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The far far east - Branstree and friends

The far far east - Branstree and friends

Postby nigheandonn » Tue Oct 08, 2013 1:17 pm

Wainwrights included on this walk: Branstree, Grey Crag, Selside Pike, Tarn Crag (Far Eastern Fells)

Hewitts included on this walk: Branstree, Grey Crag, Selside Pike, Tarn Crag

Date walked: 28/09/2013

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I'd originally planned to do these four as the second half of a kind of Longsleddale round in April, but having been blown down into the valleys then, and not really wanting to retrace my steps (or to pay the Haweswater Hotel's prices for a second time), Shap seemed like an interesting alternative. So the train to Penrith and a bus from there deposited me for a quiet evening with a log fire and beer and magazines, which was very nice. I was assured the hostel was actually quite busy, but I didn't see anyone else until breakfast time, and not many then.

Shap's a bit of an odd place, strung out along the road, but I basically liked it - I generally do like places which are more practical than touristy. I wandered round the village in the morning before I set off, and went up to the church - I had a vague idea something from Mardale was taken there (other than bodies!), but I'd forgotten to look it up, and didn't find anything about it.

It's quite well tucked into its valley - although it's right in between the Lakes and the Pennines, you can't really see either at first. The view to Kidsty Pike suddenly opening out as I headed south was quite a surprise.

Kidsty Pike from Shap

I was heading for Wet Sleddale, to make my way up onto Grey Crag from the back - first down a tiny road, then a path by the river. I met another, tinier, road, and thought I could head up that way, but as I went up I met a collection of cows walking steadily down, and decided that discretion was the better part of valour. This was probably a good thing, because I think it was the wrong road - waterworks rather than farm - but it did make me a bit nervous about free range cows for the rest of the day, even in places where they were very unlikely to be.

(I'm still having trouble with cows, after my run in with some over the summer, but although I really didn't want to face down this lot on the road, the couple of times I did have to walk past some were fine. Imaginary cows - the thought of ones I might meet, but actually didn't - worried me much more, and I'm not really sure what to do about it.)

Weather station at Wet Sleddale

Wet Sleddale is just as odd looking in reality as it is on the map - first just any other dry valley, then suddenly a huge wall across the valley which is the dam, and then the reservoir appearing from nowhere.

Wet Sleddale dam

From the carpark at the dam I (slightly illegally) took the track heading up toward the 'lunch house', which was pretty nice walking most of the way - broad and grassy.

The lunch hut

After that it wasn't nearly so good - wet and rough and heathery, and not much path. And I was cheated of my Pennine view as well, with some literally filthy looking weather - dingy brown - sitting over them which eventually covered everything except the top of Cross Fell and the Dun Fells.

I also walked off the edge of the map, having accidentally brought the northeast and northwest, instead of southeast - I had the pink one, but it's not quite the same.

Grey Bull appearing on the horizon startled me for a second, because it does somehow look like the cartoon outline of a giant bull - more in real life than it does in the photo, I think. Wainwright says it's unclimbable for the over-75s, but despite being less than half that I couldn't find a way up, or at least not without putting in more effort than I was willing to - the lowest side is covered in prickly plants and defended by bog, and the opposite corner was just too awkward without long legs. I had a rest sitting at the bottom instead!

Grey Bull

I missed out on my first Outlying Fell summit by failing to find the summit of Wasdale Pike - partly the map, and partly the usual problem with summits on ridges, where every lump is higher than the ground around it but lower than the next bit beyond that. One promising looking place had an odd circular thing marked 279 and half full of gravel, another had a decent cairn but was obviously only the summit of its own backyard, others had posts but no cairn. Great Yarlside was easier - follow the fence and then follow Wainwright's instructions, to a tiny cairn and trig point set in the ground. It's surprising from here just how extensive the Shap Fells are - hills all around, and none of them famous!

It was after 2 now - as usual I was running much later than I had intended - so I stopped to have my lunch before I got to Harrop Pike, although I wasn't very hungry - unaccustomed cooked breakfast, or too tired, or too much worrying.

Great Yarlside summit

In spite of Wainwright, though, this was finally Lakeland - the grass was long, but it was dry grass and not heather and tufty mess. I even met my first other walker of the day on the way up to Harrop Pike. (And caused a sheep dilemma. Two sheep, one on either side of the fence, clearly reluctant to part - me going uphill, her coming downhill. What should the sheep do? The final solution was to retreat a few yards each and glare at us, but it seemed to take quite a lot of working out!)

Harrop Pike summit

Harrop Pike was definitely almost there - some hard black mud and a bit of avoiding bogs later (so maybe the influence of the Pennines does linger) I was on the top of Grey Crag, and looking into Longsleddale.

Grey Crag summit

Tarn Crag wasn't much further - about a mile on including the detour to the fence to avoid the bog - and I met four people all at once at the summit, which was twice as many as I met on the rest of the hills that day. I don't have a picture of the cairn because one man had a tripod set up on it (summit cairns for all, I say), but the old survey post makes a fairly impressive substitute.

