Howes summit
The summit of Howes, 7.05am on day 2

Date completed: 7th and 8th September 2016.  Hence, a two-day hike. More so than previous two-day hikes (walk 20, walk 43 and walk 60), this feels very much like a single walk that takes two days and happens to have a place to crash part way along (viz, Mosedale Cottage), reinforced by having to carry everything I needed to stay there — see the commentary.  Therefore, I have decided not to split this walk description into ‘walk 117a’ and ‘walk 117b’.

Weather conditions: On day 1, excellent; very pleasant for walking.  Indeed I might have preferred it a little cooler, as I was carrying a considerable load.

On day 2, though the first 45 minutes were good (see the pictures), low cloud, then rain, then heavy rain, made things rather less pleasant.

Greycrag Tarn and Tarn Crag
Greycrag Tarn (so named, but no water is in sight) — and behind it, Tarn Crag

Summits bagged: No fewer than 11 Wainwrights bagged on this walk, from a smorgasbord of chapters and previous walks; as follows:

  • Lamb Pasture (1205’ above sea level, no. 64 of my second round), a nameless summit (1736’, no. 65), White Howe (1737’, no. 66), Long Crag (1602’, no. 67): all from the Bannisdale Horseshoe chapter, and previously bagged on walk 93 (10/3/15)
  • Grey Crag (2093’, no. 68) and Tarn Crag (2176’, no. 69): previously bagged on walk 53 (12/3/12)
  • Howes (1930’, no. 70) and Nabs Moor (1613’, no. 71), from the Howes chapter, done on walk 81 (14/4/14)
  • Selside Pike (2149’, no. 72), previously bagged on walk 65 (31/8/12)
  • Harper Hills (1378’, no. 73) and Scalebarrow Knott (1109’, no. 74), from the Naddle Horseshoe chapter, done on walk 89 (13/11/14).

As if that wasn’t enough, one can also claim the additional Birkett of Powleys Hill (1526′, #378 on that list by altitude), which slots into the order between Selside Pike and Harper Hills on day 2.

Start and end points: Started at Burneside railway station (Oxenholme-Windermere line). Finished at Burnbanks, which on Thursday mornings only is served by the #111 bus to Penrith.

Mosedale Cottage
Mosedale Cottage

The walk could not work logistically without the existence of Mosedale Cottage (pictured), which is where I spent the night at the end of day 1. This is a bothy; that is, accommodation which is always open, and free, and so you can just turn up there and use it without booking. The downside is that you need to carry absolutely everything you need: sleeping bag, ground mat, food, cooking gear, etc. (and ideally, as I found out, fuel: more on this below).  You also have no idea with whom you will be sharing. I was on my own, but evidence from the log book suggests that at times, particularly summer weekends, the place might be packed out.

The bus from Burnbanks to Penrith currently leaves at 10:00am on Thursdays. I made it with 20 minutes to spare, having left Mosedale Cottage at 6.35am, so I would not leave your day 2 departure much later than this if depending on this bus.  An alternative option on day 2 (and a requirement, if doing the walk on any days other than Wednesday and Thursday) is to head for Shap, where there remains a lunchtime #106 departure to Kendal. Other than these it has to be Pooley Bridge, which will double the length of day 2.

Distance walked: Bringing together all available triangulation of data and general intuition, I reckon about 21 miles for the lot; very roughly, 13 miles from Burneside to Mosedale Cottage on day 1, and 8 more miles to Burnbanks on day 2.

View north from Lamb Pasture
View north from Lamb Pasture, with Bannisdale on the left

Total ascent:  Very rough calculations suggest around 3500 feet.

Pub at end:  There are no refreshments in Burnbanks. Meet the morning bus however, and you can be in Penrith for 11am, where there are a dozen or more pubs and as many cafés.

Route: There is no getting away from it. This is a tough walk. In the end, the only real redeeming features for me were, first, that I got some pretty decent photos, and second, the very real feeling it engenders of self-reliance and isolation. Do not start it on a day when bad weather is forecast — you at least want to get to the Cottage dry. Most of all remember that you need to carry all you need for the night on your back. This was the aspect of the walk that I found the hardest, as it at least doubled the load that I might normally be considered to carry on one of these walks. And despite good views, the immediate scenery is nothing at all to write home about, and (at least on day 1) there are a lot of boggy patches, and generally much pathless and difficult ground.

