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A foggy walk to Illgill Head and Whin Rigg.
by trailmasher » Sat Dec 03, 2016 8:43 pm
Wainwrights included on this walk: Illgill Head, Whin Rigg
Date walked: 14/11/2016
Time taken: 4.41
Distance: 16.78 km
Ascent: 811m2 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
This was a day that shall forever stay imprinted in my memory, as where we were is usually a place of great views and beauty. Today it was not. The great views and beauty are still there, but unfortunately not for us or anyone else who chose to walk in, or around Wasdale today. It was raining and the clag was down low as it has been since we set off to drive here earlier this morning. The MWIS and Weatherline both forecast morning rain showers with cloud down to 500 metres with the rain clearing by noon and the clouds lifting. With limited time on our hands, work commitments to adhere to, and also a promise of a worse weather day on Tuesday we elected to walk these two fells giving Chris a chance to bag his first two Wasdale fells and for me to walk the last of the Birkett's with Boat How, Irton Fell, and Great Bank completing the set. We wouldn't usually take on a walk like this in these conditions for the reasons identified above and the long drive in, but the days are getting shorter giving us less lee way in case of unforeseen events.
There isn't much to report about this walk so you will be saved from my usual rambling dialogues apart from a description of the route which in itself was wet from start to finish. To add even more disappointment to the walk the views were nonexistent apart from the low level aspect that didn't reach much beyond a couple of hundred metres at best as we walked along Miterdale.
Well, as Max Bygraves would say, I'll tell you a story.
Now this story is about three blokes who arrived at the car park in Miterdale Forest that is at the end of the narrow tarmac road that terminates there and from where the private farm track to Low Place begins at the bridge spanning the River Mite. It's raining, though not cold. We initially missed the turning for the road as we passed through Bowerhouse Bridge where there are two low insignificant walls on either side of a tarmac road, our road as it turned out to be. Chris spotted a school bus just along that road and reckoned that it was the one for us but just to make sure he called in the PO/shop at Eskdale Green where confirmation of same was made.
It was but a short drive along the road to the car park…
where we soon got dressed up for the walk in hand and set off by first of all passing over the bridge and then turning right along a fairly wide and puddle ridden stony track…
that would take us to Low Place and a less than friendly farmer who ignored us when spoken to. "It's wet for everybody mate", I felt like saying, but as this is the only access to the footbridge it was better to keep quiet and keep walking.
Once the farmyard has been passed through there are a couple of confusing gates none of which had a way marker on, and with the ground trampled to mud by the passing of beasts it was unclear which way to go. We took the one leading straight forward towards some trees and right enough there was the narrow footbridge that would put us onto the east bank of the River Mite where we would stay for the next two kilometres. There was plenty of water running in the river as there was on the track that we were now walking along, a situation that didn't change until we left it at Low Longrigg on the southwest corner of Boat How.
It's a pretty steady walk along the track, and on a good day the views along the valley would have been good enough, but today with the low slung clag the surrounding area couldn't be appreciated to the full.
The track narrowed down to a path - still running with water - and we soon arrived at Black Gill that was in full spate and which gave us a moment's pause as we contemplated on how to get across it. At the point where the path reaches and then leaves the gill on the opposite bank there were a couple of boulders sticking out above the water but they were fairly wide apart, plus the water dropped away to the left down a mini waterfall, not too high but enough to cause damage and pain if a slip was made on the wet rocks.
Searching higher upstream - or gill - there is a place under the trees that afforded an escape from our bank to the other, but, again the rocks were well spaced out from each other. Fortunately there are some low branches but with the first one fairly well over the water it required a long stretch out to grab it whilst trying to place the first foot on the nearest exposed rock. A flash combination training course of athletics and trapeze skills would have been handy at this point, and maybe white water rafting survival techniques if this doesn't work out for any of us.
The intrepid Steve was the first to go, and with the grace and speed of a ninja warrior that would have put 'Glasshopper' to shame he swung through the branches and danced across the rocks to just about make the final leap from the last rock to the opposite bank. He was quickly followed by Chris leaving me to stand and stare at the both of them wondering if I was going to make it. I'm the shortest of the three of us. The first branch is high up, and the first rock quite a stretch away but there was no point in lingering so I went for it. As I both went up for the branch and stretched out for the rock I was momentarily suspended in mid air hoping that I wouldn't miss the rock as then I would have been left hanging on the branch with only one way to go, downstream. I landed safely and then both Chris and Steve stretched out their arms for me to grab whilst they helped me leap the last and widest span with only one boot just touching the water as I landed on the opposite side. And that, my fellow walkers, is the sum total of the excitement of this walk. There is no thrill and excitement in walking on paths of running water in the rain, with no views to get excited about due to the low cloud that look as if they have no intention of lifting, nor the rain of easing up any, if at all, in spite of the intimations of both weather sites that they would.
