Travel and Coronavirus
Please check current coronavirus restrictions before travelling within or to Scotland.
Click for details
The Wild West - Iron Crag to Steeple
by nigheandonn » Thu Oct 26, 2017 2:12 pm
Wainwrights included on this walk: Caw Fell, Haycock, Scoat Fell, Steeple
Hewitts included on this walk: Haycock, Iron Crag, Scoat Fell
Date walked: 26/08/20172 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).
The far West might not be quite so hard if I wasn't trying to mix the outlying fells up in it, but it was never going to be an easy start - it's basically a choice of a long walk in from Cleator Moor or a long walk in from Egremont. This time it was Egremont, but both mean getting to Whitehaven, and I had decided it had to mean the *really* early start of the 5.15 train from Carlisle - not so easy after a very disturbed night in a hostel dorm with a girl who played club-type music out loud until she went out at 10, and came back at 4am still playing it.
Still, I like Whitehaven - possibly more than it deserves, but it has a lot of lovely faded Georgian buildings, and the old harbour was a nice place to prowl around in the early morning.
On to Egremont, which has a kind of elongated market square and an old castle, and provided breakfast (possibly my second one...) and a co-op, and then I was setting off uphill, with the usual odd west Cumbrian trick of keeping all the farmland one step up from the valleys.
Having negotiated the roundabout on the A595, my first objective was Haile, up at first and then along little roads thick with brambles.
From Haile I was planning to take a short cut, which started off well enough - up a very narrow lane between hedges which had clearly grown back quite a bit since being trimmed earlier in the summer, but with enough space to get through - and then descended into a muddle, with stiles overgrown with long grass and brambles and a stream which technically had a bridge except that it had been impossible to get near it for years because of a fallen tree, and finally a field of deep wet grass with no path line to walk.
So I made it onto the Cold Fell road eventually, but it had taken a bit longer than I expected.
Cold Fell itself was gentle but featureless - I drifted sometimes up and sometimes along, and kept finding out that the summit was a good bit further along than I thought - not that I ever was very sure where the summit was, because a patch of rough grass looked obviously highest until I was standing on it, when a smooth sunlit patch looked even higher, and when I got there I wasn't sure again.
Worm Gill runs more or less straight into the back of the hill, so I had a good view of the valley I would be following, and the more dramatic hills beyond.
Descending Cold Fell towards the track brought me across a surprising boggy patch, and then out on the road at Cold Fell Gate, with its collection of signs.
I turned back down the other track, which was not all that much smaller or rougher at first than the thing opposite which was called a road, and followed it down to the new footbridge, before making the detour to Monks' Bridge, which is surprisingly innaccessible.
The track was still fairly good until it split, with the track across Tongue How then just being worn grass. Further on, past the old cairn, it was clearer but much wetter, sometimes deep in standing water with the grass at the side not being much better - very slow going. Further round past the bend it was grass again and a bit drier again, but I was pretty wet by then. By the time I reached the old intake works I felt like I'd been trudging up a wet valley forever, and it really was more than two hours since I'd left the road.
From there the maps showed an impossibly straight right of way running up the side of Long Grain and on right over the summit, but the tongue between Long Grain and Bleaberry Gill looked a better bet to me, and that was where I found a path.
It was a very good path, in fact, clear and dry and taking me directly to where I was going. It was just long, and climbed very slowly, so that once I was well above the junction of the streams I didn't seem to move very much. Eventually, though, the path wandered off down to the right, presumably to head for Caw Fell - I really didn't want to lose height, and kept straight on, but there were some much wetter patches after that.
In spite of Wainwright's insults I found Caw Fell very pleasant to look at from this side, with the great scoop out of it above Bleaberry Gill - it was Iron Crag which remained round and flat and not very interesting, its only decoration the fringe of stones which never seemed to get much closer.
I did finally make it into the stones, heading for one lonely tree, and then things did get a bit more interesting, because somewhere near my feet was the biggest bit of plane I'd ever seen on a hill - but it didn't stay the biggest piece for more than a few seconds, because not far away was more or less a whole wing.
(I do have slightly mixed feelings about poking round plane remains on hillsides, but apart from the length of time they've been there, a plane on a hill is intrinsically out of place and therefore interesting in a way that e.g. the remains of a car crash on a road wouldn't be. So...)
I was genuinely near the edge of the summit now, although it took a bit more toiling on before I was right on top.
And then I was foiled completely by an uncrossable wall with the summit on the other side.
