These hills have always seemed a bit leftover looking - they're not really attached to each other, never mind to anything else, and if you look at a topographical map they really belong to the Far Eastern fells, with most of Ullswater running across the divide instead of along it. And Wainwright doesn't like them very much. But never mind.
I left work at lunchtime to get the train down to Penrith and the Keswick bus as far as Troutbeck - in theory the train arrived and the bus left at exactly the same time, so I dashed out, to find a long queue and no sign of the bus. It eventually turned up, already quite full, and it took a while more to get everyone packed in - just.
Arriving at Troutbeck and starting to walk down the road, the view surprised me - I was only a few miles from my usual Ullswater stamping ground, yet the view was between Clough Head and Blencathra to the North Western Fells, looking very near by.
(When I first went to the Lake District, I was disconcerted by the scale of it - I felt as if someone had tried to make a theme park of the highlands packed into a tiny space - but it's grown as I've got to know it as itself.)
Not far down the road I turned off into the long grassy strip which is the disused rifle range, heading slowly uphill in the sunshine - it was almost too nice a day for walking.
From the fence at the top of the range, it's a steep climb to the top of the hill - smooth and grassy and simple to follow, but far too much like hard work for a hot day. After what seemed like a long time I reached the trees growing nearer the top of the hill, which showed that the weather wasn't always like this, and after another while I came out on the summit, which was already occupied by a lady and a very friendly dog.
Wainwright is quite disparaging about Great Mell Fell as a view point, but I thought it was wonderful because of the variety - running from the plains of the Eden Valley round through the North Pennines and the High Street range to the hills piled up around the head of Ullswater, and back along the north end of the Helvellyn range to Grasmoor and Blencathra.
The descent was both gentler and more varied in scenery, running down through the patches of trees on the other side of the hill to a track that brought me briefly onto the road. I was enjoying the area in general - a nice mix of hills and farmland, neither too wild nor too tame.
From the road, the shortest way to Little Mell Fell was by a footpath through the fields. I should have learnt by now to beware these footpaths, but I somehow never do learn - and I thought that since it linked the two hills it might be well used enough to be clear.
It started off well enough, up the lane to the farmyard, through a gate and across a sheep field to a footbridge. After that something went a bit wrong as I followed the track on the ground rather than on the map, and found myself going up the edge of the wrong field to end up in a corner with no gate. The quickest way out was over a barbed wire fence - I went for it, slipped, and ended up slightly impaled on top.
Having extricated myself, I found my way back onto the path and up to the road at the other side, and tried to work out how badly I was hurt - I knew there was a hole in my trousers, but had no idea if there was a hole in me, but decided that even if I wasn't feeling it yet, if it was bad enough to bleed freely I'd feel *that*, so I must be ok.
(I'm actually mostly bruised - on my leg and in my feelings, as I've never been incapable of climbing an ordinary fence before. A bit scratched too, but not too bad.)
That adventure over, I headed along the road to Lowthwaite, and onto a path which led up round the side of the hill, hot and tired and still a bit shaken. I'd decided to do a plain up and back from the Hause, so hid my bag in a gorse bush near the bottom and headed up unladen - I think it would have been an easier climb in any case, but the freedom was nice.
Little Mell Fell wasn't quite as good a viewpoint, although the view of Ullswater was improving, but it was a nice hill, and a quick climb, which was good as I was starting to worry a bit about time. It was 6ish and still very warm, and although it was a beautiful evening the forecast for the next day wasn't really surprising - you could feel the heat and humidity building up to break.
A man I met near the top of the hill (with another dog) pointed out to me two ways to get to Gowbarrow Fell - the 'official' way, which ran through a wood, and the 'unofficial' one which ran along the near side of it. He didn't consider it even worth clarifying that both ways started from the track from the Hause rather than along the right of way further round, so I decided to go for the direct route - I could always claim to be a stranger led astray!
I started off heading for the official route, but before I got there the unofficial one looked too appealing, right along the side of the wood. It did turn out to be a bit boggy, as I'd been warned, but it wasn't bad, and after the end of the wood a vaguer path led over to join the main path onto Gowbarrow Fell.
The top part of Gowbarrow Fell looked - and smelt - very like Argyll, with bracken and rushes and heather and just the right kind of licheny grey rocks - a very different kind of hill from the first two, which were green and rounded and grassy. The path wound upwards with occasional detours where the bags of rocks for mending it had been left blocking it, eventually coming out at the summit.
The head of Ullswater was in view now, and Dowthwaitehead was lit up by the sun and looking like a lost valley in between the hills, but I didn't have much time for admiring the view if I was going to have time for dinner, and I set my sights on Dockray.
I always mean to keep a note of the beers I try, and never do, but I can't forget this one - Geltsdale is an area that I fell in love with without any obvious reason - possibly before I'd even been there - and Cold Fell has been the site of two fairly memorable adventures, so it had to be that.
And from there it was just the walk down to the road and along by the new path to Glenridding, only enlivened by going further along the shore than I should have at one point and having to climb a wall higher than me to get back to the road - fortunately it was nice and solid, and only about a foot high on the road side - and then slanting up above the village to the Greenside Road, since I was staying at the Helvellyn hostel, still with that illusion of being in Argyll as the smell of smoke came up to me. And it seemed like a lot longer than half a day since I'd left work.
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