Once this natural water barrier had been conquered we splashed along until we passed through the gate of the intake wall below White Moss, walked on another few metres before then starting to climb southeast straight up the west side of Boat How.
The first 200 metres was the steepest part and once this was done with we made a turn to the northeast along the easier slopes of Low Longrigg with its couple of stone circles. There is no path but once the ground had eased up we came across a welcome quad bike track that was going roughly in the direction of where we needed to be, the summit. As the track continued along the west side of Boat How we eventually had to leave it behind and veer off to the east following easy ground over rough grass to arrive at a short, steep rock strewn bank. Even without the help of the bike track the going was easy as we passed over the rocky patch and then simply turned to the north to climb the final 30 metres over very easy rising ground to reach the grassy summit of Boat How.
Boat How summit is unremarkable - even more so in fog - with a large flattish, grassy top adorned with a few rocks, a single one denoting the summit. The west face has a more craggy countenance, not much so but enough to break up the dullness of the clag and wet green of the fell itself. With our heads in the clouds and with nothing to see we left without lingering and now had the luxury of a path, albeit a wet one, that we followed all the way along very easy slopes down the north ridge. After what seemed like a long walk that was probably due to the clag we arrived at Burnmoor Lodge that has scaffolding on two sides and is currently receiving some attention from the builders or volunteers. Once again even at this low level there was not much to see, even the tarn was near invisible as it appeared to blend in with the surrounding fog.
On we went, now walking along the east side of Burnmoor Tarn as I cast my mind back to the last time I was here earlier this year with the sun shining, fellow walkers paddling in the tarn, and a herd of free range cattle grazing along the banks or sprawled out in the grass. What a contrast to today, wet and foggy with rain coming down and walking in water as the level of the tarn has risen to cover the regular path and the surrounding ground is sodden.
We arrived at Bulatt Bridge that consists of five railway sleepers that spans the deepest channel of Whillan Beck that is the outflow from the tarn.
After the bridge the crossing of the wide but shallower water is dependent on stepping stones, usually an easy matter, although today with the higher water level quite a few of the 'important' stones were submerged and although Chris and I managed to maintain dry feet, Steve didn't.
We could just about see the base of Illgill Head as we left the crossing and slowly moved slightly west of north to gain higher and drier ground as we now walked along a green lane that runs through the dead bracken.
Once past the bracken the path is the usual narrow over grass sort as we continued to climb steadily onwards towards the cairn that is sat at the 287 metre line and just above where the free ranging cattle were grazing.
A little higher, at around the 340 metre mark we decided to have a short break before we tackled the steeper northwest slopes of Illgill Head. The path although quite steep in places is good throughout and once we had arrived at the 600 metre contour the ground more or less levelled out for the remaining 9 metres or so of climb to the summit cairn.
The shelter just below the summit cairn at 609 metres appears first, followed by the larger, although slightly lower cairn at 604 metres perched above Bell Rib and in normal clear weather conditions is the better viewpoint.
It's still raining as we continued on following the good well used path above the top of The Screes that are some 500 metres below. The path loses height as we walk on along the still wet path to pass between a couple of unnamed tarns that sit above Bell Crag.
After the tarns the path sweeps round following the contour of Broad Crag before making a short climb to the summit of Whin Rigg with its cairn of stones sat on an outcrop of rock sticking out of the surrounding grassy ground.
Once again there was no point in lingering just to look at fog so we continued on in the same south westerly direction steadily losing height as we passed over the head of Greathall Gill which I've climbed up in much better conditions than today.
Shortly after passing Greathall Gill we took a quick swerve to the south to reach the slightly higher ground that is the summit of Irton Fell, a low grass covered mound with a few stones acting as a marker for the summit. Again, a quick walk over was made as there was no advantage in hanging around in the rain and clag.
