Permanent Tourist

The personal website of Mark Howells-Mead

There’s no doubt that our visit to the Lake District in October last year was a damp one, but the weather didn’t dampen our mood. I was pleased that we managed to get three good walks in while we were there, which added to the wonderful stay at Latrigg View and the pleasure which returning to the region gives me.

The third walk—after an outing directly from the holiday house and a spectacularly wet walk around Buttermere—was on a shorter but more challenging quest to add another of Wainwright’s Fells to my list. We haven’t spent a lot of time around Ullswater in the times we’ve visited the area, so I chose a hill which offered good views of Patterdale village and of the lake beyond.

Arnison Crag (433m) was deemed to be “a low hill with a summit worthy of a mountain” by Wainwright, and the mountainous experience was capped by the heavy, dark clouds which brooded over us, sending the occasional rain shower our way. After parking up at the all-but-deserted King George V Playing Field near Patterdale village, we crossed over the soggy land amongst old oaks to the lower part of the hill. At this point, the path splits and sends walkers up our intended route or to the larger, more challenging neighbouring summit of Birks (622m).

The relentlessly-steep path up the northern side of Arnison Crag

Immediately after passing the path junction, the hard work began, and we slogged our way slowly up the increasingly-steep path. If, indeed, it could be called a path. The route is mainly formed of a combination of stony and grassy tracks through the bracken, and the familiar smell of dying, browned undergrowth dragged us on to the first stopping point. On such an ascent, which demands all of the lung capacity the walker has, the easiest way to deal with the challenge is to do it one bit at a time. Set the next goal, at which point a short break can be enjoyed, drippy noses can be dealt-with, and photos can be taken. The first part of the ascent over this route is incessantly steep, and so the first rocky outcrop about half-way up was our first proper stopping-point, suitably decorated with little piles of sheep droppings.

Further up the fell, the path continues to follow the wiggly contours of a fenced stone wall: a technological development which presumably retains the classic look of the Lake District landscapes whilst providing a more stable and less-penetrable barrier for both wildlife and passing walkers. It’s interesting to note that the landscape on both sides of the wall is equally-wild, with stony ground covered with bracken in varying stages of decay in autumn.

We arrived at the ridge on top of the fell and found a spot in the lee of the hillside, keeping out of the wind amongst the rocks while we enjoyed our small packed lunch. Whilst sitting there, and given the grotty weather, we decided that the route was more important than the specific goal of standing on the uppermost summit and so we continued around the secondary hillock to the west of the main crag, deciding spontaneously to continue walking.

Always happy in the mountains, despite the rain and soggy ground underfoot

After around quarter-of-an-hour heading towards the higher goal of Birks, we quickly revised our plan when we realised that gaining this higher summit would involve a fair distance of walking, another sharply-steep ascent and an even steeper descent back to the car. Without any real likelihood of an improvement in the weather, and therefore little chance of a real photographic masterpiece, we retraced our steps and headed back to the car with the panoramic view of Ullswater in front of us.

Heading back to the car past classic stone walls and rocky crags

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