After a very wet week it was a damp morning as I drove up the motorway, it was too late to turn back by the time I realised I had forgotten my waterproof jacket, I would have to improvise again. I met John and his dog Bob at the phone box in Stonethwaite, after several occurrences of him borrowing my published routes he had chosen today's walk. It wasn't raining so I was hoping that the combination of hooded showerproof jacket over a pertex windshirt would get me through any showers.
We walked through the houses, past the pub, carrying on along the track rather than use the usually sodden footpath through the camp site. There was plenty of water in Stonethwaite Beck near Smithymire Island, there will still be a lot of water on the hills. Follow the track as it becomes rougher, through a kissing gate and soon you reach a footbridge that you use to cross what is now Langstrath Beck, Eagle Crag is an impressive and imposing object seen from this direction. Once across the bridge you have to double back on yourself over waterlogged ground, don't go through the gate but carry on squelching towards the wall you should be able to see ahead that encloses Greenup Gill.
Turn right to follow the wall up the valley, there is a path but in wet weather it is soggy, muddy and slippery especially today when the whole fellside is like a sodden sponge. You will reach a wall and you have to scramble awkwardly up over muddy ground, catching your backpack on the branches of a fallen tree in order to get to the hole in the wall. Once through the wall you can there is no mistaking your route, straight up by the side of the wall. Whether it is because I am fitter or because there are muddy footholes to step into the climb doesn't seem as hard as when I first did it, but it is still a strenuous slog up wet grass.
There is now a definite path that you can follow as you leave the wall near the top of the slope, at one time you had to have you cairn detectors set to high power. The cairns are now hidden by reeds and you have trouble seeing them by the side of the muddy eroded foot holes. In Wainwrights day and in my early days this was a much more difficult climb and he was right about getting across the wall at the top where it meets a crag. These days there small wooded fence with a slippery wooden step-stile you can use to carefully climb over the fence before you make another steep grassy ascent.
This short ascent leads to a dead end, or rather a sudden drop, the way up is on the left a small wet and rocky gully without the fence that Wainwright described. At the top of the interesting gully you get to the rest of Eagle Crag, or more correctly Heron Crag on this side of the hill. The vertical rock slabs can be climbed if you like but you there are grassy terraces that allow you to zig-zag through the crags without having to handle too much rock. Curiously, Bob doesn't just run up the hill any old way, he seems to be following the trodden grass; is it that he is picking up the scent of other walkers or is this just one of those natural ascents that I like to find?
The summit cairn is nicely situated on a platform of rock, the next few hours route are visible from this viewpoint, the high hills to the South West are clearly invisible behind a huge shower. The way to Sergeant's Crag is obvious, the only difficulty being a small rock step that needs care and long legs, I have seen over confidence on the step down end up sitting in the mud at the bottom. The path disappears on the final climb to the summit but it isn't difficult climbing up vegetation between the boulders to another summit platform.
The walk from Sergeant's Crag to High Raise can only be described as a slog, it is grass, grass and more grass with the occasional small swamps and streams being the only variation. The sun actually shone as we were on the way up to High Raise forming a large rainbow in the damp air and at the summit the rainbow had a very dark background on the hills where the sun wasn't shining. Navigation can be a problem on High Raise but the first bright conditions of the day clearly showed the path from High White Stones to Low White Stones.
The path down to Greenup Edge use to be a horrible muddy peat bog but erosion in the last few years has revealed a stony layer making a better surface for walking on. Greenup Edge is not an edge it is a broad soggy col at the head of Greenup Gill, no wonder there is plenty of water in it lower down. The change of hill from High Raise to Ullscarf isn't noticeable, just more of the same wet grass although on Ullscarf it isn't quite as eroded so much more water is retained. You couldn't really described the ascent of Ullscarf as a climb, it is more of an inclined wallow up to a broad summit plateau.
To be fair to Ullscarf it has a good view on a sunny day, today however it is just a big wet lump. From the summit cairn there is a path that takes you to an old fence post from where you can you can see some new fences whose existence doesn't seem to be justified there isn't anything here apart from the fences. I have been baffled by Ullscarf before so I was pleased to let John choose the route from the fence post, I'm not sure how he would have navigated if we couldn't have seen Great Crag in the distance. After descending pathless wet grass for a few minutes we came across a fence that isn't marked on the map and we followed it steeply downhill for a while and amazingly arrived at a step stile.
There is a particularly good view of Eagle Crag from here, you can see the structure of the ridge to Sergeant's Crag and on to High Raise and then the high ridge to Ullscarf. The stile wasn't supported by a path on the other side of the fence so we just made a beeline in the direction of Dock Tarn, I'm sure John didn't really mean he was making it up as he went along. After a lengthy trudge over wet ground we got to the gap between High Crag and Green Combe and John seemed to be pleased that we could see Dock Tarn from there. Another wet slope but downwards this time before crossing the outflow of Dock Tarn to get onto a real path with more other walkers than we have seen all day.
The path goes by the side of Dock Tarn but somewhere there is Great Crag, there comes a point beyond the tarn where you need to get off the path and find it. John has allowed me to use my skill and experience to find the summit, little does he know his guess is as good as mine. More wet ground through the heather following vague paths hoping for one that goes uphill and suddenly there are cairns on the two summits of Great Crag, John gets the credit for getting us to the higher one. Of course we had to walk over to the subsidiary summit just to be sure and in order to avoid retracing our steps I chose a descent that proved to be quite steep and slippery although the erosion proves it has been used before.
We rejoined the main path that has been reconstructed for the descent that leads to a protected wetland, Wainwright has named it Myrtle Bog on his maps. Last time I was here you had to make your own way across the swampy ground but now there is a a semblance of a path with stepping stones in the wetter places. Eventually you reach the Rosthwaite to Watendlath path but we have another summit to reach, the ground isn't any drier on the climb to the rocky summit of Brund Fell, the highest point on the sprawling mass of Grange Fell.
Given the state of the ground and the shortness of the day we decide it is sensible to retrace our steps to the main path rather than explore the rest of Grange Fell. The track downwards in the direction Stonethwaite is rough and eroded, when it gets a little easier don't turn right when you have a choice or else you will end up at Rosthwaite. Eventually you reach the bridge over Stonethwaite Beck that takes you to the phone box and the car.
Andy Wallace 12th November 2005
© 2003 - 2013 By Andy Wallace. Reproduction of this work in whole or in part, including images, and reproduction in electronic media, without documented permission from the author is prohibited.