Monday, 2 April 2012

Frogspawn, Mudcracks and Slate

No, not the names of Brad & Angelina’s new triplets, but a list of things we spotted on our hike yesterday.  Whilst there are certainly benefits to looking upwards and outwards when hiking through somewhere as pretty as the Lake District, there’s also a few good reasons to look down at your feet every once in a while, so this blog is dedicated to downwards and the many interesting things we yomp over each time we head up a fell.

On this particular hike our feet will be taking us from the Kirkstone Pass carpark (the one halfway down not the one next to the inn), up and over St Raven’s Edge to Stony Cove Pike, back to John Bell’s Banner, down via Rough Edge / Caudale Moor to the road then back up the pass to the car.
The first thing under our boots was the churned up ground around the new wind turbines next to the Kirkstone Pass Inn.  Not everyone’s cup of tea I’m sure, but if you want a cup of tea up there then you’ll need power and the turbines were a lot quieter than the thumping generator we experienced last week at Wasdale.

Next up on our downwards adventure were the many stone steps no doubt laid with love and broken fingernails by those lovely people from Fix the Fells.  It always amazes me how they lay so many and how they get them there in the first place.  Much as I would dearly love to volunteer and help them I’m afraid my dodgy old back was done in merely climbing up them, lord help me if I ever tried to move one.

1 flask of tea, 2 sarnies and assorted painkillers later and I was good as new with my boots itching for the off again.  Next underfoot were the mudcracks; I know I’m slightly odd but I’ve always found them rather pleasing to look at.  There’s a sort of non-symmetrical symmetry to them which intrigues me.  I told you I was odd.  Why did the ground crack like that?  Why in those shapes?  And why don’t you get “sand cracks”?  One of my lecturers at Uni was obsessed with them and devoted his entire academic life to studying them so, by comparison, I’m relatively normal.  They’re a sobering reminder of just how dry it’s been lately though; if the tops of the fells in England’s wettest county are drying out then heaven help the gardens of the south east.

Frogspawn next, lots of it too.  Atop Caudale Moor are a couple of small tarns and within them you’ll find several large dollops of gooey frog spawn.  You could just about make out the dark dots of tadpoles deep within them and in an instant I was transported back to 3rd form biology classes and felt a wee pang of guilt at the frog dissection incident.

Heading down over Rough Edge your boots will soon tell you that the Geology underfoot is changing.  Moving from the lumpy igneous rocks on the summit you descend through the slates that were formed by the surrounding heat and pressure.  The remains of the old buildings are evidence of the quarries which once existed here.  Steve took a solo excursion down to one of the sites and found an old mine shaft vanishing deep into the rockface.  Luckily he didn’t remember he had his head torch with him until he was safely back with me else he may still be down there exploring.

The last interesting thing your feet will take you over is Caudale Beck and some wonderful examples of fluvial erosion – the channels formed by the streams as they twist and tumble through the rocks will have you wishing you’d bought your swimsuit so you could zoom down them and splash into the pool below.  Or maybe that’s just me being odd again.
After that it was a straightforward hike back up Kirkstone Beck to the car, although to me it never feels uphill if I’m hiking along a stream.  Just needed to kick the mud off our boots before heading home and putting our feet up with a well-earned beer.  Cheers!


  1. Mud cracks as it does because the solids in it are very small and in suspension, so when the water evaporates they "clump" into the smallest space available. Sand doesn't do the same (usually) because the grain size is larger and the material is already taking up its smallest volume (the grains are touching, with water between them, not held apart by the water) so the contraction is far less.

    If the grain size in mud was uniform the contraction/clumping would be also, forming neat hexagons (a bit like columnar basalt and for the same reason) some dried salt-lakes show this six-sided pattern. Lakeland mud is clearly not uniform, and the differing stresses in the material form more irregular shapes.

    .....and yes, I know, I need to get a life......

    Peter C

  2. Peter you are such a mine of fabulous information! Thank you!