Heron Pike in snow
Heron Pike and Windermere, seen from Great Rigg. An adequate summation of today’s weather conditions.

Date competed: 15th January 2016.

Weather conditions: Undoubtedly the snowiest walk I have ever done, putting even walk 51 to shame in that regard. Until the final drop down into the shelter of Ryedale, every step was on snow — and at many points up on the ridge the drifts were literally thigh-high. It started off sunny and with blue skies, but for an hour from noon or so a rather wicked storm blew in and at that point, it was just as cold as, as windy as, and snowier than on the top of Kilimanjaro. Not a walk in the park therefore.

Greenhead Gill
Looking up Greenhead Gill, to Great Rigg at the head

Summits bagged: Stone Arthur (1652’), Great Rigg (2513’), Heron Pike (2008’, but see below) and Nab Scar (1450’). Numbers 21-24 of my second round of the 330 Wainwrights (and the first to be done after the first round was completed on walk 103).

The list of Birketts defines the top of Heron Pike as being further north, and a little higher (2,037′, #208 on that list by altitude), than Wainwright does.

Start and end point: Started at the Swan Hotel in Grasmere, and finished in Rydal, at the end of the lane to Rydal Mount. Both points are served by the #555 bus which runs to Kendal and Windermere rail station. Usually, this bus should also connect with Keswick as well, but at the moment there is no traffic at all between Grasmere and Keswick as the road is closed at Dunmail Raise until May. See the commentary below.

Distance walked: 6.5 miles approximately.

Looking down into Ryedale

Total ascent: 2450 feet approximately.

Pub at end: My third trip in six months to the Badger Bar at the Glen Rothay hotel, in Rydal. No hardship though — it’s a very decent pub, with fine beer and plenty of character. The gents toilets are worth a visit even if you don’t need to use them. You’ll see what I mean when there.

Route:  Greenhead Gill is a pretty insignificant watercourse even in its immediate locality, but it is accurate to name the walk after it, as it goes up one side of this little valley, rounds the head and comes back down the ridge at the other side. So, navigationally, this walk is straightforward to describe. I did the walk in exceptional conditions, as you can see from the photos, and it took me about three hours and twenty minutes: two and a half hours is probably ample time in normal weather. It’s probably safe in mist.

Colourful sheep
Colourful sheep on Stone Arthur

The ground covered here was also featured in walk 22 and the end of walk 36. Thus, the walk starts where walk 36 ended, at the Swan Hotel. Take the lane at the right-hand end of the hotel, ignore the first road on the right and instead take the second lane, which has a public footpath sign, to Greenhead Gill and Alcock Tarn. Note that at the moment, there is a “Path Closed” sign at this point because of the floods having washed away a footbridge, but this only applies to the path to Alcock Tarn. The path to Stone Arthur is still accessible, and you reach it by turning left through the gate at the end of the lane.

With several inches of snow covering the path this time, and walk 36 having been four and a half years ago and details lost in the past, I cannot say much about whether this path is easy to follow, but it shouldn’t be difficult to attain the summit of Stone Arthur, and then just keep going up to Great Rigg.

Heron Pike
Heron Pike — definitely the most photogenic object of the day… This time, from above Stone Arthur.

At this point you are on the Fairfield Horseshoe, a very popular path (I passed many other walkers today despite the snow: something I’d got unused to in the Outlying Fells). Assuming you want to follow my route though, reverse direction at Great Rigg and descend via the left-hand of the two ridges, not back to Stone Arthur but on to Heron Pike and Nab Scar, in the direction of Windermere.  This too should offer no difficulties although the final stages, off Nab Scar, are quite steep.

Then once you hit the village, follow the lane to the main road, checking out Rydal Mount (one of Wordsworth’s domiciles) and the cute little church on the way. The bus stop for to Ambleside and Windermere is at the end of the lane, and the pub about 200 yards away on the right if you need a pint. (I certainly did.)

View towards Grasmere
View towards Grasmere from the early stages of the ascent

The floods, then the snow commentary: Eight weeks have passed since I came off Dent on 21/11/15 and thus completed my first round of the 330 Wainwrights. In that time, a lot has happened, both in the Lake District and for me at home — with the same cause, that is, the weather.

Or…. no, actually it’s not the weather. It’s not weather alone that causes the floods that hit the Lakes in early December and Hebden Bridge (and much of the rest of West Yorkshire and Lancashire) on Boxing Day. Heavy rainfall is a contributing factor of course, but it is bad land management and planning that results in flooding. It is quite possible to manage the land so that the excess water is kept in areas where it will have less significant economic impact and cause less hardship. What we have in the UK, however, is an elitist land ownership and management system that causes just the opposite effects.

Nab Scar
Nab Scar, looking east

I’m not going to go on about this here. George Monbiot has written a series of eloquent and persuasive articles about it in recent weeks (see here and here for example). The solutions exist, they are known — but they are not implemented because of ignorance, indifference and incompetence at many levels of government.

The most significant impact of the flooding has been to close the Grasmere – Keswick road at Dunmail Raise. Apparently this is going to be shut until May, and this has cut a big slice out of the Lakes’ transport infrastructure. Kirkstone Pass remains open but to get a bus from the south of the District to Keswick one currently needs to detour via Kendal and Penrith between which an emergency bus service is now running. (The thought crossed my mind that if it’s running up the A6 I should use it to get a second bite at the Crookdale or Wasdale Horseshoes before it goes away, and I might well do this.)

Looking north from Nab Scar
Looking north from Nab Scar. Compare this with the photo on the walk 22 page, taken from almost exactly the same point.

Several paths are also closed because of unsafe or vanished bridges, and my advice is to check the official advice here regarding closures — there is a detailed and useful map.  My original plan was to finish this walk by returning to Grasmere via Alcock Tarn, but as it turned out I would not have been able to do this and would have ended up stuck on the wrong side of Greenhead Gill. So one needs to be forewarned of problems like this. It will be months before things return to normal here. Whether they will ever change significantly, in the way they need to do in order to protect the valleys against further damage — I suspect not.

Snowfield and Stone Arthur
Snowfield below the summit of Stone Arthur

On I go with the second round, anyway. Walks 104A and 104B did pass some time in the summer and got Joe out into some fresh air but neither felt very ‘official’ (though I’m counting the summits, obviously). Now I’ve done the first round however, this one had more purpose to it. It also made it clear why I feel I can do all these a second time — but only a second time. With all of the fells bagged today I felt that there was now little more that any further visits could offer me. I’ve now gone up all four — and gone down them. I’ve done each in summer — and in winter (oh boy, was it ever winter today).

Sure, there will be some fells, the major ones, where multiple ascents are possible by different routes, and I’m not saying I’ll never do them all. But for run-of-the-mill, straightforward summits like today’s four: a third round will just get repetitive.

Looking north to Seat Sandal
Looking north to Seat Sandal

Anyway, if I never visit Stone Arthur, Great Rigg, Heron Pike and Nab Scar again, they certainly signed themselves off with a memorable flourish. Today was definitely the most severe conditions I have ever walked in, whether in the Lakes or anywhere else. The day dawned bright and sunny and being out on the snowfields below Stone Arthur was a beautiful (if dazzling) experience: but the view from that summit made it clear that the clouds were coming in, and Great Rigg and Heron Pike were both attained in really quite harsh conditions. Not to mention having to get through snow that at many points had drifted to be literally thigh-high (so 18 inches at least). This was an exhausting experience: I’m glad I did it, but was also glad when it was over. The camera only just survived it too: moisture got into it during the storm and most of the photos from the second half of the walk aren’t usable, although there are a couple here.

Next walk in early February, I hope.

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