Birk and Birker

View from Birks Bridge by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerHow do I get back into walking after two weeks break, it's the longest break I have had from walking since I decorated the dining room during the Foot & Mouth outbreak in 2001. I left the car at Birks Bridge and crossed the bridge to follow the track towards Birks intending to cut across to Grassguards. Shortly after passing the track to Birks on the left a small signpost on the right pointed the way to Harter Fell and I had a route planning meeting. I decided that it made sense for me to climb Harter Fell first so I headed uphill.

There are notices around warning of forest operations, which means trees are being harvested and the paths are likely to be left in an appalling condition, and off the path the ground will be very awkward to cross. There is no sign of heavy machinery probably because all the trees have already been chopped down. In a token gesture to help walkers wooden stakes, two feet high with a painted orange top, have been placed at places along the route of the path. The orange stakes are placed where the path is still fairly obvious and are absent where the path disappears under tree debris.

Ascent of Harter Fell by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThe day was quite warm and I was walking in tee shirt and shorts but it was humid and my forehead was leaking sweat, the higher hills were covered in mist with a promise of cooler conditions ahead.

Harter Fell is consistently steep from any direction and having climbed it without paths before it was a bit of a luxury to be on a marked path. Then I came to the first rock outcrop, a faint path crossed in front of it with no indication as to its intent to go up or down so rule number two was applied. Rule number two states if in doubt then climb so I clambered over the first rock step and found myself on a bracken covered shelf. I tried to bypass the next rock step but the bracken hides too much in the way of boulders and holes on a steep slope so rule number two continues to be obeyed.

Harter Fell summit by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerI don't particularly like having to rely on vegetation for hand, foot, elbow and knee holds but heather is usually reliably rooted, bracken leaves a strange smell on your hands and the bilberries leave your fingers coloured purple. Anyway I quite enjoyed the scramble to the top of the outcrop and once there I could see an orange post on the left where the path was obvious enough to see without it. The path was fairly steep without being too tedious, it lead up to a fence where a sheep on top of a nearby hummock made sure I got safely through the gate.

There was more climbing to do before I reached what is effectively a plateau with the summit outcrops now visible. The summit was a bit further away than it looked but the walking was fairly easy until I reached the collection of rock outcrops at the summit. The mist then came in, again depriving me of the views of the hills from which Harter Fell always looks so distinctive and attractive. The mist didn't stop me from climbing each of the three main outcrops although it is curious that a small fourth outcrop, ten feet high and hardly worth climbing was the only one bearing a cairn.

Erratic Boulderson Harter Fell by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerIn the mist I had to descend using my compass, there is a path that splits soon after leaving the summit and I followed the left hand branch because it was closer to my compass bearing. After a short while though I was heading off too far to the left so I crossed over pathless grass in no visibility until I reached another downward path. The mist gained density and turned to drizzle for a while until I got below it and began to see where I was going which was in the wrong direction.

I knew the path I was on would take me to Jubilee Bridge on the Hard Knott Pass road but I wanted to get across to Green Crag. As it happened, at the place I had stopped there seemed to be a path going southwards following the contours so I set off in that southerly direction. It was relatively easy going and I eventually found a path going downhill, probably the one that I had previously decided was going in the wrong direction. Eventually I reached the Dunnerdale to Eskdale path at a point where the forest fence ends, the last time I was here I headed directly across swampy ground towards Green Crag but I want to do something different today.

View of crook Crag from Green Crag summit plateau by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerI turned left passing through a gate to a Forestry Commission footpath, their paths make no concession to walkers; the ground is uneven, strewn with tree debris and the boggy sections need a lot of care to keep dry. Eventually you get to a small stream where after crossing it turning left would take you to Grassguards but you need to climb up the opposite bank and cross some swampy ground to get to a ladder stile. Climb over the stile in the wall and a faint path through the grass takes you towards Green Crag.

