I should have known that my plans would be blown off course. As I loaded the car on Tuesday morning, I felt a pain in my lower back. I’ve hardly ever suffered back problems. I decided that it was not bad enough to cancel, besides which I had arranged to meet Jeff (aka Trentham Walker) for the first three days. The plan for the week was to leave the car and base camp tent at Hollins camp site in Eskdale. We would do a three day walk around Eskdale taking in Scafell Pike, Esk Pike, Bowfell and finally Scafell, then return to Hollins. The second leg was to be a solo three day trip covering all the major tops in the Coniston Fells.
The drive up was uneventful and the traffic mercifully light. Driving over Birker Fell wasn’t too taxing and certainly easier than the route over Wrynose and Hard Knott. Jeff had arrived at Hollins before me and had erected his conspicuous orange Force Ten. I positioned my F10 Vortex 200 next to his car and Jeff was suitably impressed by my new “fortress”. After checking out the excellent facilities, we repaired to the Brook House Inn for a very good evening meal.
The itinerary for the next day was to walk up Eskdale, past the Esk Falls on the more arduous west bank and camp near Sampson’s Stones under Scafell. As it wasn’t a particularly long walk, we had a leisurely start around mid-morning, walking down to the church opposite the Brook House Inn. After a pause for a few photos, we walked along the northern bank of the Esk for a while until crossing the bridge to the southern bank.
It was absolutely delightful walking amongst the trees and the dappled sunshine. At one point we had to indulge in a bit of limbo dancing to get under a fallen tree. We ambled along in no particular hurry, drinking in the beauty of the landscape. We passed through some farms before crossing the Esk again by the road bridge just after Wha House Farm.
A minor navigational cock up took us on the wrong side of Birdhow, but it didn’t matter as we followed another farm track, climbing over a gate to rejoin the route proper. From here the scenery started to change from gentle pastures to rougher hillside. However, the track was reasonably easy to follow.
At the bridge over Cowcove Beck, we stopped for a bite of lunch. Some inquisitive sheep stared at us as we tucked into our food. It was quite hot in the sunshine and I put on some precautionary suntan lotion. After a short rest, I refilled my water bottle and we resumed our walk. As the path rejoined the Esk, it became more broken and slowed our progress somewhat. Not that this mattered as we had plenty of time.
Drawing level with the bridge over Lingcove Beck, we had a good view of the waterfalls above the bridge. The path over Throstle Garth looked like a motorway compared to the sketchy path that we were following. My hope was that the western bank of the Esk would provide a more interesting walk and better views of the many waterfalls leading up to the gorge between Green Crag and Throstlehow Crag. We were not disappointed.
Just before the main gorge we were overtaken by an Australian pair with day packs who were on their way to Scafell Pike. It seemed a bit late in the day to be attempting this, especially as they would have to drive over Hard Knott pass on their return, probably in the dark. The path along the edge of the gorge was exposed and rocky in places but not too taxing. It was more interesting than the path on the other bank, although a lot slower going, despite Wainwright’s suggestions to the contrary.
Passing Scar Lathing on the opposite bank, the going became a lot wetter and a bit of bog hopping ensued. We encountered another walker who was attempting to find a dry way across the river to his friend on the other bank. Just before Sampson’s Stones, we saw what looked like the ideal pitch on the opposite bank in the loop of the river.
I had given Jeff a spare pair of Drywalker waders against the eventuality of wading the Esk. However, he declined to use them and paid the price with a boot full of water. On the other hand, I used mine and avoided getting wet, even though they are not the most stylish bit of backpacking gear!
Although the ground was a bit stony, it was flat and an almost ideal place to pitch. The surrounding scenery was spectacular, with a glorious impression of wilderness. We enjoyed the last of the sun, and then it started to turn a bit chilly. After a meal it was time to repair to the tent to listen to a bit of music before sleep.
As usual, I had to get up in the night, but the reward was a beautiful starry night. Even so there was some noticeable light pollution from the south. However, the morning brought a change of weather. Rain threatened and the tops of the fells were under hill fog. We decided to wait a bit to see if the cloud would lift. I had a wander up the Esk a little way to explore. Wandering around Great Moss, to my surprise was a small herd of cattle.
The hill fog showed little sign of dispersing, so we elected not to stick to my original plan of climbing Scafell Pike via Little Narrowcove. Instead we decided to climb Esk Pike by Pike de Bield. The ground was quite marshy before we hit the ridge proper. As we ascended, the wind picked up. While the views were good, the ground under foot was a bit soggy in places, making the going hard work.
