Sunday, 14 August 2011

A Lovely Day in Longsleddale

8th August 2011

A Relatively Moderate Walk with Magnificent Views.

Of course the weather forecast was grim when we left Blackburn but as Keith remarked that it never stopped us before. It had been a while since we had managed to get a walk together due to work and family commitments in my case and in Keith's a desire to emigrate to Scotland on the open road. In other words he spent a couple of months building a mobile home and a further month north of the border trying it out. However back and sounding like Rab C Nesbitt he treated me to a bacon butty at Dave and Pete's caravan situated in the first lay by on the A590 Kendal Road from the M6. When I was a very young cyclist the older riders used to swear bacon butties gave you energy. This maybe a myth but they certainly taste good before a day on the fell.

It was good to see the two lads again and as usual the food was excellent. The bacon cooked on a skillet    until crisp, the edges just slightly curling as Pete slid it into a soft fresh teacake. They said they had been wondering what had happened to us and of course I had to bring up the subject of my mate moving to Scotland. "Blame him," I said.

We had decided to go to Longsleddale to start our walk. Unusually for us we had decided this before we set off from home. Normally Dave and Pete's is our what shall we do centre. We pack the gear for all weather so anywhere in the Lakes is an option. Today full of anticipation and bacon we drove through the damp grey streets of Kendal and up the A6 towards Shap. At NY525 986 we turned off the A6 and took the narrow road to Longsleddale eventually reaching the hamlet of Sadgill where we parked. It must be noted there is not a lot of car parking space in Longsleddale.


Today we were on our own ours was the only car. We wondered why as Longsleddale is a beautiful valley yet seemingly untouched by mass tourism. The weather looked as it may go one way or the other, it could rain, or it would rain. We were to be proved wrong but at that moment it was jacket or not. Not was the decision and we set off with our waterproofs in the rucksacks wearing tracker bottoms and light tops. This proved to be correct in less than 10 minutes we were dripping with sweat. Dull it may have been but it was still August and very humid.


The bleating of sheep, birdsong and the crunch of boots on gravel coupled with the melodic sound of the River Sprint tumbling  along the valley floor were the only sounds. There was no breeze and the air hung heavy with the moisture of a light drizzle. Suddenly there was a commotion. A small bird had been targeted by a Sparrow Hawk and a dance of death or survival ensued. I thought it certain the hawk would catch its prey. The small bird however had different ideas and though seemed within millimetres of being clasped by the dagger talons of the hawk it managed to dodge left, right, up and down. Its size allowing it to turn in tighter circles than the much larger hawk. Eventually the hawk simply gave up and                                               
flew away.

It is good walking along the valley. The track is an old quarry road and is well made. On it's left hand side, early into the walk it passes under the seemingly menacing heights of Goats Scar that forms the south eastern flank of Kentmere Pike. By the standards of other crags in the Lakes it is not particularly massive but the fact that it rises directly from the valley floor gives it a presence of a true mountain.

Goat Scar

On the opposite side of the valley Buckbarrow Crag the southwestern flank of Tarn crag defiantly challenges Goat Scar as the dominant feature of Longsleddale. It is a well known to rock climbers with routes  of up to 100 metres vertically rising up its craggy face.

Buckbarrow Crag

Unfortunately for the climbers the crag was closed to climbing as Ravens were nesting. I once remember seeing a pair of Ravens in the Kentmere valley robbing the nest of a pair of Kestrels. A first I could only see one Raven and it kept flying close to the nest. One Kestrel was trying to drive the marauding attacker away and at one point it looked like it had succeeded as the Raven banked on the wind seemingly frightened by the fierce defence. It was a ruse as it simply drew the Kestrel further from the nest and when suddenly the Raven turned sharply it had positioned itself between the Kestrel and the nest. This caused the second Kestrel that had been sitting on the nest to join the defence and it flew to attack the Raven. In an instant a second Raven appeared from high on a crag and seconds later it had taken two chicks in its beak from the defenceless nest.

However I digress from our walk. We walked on up the valley and slowly the cloud began to break and shafts of sunlight began to flitter across the fells. It also began to burn the back of my neck and the sunburn cream I half heartedly shoved in my rucksack was gladly used. By now we were approaching the head of the valley and in the distance we could see the reason for the very good track. Wrengill Quarry. It was worth turning round and looking back down towards Sadgill. Because the walking is so easy we were surprised just how much distance we had covered.

Looking Back
Wrengill Quarry was famous in the early 1800's for the production of Blue Slate. The stream of Wren Gill that rises on the upper slopes of Harter Fell enters the quarry then disappears under ground into a series of sink holes and underground passages. Some may have been man made to ease flooding in the workings a problem shared with many Lakeland quarries and mines. It reappears as the River Sprint which in turn eventually becomes a tributary of the River Kent joining it just below the village of Burnside.

Falls on the River Sprint

Just past the start of the workings the path crosses a footbridge under which is a metal plaque engraved with the name. Denys Beddard 1917 - 1985.

