Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Helvelyn From The Other Side.

For years we've tracked up to the summit of Helvellyn by various routes from Glenridding, usually taking in the spectacular edges of Striding and Swirral. In good weather these are safe and you are rewarded with magnificent views of Ullswater on this journey. We have various adhoc team members,  so any group is dependant on who is not working. This usually means that someone has not done the edges and as we the usual members are experienced on them, we introduce yet another novice to Striding & Swirral and feel all the better in our hearts for it. Oh, there are some cracking pubs on that side too. Though good beer always features high in our walk plan you can settle into a safe zone and eventually it becomes boringly the same.
 On Tuesday 6th November there were just the two core members, Steve & myself and the two cockers Dylan & Holly(The Beast). Now Dylan is just a dog and can't read but apparently when told I had been spelling his name wrong(Dillon) he was mortified and asks that it be corrected, which I just have; sorry boy.
We were unable to get out on our normal walking Monday, which was good because the weather was beautiful and where's the fun in that? Tuesday was looking far worse so we plumbed for that and picked a route from Wythburn Church car park to head onto Nethermost Pike, Helvellyn, Raise, down Sticks Pass and along the footpaths and permitted paths back to the Church, avoiding the A591 road in it's entirety. Neither of us had done this route up or the route down so some of it was virgin territory for us and that was the interesting section to us. The dogs couldn't have cared, they just wanted unleashed. Once at the car park we saw the £7 charge, looked at each other and thought in unison 'That's two pints'! so we returned to the more northern Swirls car parks and found these still priced the same. The dogs were going bananas by this time, wondering what was going on.


A couple of tourists
Helvellyn, from Swirls.
I remembered the lay-by between here and The Kings Head Hotel and we parked there for nothing and admired the views offered by a valley I often drive down, but rarely stop in. As we got out of the car we saw a sight that helped make the day, two Llamas grazing away in the field, when all you expect to see in Lakeland is Herdwicks, Herdwicks and more Herdwicks.
 We got kitted up (without my waterproof leggings, bad decision) and set off for the permitted path to Wythburn Church. This is a 3.5km larch plantation walk and if you follow the dark blue permitted path arrows, roughly half is along the woodland roads and half across a rough terrain track, though well worn. We are not natural 'valley bottom' walkers, we usually take a direct route to the summit of something, though to make a return route here you really have to walk the valley floor. This had the advantages of stretching in the old Achilles tendons and offering views of Thirlmere from different vantage points than I have seen before.

 
To walk a pasture and follow a meandering river is serene but there is just something magical being among mountains in flood and watching and taking the time to listen to water pouring off a fell.
 

 
Thirlmere Straining Well. This reservoir was built to supply Manchester and is gravity fed. It was the site of two former lakes Wythburn Water and Leathes Water. For further facts on this magnificent feat of engineering try http://www.engineering-timelines.com/scripts/engineeringItem.asp?id=854

 
Whelpside Gill.

After an hour we were at the crossroads of the valley path and our original intended path from the church, this was marked by a four handed marked fingerpost sign. We turned left and ascended steeply by a 'fix the fells' route to Nethermost Pike where we quickly left the plantation behind and got onto a fell path proper. I had hoped for a light rain and had chanced walking without waterproof trousers, this decision was a bad one for me. The higher we climbed, the more unrelenting was the wind and rain and we quickly achieved the snowline.

 
Dylan with not a care in the world.
 
This path is open to the westerly winds and you feel it all the way up. Come from the Glenridding direction and in general you are sheltered from the wind until you are on the summit; here you feel it once you leave the tree line and the higher you get the harder and colder it blows. By the time I was on the summit I wished I had put the trousers on. There wasn't many photo opportunities on the way up and why would you? I was protective of my camera and one may as well look at a grey wall than any photo I would have taken. Once on the summit though I thought I would take a couple of photographs to show the conditions.

 
Here you see the plaque for the plane that landed on Helvellyn and the cross shelter ahead.

 
This is from the shelter and looking toward the Striding Edge route down to Glenridding.

You can see from the above that conditions were terrible to navigate in. This is a very popular fell but on this day we saw only one other person at the summit when you normally have to fight for a seat in the shelter. We donned some extra clothing while we ate some food and had a few hot drinks and decided to shorten the route via Browncove Crags and off we set. Through recognition of the cairn for Swirral Edge we orientated ourselves along the correct path for the crags and made some rapid progress until we were out of the cloud line, the wind and the temperature slowly improving. This was good because my boots were wet and I couldn't feel my toes or fingers. Thirlmere became visible and it's always nice to see the car as the final aim point of the walk.

 
Thirlmere with Raven Crag on the far shore, to the right.

This was a tricky 'fix the fells' descent on this path, in wet and hard snow it is easy to tumble, but we eventually got to the point where the gradient eased. We crossed the bridge over Helvellyn Gill and were on the valley floor.

 
Helvellyn Gill and nearly journey's end.

The dogs were put on the leads for the very short road walk to the cars and when placed in the cage, looked a little forlorn to have only covered 12km with 950m ascent.

 
'We aren't happy'.

 A quick change at the roadside into normal attire and we were off to the pub, deciding to try The Kings Head Hotel, a few hundred yards away. This pub was a classic at one time with it's roadside look of a place of safety and comfort for those travellers of old in a bygone age. One expects some reflection of that with modern facilities in a modern age but the fabric of this seems to have been ripped out and is reminiscent of a city centre 'new age eater'. Though we knew what we would see having been once before, I hoped we could steal ourselves to remain; we couldn't. We made a quick about turn and headed up St. John's In The Vale for The White Horse on A66 and a brilliant decision this was.

 
Heaven.

 This was shut a while ago so I've always driven past it but on entering, there was a good log fire, local people and three pumps of Corby 'Blonde', Heskett 'Skiddaw' and Derwent Brewery's 'Carlisle State Bitter'. We both had a Corby and I then polished off a Skiddaw while Steve plumbed for The Carlisle State Bitter (It gets it's name from the government managing the brewery as the munitions for WWI were made near Carlisle and the government couldn't have drunken workers, so controlled the liquor trade http://news.bbc.co.uk/dna/place-lancashire/plain/A644645 ) Time for home and a good soak in the shower to warm up.
 A short walk for us, but a new route onto Nethermost and down to Swirls, so it builds on the knowledge. At cold windy day but still enjoyable for that, it puts air in the lungs and makes the heart pound, easing the conscience when drinking beer, it's been paid for in sweat. Out for another walk tomorrow, I hope the weather is better, but whatever it throws at us, we'll be out and hopefully have other company.

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