By Ian Harford
I was once told by a friend "never offer to lead a walk you haven't done yourself - there's no better way to lose your street credibility." Well yes - it sounds good in principle but I had been planning to reconnoitre the 2005 walk since November but every time I had been up there, the mountain was covered in cloud.
Then came the phone call: "Time's up. I need the details for booking accommodation and then there's the members' newsletter".
No more delaying I thought and fixed Friday 4th March for the 'recce'; I could be up in Thornthwaite the night before and take my time. "Just keep your fingers crossed for the weather", said Lindsay.
We'd done the 'classic' Coledale horseshoe in 2002, the Glaramara round in 2003 and the Buttermere circuit with Nicholas Size's Secret Valley story in 2004. I need something a bit different for 2005. What better than Skiddaw then? England's most northerly top over 3,000 feet, towering above Keswick with its huge footprint and massive ramparts to the north. On a good day it can lift the hearts of all but the dead.
But mind you, not any Skiddaw walk - where you slog up and down the same way. I had pondered a bit about the route, then remembered the story of Whitewater Dash and the landrover that had had to be winched out of the beck. Yes that's it! Start from the north and do the whole round anti-clockwise and down to the Falls - the plan was laid and the committee told!
Friday morning came and I looked out of the window. Some cloud up there, but let's wait for it to clear a bit. Time for coffee, toast and a couple of emails. Suddenly there's a slight flicking at the window and I look up. An hour has passed and outside whirls of snow are eddying round the house. Visibility 10 yards if that. Is this what the Met Office meant by 'wintry showers'?
Let's take a look at Fisher's webcam in Keswick. [PHOTO no 0]. No better there. How am I going to explain this? 'OK' I think, even SCOM members would stay back from skiing in this weather. Just hang on in - after all they did say 'showers'. So that's what I did and this time it came good! Midday it's time to go and Skiddaw's over its morning tantrum. Little Man is clothed in white and very fetching. [PHOTO no 1].
Boots and gear on and I'm off. From the Keswick bypass the tops still look good with crisp snow. [PHOTO no 2]. Press on up the east side of Bassenthwaite on the A591 and then turn up to the right at High Side towards Orthwaite. It's the gradual approach from the north we want. The stile is there [PHOTO no 3] and the footpath beckons. This is big country, sheep country [PHOTO no 4]. I must remember to warn the dog owners. This is a splendid walk in to Skiddaw's high tops and I am already getting warm as I climb through the trees above Barkbeth. [PHOTO no 5].
It's not long before I reach the start of the ridge. What a first view over Bassenthwaite [PHOTO no 6]! The osprey site is in the woods beyond and the top of Grisedale, part of the Coledale horseshoe rises in white above. To my left Skiddaw is clear and near [PHOTO no 7], but I know that I will take close on two hours to reach it with these snow conditions on the ridge.
Half an hour later I'm looking down on the southern end of the lake with Thornthwaite and the house, where I was only two hours ago, clearly in view through the binoculars. [PHOTO no 8]. Funny how those waves render such a regular pattern like a fish's flank from this height. I take a quick look back along the lake northwards. The view is stupendous. [PHOTO no 9]. The whole of northwest Cumbria stretches out before me with the Solway Firth and the Galloway mountains in Scotland a clear and distant strip.
Need to press on though now up to Ullock Pike, and the magnificent ridge of Longside Edge, sweeping down to Southerndale. [PHOTO no 10]. But the snow is impacted here and icy in places on the rocks. I'm pleased I have an ice-axe but don't actually use it in the end. It's good to meet a couple on Carlside. "Yes, we'll take a photo of you in case they don't believe you did it!." [PHOTO no 11]. It's getting cold now and the route up to the plateau lies ahead. I can't afford to wait as the window may close. In summer this is all fine, but thick snow makes this tiring and I am glad to reach the end.
The views are spectacular but the wind gives it an arctic feel today. It's well below zero. Two quick pictures of the Skiddaw summit [PHOTO no 12] and Blencathra [PHOTO no 13] to the east and I stride to the summit and a hurried sandwich with hands near freezing! There are a couple of lads from Sunderland here and suddenly one shouts, "My! Look over there, man!"
A right wintry squall is tearing its way towards us from the north. I think of the poor nurse dying in Durham of cold in a field just 500 yards from her home. Time to be getting down and I head off east over the fells, dropping down fast through the snow, drifting in places up to two feet deep, and pick up Todd Gill. This will be a fine route for the club walk. I feel the warmth coming back to my fingers, as I descend almost 1500 feet in half an hour.
Whitewater Dash comes up soon [PHOTO no 14], though I have had to double back and happily found my camera with all my photos. It had earlier dropped off my belt into the heather. A Planning Board landrover passes me, coming down from Skiddaw House and I notice that they take the track round the Falls very slowly! It's easy for us walkers.
I can relax and savour a cup of tea. The Dash valley stretches out below and the sun is now shining. To the right and beneath White Hause, Dash Farm, one of the most remote in Cumbria [PHOTO no 15], is bathed in golden evening light. There's a spring feel as I pass Cockup and the fields open up [PHOTO no 16] with the pastoral signs and sounds of farming - a line of smoke rising straight from a small cottage, cows mooing, some geese scrubbing up in a pond. There's an incline ahead and I walk towards it. The sun is setting [PHOTO no 17] and the sky is a brilliant suffusion of gold, white and grey. As I breast the ridge, Bassenthwaite's northern tip is aflame, glinting across the fields. What a day of contrasts!
Hope we can keep this up for the Ski Club walk [MAP and WALK ROUTE no 18] on Sunday 1st May. They'd be crazy not to come after such a build up!
Click on an image below or the link above for a larger picture.