View from between Tarn Crag and Sergeant Man

A view on the walk from Tarn Crag to Sergeant Man, looking south-east

Date completed: 18th January 2011. This is the first walk to fall on an anniversary of a previous walk: it’s exactly a year since I went up Dodd (fell 29, walk 9).

Weather conditions:  I went for this one because of the forecast of fog in the valleys but clear weather above. It paid off to some extent – see the pictures – but there were some periods of weather which were not so great for walking, particularly when I was up on High Raise. Mixed, shall we say.

Fells climbedTarn Crag (1801 feet above sea level, no. 95), Sergeant Man (2414’, no. 96), High Raise (2500’, no. 97), Calf Crag (1762’, no. 98), Steel Fell (1811’, no. 99).

Icy pond near Grasmere village

Icy pond near Grasmere village. Yes, it’s still winter…

Distance:  10 miles approximately.

Total ascent:  3100 feet approx.

Start and end points:  Started at the main bus stop in Grasmere village. Finished at the Travellers’ Rest pub, at grid reference NY336089 on the road to Dunmail Raise. Both points are served by the #555 bus.

Pub at end:  The Travellers’ Rest, which is located just north of Grasmere on the main A591. This is a far nicer pub than anything in Grasmere itself. As well as being a beautiful little building, it has good beer and – a significant politeness these days – free Wi-Fi. The bus stop is just a few yards down the road. All in all, a definite recommendation, and somewhere I will  return if I get the chance.

Route card: Click here to download a route card which includes an elevation profile (how hilly the walk is), waypoints with grid references, and a summary map.  Route card for Walk 30: A Grasmere round

View over misty valleys

View from the walk to Sergeant Man: misty valleys, hills, that kind of thing

Route: This route contained no difficult climbing, but routefinding is never fully straightforward; paths are often intermittent and sometimes the lie of the land is confusing. Much of it may be difficult to navigate in mist, and Wainwright suggests avoiding Tarn Crag completely in poor visibility. Also, it’s quite a soggy walk underfoot.

The departure from Grasmere couldn’t be easier, with Easdale Road right by the bus stop, and it is well signposted as far as the Sour Milk Gill cascades below Ecton Crag. At that point I tried to follow Wainwright’s advice (on page Tarn Crag 5) to cross the stream in order to attain the east ridge of Tarn Crag which is obviously rising over there. But that crossing was not at all easy, and I finally, gingerly, lurched my way over a good few hundred yards further upstream which required me to retrace my steps. I was walking after a wet period – it may be easier in drier times, but then again it may not.

Tarn Crag, from Sour Milk Gill

Looking up to Tarn Crag, from the crossing of Sour Milk Gill

The path up the ridge of Tarn Crag is never that obvious but I just stuck to the highest ground; though there was a risk of missing the actual summit which is up on the right, at the point at which the view opens up ahead. The ridge to Sergeant Man then heads toward the fairly prominent rock tor on the horizon, though note this is not Sergeant Man itself, which is much further on (you knew it would be, right?) and not actually visible from Tarn Crag. Take Wainwright’s advice and look for the watercourse heading up to the skyline basically straight ahead of you, and orient yourself with respect to that.

Once up there, look for the remains of the fence and try to follow it round to the left; as long as you don’t deviate too much from the line of occasional rusty posts you will eventually see Sergeant Man rising quite clearly ahead.

The cascades of Sour Milk Gill

The cascades of Sour Milk Gill, in Easdale

Having attained that summit, High Raise is somewhere over in the dreary plateau to the north-west. Hard to be more specific than that – if visibility is good, orient yourself with respect to the Langdale Pikes and Thunacar Knott which are quite obvious; High Raise is the gentle swelling to their right. If visibility is not good – just head north of west until you hit the path – there are no crags to fall over or anything. (You did bring a compass, right?)

High Raise is something of a wasteland and I found its summit a bit confusing when, in the drifting cloud, I lost sight of the nearby fells which I could relate to the map. There are paths, but they are not always clear, and the remains of the fence are very sketchy.  The next waypoint to head for is Greenup, which is the rather swampy depression to the north, in the centre of which is a cairn that indicates the important crossroads that takes the Borrowdale – Grasmere path over the ridge. At this point, turn right.

The boggy upper reaches of the Wythburn valley are now on your left, with Calf Crag rising above them. The path skirts the right-hand slope of Calf Crag and then reaches the head of Far Easdale at the remains of a gate. Here is where, as I say below, I was tempted onto the ascent of Calf Crag without really meaning it; I cannot say exactly where I missed the path going down Far Easdale and back to Grasmere. Actually I think I got a better walk out of my mistake, but it does make things longer.

Blea Rigg, seen on the walk to Steel Fell

Blea Rigg (climbed back on walk 10), seen on the walk to Steel Fell

Anyway, Calf Crag and then Steel Fell are linked by a reasonable path, and, in good visibility, the destinations are always in sight. But once again it is hard to believe this would be an easy journey in mist or rain. It’s also a pretty wet path, at least for the first half mile or so.

