of Mosedale
A long path stretches the length of Mosedale, a bridleway that joins Swindale to the Gatesgarth Pass and Longsleddale. It's a quiet, deserted place, where you are almost guaranteed to see nobody else, even on the sunniest of Bank Holidays. There is a source of refuge though for weary walkers however, Mosedale Cottage, an old shepherds hut which is now a bothy, owned by the Mountain Bothies Association and open to all.
The splendid Brunt Tongue
The entrance to Mosedale Cottage
Mosedale once again
Kentmere Pike pokes it head over the horizon
The way along Mosedale was extremely wet and caused considerable problems in trying to keep our footing. Eventually we reached the col between Tarn Crag and Branstree, the one we had crossed a few hours earlier. This time, we dropped to the head of Longsleddale and met the reassuringly solid bridleway over the Gatesgarth Pass. The rain had been on and off all afternoon but finally it subsided for good as we made our way down into Longsleddale.
Kentmere Pike
Steel Rigg descending from Kentmere Pike
Steel Pike
Waterfalls on Wren Gill
Steel Pike
The Gatesgarth Pass and Goat Scar
The head of the valley in encircled by some impressive crags, a real treat after a tramp up the featureless Mosedale. Kentmere Pike and Goat Scar look particularly impressive. It's a further mile back to Sadgill to reach the car, a touch mile after a fairly tough day out. A number of minutes later we did reach the car having met a grand total of two people on our day out around the Far Eastern Fells - partly due to the weather of course, but partly due to unpopularity of this area where the Pennines meet the Lake District. While some of these fells may lack the charm or character of Lakeland greats, they are surrounded by charming and remote valleys that are well worth a visit. This also marked the completion of my second Wainwright book; the Far Eastern Fells. That's two down, five to go.
Buckbarrow Crag
Goat Scar
Panorama of the head of Longsleddale
Shipman Knotts
The slopes of Sleddale Fell