New Year is either a full on experience for some or it’s just the other annoyance after Christmas for the ‘bar humbug’ brigade. So, Kel and I had a look at the weather forecast after the big fat lad in red had squeezed down the Combi boiler and made a decision. It looked rainy-check, windy-check, and snow on the peaks-double check! We’d missed a Wainwright on our last visit due to unforeseen circumstances so we decided our quest should be Place Fell.
We decided we’d see the New Year in at the caravan in the Eden Valley, which is only a short drive from Ullswater which was ideal for our chosen fell hugging the bottom of the massive water. We had mentioned it to Kel’s sister (whose caravan it is anyway) and she and her hubby Stu where up for bringing 2014 in the lakes. But after a couple of texts, the party that would be heading up Place Fell was hitting 9 humans and a German shepherd. Thankfully not all staying in the caravan!
We arrived at Pooley Bridge for lunch Tuesday and a taste of what was to come, Ullswater was like the North Sea as its waves licked its shores splashing the A592. Snow had capped Helvellyn and its surrounding peaks and I had a fuzzy feeling in my stomach as I love ‘good weather’ when we’re hitting the fells. Kel doesn’t join me in my like for inclement weather on hills but she would prefer to be battered with nature than walking around the shops with the endless ‘sale’ signs. We joined Ali, Stu and Bruce at the caravan late afternoon and started to bring in the New Year with finger food and wine, lots of wine!! We were joined by one of our friends Michelle who managed to find the caravan after a few loops around the Eden Valley and churning up the campsite in her ‘Beemer’ looking for a parking space.
Due to the planned route not taking us that far and only 4 hours on the hills at most, a half ten meet at Pooley Bridge was organised to meet the rest of the party. So, after leaving Pooley Bridge we drove down the flooded A592 to park at the school house in Patterdale to start our attack of Place Fell. Quick head count: Me, Kel, Ali, Stu, Michelle, Dicko, Sue, David (Dicko’s brother), Yvette (David’s wife), Richard (Dicko’s son) and of course the big German Shepherd Bruce. New Year greetings complete we joined the footpath sneaking between the school house buildings heading across marsh land towards Side Farm to start our ascent up Patterdale Common. The stream that enters Ullswater down this valley was slightly high and the couple of hundred metres to the farm was ankle deep in water which prompted a few ‘girly’ giggles from the female element of the party. Us blokes just cracked on as usual! A testament to recent weather was soon upon us as we saw a caravan in the farmland on its roof at the adjacent campsite. We all found it amusing but I guess some poor soul has had their world turned on its roof quite literally, oh well.
I’d looked at the map and the route wasn’t that complicated, we’d take a right behind the farm and just climb south east towards Boredale Hause. There were a couple of other hikers heading up and smiles and New Year greetings were exchanged. It wasn’t long before the hills gave way to the sound of pounding paws and Bruce’s relentless quest to keep his ‘flock’ in order. The rain was pleasant and cloud cover high(ish) but the wind was getting up. As we passed Rooking Gill the breeze got a bit more lively and the drops of rain where getting a bit bigger. Ullswater was clear and the snow on the Helvellyn range looked very inviting making me wish we’d headed up the western side of the valley, hey ho, Place Fell was the goal and we were well on route.
We arrived at Boredale Hause and were met by another group of hikers chewing the fat. Stu had found a dubious footpath up the fell which was immediately ‘Poo Poo’d’ by our new friends. It looked good to me but I could see the top of the fell and it looked bleak, I knew the well-established path was clear and wanted a drama less ascent so we headed to the path that Kel and I had abandoned a few weeks before. As we trudged up the well-worn path the wind increased and the chunks of rain got bigger. Just before Steel Edge the weather had got quite bad, we’d stopped for a breather but the party had become stretched. Communication was hard between the group and chins were hitting the floor. After a brief chat, Dicko, Sue, Yvette, David and Richard decided to turn back. There’s no point getting higher into worse weather if all you’re doing is looking down and not enjoying it. There are certain things that people get from the hills, views, exercise, but I like the thrill! I know it’s not Everest and there’s always a way down but I’ve always loved the mountains and hills not matter what the weather, bad weather just adds to it for me. I carry enough kit to make my ‘stay’ overnight comfortable!
With a good chunk of the party gone we cracked on leaving just the caravan dwellers heading summit wise and the weather getting worse. Bruce the Shepherd wasn’t happy, he’d lost half this flock and it was doing his head right in. However, at the top we managed to shelter slightly but we were greeted with a small scattering of the fluffy white stuff. A ‘re-group’ as I like to call it was in session. Did everyone like to carry on? Yes. Was everyone dry? No but ok. Where the fek had my daysack cover gone? Hanging near my arse.
Happy days and we cracked on after hoying down a Snickers and a reassessment of kit. The snow was now driving into my unzipped pockets but I was warm and dry. Vision was very good considering and every one was chipper. Bruce had got over the fact he had only 5 humans to watch and cracked on negotiating the crags and the driving snow which, even he was struggling to contend with.
‘The Knight and Mortar Crags’ were negotiated extremely well, mainly down to a good path, nowt to do with navigation. There were a good few moments where Kel had a couple of slips but nothing to write home about. My daysack cover decided to make another bid for escape on Mortar Crag but luckily moorland to the west of us saved it from joining the waves of Ullswater. The wind was very strong making all the snow and rain a little bit more extreme. Michelle had grabbed my attention as we headed to the massive Sheepfold at Low Moss, she pointed out a left turn just before High Dodd which looked good. Things were starting to be blown about, my daysack cover included plus my underpants were soaked, don’t ask me how but they were. We banged in a left turn at the junction and headed down the path parallel with Low Moss Gill. Immediately the wind reduced and we stopped at the disused quarry about a quarter of the way down to have a break. Kel popped on her white bonnet and Bruce tried to eat Michelle’s sarnies, I found a lovely slate water fall and we headed off down the route. The surface was slippery under foot and there was a couple of ‘Hip jammers’ as people slipped but recovered without hitting the deck. We had the joy of Scalehow Force roaring away to our left as we joined another well-worn path just before Scalehow wood and a left turn south west along the side of the lake.
We were still not half way but as the wind, rain and snow were not with us chins were up and conversation was ongoing. Well between Ali and Michelle it was, very much so, what do lasses find to talk about?! With the steep crags to our left and the swirls on Ullswater to our right, the pace picked up and jelly babies made an appearance. Kel was proud to produce a packet of ‘Spogs’ (liquorice with hundreds and thousands on) and smiles were on all involved. Silver Bay went by with the water a bit closer than usual and it wasn’t long before the end of Ullswater was in sight. The cloud was dropping and twinkles of Glennridding were inviting us from across the water. A text from Dicko stating the rest of the party were in the ‘Ramblers Bar’ made the sight of Side Farm and the caravan on its roof very welcome and a pint to make the day perfect. However, remember the path from the school to the farm at the start being ankle deep, it had now been replaced by a few more inches of water and a prospect of wet feet for the shorter people in the party. Sod it, we just trudged through what the hell. We came out the other side laughing and commenting the fact we’d just seen a black Labrador chase a swan in about two feet of water on the path, and Bruce had just stood and watched, probably in amazement.
I came out the other side with dry feet, so did Stu. The girls were soaked but the car was in sight and the start of the great ‘De-kit’ and a chance to steam Stu’s car up on the short ride to the ‘Ramblers Bar’ and a welcome from the rest of the starting party. Stories exchanged and pints downed as Bruce left a dog shaped wet print on the wooden flooring. The mystery of my wet underpants was solved by realising I’d left the zips on my waterproof over trousers open to the driving rain/snow on the summit.
AW states “Few Fells are so well favoured as Place Fell for praising neighbouring heights!” This is true; Helvellyn graced us with its white cap the whole way almost inviting us over as if to capture souls. Even though the weather was ‘wintery’ I wouldn’t have had it any other way!