Survey post on Tarn Crag summit

Branstree was harder work, because it means going right down into the mouth of Mosedale, and back up again. The walking's mostly fairly easy, but occasionally very peathaggy, and I'm quite glad I wasn't up on these hills when the snowmelt was pouring off in April - I don't think that would have been much fun.

Wainwright describes the walk as featureless, and at first I thought he was being unfair to it - the views over to Harter Fell, with Adam Seat and Steel Rigg wrapping themselves around Wren Gill, and the Gatescarth Pass looking like it has been cut out with an ice cream scoop, and the wiggly road leading up to it, were amazing. It felt very odd to be coming down well below the level of the pass just in order to go from one hill to another, although I suppose the way into Mosedale is a pass of a kind.

Looking to Harter Fell

Heading back up the other side I could see exactly what he meant - with a long way to go uphill I often count it off from the diagrams- 1600ft when I get to the wall, 1800ft at the top of the steep bit - but here there were no landmarks except the sheep, and they weren't on the map.

Halfway up, with not much else to think about, I suddenly realised one of the problems with working an area at a time as I've started doing - after tomorrow, I might never see Haweswater again. Of course, I have plenty of Ullswater left, and it's really my favourite lake - it has bends and hills and ferries and hostels and pubs - but Haweswater has the intellectual fascination of working out the original layout mixed with the emotional fascination of being the end of an old song, mixed with the charm of the innaccessable - really the whole Far Eastern Fells book is an elegy for Mardale.

(The other problem, of course, is not wanting to leave. There are so many things I still want to do - walking the full High Street from the Garsburn Pass or Scot Rake to Pooley Bridge, and going right up to the top of Kentmere, and round the west side of Haweswater, and down the bottom half of Longsleddale, and all the little bits I've missed, and all the things I want to see again - I don't really want to go and share the Helvellyn range with everyone else, although I certainly don't grudge them it. These have been my hills, and I'll miss them.)

Branstree's not much of a summit, but it's a nice place, with a nice view of the other side of Mardale, a completely random glimpse of Stybarrow Dodd through one gap, and a hazy view of the Scafells through another.

Branstree summit

Glimpse of the Scafells from Branstree

It's nice to walk on, too - I approve of smooth places. I didn't have any time to waste, so after mild trouble getting over the fence I headed on towards the unnamed summit (which is actually higher than Selside Pike), past another survey post, a view of Haweswater, and a tarn which was definitely a tarn.

Survey post and tarn on the way to the nameless summit

It was getting late, but I started to get an unexpected benefit - the Pennines came back. First the Howgills, and whatever was hiding behind them, and then around Cross Fell, and the next heights to the South, and the odd break in the line which I'd been wondering about in the morning. That was really the best point of the day, because I'd been missing that skyline.

The Howgills reappearing

Break in the Pennines

Selside Pike was another easy summit, with a nice big cairn, and a good view. Cross Fell and the Dun Fells, really for the the first time that day, became part of the landscape, instead of just a frieze against the sky - somewhere you could walk from here, although not at the end of a long day!

Selside Pike summit

Cross Fell and Dun Fells

It was quarter to 6 when I got to the summit, and I was busy doing sums in my head - sunset about 7, more or less, and then another half hour of usable light, which would get me to the road, and road walking in the dark isn't so bad (I was only a bit worried about what would happen if I met a cow in the dark!).

The way down to Swindale Head was easier than it had been the last time I was there - less ice and mud and more grass - but the last bit was just as bad, with the path that turns into a rocky stream instead. Then the road for a bit, and across more stepping stones and up out the other side where I had never been - nice walking through bracken at first and then between gorse bushes - and a lot of daft sheep - but up and up. And then I was over the top with the sunset light behind me, and some not nearly so nice walking over a boggy track, with it getting too dark to be careful where you put your feet.

Swindale Head

Sunset over Swindale

It still wasn't really dark when I came out on the road - I'm always surprised by the difference between the light when you're out in it and when you're inside looking out at it - but it was when I got into Keld. I followed the road round to Shap - only to discover that I had almost another mile to walk to get to the only pub still doing food - I waited a good while for the food, too. But the beer and the seat were good, although sitting down is dangerous - I was really stiff by the time I moved again, and my right hip hurt, and I hobbled back along the road to bed. But it was worth it.

I'm really not sure how long a day it was - I originally counted it out at 16 miles, then recounted it at 18 - which makes 20 near enough once you add in the best part of a mile to the pub and back. So I suppose I deserved to be sore...

Branstree.gpx Open full screen  NB: Walkhighlands is not responsible for the accuracy of gpx files in users posts

Last edited by nigheandonn on Thu Nov 06, 2014 3:46 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: The far far east - Branstree and friends

Postby harpist » Mon Oct 14, 2013 7:41 am

Enjoyed your report and photographs. We got up Selside Pike and Branstree on Saturday.
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