Steel Fell’s summit always seems to be just that bit further ahead but eventually you reach it beside the fence. At this point, take Wainwright’s advice, and begin the final descent by heading for Heron Pike (if you use the view indicator on page Steel Fell 8, and a compass to find South-East, it won’t be a problem); after a couple of minutes you come, completely unexpectedly, to the top of the steepest slope of the day, with Dunmail Raise suddenly a thousand feet below.  You aren’t heading directly for the road, but down the ridge to the south. The route down that slope does have a path, and it’s worth finding; there should be no need to get into any dangerous situations, the path is steep but safe.

After that it is just a matter of romping down the pleasant grassy path that heads down to the hamlet of Helmside (NY 332097) and then getting out onto the main road and down to the Travellers’ Rest.

Mist-addict commentary stuff:  There are about 1,500 pages across all 7 volumes of  Wainwright’s complete Pictorial Guide. I mean, I haven’t counted them precisely, but an average of about 7 pages a fell seems reasonable, maybe even an underestimate, so let’s say 214 x 7 which is as near 1500 as makes no difference. And I reckon I currently have almost every single one of them in my head. Not to mention a kind of overall map of the Lake District, showing all fells in their correct relative positions (something AW never provides), as well as little indicators which say which ones I’ve done and which ones are outstanding, which routes I’ve got planned and a kind of network of little glowing lines which indicate bus and train routes. That’s a lot of information to hold in there. But there, it sits.

Lingmoor Fell from Tarn Crag

Lingmoor Fell – destination of the previous walk, walk 29 – seen from the walk between Tarn Crag and Sergeant Man

I got Clare to test me on this the other day, not to show off but just to convince myself quite how monomaniac I am getting about this and how much data is currently buzzing around my synapses. She picked out three random fells from the books and just gave me the name and in each case I pretty much rattled off a description of the entire Wainwright chapter, down to altitudes, which fells are continuations of the maps, routes of ascent, even choice phrases that the old man used on the page in some cases. Sad, you think? Maybe, but it’s not something I’ve done deliberately. It’s just been absorbed, a kind of osmosis. It helps to be able to connect the pages to photos and memories of previous walks, and I have by now covered all parts of the District, even if only once (e.g. Wasdale, Eskdale). But it’s all in there, and I’d currently take the Pepsi challenge with anyone else’s  pure geographic knowledge of the region covered in the Pictorial Guides.

Near High Raise summit

Strange light and vegetation combine near High Raise summit

Familiarity does not breed contempt, however. Even though this walk took me pretty close to where I was 12 days ago (near enough to take the picture you can see above), it still felt fresh, and interesting. I had gone because of a forecast that promised fog in the valleys but clear weather above, and I was keen to revisit a photographic theme that arose last time, with the fells rising like islands above a sea of mist. That aim was, largely, fulfilled, as you can see from some of the pictures on this page; even Loughrigg, which is only 1100 feet, managed to do a good impression of a lofty peak thanks to its looking suspended above the clouds.

But the weather above was not as good as promised and at times it was goddamned cold and unpleasant, particularly on High Raise, which is a really rather tedious fell, despite being the highest one in the Central group. Today it was only a dreary plateau, interesting only because of some strange, dead-looking white vegetation that gives it a slightly unworldly quality, but in a sort of weird alien sense rather than a romantic one. No, that fell was a disappointment. But the other four were all quite interesting in various ways, without being spectacular.

Loughrigg Fell above the mist

Loughrigg Fell (altitide 1101 feet) enjoys feeling like a lofty Alpine peak for a morning

Actually I did not intend to climb the last two, Calf Crag and Steel Fell; having reached the head of Far Easdale I was intending to go straight back down to Grasmere but three minutes later suddenly realised that I was about 200 feet higher up than the path which I had meant to take and well on the way to the knobbly tor that is Calf Crag. The nice thing is, it didn’t really matter. I could take all that information in my head and kind of shuffle it around and realise that, yes, I could come off Calf Crag to Steel Fell and it all fitted in with plans for future walks, time available today, etc. etc.; and with no car waiting for me it didn’t matter if I didn’t end up back in Grasmere. (So is the car serving us? Or do we serve the car?).

Glad I didn’t anyway because the Travellers’ Rest was a really nice pub and had free wi-fi. I’d taken the Mac with me because I had to start grading my students’ assignments this morning on the way up, so I’m typing this on the way home; we’re approaching Lancaster. Another enjoyable day – except for High Raise – and the century approaches: that’s 97 done now.

Meanwhile, toward the end of the walk, two jet fighters scream overhead, practicing for a war few Britons support, or perhaps wars that are yet to be fought, burning enough fuel to buy a few forests. Please write to your MP to tell them to stop the asset-stripping that is the proposed sell-off of the Forestry Commision land.

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