Blencathra and Beyond!

Barbara and Ian Hedley enjoy exploring the fells during their annual stays at Underscar. This year, during their September visit, Barbara ventured out on her own one day to tackle the beauty and the beast that is Blencathra. Here’s how she got on…

It was Friday, the last full day of our Underscar week.  My walking partner had done well on level walks, and even mustered the energy for a climb up Castle Crag, but it was clear that he didn’t relish a long climb to the tops, let alone the equally long slither down.  On the one hand the forecast was decidedly ‘iffy’, on the other hand it was today or never.  Today was the day for a solo walk.

I left our door at 8am, after a hearty 2-egg breakfast: planned destination the Mill Inn at Mungrisdale.  Up the road to Skiddaw car park, I looked down across Derwent water beyond Keswick, and up to the characteristic profile of Causey Pike just emerging from the overnight clouds.  Was this wise? …. ‘Go for it’ said the ear-worm.  So I lengthened my stride and followed the bridle way across to Brundlehome.  From the gate there I could see the lane closure, and in the valley the workmen operating on bridge restoration, and bank stabilisation works along the Greta.  The cycle path along there from Keswick is still closed and two old bridges completely missing.

Down the lane I decided to see whether it was possible to get across the stream to Derwent folds farm as I was heading up to the Blencathra outdoor centre. Half of that footbridge was gone too but with a bit of scrambling and jumping rock to rock, I crossed without incident.  It’s a lovely walk up the well marked footpath, through the Blencathra outdoor centre to the best start point for the climb onto the mountain itself.



This was my choice point.  On the one hand if it was too wild a day I could take the sheltered track north from here past Skiddaw house (the most remote bunkhouse along the Cumbria way),  then fork right and north-east into Mungrisdale.  On the other hand I could take my chances and head up.  Two rain showers had blown through already, but once again it was clearing over Causey pike, and I could see small patches of blue.  Ever the optimist …. I headed up.  The path was clear, the Herwick sheep were heading uphill, and I could look down onto Latrigg with Derwent in the background.

It took me about 50 minutes to reach the western end of the Blencathra ridge, easy hill walking and no rocky scrambles.  I was glad of my waterproofs though, as the blustery wind was building rapidly and delivering short sharp showers.  But the light was fascinating, and views just glorious.  That’s what makes a stiff climb worthwhile.  On the one hand I could see Lakes to the south and West, and the looking north I glimpsed the Solway Firth and Scotland beyond.

I followed the clear path right up to Hallsfell Top at 868 metres, staying a few feet back from the edge.  Of course the threatened storm clouds gathered round me just to remind me to treat mountains with due respect.  I was far from the only walker up there though – it’s always good to stop and chat for a few seconds and learn why other people are drawn upwards like me – whatever the weather.

Coming down over Scales Fell the clouds cleared again, and I had a clear view towards my next target, the fell top of Souther Fell.  I stopped to chat with a young couple:  first time on the fells and hoping to navigate across to Sharp Edge with the help of their mobile phone.  aargh! — I shared the delights of my OS map, suggested a safer route and wished them well!

I had Souther fell to myself. Intriguingly the map says its designated for use for hang gliding but, no surprise, none were there that day given the wild weather.  However where there are people there is also bound to be a path to the pub. Sure enough there was a steep scramble of a route down through the bracken which was beginning to turn to a glorious copper hue. Frustratingly at the bottom of the hill I met a large fence and barbed wire telling me that the pub I could see 100 yards away could NOT be reached across that field, so I had a further stretch along the moorland wall to the road, then a half mile walk back.

I was met at the door of the Mill Inn with a broad smile from my walking partner and a half-pint of local ale.  He had driven round to meet me – such a welcome sight!  It took just 20 minutes to drive home to our Underscar cottage; plenty of time for a long luxurious shower in our newly fitted bathroom before a well earned Bistro dinner.

On the one hand walking on your own can seem a bit lonely, but on the other, if you take sensible precautions, keep people informed and then do the things your friends might hate, why not?! I had an exhilarating day, and he stayed warm and dry. Win, win.

A valiant effort, we’re sure you’ll agree. Walking alone does come with its risks, but also with an immense sense of achievement afterwards!