Whiteside Pike

Looking down to Whiteside Pike, from point 1771′.

Date completed: 21st July 2020.

Weather conditions: Good all round, and while not constant, even some sunshine at times (sun having been at a premium throughout June and July 2020 thus far).

Summits bagged: The five remaining summits in the Bannisdale Horseshoe chapter, namely: the unnamed top at 1771’ (number 248 of my second round), the other unnamed top at 1819’ (no. 249), Capplebarrow (1683’, no. 250), Todd Fell (1313’, no. 251) and Whiteside Pike (1303’, no. 252).

Capplebarrow summit

The summit of Capplebarrow.

First time round these were all bagged on walk 93 in March 2015.

Start and end point: I am still operating in a non-public transport mode (see the commentary). Thus, there was no need to tramp in from Burneside or Staveley today. With a car, in theory, the walk could start anywhere along the Longsleddale road between Murthwaite and Stockdale, but parking options are severely restricted. I was obliged to begin at St. Mary’s church, where there is a car park (£2 donations are requested), at grid reference NY501029 and identifiable by a ‘PC’ (public convenience) symbol on the OS map.

Distance walked: 10.5 miles approximately.

Total ascent: 2,000 feet approximately.

Pub at end: None today. Longsleddale is a rural idyll, but lacks the crucial amenity that is a pub.

Tractor and Lamb Pasture

View across to Lamb Pasture, on the other side of Bannisdale.

Route: There is nothing very exciting about this walk. The views are pretty good, particularly when coming off the ridge and looking southward to Morecambe Bay and around to the Pennines. Longsleddale is a true time capsule, in which very little can have changed in many decades, and is well worth seeing. But with the exception of Whiteside Pike, the summits are dull and the ridge a longer tramp than you think it will be, not helped by a path that is at best sketchy, and at times disappears altogether.

On the ridge, looking south

Up on the ridge, looking south.

It would be nice to do the whole valley section of the walk, at the beginning and end, on the west bank. The OS map makes clear that there is a right of way throughout, and this would obviate the need to walk on the road. The problem is getting from one side of the river (the Sprint) to the other without falling foul of the numerous ‘Private’ and ‘No Footpath’ signs that pepper some more obvious points of access — particularly the bridge just south of the church, at Beech House. Hence, start the walk by going up the road a little way until turning left at a tiny wooden cottage, where there is a sign. This crosses the river then swings to the right, joining the main footpath at Hollin Root.

Stay on this side of the river, following signs where they appear, until reaching a broad lane at Tull’s Hole, where turn right. Brow Gill, the key to your imminent ascent of the ridge, is visible ahead (see the picture). Cross the minuscule valley road and go through the yard of Stockdale, beginning the ascent proper through the wood.

Stockdale and Brow Gill

The farm of Stockdale, with Brow Gill visible above.

This lane ends at two gates, both of which give access to the open fell. I knew I wanted to be ascending beside Brow Gill from this point. But that is not the obvious stream visible ahead, and this confused me at first. That is in fact Stockdale Beck, and following it would take you up Grey Crag. Its confluence with Brow Gill is hidden in the trees. So at this point ensure you go through the right-hand of the two gates, and then cross Stockdale Beck to follow the path up to the left of the wood.

This path doesn’t last long, but Brow Gill is a clear guide: just keep it on your right throughout until reaching what amounts to a little pass at the top, and a fence, where turn right. You are now on the ridge, just north of the territory depicted on Wainwright’s map in the Bannisdale Horseshoe chapter, on page 266 of The Outlying Fells.

1819' summit

The summit of the strangely unnamed point 1819′.

From this point on route-finding is straightforward, though it is never particularly clear which side of the main fence it is best to be on. Nor did I manage to identify point 1771’, the first summit of the day, with certainty. Point 1819’, the summit of the walk, is clearer,, thanks to its cairn (pictured). There is a grim swamp just south of there, requiring a wide detour to negotiate: Wainwright’s map makes clear that you have to go round to the left of the little tarn as you come at it. Fortunately this is the only such obstacle of the day.

Capplebarrow’s summit will be reached in due course, and from there, Todd Fell and Whiteside Pike are clearly identifiable. The views to the south open up properly, offering a distraction from the roughness of the ground, which becomes more overgrown from here.

Brunt Knott

View across Longsleddale, to Brunt Knott (Potter Fell)

Whiteside Pike is a very cute peak and a fine spot to rest a while, but its enclosure is the one spot on the day where the bracken kicks in, and this has to be battled with in order to reach the gates in the intake wall at NY523008 which take you off the open fell.

