Monday, 25 May 2015

Middle Fell, Seatallan & Buckbarrow

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Route: Greendale, Greendale Gill, Middle Fell, Seatallan, Nether Wasdale Common, Cat Bields, Glade How, Buckbarrow, Buckbarrow Moss, Joss Naylor's Cairn, Greendale Gill, Greendale

Date: 25/05/2015
From: Greendale

Parking: Greendale
Start Point: Greendale
Region: Western Fells

Route length: 6.1 miles (9.8 km)
Time taken: 03:02
Average speed: 2.0 mph
Ascent: 779m
Descent: 780m

Wainwrights on this walk:
Middle Fell (582m), Seatallan (692m), Buckbarrow (423m)

Other Summits: Glade How (433m)

Other points of interest: Joss Naylor's Cairn

A triangle of fells form a nice, fairly straightforward walk towards the southern end of Wasdale; the fells in question being Middle Fell, Seatallan and Buckbarrow. They surround the small Greendale Tarn and its outlet, Greendale Gill and form what appears to be a substantial barrier to any ascent from Wasdale. Greendale Gill does breach these defences though and provides the main access to the wild moorland beyond. You can almost guarantee a quiet day out here, the booted masses often missing these fells with the aim of climbing some of the Lakeland greats. If you want to avoid the crowds on a hot summer day, these are the fells to aim for. Speaking of Lakeland greats, this walk had a real highlight at the very end - meeting one of the true Lakeland greats.

We parked in the hamlet of Greendale itself, home to a collection of holiday lets and farm houses before making out way up the lower slopes Middle Fell alongside Greendale Gill. As I've just mentioned, the appearance of Middle Fell and Buckbarrow from the south and west is one of dark crags and impassable, rocky walls but these are easily bypassed using the well established routes. Ours would take us up the slopes of Middle Fell where, once around the crags, the slopes are grassy and present no difficulties.
Buckbarrow looming over Greendale
Middle Fell ahead
As we climbed it became clear that the weather forecast for the day wasn't ringing true and a low, swirling cloud was embracing the summit of Middle Fell which undoubtedly meant it was doing the same on Seatallan. So much for any views for the day. Despite this, the path up to Middle Fell maintains largely uniform angle between not too difficult and not too hard, which is nice. Wainwright was correct in saying that the climb seems to last longer than it should.
The view over Nether Wasdale from Middle Fell
A path runs a short distance alongside Greenside Gill
Broad Crag on Buckbarrow
The grass covered slopes of Middle Fell
After many minutes of climbing, we reached the cairned summit just in time for the briefest of breaks in the cloud, providing a fleeting glimpse of Wastwater below. As soon as the view was revealed, the grey blanket swallowed it back up again. Luckily for us, the next leg of the walk was to drop down out of the clouds enroute towards Seatallan. This meant crossing the marshy depression above Greendale Tarn.
A scene typical of the day
Summit cairn on Middle Fell
Wastwater appears beneath the clouds
Descending off Middle Fell 
The col separating Middle Fell and Seatallan
Looking back to Middle Fell
Once across the marsh, two different routes up Seatallan are presented to you, a longer but marginally easier route past Winscale Hows or a leg-burningly direct route straight up the eastern face. It may not come as a surprise that we chose the latter. The climb slowly steepens with every step until it reaches the final push onto the summit. This bit is very steep indeed but doesn't last for too long. It had started to rain at this point so the camera remained in the bag for now.
Beginning up Seatallan
Middle Fell and Greendale Tarn
Seatallan has a trio of interesting things on the summit and, seeing as we were back in the clouds again, these would be our only stimulus while we were up there. Firstly, there's a cairn which stands a short distance from an OS trig pillar - the high point of the fell in this instance. Further from the pillar is a large shelter cairn - apparently fashioned from a bronze age tumulus.
Seatallan's cairn, 
trig pillar and...
...tumulus
A long, viewless walk off Seatallan
We used the shelter for a quick break out of the wind which had picked up considerably while we were on the summit. Ahead of us lay a long, gentle descent towards Buckbarrow down the southern slopes of Seatallan. As a result of the cloud and general pathlessness of this particular descent, we were totally reliant on following a compass bearing to our desired location. Word of note - sheep do not make a good waypoint.

Using Cat Bields as a suitable waypoint, we eventually we reached the outcrop of Glade How, a prominent feature with a large cairn perched on top - worthy to be included in Bill Birkett's list of Lakeland fells. That's another one off the list, only 300 or so more to go! We were still just in the clouds at this point but it gave hope for something resembling a view from Buckbarrow, a short distance further south.
Glade How appears though the gloom
Glade How's cairn
Buckbarrow is really just part of Seatallan - it has little or no topographic prominence, but it presents the impression of being entirely separate if seen from Greendale below. The towering rocky face is certainly impressive to look at from afar. The summit (if you can call it that) sits on top of a small rocky mound though the best of any views are from the brink above the crags, the highlight being the Wastwater screes across the valley.
The 'summit' of Buckbarrow
Cairn on Buckbarrow
The crags mark the end of the ridge off Seatallan
Looking west
Middle Fell and Wastwater beneath the low clouds
To the north east of Buckbarrow is a tall, slender cairn built by legendary fell runner, wall builder extraordinaire and Wasdale shepherd Joss Naylor; more about him later on. It's beautifully built, standing proud well over a decade since he finished it. After having a poke around we made our way along to Brown How, a spur below Buckbarrow Moss that drops into Greendale Gill and led us back to the car.

Joss Naylor's cairn
Wasdale
Greendale Gill
Falls on Greenside Gill
Greenside Gill
Buckbarrow
Whin Rigg
The Screes
We finished mid afternoon and I was lucky enough to be walking with an acquaintance of Mr. Naylor, so much so that we went out in search of the legendary Cumbrian, whom we'd spotted from afar as we were strolling around Greendale. It won't come as a surprise that we found him, half way up the slopes of Buckbarrow with his two dogs, tending to a once forlorn sheep fold, painstakingly returning it to its former glories. In case you didn't know, Joss Naylor was a prolific fell runner in his prime and would probably still put many people to shame today at the ripe old age of 80. To list but a few of his accomplishments;
  • 72 peaks in 24 hours
  • Welsh 3000s in 4hr 46mins
  • Pennine way in 3 days 4hr
  • 214 Wainwrights in 7 days
  • 70 fells in under 24 hours on his 70th birthday (why not?)
Joss rebuilding the stone shelter
Admiring the man's handiwork
Myself and Joss, just as the dog decided to run off - hence the odd expression
Perhaps one achievement that many of you can relate to is running to the top of Scafell Pike and back in little under 47mins. That's one hell of an achievement - an incomprehensible speed.

We chatted for a few minutes, before leaving Joss to his wall-building. He's a fine fellow that's for sure and was more than happy to chat to us; though I'm sure he feigned a sense of surprise when we told him his cairn was still standing. I think he knows it better than that. He also pointed out the stone seat he'd built, hidden up the slopes of Buckbarrow so we ventured off for a quick look before finally calling it a day.
Joss' stone seat
The seat below Buckbarrow
So a largely disappointing day view-wise, made all the more memorable by meeting Mr. Naylor late in the day. As I said at the start, these fells around Seatallan often get overlooked by many walkers heading for the giants bit if you do venture out above Greendale, keep any eye for the elusive Wasdale shepherd; you're never sure where he may turn up.