Binsey to Skiddaw
I watched the sun rise into a blue sky and it seemed like I was in for a good day; should I do the walk I had planned or take the opportunity to climb one of my favourite hills? As I got north of Dunmail Raise it got much more cloudy and the hills were hidden by mist so I decided to stick to the plan. I parked the car in the lane by the side of Binsey Lodge, on the eastern side of Binsey. There is a small parking area between a gate and a ladder stile; having climbed the wall by the ladder stile you can see an obvious enough, grassy path heading easily uphill. I left my rucksack and walking boots in the car and I could have run uphill if I had wanted to.
The easy gradient is uneventful and the most significant landmark was a clump of reeds I could see on the horizon. Suddenly I had to clamber up a slightly steeper rock outcrop and I was at the summit, triangulation column and all. The big cairn that Wainwright described has undergone some re-arrangement; there is no longer a single, large cairn but five circular, hollowed-out cairns. It is an interesting little summit anyway and you have to visit the cairn on the subsidiary summit a short distance away; the view might have been good if Skiddaw had not been completely obscured by mist.
I climbed Binsey and was back at the car within forty minutes; it is the only fell that I haven't managed to build a route around and I drove to my next starting point. Fortunately, I didn't meet any other cars or tractors on my way through the narrow roads past Over Water, through Orthwaite with its attractive pink Hall, to the parking area at Peter House Farm. I set off along the Cumbria Way, the road to Skiddaw House; I could see Cockup straight ahead and the profile of Dead Crags to its left. The road is fairly straight until it bends around to the left to go through a wall by a wooden gate; the wall goes straight ahead towards Cockup and I followed it uphill.
I was following tractor tracks across a flattish field until I went through another gate in a fence; there was no path as I followed the wall uphill. I reached the intake wall that would have been easy to step over but for the barbed-wire topped fence just on the other side of it; I had to climb onto the top of the wall and carefully step down. There seemed to be a faint path bearing left and avoiding the direct climb so I followed it for a while until I decided it wasn't direct enough; the direct route was a forty-five degree slope covered in moss and bilberry. After the strenuous climb up the mossy slope the gradient eased and I found a small cairn at what could be considered to be the summit of Cockup.
I could see Bakestall ahead and I had been prepared to make a beeline for it across whatever terrain I found; there was however a faint path heading towards Broad End on its way to Skiddaw. After following the path across mossy ground that was wetter in places, I decided that I might be gaining unnecessary height that I might have to lose to get to Bakestall. I started to walk across the rough grass in the direction of Bakestall but fairly soon realised I was going to make my way uphill a bit anyway. I came across the canyon of Dead Beck that was too steep and too deep to cross at that point; after walking upstream for a short distance I came across what seemed to be a faint path.
The path got close to the stream where there were some bright green patches of vegetation indicating very wet ground; I put my foot on one of the green patches and was almost thrown off balance by the recoil. I had put my foot on a mass of matted vegetation, too thick to fall through, that was covering a pool of water; I had sunk a few inches and the mat had sprung back up again. I was glad that I hadn't gone through the vegetation anyway, that would have been a deep watery hole.
I crossed the stream soon afterwards and started the steady climb up towards the summit of Bakestall over pathless vegetation. The gradient was not as steep as the climb of Cockup but it was a bit of a slog; as the steepness eased I came across a few rocks on the ground just before arriving at the summit. Skiddaw was still obscured by mist but I was able to see Great Calva, whose flanks are covered by heather with strangely shaped grassy gaps where the heather has died back.
From the summit of Bakestall I walked across to the main path; instead of climbing to Skiddaw, I descended down Birkett Edge to the Skiddaw House road. By the time I got down to Dash Beck the sun was beginning to win its struggle to get through the mist, although there was still a bit of a bite in the breeze. I started to walk up the road and used it to cross the beck, but where the road turned sharp right, I carried on walking on a faint path through the heather until I reached a fence. There is a path by the side of the fence heading straight uphill towards Little Calva; the path is probably only marginally easier than walking up the adjacent Dry Gill but at least you can use the fence in one hand and heather in the other to help you up.
Eventually the path moves away from the fence as the gradient eases and you find yourself walking up a small, dry gully until you reach the plateau of Little Calva welcome to the heatherdome! I followed a faint path through the heather, there are many small pools of water either side of the path that serve as a warning not to stray off it. At one point I saw a vague path branching off; I followed it in case I was missing something and found a substantial viewpoint cairn. The view was good across the Skiddaw Forest and down to Dash Valley; you can't help but wonder at the people who built the many viewpoint cairns in impossible places with no apparent raw material.
The faint path had disappeared before I reached the cairn, and I didn't find it again; I ended up walking across the heather, making sure I avoided the pools before I got back to the path again. The ground got wetter the closer I got to the summit of Little Calva and after I got past I was into a real morass. The path between Little Calva and Great Calva is one of the soggiest in the Lake District, it's a wonder that it bears my weight and I was glad to get across it. At the edge of the swamp you step onto a rocky path for the final ascent to the summit of Great Calva, an island of rock in a sea of heather.
The path down from the summit isn't obvious at first, but if you head in the direction of Skiddaw House the path will become apparent. Contrary to most other paths, the lower down you get on this one, the more difficult it is to find it. The path starts off obviously on stony ground but becomes less obvious the more heathery the ground becomes. It is a very long descent too, I did wonder if I had come off in the wrong direction at times but eventually got back down to the Skiddaw House road. From the road, the only clues to the path are a small, almost unnoticeable cairn and a slight flattening of the grass that disappears into heather.
I walked up the road to Skiddaw House wondering how derelict it would have become since I was last there; I was pleasantly surprised to find a notice on the gate saying it was reopening as a hostel on 6th April. The plantation around the house contains the only living trees in Skiddaw Forest and most of them don't look very well. I walked up the faint path by the side of the plantation wall and followed the long but easily graded path to the summit of Sale How. I was surprised to find such an easy ascent to Skiddaw, although to be fair it takes a fair amount of effort to get to Skiddaw House first.
The faint path meets the busy tourist path, coming up from Keswick, at the col between Little Man and Skiddaw itself; at last there is hard ground for the walk up to the ridge. It is a change for me to be able to see Skiddaw, it wasn't a change to be battered by a cold wind. I walked from the northern summit to the southern one and followed the line of cairns down towards Broad End. When you get close to the fence, you can ignore the cairns and follow it to Bakestall; I followed the cairns over the flat, featureless shoulder of Broad End until I reached a cairn junction. I followed the cairns that bear right but they soon disappeared as I descended the fairly easy slopes heading directly towards Cockup.
As you start to descend Broad End you are walking across slate chips, typically Skiddaw; the ground then becomes covered by moss and bilberry, eventually you reach the grass-line. As I got to a shallow col between Broad End and Cockup, I could see a line of square boulders leading away from the summit of Cockup; when I reached them I found a faint path. It took me steeply downwards over grass to an old gate in the intake wall, steeply down a sheep pasture, through a field occupied by sheep with their new lambs and finally through a field full of pregnant sheep. On level ground at last I reached the Orthwaite road and had a ten minute walk back to car.
Andy Wallace 31st March 2007
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