At least, I could see where it had been crossed, where the barbed wire on top was down, and it was nice and solid to climb, and I even sat on top of it for a bit - but on the other side the wire running along it was standing out quite a bit from the wall, and my legs just weren't long enough to get round it and onto a foothold. So I looked at the cairn regretfully, and had another go, and then headed on, because I really didn't have more time to waste on a Hewitt...
Caw Fell was looking quite enticing, with a narrow neck of land connecting it to Iron Crag, and the scooped out slopes on both sides of it now - the clouds were doing good lighting effects as well.
Up on top it was a great gentle rounded place, but pleasant. The wall turned the corner and carried on towards the summit, but here it was fallen down in places and reinforced by a fence which was much easier to cross.
I was up onto the main ridge now, though - out of the empty western valleys, and onto a line of summits heading towards Wasdale.
The views were good too, now that I was not only out of the valley but able to see over the wall, and the hills on the other side of Ennerdale already seemed to be putting on their autumn colours.
The summit of Haycock was a stony contrast to the endless grass of earlier on.
Nearer to Scoat Fell I got my first glimpse of Wastwater, and a definite feeling of having crossed to the other side.
I was vaguely expecting to come next to the summit of Scoat Fell, where I meant to have a rest, but instead the big cairn I came to was the one marking the way over to the summit of Steeple.
Steeple had been described as if it was just a pleasant wander along a ridge, and the reality was a far more precarious looking place than I had expected, narrow and spiky with great drops on either side.
I left my bag by the cairn and started out, only to be attacked by a horrible fit of wobbliness - I felt the whole time as if I was only one loose stone from disaster, and every stone seemed to be loose, and when I put my hand down what looked like solid rock for comfort, that moved as well! I'm not sure how much was really the situation and how much my body suddenly realising and informing me that it was after 5 o'clock and I had completely forgotten to stop for lunch, but it wasn't a pleasant combination.
Fortunately the worst, loosest part was on the way down coming over, which made it slightly easier to get back, because going up it wasn't quite as bad. Back on solid ground I sat down for emergency Kendal mint cake, and then discovered that I also had a little tub of melon I'd forgotten about - with the sugar in me I was able to face at least part of my lunch, and the journey on.
The cairn on the true summit of Scoat Fell cheered me up quite a lot - this is the place where, because a wall runs over the absolute highest point, the summit cairn has been built on top of the wall by some worshipper of exactitude.
I'd known for a while that I wasn't going to get over Yewbarrow - I hadn't had the time long before I'd known I didn't have the energy - but I was still planning to go down over Red Pike. And then I looked at the shape of it, and I thought about what had happened on Steeple, and the long walk I'd already done and the distance to the hostel and the fact that I still had Yewbarrow and Pillar on either side to do another day anyway, and I turned down the rough grass slope towards Scoat Tarn instead.
It was actually a nice way down - I like the secret feeling of empty valleys, although I'd possibly had enough of it for one day - but it wasn't very quick, or very easy. In spite of the map there was no path until the stream junction well below the tarn, and not very much then.
It was a nice valley, though - the odd kind that gets narrower further down as the ridges close in, and I had the steep sides of Seatallan and Middle Fell above me.
At the road I had still not entirely given up hope of making it to Nether Wasdale in time for dinner, but by the hostel I had decided it wasn't worth trying - I'd gone far enough, and I didn't know what time the pubs stopped doing food. So I settled down with the food I had with me, and tried to rest.
by dav2930 » Thu Oct 26, 2017 9:44 pm
I know what you mean about the cairn on Iron Crag being on the wrong side of the wall. I had the same problem when doing the Ennerdale Horseshoe in 2008. I couldn't find any sensible way over so I just picked a spot and climbed it, being a pig-headed bugger, but at that stage in the day it cost me more effort than it was worth.
by johnkaysleftleg » Thu Oct 26, 2017 10:57 pm
by nigheandonn » Thu Oct 26, 2017 11:46 pm
JK: Caw Fell is probably better climbed up to than down to - and going down the nice narrow place would be leading you onto Iron Crag, too. I generally do like great wide empty hills, though - odd tastes. (I think you've tagged Iron Crag in a report by mistake, btw.)
by trailmasher » Fri Oct 27, 2017 7:26 pm
by nigheandonn » Sat Oct 28, 2017 10:54 am
I thought there must be a gate or stile where the right of way is shown, but I couldn't see anything when I looked along, and didn't want to go too far back - I see now that it's further back than that, because its shadow shows up well on bing's aerial view!