Who Denys Beddard was or what his or maybe hers relationship to the area is anyones guess but some one or some group decided the person was worth what I would imagine a pretty costly plaque. Maybe one day Keith or I may get a plaque but given our group of mates it would probably say something not suitable for publication!!

At NY 474 092 Brownhowe Bottoms Longsleddale ends and the Gatesgarth Pass begins. Also at this point the path forks. The right forks leads down into Mosedale while the left leads over into Mardale Head and Haweswater. This was our path but our intention was not Mardale Head. A little further on at NY 474 093 between the the heights of Branstree on the right and Harter Fell on the left the path forks again. We bore left and began the climb up Harter Fell.

The Climb Up Harter Fell.   Photo: Keith Butterworth
 This is the hardest point of the walk steep in sections but not too difficult. It does however from the north east flank of Harter Fell open the panoramic view over Haweswater.

Haweswater from Harter Fell
I would think this is possibly the best view of Haweswater known to man. It was certainly different to when Keith and I were at Haweswater earlier in the year when in was cold a raining. The path follows a wire fence all the way to Harter Fell summit and as it starts to turn south west the view changes to overlook the two tarns of Small Water and Blea Water. We reminded each other of when we were last on the shores of these in white out winter conditions, now we were getting sunburned.

Small Water in the foreground with Blea Water behind
However this suddenly looked like it would change as we approached the summit of Harter Fell. We now looked over High Street the north western fells, the ones we could see that were not obliterated by a huge black rain clouds heading straight towards us on a now cold and strengthening wind.

"Bet we have our cags on by the time we reach the top." Keith said pessimistically.

I was more concerned in the fact that we were both hungry and there was no shelter at all. My ham, cheese and piccalilly sandwiches were only designed to get wet after I had swallowed them. There is a certain niceness in eating lunch in an old barn or under the shelter of a crag watching the clouds go by. There is no niceness eating on a bare open fell and looking at the approaching storm it began to look like lunch would be eaten back at the car.

Keith on Harter Fell Summit with Storm Clouds Coming
We watched as first Thornthwaite Crag then Ill Bell were eaten by the clag. Our turn next, though we had yet to even get the cags out of our rucksacks we accepted a drenching that never happened. The usual vagaries of Lakeland weather kicked in and the rain completely passed us by. It caught the summit of Kentmere Pike which was our next mountain to visit on the ridge south of Harter Fell and all the mountains to the west but not us.

Storm over Kentmere Pike
Amazing but very nice indeed and we simply dropped out of the wind and sat enjoying our lunch looking east over the Shap Fells with great views of the Sedbergh Hills  and Penrith and the Northern Pennines. We could plainly see the M6 where it splits into two levels as it climbs up to Shap and between us contemplated how many vehicles must pass along that point in a year. It must be millions and I must admit that both Keith and I had many times been one of them yet neither of us had noticed Harter Fell from it.

Fed and re-energized we started towards Kentmere Pike but instead of taking the direct path we dropped down towards the Kent valley and then contoured back up. It was simply to get the view down to Kentmere reservoir.

                            Me looking into Kentmere.        Photo: Keith Butterworth
I like Kentmere Pike. It was here over 30 years ago I ran my first Lakeland Fell race the Kentmere Horseshoe and I have forgotten how many times I have done it in training. It is still an event though now it goes in the opposite direction. It still starts in Kentmere Village but in those days the route was: Kentmere Pike, Nanbeild Pass, High Street, Froswick, Ill Bell, then behind Yoke and back into the village via the Garburn Pass. Now it is the other way round which I have never done but Keith has. I still maintain the original way was best. Strangely on the Ill Bell side of Kentmere the path is like the M6 while on the Kentmere side it hardly makes an impression.

Me on Kentmere Pike.  Photo Keith Butterworth.

As seen on the photo Keith took of me on Kentmere Pike the weather had somewhat changed. It was now fantastically clear and the sun was burning. The views were stunning in all directions. Our day did prove however that the old adage of Lakeland weather can change in an instant and when you are on the fells take the right gear.

The view down the Kent Valley
In this kind of weather it is pretty hard to get it wrong and we followed the main path down towards Kentmere Village until NY469 070 where a fork in the path splits left to go over to Shipman Knotts. I would imagine in the fell race many a runner has come this way in bad weather instead of going right down into Kentmere.

View from Shipman Knotts into Longsleddale
We could now plainly see our way back into Longsleddale although there is a bit of a steep descent down from Shipman Knotts NY472 060 it was really pleasant walking. There is a cart track that connects the two valleys of Longsleddale and Kentmere and we joined it at NY475 049. From here it was an easy stroll back into Sadgill.

Path back to Sadgill

When we arrived at the car a group of youngsters on the Duke of Edinburgh Award had just arrived and were preparing to wild camp by the River Sprint. Both ends of the age spectrum but both loving the environment. Another great day, thanks Keith.

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