Arnison Crag to Caiston Glen

Patterdale Village by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerIt was raining heavily at home, maybe the Mountain Weather Information Service had got the forecast wrong for once; however, it was dry north of Lancaster and it seemed to be a nice day starting in Cumbria. I parked the car at Bridge End and walked along the road to Patterdale; it's about a mile and the footpath keeps crossing from one side of the road to the other. I turned left up the track between the pub car park and the Post Office, keeping to the left each time the path diverged until I arrived at a gate in a wall. I turned left to follow wall uphill, it was soggy and boggy after all the recent rain. There is a big oak tree on the other side of the wall and you have to duck under its branches; there is bracken growing in the thick moss that covers its lower branches, it is the middle of January and bracken on the fells died back last autumn.

Oak Tree in Winter plumage by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThe path becomes less boggy as it continues uphill by the side of the wall until you reach a bold crag; the path carries on upwards in a corridor between Oxford Crag and the wall. It is an interesting looking rock face and I could probably scramble the side of the main crag on a dry day, but the rock is too greasy for me in the winter dampness. I walked around to the left of the crag and climbed to the top of it from other side, mainly on grass but still with some greasy rocks to clamber over. There is an abseil anchor point at top of crag, obviously it looks good enough to climb for other people too. As I was standing on the top of the crag, admiring the view of Ullswater, a foxhound came running up the path beside the wall, its nose close to the ground it seemed intent on finding something; the dog must have escaped from somewhere, hounds don't usually exercise by themselves.

View of Place Fell from the summit of Arnison Crag by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerI decided to make a beeline for the obvious-looking high point rather than drop back down to the path; it was strenuous work walking over long wet grass, dead bracken and moss on soft ground with a steepening gradient. After reaching the skyline, there were a couple more grassy undulations before I reached an area of exposed scree; before me was an unexpected secret little ridge providing a more interesting climb to summit of Arnison Crag than I thought I would be making. Looking in the direction of Birks I could see intriguing grassy channels on the steep fellside that look as though they could be man-made, they are close to the old wall that marks the route of the ascent to the summit ridge.

View of Ullswater from the summit of Arnison Crag by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerI descended steeply back off the summit to a path that I could see running across the grass in the general direction of Trough Head; as its name suggests it is at the source of a stream, Hag Beck. Running in a deep gully, Hag Beck would be a difficult obstacle to cross if I tried to walk directly to Birks; the faint path passes between grassy hummocks before meeting a wall. I walked by the side of the wall until it started to descend towards the beck, I stayed on the path that keeps to the contours until near to top of Trough Head, where the gully is shallow enough to cross. The ascent to Birks starts from there; it's steep and green, but rather than follow the faint path to the right, contouring its way to the wall, I started to walk directly uphill towards the skyline. As I walked directly uphill over steep grass, the hound came running past me, seemingly oblivious to my presence, and then circled around a couple of times before making its way uphill much more quickly than I could ever manage.

View of Grisedale Tarn from the descent of St Sunday Crag by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThe route I was on took me towards steeper and more rugged ground until the natural line of my ascent led me around another grassy knoll for a short walk to the wall, it really is the only sensible way of getting to the ridge. I followed the wall, straight up the steep path by the side of the crumbling wall until it finally disintegrated; after that I followed a faint path up to the ridge. As I got up onto the crest of the ridge I was hit by a cold, biting wind, I needed to wrap up before turning left to follow the ridge path to the summit of Birks.

From the summit of Birks you can see the structure of St Sunday Crag, the view of the corrie looks remarkably different to the view of the tidy barrow from its other side; there was snow on the high tops and along the crest of Striding Edge. I descended on the ridge path to the broad swampy col where I joined the busy path coming up from Patterdale, on its way to St Sunday Crag that rears up from there.

View of Cofa Pike from the ascent of Fairfield by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThe ascent has you clambering up a rough path, it is interesting but not too steep; as you get higher there is a better view back to Place Fell and an increasingly interesting view of the Helvellyn massif ­ as long as you like looking at corries anyway. The ascent became less rugged about half way up but it is still as steep; you carry on upwards until you reach a large cairn, and an easier gradient on a wide path takes you up to the summit plateau. As the gradient eases the path disappears and there is rougher ground to walk over to the summit of St Sunday Crag. You descend a slender ridge with steep sides, it is just how you imagine it when you see it from a distance, unlike similar looking fells like Yewbarrow and Mellbreak that have very broad summit ridges.