We've nearly completed our walk and it shouldn't be long before we are back at the car as easy walking now beckons, or so we thought. What we hadn't put into the equation was the work that the Forestry Commission have been doing over the past few months before we got here. Once again devastation reigns. As we left Irton Fell to walk down the pathless fellside towards the forests boundary wall we could see a large area of cleared forest around the base of Great Bank my last remaining Birkett. We made our way through some lightly scattered forest debris prior to reaching a wire fence topped off with a strand of barbed wire. The fence is quite high but with the help of the odd tree stump we managed to get over it without any damage to either clothes or undercarriage to enter a realm of some of the worst act of despoiling of countryside that I have seen the Forestry Commission leave behind.
The left over's were so great in number that barely a foot could be put down on solid ground. The cut off branches and discarded tree trunks littered the ground with the rain making them as slippery as though we were walking on ice. It wasn't a pleasant exercise as we slowly negotiated our way through the mess and made our way up the fell to cross over a tumbledown wall to reach easier ground, or should I say somewhat easier ground. The area over the wall had no trees but it was steep and covered in deep moss, low shrubs, and heather that covered holes and rocks in equal quantities making for a second struggle to reach my final target of 542.
It was only 30 metres of a climb to the summit but it took us all of 17 minutes to reach it, a ridiculous amount of time for so short a distance, albeit over steep and uncertain ground. The summit is nothing but clumps of short brown rough grass, moss, and small clumps of heather with a tiny amount of small stones all but buried in the ground cover marking the sacred spot. It's still raining and so foggy that we could barely see the remains of the forest below us.
After a few moments of looking at the fog we set off back down by a slightly different route, one that was more to the south and then turning back towards the old wall once again as we neared the bottom of the fell with the downhill journey no easier than the uphill one. We re-crossed the wall and followed it down treading carefully over the forest debris until we reached a second wall that stands on the east side of Merebeck Gill that we had to cross to allow us access to the track beyond, a track that is not identified on the OS map.
New trees have been planted amongst the stumps of the latest ones cut down but what they have left behind is a disgrace to their profession as forest and land managers. It's a minefield of hazards with deep ruts full of water, old fencing falling down, dead branches and trees everywhere, its lethal, especially in the rain. The track that we were aiming for is there, it is an old track that runs parallel to Merebeck Gills west side and cannot be mistaken as it is built up from the surrounding ground and levelled out on top to give access to man and machine belonging to the FC back in the day. Today this once good track is now completely covered in old branches, crisscrossed all the way along its length from top to bottom as though they were deliberately placed to discourage any use of the track by members of the public. The comfortable way now being blocked we had to make our way over the sloping wet, muddy, tree littered fellside slipping and sliding as we went, the only relief coming once we had entered the remaining wooded area well below us.
Once in the trees the going got a lot better the only hazard being one or two pine needle filled holes hiding the water below and after only a short while we came across the main forestry track that we followed down south and when a junction was reached we then turned east to follow it to its conclusion back at the car park.
Despite the awful weather this was a good walk and one that was marred, but not entirely spoiled by the conditions; although it was a close do, at least it was warm. At least all three of us have achieved but at the cost of receiving no favours from the weather that made all but the shortest of views possible. Chris has bagged another two Wainwright's plus Birkett's, Steve has had his second proper day out on the fells, and I myself have now completed all of the 542 Birkett's.
by thefallwalker » Tue Dec 06, 2016 8:57 pm
by trailmasher » Wed Dec 07, 2016 12:17 pm
thefallwalker wrote:yes a disgusting day mate no doubt about it! the only other highlight i remember was me going up to my knees in the clag just accross from Burnmoor tarn! just a shame you weren't sharper on the camera!!
Aye a bad one for sure Chris and you must give me prior warning when about to go up to the knees in a hole full of wet moss and crap, or stay where you are until camera work is done
See you on the next one
by ChrisW » Wed Dec 14, 2016 6:40 am
by trailmasher » Wed Dec 14, 2016 8:28 pm
ChrisW wrote:Congratulations on nailing all of the Birkett's TM but man, what a wet way to do it I have to say the pictures really do convey the conditions well. Great to read that you were not entirely peed off with it by the end....I think I might have been
Thanks for the congrats and reading Chris . A couple of pints of the good stuff in the Woolpack at Eskdale soon made the day seem better It has been quite a mission at times and given me a busy year but has been most enjoyable for the most part
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