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Ski Club of Manchester Cumbria Weekend — Sca Fell via The Great Moss — Sunday 19th May 2024

Reporter: Andrew Walker

I have been known to place too much faith in clear skies and a generally promising forecast when deciding what waterproof clothing to pack for a walk, but fortunately not this time.

At 9:44 on a fine early summer day, in warm weather and with blue skies, seven of us, plus two dogs (the Beardsalls’ Peddar and the Millers’ latest addition to the pack, Patty) set off from the Boot Inn up the Esk valley for Sca Fell (according to my OS map and not, as I had long believed, Scafell, although the name of its sister peak is Scafell Pike)

Eskdale is in a relatively peaceful and quiet corner of the Lake District. It’s too far off the beaten track to attract the numbers of tourists which crowd the more central locations, and there are few gift shops or tea rooms. It lies at the eastern terminus of the Ravenglass and Eskdale railway (aka the Ratty), which brings in a regular stream of visitors.

From the Boot Inn we headed south across the main road to meet the Esk, and followed its north bank upstream, crossing at Doctor Bridge (nope, no idea). Once into open country the view opens onto a picture postcard Lake District valley, with the river tumbling over cascades, and which on this day had attracted scores of people taking advantage of the weather and the plunge pools. It wasn’t long before Patty, evidently feeling very put-upon, staged a sit-down protest — which in her case is barely three inches lower than the stand-up version — against the heat and the effort, and Dave had to rig up the carrycase, slung over his shoulder. To be fair to her, once Dave had managed to cool her down in a few pools of water, she recovered somewhat and again became self-propelled, albeit only temporarily, but at least for now her excuse is that she’s new to long hill walks.

At Lingcove Bridge we turned left over Lingcove Beck and followed the path upward with the Esk on our left, towards Great Moss. The Moss is really a very big wet sponge, which despite a week or two of dry weather still retained considerable quantities of surface water. We had to delicately pick a path over or round the least soggy bits, and progress was a bit slow and arduous.

From the Moss, rather than take the longer route to the summit via Broad Stand, we took the shorter, more direct route via Foxes Tarn. This involved a steep scramble up a gully over a series of large boulders, which looked precariously balanced but were stable enough. Dry footholds are highly desirable on this terrain and it’s really not something you would want to try in wet weather. Patty cadged another lift from Dave, and Brian Richardson gave Peddar a helping hand. Once out of the gully, and with a final push, we reached the top for a very late lunch (3:45, although we had been allowed a few snack and drink stops on the way there). Aided by the altitude, the warmth of the day was giving out by that time, and the storm clouds were gathering, but we had fine views, and at one point were buzzed by a paraglider.

We left the summit heading south, following the ridge, but it wasn’t long before we heard some ominous rumbles of thunder. At one point I looked up and saw a huge lightning flash just above us, with the thunderclap no more than a second or two behind. Paul (Prentice) was in charge of a pair of lightning conductors (walking poles), so I kept well away from him. We still thought we might escape the worst. One optimistic voice suggested that as the weather appeared to be coming from the sunny west, we would avoid a deluge. But nobody told the rain, and after a couple of false starts while we put on our cagoules, the heavens opened.

The route down by the eastern side of Quagrigg Moss was indistinct, perhaps as a result of having seen little footfall over the previous few very wet months, and we temporarily strayed further into the Moss than we would have liked, ending up in a big water sandwich between sky and ground.

The rain cleared after about half an hour and the air warmed up, but not before shorts and boots had been through an intense rinse cycle.

Down on lower ground, and timings having gone to pot, we thought we would miss the 7pm dinner bell. We tried to rearrange timings but to no avail. As it was we made it with seven minutes to spare; enough time to change out of wet boots and for some to have a very quick shower. Overall, it was a very enjoyable walk despite the brief deluge.

Stats: distance 22.7 km (14 miles), ascent 949m, time 9h 09m. Patty stats: about half the ascent and distance.

Many thanks to Dave Miller for organising the walk, and to the weather for not being as bad as it could have been (and often has been on previous May weekends).

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