The gradient isn't a problem but the long grass makes it seem like quite a slog, it looks like you are heading for a clearly defined ridge but it starts off as a collection of small peaks each of which could persuade you to climb them thinking you will get to the ridge. The start of the ridge proper sets the pattern, steep grass and boulders that you can bypass or go straight up, although why anyone would refuse the straight up option is a mystery. The summit plateau of Green Crag is also characterised by several subsidiary summits, each one is worth the effort to scramble up for the view and for the joy of getting there.

View of Green Crag from Crook Crag by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThe summit of Green Crag is a splendid place, the views on a clear day would be quite wonderful, as it is there can't be anywhere else from where you can see Devoke Water as well as Burnmoor Tarn. Harter Fell dominates the view but you should be able to see a skyline of hills from Crinkle Crags to Yewbarrow. Having made an interesting but not difficult descent northwards there is a constant supply of bouldery scrambles from The Pike and Crook Crag to Dow Crag each one as easy or difficult as you want it to be. There is a faint path linking each of the summits but it is a quiet and unspoiled place with much to explore.

From the summit of Dow Crag I made a beeline for the head of Spouthow Gill across a field of pathless knee deep heather, strenuous enough in itself but heather will hide boulders and swamps and will unfasten your bootlaces as you walk through it. I rejoined the path coming from Birks and followed it to Jubilee Bridge at the bottom of the Hard Knott Pass road. I had already decided I wasn't going to finish my planned walk but having spent so much time on the Green Crag ridge I had to have another think about how to get back to my car.

The summit of Dow Crag by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerTo walk along the road up to Hard Knott Pass is not something I want to try again; having climbed to the first series of bends I took the signposted footpath towards the site of the Roman Fort. I was looking up towards Border End and wondering if it would be much more effort than just climbing to the pass, I decided I didn't have the time to climb Hard Knott even if I had the energy. After walking through the remains of the fort I thought I could see a way of traversing the contours of the base of Hard Knott to reach the pass without having to resort a slog up the tarmac.

I was following a path through the bracken but I lost it and ended up struggling through chest high stuff. I had climbed too high and saw other people lower down on a reasonable path, it was tough forcing my way through the bracken but it was quicker than having to climb the hill and less painful than walking up the road. The path eventually reached the road and after a short walk along it there is a bridleway signposted, one and a half miles to Birks. The path isn't very well defined but generally goes south, parallel to a forest fence and not down to the left where an inviting looking stile crosses what used to be an electrified fence.

The site of Mediobogdum with Border End and Hard Knott behind by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThe undulating path is boggy, awkward to find and swampy in places but eventually after a muddy descent there is a gate in the fence that promises to take you to Birks. At first the path is a wide avenue through the trees but then it all gets confused when you cross a stream and the way isn't obvious at all, you need to follow your compass south. Eventually you get out of the trees onto a forest road, turn right and follow it slightly uphill thinking that you have an easy walk back to the car park.

I remember the last time I was here it was a difficult path to follow, an area cleared of trees where the undergrowth has become overgrown and not many bridles have been brought this way recently. An orange coloured wooden stake is a clue to the start of the path and there is a vague trace of a way through the high grass and thistles. I saw another stake, taller and obviously older than the new stakes but I hoped it was on the path. I was wrong, and having struggled over rough ground to get to it I was obviously well off the path. I could see my car in the car park but there was no direct or even apparent way to get to it.

The bridle path from hard Knott to Birks by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerI kept going south over the rough ground, cleared forest with tree debris has hidden boulders and swampy holes is not the easiest of walking. I got across to a fence enclosing a newly planted area and I decided I should follow it or at least haul myself uphill by the side of it. At a corner it then followed the contours southwards and I eventually came across a footpath marker so I was going in the right direction, a right of way even if there was no obvious path. The going got easier after I passed the signpost showing where the viewpoint was and I eventually got back to the track near to Birks.

Small hills don't necessarily mean easy walking.

Andy Wallace 23rd July 2005

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