Sunday, 22 July 2012

What I don't understand is...

Ullswater from St Sunday Crag
If there's one thing I've learned in our 18 months up here, it's that I've still got a lot to learn.  Yesterday's glorious weather gave us the perfect opportunity to tackle a fell I've fancied for a while; St Sunday Crag.  I've oggled it in the sun and the snow as we've stood atop Helvellyn so a hike to its alluring summit was long overdue.  We let the gods of parking decide our route and when there was no spaces to be had at Rydal we switched to plan B and headed up via Dunmail Raise.  The ascent along Raise Beck to Grisedale Tarn is always a pleasure and I'm surprised (and rather pleased) it's not more popular than it is.

Foxglove along Raise Beck
As we made our way up the Beck we had our first encounter of the day with one of the things I don't quite understand; walking poles.  I don't have anything against them, I just don't understand them.  I can possibly see how they may have their uses on occasion when making an ascent, but on a descent they just seem to get in the way; and what use are they on the flat?  The rucksack which those nice chaps at Berghaus sent me in exchange for writing for them has somewhere specifically for storing them, which would imply they're not required for the whole of a route.  Not that I see them attached to many rucksacks.  If you have any sort of mobility issue then I can see how these would help, but as around 70% (very unscientific) of walkers appear to have them these days it would seem that mobility issues are not a prerequisite for using them.

Actually, perhaps I do have something against them - the click, click, clickety noise they make as they scratch across the rocks.  When a large party approaches, all of whom are wielding 2 sticks each, the noise is rather reminiscent of an old "Invasion of the Giant Ants" style B movie.  Those always scared me as a kid, maybe that's why I'm not fond of them.

Route up St Sunday Crag from Fairfield
Reaching the top of the Beck we paused for sustenance overlooking Grisedale Tarn and witnessed something rather more problematic than walking poles.  Away in the distance someone had lost control of their dog which had taken off after a number sheep.  As we watched through the binoculars the owner ran helplessly after the dog screaming its name at the top of his voice.  Fortunately the dog failed to catch any sheep and eventually returned to its, now exhausted, owner.  Attacks by dogs on sheep are a big problem up here with some farmers considering closing permitted footpaths across their land.  Farmers can, and do, shoot dogs worrying their livestock and, much as I love dogs,  I have no problem with that. What seems a little harsh is that the dog is only following its natural instinct; maybe if they shot a few of the owners the message might sink in.

Grisedale Tarn
The route from Hause Gap up to Fairfield is steep but steady with many excuses to pause and admire the views along the way.  As is to be expected on a sunny Saturday in July the top of Fairfield was as busy as ever sitting as it does a the crossroads of several ridge routes.  And here I have to confess to something quite controversial.  I don't "get" many of the Wainwright baggers.  I completely understand keeping track of the fells you've climbed, but I don't understand those who steam through 6 or more peaks in a day in an attempt to bag as many as they can as quickly as they can.  Wainwright himself took 13 years to write his guidebooks and was a self confessed "plodder".  For him the beauty of the fells lay in appreciating their detail, taking the time to pause along the way to drink in the views.  In his later years there are stories of him resting next to a route watching in puzzlement as hikers streamed past him clutching his guidebook intent on bagging the next peak.

To summit all 214 "Wainwrights" is a milestone for many and, on some levels, it is an admirable achievement. But if all they have been is a "to do" list; done once via one route before moving on to the next challenge, then perhaps that's missing the whole point.  I'm going to take the lead from the man himself, 13 years seems about long enough to explore the fells in the right amount of detail.  Plus the fells are only one small part of Cumbria; suddenly 13 years doesn't seem nearly long enough.

The finest quartz crystal of the day.  Honest.
St Sunday Crag didn't disappoint and afforded magnificent views down to Ullswater and over to Striding Edge where an army of ants could be seen marching across towards the summit of Helvellyn.  Whilst the views are indeed stunning, next time you're up there take the time to look down at your feet.  There are many fantastic examples of near perfect quartz crystals scattered around on the surface and we spent a very enjoyable half hour or so trying to outdo each other with the finest specimen.  Steve's convinced he won.  I beg to differ and he can start his own blog if he wants to disagree.

We took the easy option back and rather than summit Fairfield again we dropped down the path from Deepdale Hause to Grisedale Tarn before heading back down Raise Beck to the car.  Much has been said about the awfulness of the summer this year, but maybe all those rainy days just make you appreciate the good days even more.  We arrived home with a rosy glow and the sort of tired ache in your limbs that can only be cured by a cold beer.  Heineken don't make days on the fells, but if they did...


  1. An account I would agree with entirely.

  2. Thanks Ray, I appreciate that. Can't believe how many people don't understand the "dogs on a lead" part. I really feel for the poor farmers.

  3. Great post Beth. Just for the record, I'm a pole user (not dancer, I might add!) and, actually, they are very useful on a steep decent. Part of the problem is that most people who use pole don't know how to use them properly (i.e. short for up, long for down, in the middle get it!) When I got mine, many moons ago, I did some research and there was much being said, by noted walkers and climbers, about the benefit of pole use in reducing wear on knees and hips. The idea is to transfer some of my gargantuan weight from the lower body to the shoulders. In my opinion they work, even if the click click does make you feel like a k*** at times. Keep up the great work!

  4. Sounds to me like you spend far too much time worrying about what other people are doing. Your post comes across as very bitchy towards the summer ramblers. Like them or not, they bring millions of pounds into businesses and councils across Cumbria. Much of the great infrastructure would not exist if they didn't visit. Maybe try the western fells if you want to dodge the crowds, alternatively, get over it!

    Matt, West Cumbria

  5. On occasion I've used poles but generally forget to take them. I find them very useful on descents and do notice a big difference in how I feel at the end of a descent compared to when I don't have the poles

  6. Thanks for the comments. Ian/ David - useful info about the poles. Still not sure if they're for me mind, I tend to need my hands a lot! Matt, you're absolutely right, tourism is the lifeblood of Cumbria. It was never my intention to sound bitchy - I didn't single out summer ramblers or tourists; there's room on the fells for everyone, so long as they keep their dogs under control and take their litter home with them. And I don't have anything against Wainwright either - his books are magnificent, I just prefer to take the fells at a more leisurely pace, that's all. And you're right about the Western Fells too - Black Combe is fabulous.

    Thanks again for commenting! :-)

  7. Lovely account by a fellow Cumbrian - who lives just across the bay. Thankfully I had one of the few fine days this year when I last walked Fairfield, but we didn't do the same route as you. Check it here.

    Good to meet you. Alvina

  8. .... oh and I use poles to go down hills sometimes too.

  9. Thanks Alvina, good to meet you too! Will check out your route. So many different routes to work our way through!