Central Ridge Fridge

Good morning FellwalkerThe forecast was for icy conditions, so I decided to walk a ridge that might benefit from being frozen. It was dry and cold when I parked at Armboth; a Robin came to see if I had anything for it to eat, so of course I obliged. I walked out of the car park and crossed the road, a signpost showed the way to Watendlath; it was uphill but not as steep as I had expected, a zigzag path with a surprisingly easy gradient. The usually wet sections were completely frozen, making it impossible to use the path and I had to clamber up the steep grassy slopes where the diversions were required. It was easier than I had thought, and once I had got past the icy path it was a pleasant walk upwards; I emerged above the forest boundary onto the flank of Armboth Fell, probably the wettest of the fells on the wet Central Ridge on most days of the year.

View from the footpath to WatendlathThe frozen ground made the walking much better than usual, although there were patches of frozen fell where the excessive surface water had turned into an extensive ice slope. I made my own way across to the only visible significant outcrop of rock on the rolling moorland, although I was surprised to see other footprints in the frost; the summit is on another rock outcrop that remains hidden by the one I was aiming for until you are almost there. Armboth Fell didn't get a great write-up by Wainwright, and on a wet day there isn't a great deal to say about it, but the views can be extensive although it was fairly dull when I got to the summit.

Armboth FellPaths are not a good feature on Armboth Fell, I just picked a reasonable looking route towards the ridge fence that I knew was there, even though I couldn't see it. I followed some quad-bike tracks because they were going in the right direction, and the sheep farmers probably know the least hazardous way across their fell. The Central Ridge path is about as unpleasant a path as you will come across, there are others just as wet and muddy but the extent of the squelching far exceeds anything else; except that it was frozen, mud and water were completely solid and as safe as ice can be. I wasn't the only one taking advantage of the conditions on the ridge, there seemed to people in every direction.

View from the summit of Armboth FellI followed the straight fence for what seemed like a long time until it turned left, where Blea Tarn was visible ahead; I crossed over the fence and started to walk across the pathless grass. I decided to get back to the side of the fence after it had returned from its diversion, mainly to avoid losing any height. The fence keeps mainly to the contours, with a final short rise and descent to the col below Standing Crag, the obvious rock outcrop above Blea Tarn. There is then a steeper climb up a shallow gully, there was more ice to be avoided before reaching the extensive summit plateau of Ullscarf. At Standing Crag you think you are nearly there, but you still have to walk for another mile to reach the summit of Ullscarf.

The summit of Ullscarf is not usually a busy place, the occasional wanderer will visit it and thrill seekers will avoid it; but there seemed to be people coming to it from all directions. The breeze got up a little bit and in the short time I was standing at the summit to take photographs and count other walkers I got cold; I had to fasten up my coat, put on my hat and Dachstein wool mittens. The Dachstein mittens are ideal for cold dry conditions, they keep my hands warm without overheating when I am working hard, and if my fingers do get cold they warm up more quickly than with any other gloves I have tried.

Standing CragFrom the summit, I headed almost due north towards Coldbarrow Fell, passing the cairned top of High Saddle and making the short climb to Low Saddle, for its unique view of Watendlath Tarn, Derwentwater and Bassenthwaite Lake. I retraced my steps off the summit outcrop and made my way down a shallow gully; I was aiming for the northern end of Blea Tarn but the easiest line of descent seemed to be towards the middle of it. As I stood on a small hummock to survey the ground below I saw a group of seven deer; they obligingly stood up and waited, while my mittened hands fumbled with the camera, until I had taken a couple of photos before they ran away.

I also saw a couple of people skating on Blea Tarn, they kept fairly close to the shore but it certainly looked frozen through to a good depth. My descent took me close to the water's edge and yet more people were already there; I started to think about having to cross Bleatarn Gill but when I got there, enough of the stepping stones were free enough of ice to make an easy job of it. There is a signpost there, pointing out a path to Watendlath in order to avoid Bleatarn Gill, but there wasn't much sign of a path as I headed back up to the ridge fence, through the frosty heather.

View from Low SaddleOnce I got up to the ridge, I turned left to follow the fence northwards; in spite of my uncertainty about following a fence I wasn't familiar with, it did turn out to be the right fence and eventually I was overlooking Armboth Fell again, I couldn't get lost there. I followed the fence all of the way to the summit of High Tove, not that there was any noticeable climbing to be done; the summit cairn has had the wooden pole restored to its centre and now looks like Wainwright's drawing of it. I carried on towards High Seat, this route contains the highest peat hags and deepest muddy bogs in the Lake District; this is probably why so many other people were taking advantage of the conditions, it can be very awkward in normal circumstances.

Deer posing for me on the descent from Coldbarrow FellI kept to my own side of the fence and climbed up to the cairned top called Man, just on the other side of a small depression between it and the summit of High Seat; there can't be very much difference in the height of the two summit outcrops. I climbed down and crossed the stile in the fence to walk up to the proper summit, where a summit crow was perched on top of the triangulation column; as I walked up to the summit the crow flew off and landed on the cairn on Man. I have seen this behaviour from crows in the past, there is frequently one, sometimes two, perched on top of a summit cairn.

After leaving the summit, I crossed back over the fence and headed easily downwards towards the forests above Thirlmere. Rather than take the quickest route back to the forest track, I decided to take a “short cut” across rough grass and made a beeline for the top of the Fisher Gill track. Unfortunately the undulations of the terrain were not made for beelines and I ended up back at the track anyway, although to be fair it was quite a good way along, at the deer-proof gate where the footpath leaves the track.

Blea TarnWithout checking my map, I went through the gate and turned right to follow the track, thinking (hoping) that it would take me to the Fisher Gill path that I had used to come up from Armboth. I came across a sign saying no entry beyond that point, but I was still hoping that this was an easier way to the path; after the track became an overgrown path that ended in a small clearing in the trees I finally accepted that it was the wrong way. Having to walk back up to the deer gate was the last thing I wanted, not least because I was beginning to lose daylight and had just wasted almost half an hour.

Frozen peat hags between High Tove and High SeatAfter going back through the gate, I followed the fence as closely as I could, there were patches of frozen fell to be avoided at regular intervals. I eventually reached the end of the forestry, where I thought I would find the path that I had climbed earlier; I didn't recognise the place at all, I certainly didn't remember having to climb a tall ladder stile. I had a look around and saw a path going downhill, it was probably there that I had come up from; when I got there it looked no more familiar, there was a faint path but I didn't remember having to cross an icy stream.

The Man on High SeatIt was going to get dark within a few minutes so I had to get down; there was a path but it was much steeper than the one I had climbed, I resigned myself to getting down and having to walk along the road to Armoth. The path became much steeper, fortunately there was a fence that I could hang on to as I slithered down the grass and stones; at least I didn't have to deal with any ice on this way down. I eventually got down close to the road, I saw lights in a nearby car park and thought I would go there to see exactly where I was. It seemed familiar, especially the car parked near the bottom end; it was Armboth!

I had obviously missed the start of the path by a matter of a few feet, but equally obvious was the fact that I wasn't the first person to have done so; I was was glad to get to the car just as it became properly dark.

Andy Wallace 3rd January 2009

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