Turn right off this lane onto the bridleway that — still not altogether clearly, on the ground — drops you down to Murthwaite. From here, turn right and just follow the road up the valley. The only point at which one can get across to the other side is at Docker Nook, and by that time I was just looking to get back to the car by the easiest route, so I stuck to the road. Keep your ears open for traffic. The church is about a mile and a half from Murthwaite.

Murthwaite

Murthwaite, from above.

Postman Pat commentary: It’s sometimes hard to credit that places like Longsleddale still exist. In his Story of the Lakeland Dales (1997) Robert Gambles says that “the visitor may see here, as perhaps nowhere else in the district, the Lakeland countryside as Wordsworth knew it”, and it’s a fair statement. There remains no modern development at all, no village even, just a string of farms, many white-painted and some, like Ubarrow (or Yewbarrow, on the OS map), still retaining their old medieval towers.

Longsleddale cottage

Deep in Longsleddale.

The single strand of tarmac that heads up-valley has remained resolutely unmodernised and is thus highly unsuitable for modern traffic; though as Gambles also notes, up until the mid-19th century this was one of the primary routes up the whole west side of England, with Gatescarth Pass (visited on my last walk) connecting the valley with Mardale and being the best route through the high ground that links Lakeland with the Pennines. In those days Longsleddale had plenty of traffic, and industries like quarries and textile mills.

Brow Gill

Brow Gill, and a rare sighting of a human being on the day.

But around then, the railway carved out a new route through the Shap Fells, more to the east. So did the A6 road, then the M6. Longsleddale was bypassed, and fell into its present state of repose. In modern times its major connection to global affairs has been to serve as the model for Greendale in the Postman Pat books (and subsequent TV series, merchandising spin-offs, major Hollywood movies starring Tom Cruise [OK, I made that one up]). That’s how truly rural things are around here. I’m not eulogising the place particularly — I have lived in similar settings myself, at least for a time (believe me, Arkengarthdale in the Yorkshire Dales ain’t the centre of civilisation either) and there are both good and bad things about doing so. But it is worth a visit, even if the fells which bound its lower reaches are not the most exciting ones in the area.

Black Combe and lamb

View over to Black Combe, and local fauna.

I’m still using the car, as you can tell. I wanted to do a walk by public transport today. I’m off work, and flexible with planning. On my parallel County Tops round, I went to Lancashire last Friday on the train, and the need to carry a mask aside (I dislike wearing one, it makes me feel ill: this is not a political point, it’s just the way it is for me), this was an agreeable trip.

But the timetables on the West Coast main line have been hacked around with to such an extent that I cannot reach Penrith or Windermere stations until an hour later than I was once able to. There just aren’t any services now stopping at Oxenholme or Penrith heading north from Preston between 7am and 9am in the morning. While I can still reach Keswick (albeit, an hour later), bus services to Ullswater, Langdale and Coniston are now all unreachable in the mornings.

Moorland

The moorlands at the top of Brow Gill.

This is evidence of one of two things. Either it is heroically bad planning and a total lack of care, as the times trains run is nothing to do with ‘public health’. I do note that while there are no trains heading north from Preston between the times mentioned above, there are then two in five minutes at 09:00 and 09:04. Or perhaps this is a deliberate choice, somehow trying to keep day-trippers from visiting. Which is pointless, as like me today, they will then just use their cars if they want to come. You could say I should be staying at home, but aren’t we past that? Aren’t we accepting the fact that outdoor exercise is essential both for physical and mental health — particularly under the more general conditions of lockdown which still persist, and which have suspended many other forms of physical exercise like gyms and organised sports?

What is worse is that I suspect it will be some time before these train services return, if they ever do. I no longer anticipate finishing this second Wainwright round in 2021: partly because of the delays caused by the Great Fear but also because the County Tops have now become a genuine parallel project, instead of just an occasional distraction. But I’m fine with that. Mind you, we have a few days coming up in Eskdale — a first trip away from home since the March kick-off of the GF. So there should be at least two or three more LD walks to blog about before July is out, including, I hope, Scafell.

View over to Scafells

The Scafells make an apperance to the west.

But even if I suggest I will complete round 2 by 2022, say — will I ever be going back to using trains and buses to do so? Even if we sooner or later do vaccinate-blast our way out of this state of mind, will there be any political interest in public transport by then? I can’t help but be pessimistic, and so the subtitle of this blog must be considered under suspension. For now, it is hard to feel like it’s worth battling with public transport to, and in, Cumbria, for the sake of an ideal. I am still trying to stick to undertaking walks where the car is essential, and not just drive to Grasmere (say) with everyone else: but how long I will be able to sustain even that little remnant of purity, this is not a question I can answer at the moment.

%d bloggers like this: