A New Year Plod up Place Fell

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 hadIMG_3214 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.

IMG_3215Due 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 IMG_3217climb 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 IMG_3220worse 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 IMG_3223moments 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.

IMG_3224We 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. IMG_3227

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’ IMG_3233and 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!IMG_3236

In and around Aysgarth, North Yorkshire

With the cold weather here we thought we’d have look for some snow for a nice walk to stretch our legs.  Our good friends Dicko and Sue were staying in the village of Aysgarth in North Yorkshire for Dicko’s 50th birthday, so we thought we’d have a drive down and have a stroll on the Yorkshire moors.

We met them in the George and Dragon pub car park where they were staying, Kel was extra excited as it was the first outing for her new walking boots.  We donned our kit and set off through the village.  Aysgarth is one of those villages where you want to live in all the houses.  The path brings you up close and personal with the windows of the houses and you just can’t help staring in to admire the real fires and the Inglenook stoves which give off the sweet smelling  smoke pouring out of the chimneys.   A couple of the gardens were already sporting daffodil shoots and the Snowdrops where well and truly in bloom.

As we headed west the road forks and so we took the left turn onto the road heading for Thornton Rust.  Here a few more barn conversions and original buildings have the pleasure of looking out over Wensleydale.  After a couple of hundred metres we took a left and joined a track which took us up past the reservoir and then right onto Flout Moor Lane heading west.  We were all in good spirits and Kel was happy with her choice of boots.  A few jokes were flying about how she could’ve been sponsored by ‘RAB’ for the walk, but she wasn’t bothered as she was ‘toastie’.  The lane had a slight climb hidden within and the nip in the air which had accompanied us at the start now gave way to red faces and a thick layer of condensation across Dicko’s black ‘Dut’!  Now, people have their own view on farmers, I think they do graft but don’t particularly have a great deal of love for hikers.  Whilst walking up the track we encountered probably the grumpiest farmer.  He buzzed past us in his tractor with a face like thunder, I gave my usual wave but the look he gave back was like I had just rogered his prize Saddleback!  Even his trusty Border Collie following up behind the tractor didn’t have a nice word to say.

We plodded on to the next gate, and this is where it happened, my mouth got me into bother with Sue.  We encountered a big wooden gate with a chain and hook to secure it, a bog standard obstacle that every hiker negotiates on every walk.  I walked up to it and casually tried to lift the hook out of the ring on the fence post.  I tried, and tried, and tried and could I hell get the hook out of the ring.  Dicko caught up and he tried to lift the gate up, push the gate down to give me more purchase, but the freezing hook would not come out of the ring.  Minutes before we had seen the farmer open and close the gate with ease, so we both thought he had done some underhand trick to hinder our access.  So we both stood there cursing Victor Meldrew in his tractor and telling the girls they had to scale the gate due to the farmer’s actions.  Sue however, calmly walked up to the gate and inspected the conundrum.  I stood and informed her that if two decent size blokes couldn’t shift it, a mere female with short legs would never manage.  Needless to say she lifted the gate and removed the hook with ease!  From now on, I will carry a bottle of ketchup so that when I have to eat my words, it will be more pleasurable.

I cracked on while Sue basically made me my 6’ 3’’ frame look about 3’’ tall with well-deserved abuse in relation to my comments.  Anyway, we cracked on and my frame was rebuilt as I easily strode over the ford at the next bend and Sue, doing an aeroplane impression, struggled to cross, but this time I kept my mouth shut.

We walked up to Haw Head and entered the snow line.  A good 3 inches of snow covered the ground and the Red Grouse escorted our route with their familiar shrill and their bunny hopping the white moorland before us.  We dropped down into Gayle Ing Beck and met a couple who I had been watching with my bino’s for some time on the horizon.  When I say watching I don’t mean in a pervy way.  I’m a sado when it comes to footpaths, I saw the couple walking on what was quite obviously a non-marked footpath in the distance.  When we met at the style in the Beck they said they had lost the path due to the snow.  We had a bit of a giggle with them and assured them if they followed our tracks they’ll stay on track.  Toilet stop for me but the rest cracked on and I climbed up to Brown-A-Haw while they had a break at the top.

I could feel the temperature had dropped quite a bit but the climb had warmed everyone up.  We crossed a stile and headed for Stake Road, still escorted by the red Grouse and their silence breaking call.  Stake Road was a much defined path and the join with our path was clearly marked with a small cairn, marking the junction.  Again, being a sado o saw the boot prints of the couple we had met in the snow and they appear to have missed the cairn completely causing them to take a right turn across the Side Well moor and an undefined route.

So, this is where the fun started, the track was littered with potholes and dips in the surface making perfect place for big puddles….big puddles frozen over and covered with snow.  Now, due to a dodgy right knee I use a stick for descents so I had a prodder to test the ground before I tread.  Dicko and I blazed the trail while Kel and Sue chattered away about 15m behind.  So while we hop skipped and jumped the hidden death traps, Kel and Sue played Russian Roulette with the snow covered terrain.  Needless to say they both finished the track with about a foot of mud and ice up their legs which made the gate incident feel better.

The track into Thoralby was slippy and muddy which was littered with spotted horses and elusive Kestrels.  We trudged into the village and decided to have a break at the Village Inn….which was shut!  We sat on the well-kept benches outside and I had my home made Butternut Squash soup.  There was a notice outside the pub which said, “Leave your boots outside”, seemed strange considering the area.  We carried on into West Burton and another drama.  I cannot for the life of me remember the pubs name, but we walked into the foyer and Dicko peeked his head into the empty pub.  He asked the usual question, “we alright with our boots on?”, the answer will astonish me forever, considering the area, “well, the obvious answer would be,would you wear them in your own living room?”  Needless to say we left and duly informed the next hiker of the pubs restrictions.

We walked down Eshington Lane slightly then climbed up to Flatlands and negotiated a series of stiles made for anorexics to head back Into Aysgarth and a pint of Blacksheep and a final slagging from Sue about the gate incident.

I love Yorkshire and its views but I’m torn between ‘The Lakes’ and the Dales.  Obviously, I’m a Yorkshire lad so the Dales should weigh heavily in favour.