The Lake District isn’t somewhere I’ve spent a great deal of time in over recent years, tending to do much of my backpacking in Snowdonia, the Peak District or the Dales. So feeling like I needed a change of scenery during the last weekend in August I drove up to Ullswater and spent a sunny couple of days doing an overnight trek around Martindale Common.
I opted simply to park up at Martindale along the east edge of Ullswater and spend a couple of days walking around Martindale Common, with a short diversion up to High street and an overnight camp at Angle Tarn. Not a long walk by any means at only 25 miles, but I was feeling like a chilled out walk for a change, camp early and just enjoy the late summer evening.
I’ve been up around High Street many times before but normally from the Haweswater side. It’s certainly been a while since I’d been up this way from the West, in fact not since I walked the Coast to Coast back in the 80’s.
An early dart from home had me parked up at the summit of the zig-zag road above Howtown just after 9 am, next to the church at the pass. After cramming a few provisions raided from the kitchen cupboard into by sack and enjoying a spot of breakfast in the sun and silence, I set off back down the Coombs via Howtown to pick up the path heading north along the eastern edge of Ullswater.
Quite a number of people were already out walking, not surprising really. I’d noticed all the large campsites towards Pooley Bridge were full to bursting when I’d driven past, and by the following day when I returned to the car every scrap of spare grass around Howtown would have something parked on it.
It’s an easy stroll along the eastern side of the lake, rising slowly below Barton Fell and skirting above the woods at Barton Park before meeting with the High Street roman road and from there doubling back south.
Rather than follow the line of the roman road directly south to Loadpot Hill I diverted via Arthurs Pike and Bonscale Pike to enjoy the views back over Ullswater, infinitely more enjoyable than the alternative of staring at nothing but grass below my feet for several miles.
And it was certainly sunny enough, the weather forecasters got that much right, but the wind really started to pick up along the edge of Brock Crag and there was a distinct chill it. It dropped the temperature so much so that I ended up walking along in the sunshine with hat and gloves on. August in the Lakes, expect the unexpected.
It’s really quite a steady pull up towards High Raise. over Loadpot Hill, Whether Hill and Red Crag. You almost don’t notice the height gain it comes so gradually and easily. And it was great to have the hills all to myself, something I definitely hadn’t expected for a Saturday in the Lakes.
I had a short break in the stone wind break on High Raise, ate the obligatory Primula Cheese on oat cakes and half a family pack of Melton Mowbrays, and decided I should spend more time in the Lakes. I was enjoying this, not the crowds and wall to wall GoreTex of my memories. Or perhaps that’s the Far Eastern Fells for you. I was beginning to worry where everybody was.
I needn’t have…they all appeared soon enough as I took a quick diversion up to the summit of High Street at Racecourse Hill. Presumably there’d been a long line of them trudging up Hayeswater Gill from Hartsop, the area was teaming with bodies in every colour and technical fabric under the sun. I beat a quick retreat to The Knott via the Straits of Riggindale and left the path again to regain solitude.
From the top of the short steep pull up The Knot the outrigger of The Nab looked appealing, the sort of place I could almost guarantee to have all to myself. I couldn’t see much reason for anybody to trek across too it other than to tick it off, and the thought of walking there and back across a couple of km of Lakeland bog should put the madding crowd off. The perfect spot then for a quiet hour in the sun.
So off I jolly well popped.
If I’m honest part of the reason for lazing about quite so much was that I’d made such quick time so far I was in danger of arriving at Angle Tarn at daft-o’clock, and having to drink copious mugs of tea to while away the hours. In my frenzied early morning larder raid, I’d managed to procure only four tea bags. Simply not sufficient to get a sane walker though the afternoon and night. An hours view gazing reduced my tea bag requirements by a couple.
After retracing my steps to The Knott (and that horrible steep pull back again) I re-joined the tourist route past Satura Crag and still arrived at Angel tarn much earlier than planned. There was nothing for it but to waste another hour inspecting every potential pitch around the tarn in a slow circumnavigation, only to arrive right back at the spot where I’d started. It had the best view across the water and should catch the setting sun until the last possible moment. And besides, almost every other spot was surprisingly waterlogged. Even here if you pressed into the turf, water welled up around your fingers. I just had to remember not to kneel in the inner tent.
Tent up, tea on, brew on and I settled down for a long evening.
As it happened the breeze started to pick up again after about 6pm, and as the sun started to dip and the temperature gradually tailed off the breeze turned to wind and changed direction a few times. The tent I’d taken doesn’t fair best with a side wind, becoming a bit of a skinny Minnie if the sides collapse in. So I re-pitched it a couple of times as the evening went on. That saved another couple of tea bags.
Apart from that it was a classic Lakeland late summer evening, sat out until dark supping brews, listening to the breeze lapping the water by the tent, and enjoying a tot of fine whisky before crawling into my bag for the night.
Early mornings in the hills are often a chilly affair, especially when your camped in a depression as at Angle Tarn. You can sense the sun is already up just over the horizon, but it seems to take an age to show itself. So you cower in your sleeping bag for a while, willing it to arrive, only to cook like a boil in the bag piece of cod when it finally peeps over the hill.
Today I wasn’t waiting for it, the four pints of tea before bed had stretched my bladder to breaking point and only a herculean effort had got me through the night. That and the threat of a cloud of angry insects that had arrived at dusk and had been guarding the entrance to the tent.
Todays route would take me over Angletarn Pikes with a slight detour to Heckbeck Head before a short sharp ascent up to Place Fell. All probably up in the sun by now, so rather than hanging about I just packed up and headed off for a late breakfast in the sun.
The top of Place Fell proved to be better than having a continental breakfast at a pavement café. Fantastic views over towards Helvellyn, and a perfectly still air letting me soak in every bit of heat from the early morning sun as I tucked into some porridge. There’s something really energising about starting the day with a big view, which is more than can be said for my camera battery which died on me after taking one last shot.
From Place Fell I headed North towards Birk Fell before doubling back south west and descending steeply beside a bracken lined stream, back down to Ullswater. Joining a track on the east bank near Blowick the route then took a wonderful path above the lake through woodland below Birkfell Earth before emerging at Scalehow Force. By now it was really getting quite warm so I stopped for a cool wash in the stream below the waterfalls.
And from there it was a leisurely walk via the farms at Sandwick and around the foot of Hallin Fell back to my car waiting at the top of the Coombs. Only now it was hidden amongst a sea of other vehicles, with a cue of others on the zig-zag road up to the pass, each waiting for a vacant piece of grass.
Yes there’s something to be said for early morning starts. Head into the hills before the crowds arrive, and head back out once they do.