About two thirds of the way up, we stopped for lunch. The weather was OK, but the Scafell range and Bowfell were still under cloud. We felt we had made the right decision not to go up Scafell Pike. The view up Little Narrowcove was spectacular and confirmed that it would have been hard work. This was an ascent to leave until another time.
The crags around Esk Pike were quite confusing, giving a number of false tops. By now the cloud had descended, so Jeff took out his SatMap for a bit of navigational assistance. It still wasn’t clear which of the two highest rocky outcrops the true peak was. Suddenly, the clouds parted and we were treated to a stupendous view down Langstrath and the Langdale Pikes. Scafell and Bowfell, however, were still under cloud.
From Esk Pike we descended to the Ore Gap. Bowfell was still under cloud and Jeff warned that the path up was arduous, so we decided to head south from Ore Gap to Green Hole. The track down was indistinct in many places, but following the stream down meant no navigational issues.
At the confluence of the Lingcove Beck and an unnamed beck from Three Tarns, there is a pleasant triangle of grass, perfect for a couple of tents to pitch. The soil was quite rocky. Jeff wisely chose a slightly higher patch of ground, while I was in a slight hollow. The error of this choice was to manifest itself the next morning. However, for the moment it seemed idyllic.
The cloud started to descend somewhat and the wind became chillier. After dinner, we zipped ourselves into our tents for the night. Just afterwards I felt a “crunch” in my mouth. The front of one of the crowns on my front teeth had come off. While it wasn’t painful, it meant I would have to cut short this trip to get back home to the dentist by Monday.
Around midnight, the rain started. Although it wasn’t too windy, the rain was heavy at times. Not too long after dawn the space blanket that I was using to protect my groundsheet made an odd rustling sound. A few minutes later, I opened the right hand inner door tent to find the ground in the porch under water. Fortunately the other porch was still clear of water, so I moved my water bottles and peg bag to the other side.
It was clear that I was going to have to move. The rain was persistent, so it seemed sensible to pack completely and head back to the camp site rather than moving the tent. After making sure I was dressed in my waterproofs, I packed my gear as carefully as I could, mindful that the water was getting deeper. The bathtub groundsheet proved it worth in keeping the water at bay until I had packed.
I quickly went over to Jeff’s tent to let him know I was going to head back to the camp site. Fortunately there was only a modest wind, so while the tent was soaked from the rain, I didn’t have to contend with packing a flapping tent. As quick as I could, I started down the valley.
It was very, very wet underfoot. I was glad that I had some Gore-Tex over socks which kept me tolerably dry. The rain sluiced over me, but started to ease slightly after about half an hour. I hadn’t given much consideration to stream crossings but over the next hour, crossing streams in spate became a serious issue. At the first one I tried the Drywalkers but backed off after one step. The stream was too high and fast. I headed upstream to see if the stream was narrower. After a few hundred yards, it bifurcated and I found some crossing points.
I had to cross about five or six stream on the way down. I was glad I had a trekking pole to help balance on crossings where I could use stepping stones. Most of the way down the path was under water, forming a shallow stream. The approach to Lingcove Beck Bridge is especially tricky. I took my time finding a safe route over the slippery rocks.
At the bridge I took a few photos of the river in spate. By this time the rain was no more than drizzle, but I felt quite damp. From here the path improved. I encountered a large flock of sheep heading up the valley and stopped to have a quick chat with the shepherd. Soon I reached some fields. Even here the ground was sodden. Under normal circumstances the path by the river would have been delightful, but I was focused on getting back.
I decided that it was better to walk along the road from Brotherikeld Farm than take the footpath. While it made for rapid progress, it was certainly harder on the feet. At around ten o’clock I finally arrived at Hollins. The rain had stopped and I unloaded my dripping pack into the car. About half an hour later Jeff arrived. After sorting out gear and having an early lunch I had a reviving shower.
To use up a bit of time we went down to Boot to have a cup of tea in the afternoon. As we sat it the conservatory of the Boot Inn, it heaved down again. In a lull, it was back to the camp site for a rest and then a return to the Brook House Inn for an evening meal. Back at the camp site there were some recent arrivals, including one couple noisily arguing over how to put up their tent.
After dark, the heavens opened again and it rained, sometimes heavily, all night. By morning it had eased off with the occasional light shower. Jeff was up and away relatively early. I was in no hurry, so I had a leisurely breakfast, sheltering from the occasional light shower of rain. The rain held off for me to pack and leave by ten o’clock. The hills were still shrouded with mist as I drove round the coast road. The Saturday traffic on the way home was heavy in places, but overall it was not too bad.
Overall it was enjoyable trip, despite being cut short. The dentist saw me on Monday and I now have some temporary crowns with brand new permanent ones fitted in two weeks’ time. Despite a sore back, it made very little difference to me and that is now easing as well.