But get those magical moments of sunrise in Mosedale and as I hope you can see from my pictures, it might all be worth it. And you do 1/30th of all the Wainwrights in one hike. So, what the hell.

First light, Mosedale
First light. 6.40am in Mosedale, having just departed the Cottage on the ascent of Howes.

Day one: From Burneside station, turn right, go past the church and pub, then turn left past the store. Take the footpath (part of the Dales Way) that runs parallel to the road, which is unsafe for pedestrians. At the end, turn right, check out the fortified farm of Burneside Hall, then take the next left, signposted Longsleddale. You will be on this road for the next two miles; the main compensation, at least in late summer, is oodles of blackberries.

At Garnett Bridge, turn right, then look for the footpath climbing quite steeply up on the left. Turn right at the top and come out onto the A6. As I have said before (walk 93 and walk 102), there is a 400-yard stretch here which has no pavement. Today I improvised myself a non-road alternative by cutting through the field on the road’s left hand side. This is not a legal right of way but in the absence of a safe footpath I think it is a morally defensible one.

View to Whinfell
View to the Whinfell range, from the early stages of the walk

Either way, take the next road left by the small building (looks a bit like a waterworks to me) and you are then entering the territory depicted on the multipage map of Wainwright’s Bannisdale Horseshoe chapter. This page will be long enough without my duplicating information to be found on there: suffice to say it was easy enough from this point to get up onto the ridge at Lamb Pasture., and subsequently to follow the ridge generally north-north-east as far as White Howe. The only thing worth noting is that when you cross the drive of Lowbridge House, avoid going through the gate to that property; your way lies slightly down and to the right.

From White Howe onwards the ground deteriorates. Long Crag, particularly, puts in a strong bid for ‘swampiest Wainwright’ status, being a labyrinth of marsh and heather. To be honest it does not then improve much on the way up and over Grey Crag and round to Tarn Crag. In clear weather the route between each summit is clear (in poor weather, I would not even consider this walk), but there are unavoidable marshes and peat hags along the way.  The main compensation is the views, which are excellent.

Survey post, Tarn Crag
The survey post near the summit of Tarn Crag

Once you have visited the summit of Tarn Crag, and inspected its unique adornment (an old survey post from the construction of the Haweswater aqueduct in the 1930s), return to the fence and follow it down to the left. This will deposit you on the Longsleddale-Mosedale bridleway; turn right for Mosedale. You should reach Mosedale Cottage shortly afterwards. For information, I left Burneside station at 11.30am, and was at the Cottage for 6pm.

Day two: Make a decision about your route out bearing in mind the bus information as given above. Note there is also a taxi service in Bampton (he was dropping off two Coast to Coast hikers in Burnbanks when I arrived).

I took the view that seeing as Howes rises immediately above the Cottage and is otherwise such an inaccessible Wainwright, I was best to bag it — and things just went on from there. I woke at 5.45am more or less with the sun, left my bijou accommodation at 6.35, and was on top of Howes 20 minutes later; 20 minutes of trudging up through rather turgid grassland (with more than its fair share of largely-hidden streams to trap the unwary), but all made worthwhile by the sunrise views. There are still some moments in the world that one really has to make an effort to attain, but they’re all the more worthwhile.

Walkers and Lamb Pasture
Walkers heading towards Lamb Pasture

Howes takes the form of a curving ridge with several subsidiary tops, though only the actual summit is cairned. Follow the ridge round and Nabs Moor appears ahead, above the plunge into Swindale, though it’s not a very prominent summit. After bagging it, return to the fence you had to cross just beforehand, and without crossing it again, take the path to the right and begin the ascent of Selside Pike — which I will bet will not be one of your more exciting half hours.

At the summit, take the path to the right (north). This remains fairly clear and drops down to the ‘Old Corpse Road’ which links Swindale and Mardale. My original plan here was to go straight over this, and head for Hare Shaw and then the fells on the north side of the Naddle Horseshoe, but by this time the clouds had descended, time was beginning to be a factor and the way just looked too unclear. A fairly clear track did appear ahead however, unmarked on my (brand new) OS map, but which looked to me as if it would head to the right of the summit marked as ‘Powley’s Hill’ (with ‘bird sanctuary’ symbol) and onto the other, southern Naddle ridge. I took a chance on it and was right, and it was a good path too, the best walking of the whole two days in fact.