It wasn't as windy as I was expecting on the long descent towards Deepdale Hause but the wind made it feel very cold. Just before you arrive at Deepdale Hause, a cairn marks the start of a path on the right going down to Grisedale Tarn; after climbing for a short distance, another small cairn on the left edge of the ridge marks the start of an unlikely and not obvious path down to Deepdale. There is a fine rocky scramble to the summit of Cofa Pike, where you find a small summit with a large cairn and a small ridge leading to an exposed rocky pinnacle. There is an easy descent to a small col before you have to tackle the ascent of Fairfield.

View east from the summit of Fairfield by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerAt the start of the climb to Fairfield there is an obvious path going off to the right that avoids having to clamber over rocks; a less obvious path takes you straight upwards on slabby rock with not much in the way footholds. I decided to take the direct route; there is no obvious exposure until you look behind you - its a long way down. All too soon the gradient eases and there is a straightforward walk to the summit plateau of Fairfield, where it is all too easy to get lost even in good visibility. There is a view from Fairfield for a change, and an attractive one at that of Windermere, Essthwaite Water and Coniston Water, with interesting light over the lakes and clouds over the Coniston Fells.

There is a wide path towards Hart Crag, one of the widest in the Lake District; there is a good view towards St Sunday Crag as you walk past the remains of a snow cornice overhanging the crags at the head of Deepdale. There is a pleasant clamber down rocks to a small col then a steep ascent to the summit plateau of Hart Crag; I took the short diversion off the main path to a large cairn on the left marking a viewpoint for Fairfield's impressive crags. I rejoined the path then turned right over rough ground to a subsidiary cairn and then walked along the rough summit ridge to main cairn at the summit of Hart Crag.

View south from the summit of Fairfield by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerI clambered down the rocks on the descent to a broad col before making an easy ascent, following a wall all the way to the summit of Dove Crag. I descended slightly from the summit and then followed a broad, pathless ridge downwards in the direction of Bakestones Moss; it was a fairly easy descent over good but soft ground until I reached the fence that takes a more standard route down from Dove Crag. The path is eroded and extremely muddy in places, it takes you down to Bakestones Moss, where there is a path that follows the edge of the moss; you have a good view of Stangs, an interesting little ridge near the head of Dovedale. I followed the wet path by the side of the fence until it turned right, going downwards towards Scandale Pass; Little Hart Crag is directly ahead and I followed a less obvious path to the final rugged ascent to its small summit.

View of Stangs from the edge of Bakestones Moss by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerI then descended on wet ground to Scandale Pass, I didn't cross the wall at the ladder stile but turned left on a small path to descend back to Patterdale. I wasn't expecting a perfectly maintained footpath but it gives the impression of hardly ever being used; the path is wet and not obvious, the only evidence of it sometimes was water running off the fells along it. This is Caiston Glen, a quiet and pleasant valley, I'm surprised it isn't more popular with being so accessible; there are plenty of waterfalls and it is a wild and unspoiled place, although it is a lengthy descent to level ground. As I got to the lower end of the glen I thought I kept hearing a dog barking up on the steep slopes; as I got on to the muddy path through the trees by the side of Kirkstone Beck another hound came running off the fell and easily climbed the eight-feet high wall topped by a wire fence.

Caiston Beck by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerLevel ground was a wet and soggy woodland; I reached a dilapidated barn where a signpost points out an obvious path that you follow until it goes into a farmyard and you have to walk across a wet and muddy cow-field to a stile, then a footbridge leading to a much bigger track. You then follow the rough track past Brotherswater Hall and Brotherswater itself to the Cow Bridge car park; you will then use a permissive path, which is wet and muddy but it keeps you off the busy pathless road. Eventually you can get back onto the road when you reach a gate and stile, there is a grassy verge to use for the short walk back to car.

MWIS had got the forecast spot-on, and it was still raining at home when I got back.

Andy Wallace 19th January 2008

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