Saturday 31 August 2013

Musings After A Pootle Up A Small but Perfectly Formed Wainwright

Moss the Hyperpup on the Summit of High Rigg
 I suspect that very many walkers in the Lakes, wanting to make the most of what for the majority will be a short visit, head for the honeypot higher fells, to the Helvellyns, Langdales, the Scafells, Gables and the likes.  I do not knock this.  When I used to hitch hike up to Cumbria regularly in the 1970s, in my holidays as a sixth former and university student, that is exactly what I did. Although then it was Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancashire.

I was fortunate enough to later live and work in Cumbria for several years, and although I am now based in North Wales, I have managed to keep on my cottage just outside the National Park.  This, and semi-retirement, means that I can still get plenty of days out on the fells.  Having done all the Wainwrights, and some many, many times, I am no longer a slave to tick lists, and so my walking is now a mix of those much loved higher fells and some of the lower hills.  Indeed, I also find great happiness in just wandering the lower paths without heading up to any summit.

As an aside, I have often wondered whether anyone has walked methodically every single mile of every right of way in the National Park area.  I have no idea what mileage that might entail, but the idea has a certain horrific fascination for me.  The horror would be determining to do this, for I fear it would become an all-consuming madness.  I will leave it to someone else.  I will, wont I?

Today, with just the morning available, was a day for a less ambitious target.  High Rigg is a delightful little fell, standing above St John’s in the Vale, a few miles outside Keswick, at just 357 metres above seal level.  I have walked this hill 4 or 5 times I guess, and it provides a lovely 2 or 3 hour circular walk away from the crowds.
The lower slopes of High Rigg

Moss the Hyperpup and I set off from Legburthwaite at 9.30am.  As I parked the car the clouds were slightly menacing and a few spots of rain were in the air.  The weather looked like it could go either way; fortunately it went the right way.  Incidentally, if you do this walk you can park for free on the verge of the A591 at approx. GR 315195.   I tell you this because of my pique at the outrageous parking charges that United Utilities try to sting you for at their nearby car park.  In the days before a well-run public monopoly was flogged off, so that the shareholders of the newly created private monopoly could fill their boots with champagne and their faces with caviar (ok, I exaggerate but you will understand my sentiments, even if you disagree with them), this car park was free.

A hundred yards or so up the A591, a gate and stile, you takes your choice, gives access to the fell.  The narrow path splits soon after this and Moss and I headed upwards through the trees and bracken.  Our first stop for breath was where a super view of Castle Rock comes into view on the other side of the Vale that is St John’s.  Back in the 1990s I used to rock climb, most ineptly, and I had a few great days on Castle Rock. My nadir was getting very stuck on a grey, windy evening on a relatively easy climb (ie one graded “severe”) called Via Media. The second pitch, I think it was, involves climbing a crack.  The guidebook says that the “crack is hard to enter”.  Too right it is. After faffing about for almost 40 minutes, Al had to abseil off from the top and give me instructions in words of one syllable as to the right sequence for getting the holds and I felt a right plank by the time I got to the top, not least as an audience had gathered at the foot of the crag to watch the fun.
A grainy picture of Castle Rock; North Crag on the left, South Crag on the right
 The path opens out on to a very broad, grassy ridge which provides easy walking of the lovely variety.  After about 40 minutes a small stile is reached over a wire fence.  Hyperpup squirmed and fought me as I lifted him over.  After the fence your instinct tells you to turn right and go upwards; experience of this route takes me left and downwards on a path that directionally feels just wrong.  But it isn’t, unless you want to be purist and follow the ridge to a small summit and a steep little descent.  The left hand path avoids this minor obstacle.

Nice easy walking once you reach this ridge
 A few minutes further on there is a ladder stile across a dry stone wall.  You never notice these things until you are a dog owner.  Hyperpup now knew what was in store and he was not going to make it easy for me.  As I picked him up and climbed over, without hands to steady myself as I went up, over and down the steps, he fought me like his life was at stake.  He had been about 11 or 12 kg at the start of the walk; by this point he had put on another kilogram, I reckon, as he had been grazing on copious quantities of sheep dung as we walked. Chomp, chomp, yum, yum, now let’s fight the bossy old sod and make him fall off a stile.  That’ll serve him right for all this “sit”, “stay”, "heel" and “come” crap he spouts all day long. 
Try carrying 12kg of squirming collie pup over this

Hyperpup checks out the North Western fells for when he is bigger

After a longish plod along the ridge the summit appears all of a sudden and then it was snack time and admire the fabulozy view in all directions.  Close up of the western slopes of Helvellyn and the Dodds to the east and south east; over towards Grisedale Pike in the north west; Skiddaw and Blencathra to the north.

Basic instinct

There are a multitude of sheep tracks from the summit.  I tend to head off north-west in the direction of Bassenthwaite Lake, towards a tiny little valley or depression between High Rigg and a rocky knolly thing, and then down to the minor road just up from the field centre.  This is only 15 minutes from the top on this side of the fell.  A little passed the field centre is the beautifully simple St John’s Church.  In the church yard is one of the loveliest war memorials I have seen. It is a pillar of Lakeland stone with the names of the ten local men who lost their lives in the Great War and the four who died in the Second World War. Its simplicity makes this even more moving than such memorials normally are.

Beautiful little St John's
The St John's in the Vale War Memorial
 A hundred yards beyond the church a gate allows access to a path that runs along the base of High Rigg, just above the valley floor. Hyperpup and I wandered along this, eating sticks and other stuff (well I didn’t partake, actually) until it finally climbs steeply above the river.  Tight lead for the pup at this point as the drop is high and very steep.  He didn’t appreciate this and made several kami kaze type leaps to our left and potential doom, but I bribed him with Cheesy Bites to stay close to me and with that we were back at the car.
The path along the base of the hill
Two and a half gentle hours all in, with the summit after one hour and ten minutes.