Gatescarth Pass
View west from the descent of Tarn Crag. The winding path is Gatescarth Pass, with Harter Fell behind.

There was still a need to bear left as the track began to skirt the incipient valley of Hare Sike, crossing this shallow depression to attain the summit of Harper Hills ahead — recognisable (though not until late on) by its proximity to the unexpected building depicted on page 225 of volume 8.

From here it is easy; just follow the wall to bag Scalebarrow Knott, then retrace one’s steps a short way to head downhill through the gate. This path zigzags down the fellside to emerge at Naddle Farm (an RSPB centre). Take the driveway to the road, turn right, then once across the beck, look for the public footpath sign on the left. This leads through the woods and emerges at Burnbanks a short time later.

‘Why the hell am I doing this’ commentary:   Having planned this walk with military precision and decided days in advance that I was mentally and physically ready for it, it did not take very long on the morning of day 1 for such thoughts to enter my brain.

The summit of Scalebarrow Knott
The summit of Scalebarrow Knott

I knew I could, mile for mile, do the distance. I knew the terrain was, while not exactly blessed with paths, at least free of hazard and relatively easy of gradient.  What I’d not properly accounted for was the weight I would need to carry on my back in order to make feasible my stay at Mosedale Cottage. I don’t think I overpacked, either; the only real expendables were the academic book I brought to read on the journey and in the evening, and probably the actual Wainwright volumes, but even here we are talking about less than 10% of the overall load.

Everything else I took, I needed just to stay healthy on the hike and during the night at the Cottage: sleeping bag, ground mat, food, stove and waterproofs (dead weight on day 1, essential wear on day 2). This felt fine as I left home. It felt OK as I then left Burneside station. But 4 miles in — still on tarmac, still not having yet reached the open fell of Lamb Pasture — I was beginning to wonder if I was up for this, or more accurately, if my left knee was. It’s not got any worse since beginning these walks — it’s the same one I was grouching about on walk 15, for example, six and a half years ago — but it does need managing. And the last thing I wanted was to get myself stuck out in the wilderness with a broken-down knee and half a house on my back. Or so I felt at about 2pm on Wednesday.

High Wether Howe
Another Thursday morning shot — this time, High Wether Howe

The far east of the District has never been particularly accessible — even Wainwright makes this point in the first edition of his volume 2 (compiled in 1955-56). Whether bus services have waxed, waned or both in the intervening 60 years is not really relevant. Pretty much everything I’ve done round here has required a substantial hike; of the 11 fells bagged on this walk only the last two, from the Naddle Horseshoe, were previously bagged on a walk of less than 14 miles. So my wanting to break this walk in Mosedale Cottage was partly a logistical experiment.

But it was also to fulfil the curiosity, just as with staying at Black Sail (walk 60).  Having passed through the Cottage twice before, stopping for lunch (walk 65, walk 81) I had a sense of what it was going to be like, and decided that I wanted to try it.

On the White Howe ridge
On the White Howe ridge

And the reality? Well, it ain’t glamorous.  If it wasn’t for the bus timetables it might not even be necessary; it certainly would be physically possible to do the walk in one day — without the added luggage on the back. This adds considerably to the effort required, hence the knee issues mentioned above (but we are going round in circles). Even with everything I brought there were still other things I would have liked, particularly firelighters and some kindling wood. My attempts to light a fire in the stove with the paper and coal remnants that were about the place were pathetically unsuccessful.  It wasn’t cold, exactly, but bearing in mind I hadn’t burdened myself with additional warm clothing, unneeded for the walk itself, it did get chilly later on so basically I just wrapped myself in my sleeping bag and went to bed at 9pm. I slept OK, I guess. And then there was the morning….

Worth doing again? Ermmm….. ask me next time. I did intend to do more than 11 Wainwrights in total but on top of the knee, the band of heavy rain that began soaking me on the descent down to Naddle Farm put paid to any plans to go further than Burnbanks. That’s a tactic that only works on Thuesdays though — but that’s planning for you. Honestly…

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