Thursday, June 05, 2014

Two Fells

Fell-walking may appear to be all of a piece, but one day's walk is often completely different to another - the weather, the terrain, the associations of the place...

Early in our stay, we took our friends to the foot of Wastwater, in the next valley, so that they could walk up and along the top of the Screes.  We ourselves were going up Greendale, a walk we last did some twenty-five years ago.  I clearly remember discussing how we would arrange the details of  our mortgage as we walked up the gorge to Greendale Tarn.  There we enjoyed the limpid mountain air and the trilling of larks far overhead. 

This time, the early part of the walk was made troublesome by a couple with a dog - off-lead of course - and the man incongruously carrying a ball-hurler.  Clearly, he thought that climbing a steep path was compatible with exercising the dog, as in a park.  Soon, sheep were making a run for it.  So much for the peace of the countryside. 

Our objective this time was the summit of Seatallan. This is a hill which featured in my father's stories so far as to become the stuff of myths.  The name becomes distinctly less aquiline when you realise it is a corruption of the words "Seat Allan".  My father's family farmed one of the farms in Nether Wasdale, which had a fell-right over Seatallan.  He recalled going out in snow to gather the sheep from the fell, but being sent home because he had no coat.  He would have been wearing a tweed jacket and breeches, knee stockings and probably clogs.  Many of the walkers out on this fine day in May would have been better equipped for snow.

Seatallan turns out to be a very ordinary rounded hill, not heroic in any way, but hellish steep nevertheless.  From its top, one can see into the valley of the Bleng.  This is landscape as metaphor, if any ever was.  No road or path enters here, no tarn gathers.  There are no trees.  It is a completely  empty valley, apart from the River Bleng which winds on down. ( The blue here is a huge cloud-shadow.)

Facing the other way, and particularly from Middle Fell, which we tackled on the way back,  the view is absolutely dominated by the blue heights of the Scafells - such a dramatic and improbable skyline, even on this hazy day.  It is apparently the case that at least 30,000 people a year now undertake the Three Peaks challenge - ie climbing Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowden.  Those doing this in under twenty-four hours arrive at Wasdale Head in the middle of the night and climb Scafell in the dark.  What can this possibly be like?  On this sort of path every step could be a loose piece of shale or a boggy section to be picked over.  But in the dark?

We had an equally memorable day later in the week on Harter Fell, which formed the horizon from our rented cottage.  We went first to the bottom of Hardknott, and crossed the beck.  It was one of those rain-rinsed Lakeland days when the air seems especially clear and clean.  We climbed up the long track which skirts Harter Fell, then began the steep climb to the craggy top.

We had seen no one on the route, but were met at the top by a couple who asked us to take a snap of them together at the summit cairn as it was their final Wainwright.  We were pleased to oblige.  It is an impressive choice for last top and their many climbs had had huge significance for them.

The views from this top were very fine.  From here we could look down on the Roman fort, and up to the shoulder of Scafell.  Looking south, we could see far down to Blackpool Tower.

Crossing the boggy basin below Harter Fell brought us to the top of the Hardknott Pass road, which we crossed.  Soon we were assailed by amplified bird-song - a single phrase repeated.  My husband scanned the rocks above and spotted the source: a ring ousel.  This is a mountain bird like a blackbird but with a white bib, and a more restricted repertoire.  All the way down, to the cleared expanse of grass above the fort, once the parade-ground for the legionnaries, we could hear the sound of that one bird, ringing in the rocks.

1 comment:

LizM said...

Not sure how I came across your blog..... The knitting connection perhaps .... but I'm really enjoying the wonderful scenery on your walks. I'm new to the uk so it is extending my list of places to see, perhaps beyond reasonable limits! Liz