Ever since the wintry weekend when I hauled myself up Middleton Fell full of post-Christmas jeers (you know, puddings and the like to weigh me down) I have been wondering about something. Namely: is this steep fell – which I watched Jen run up in the company of 80 or so similarly hardy souls – actually as leg-breaking as it seemed to me at the time, or is that climb up to Castle Knott still every bit as punishing as it seemed on that freezing day? A day when, if my motivation to climb said hill had not been to cheer Jen on from the top, I simply would have had no desire to ascend even a foot of it!
There was only one way to find out… I would revisit Middleton Fell on a point-to-point hike, i.e. start at the fell and walk toward home, and see if I make it back in one piece.
With Jen also wishing to make the most of this sunny day and shoot out for a fell run, I enquire as to the possibility of a lift to said potential death-spot, with a view to her driving back to a suitably distant point and running towards me. All things being equal, our paths should cross somewhere in the middle and we would return home for celebratory coffee and biscuits…
Heading down the valley towards Barbon we get a good look at Middleton Fell from the road. Essentially we are travelling most of its length to my start point, and the gurgles in my tummy signify something more than my need for chocolate. I realise I’m in for a mini-epic. The sight of the maps run through my head – have I taken on too much? After all, I’m sure that hiking up the fell to the first cairn (which incidentally is not located where ‘trusty’ OS map OL2 shows it to be) took nigh on 30 minutes last time. That bit constitutes about 2 cm of the 50+ cm of map covering the day’s route… and I simply don’t have 12 hours to spare.
I quietly reassure myself that once up that initial steeper-than-steep, steepy fell – yes, I know I repeated that word twice – assuming I haven’t collapsed due to some fatal cardio problem, then… well, I might have a fighting chance of getting to the end point.
Should I mention at this stage that I’m writing this from the comfort of a hospital bed, in intensive care, in Lancaster?
No, I probably shouldn’t, as that would be a lie… Anyway, I digress.
We arrive at the familiar footbridge that also served as the race start point a couple of months earlier, and we look up at the fell. Moments later Jen turns the car towards home, where she’ll give me a generous head start before setting off for her run. As the noise of spinning tyres fills the otherwise quiet valley, I just stand there for a few moments wondering what on earth I was thinking. I’m sure that as I watch the car speed away, I can hear a noise reminiscent of a cackle of laughter from within. I don’t think she has forgiven me yet for Helvellyn!
I shoulder my bag and get moving… Straight up said steeper-than-steep, steepy fell…
I am assured that time is a great healer. I think by that they meant it impairs one’s memory, in which case they were absolutely correct. Did I remember the numerous false summits on this fell? Nope!
As with my previous attempt – which to be fair was an impromptu climb done in wellies on a very wet and slippery fell – I feel the need to stop once or twice. And to the couple watching every step of my gruelling climb from their vantage point in the nice flat car park, I should point out that the third, fourth and fifth, ahem… sixth stops serve merely to adjust straps on my bag and that sort of thing, and are in no way related to my fitness, or lack of (LOL).
Finally I reach the cairn, which, did I mention, doesn’t appear here on the map? Here’s a picture, just to prove I wasn’t hallucinating!
The good news is that my ticker is still ticking. Better news is that I am actually, believe it or not, still motivated to carry on. News on the not-so-brilliant front is that it has taken me 38 minutes… I begin to understand the cackle of laughter…
I stop to take in the views. I can see as far as Morecombe Bay, and unlike last time I stood here, today the sky is clear. Having worn a Tee-shirt for most of the sweaty ascent I am now feeling the full breeze, and whilst its force is not overpowering, the associated chill factor is pretty high… so I layer up with fleece and windcheater before moving on toward my next stop: the cairn on Castle Knott.
Thankfully the path now levels out somewhat, though I still have another 50-60m to climb in a relatively short distance. Still, Castle Knott is not considered a mountain, standing at only 538 metres, and I reach it with some ease and at a fairly good pace.
The Calf, the highest point in the Howgills, is possibly the same distance North from home as Calf Top, the highest point on Middleton Fell in the Yorkshire Dales is to the South of home. Calf Top, at 610 metres, is my next and highest point of the day, but not the goal for the day which is to be close to the end of my journey, the trig point at Holme Knott. There is yet another ‘unmarked’ cairn on the way to Calf Top, at the corner of the boundary fence some 300-400 metres above Hanging Stone and still out of sight to me… So before moving off from Castle Knott, I break with (my own) tradition and take a look at the map.
I decide to handrail the boundary wall pretty much all the way to Holme Knott, which may sound a tad boring and unadventurous but the wall essentially follows the highest point of the fell all the way to my goal. Indeed, the best views can be observed from the wall.
But first I must ascend to descend. I find myself happily trotting awhile on the descent, having realised that even with British Summer Time on my side, I might struggle with light towards the end. Being a fairly large fellow and all, I gain an impressive amount of momentum on the way down. In fact, as the firm, dry ground below me levels off I begin to do the runner’s equivalent of back-pedalling but… ermmm… can’t quite stop! Finally my left foot hits something soft, but instead of bouncing forward a pace it becomes engulfed, right up to the knee, in what is most definitely not an aequeosalinocalcalinoceraceoaluminosocupreovitriolic (Google it!) body of water.
I have essentially jumped, at speed, into a small bog… but I panic not. Swear? Oh yes, words that would make the devil himself blush begin free-flowing from my mouth, some of which even I had to look up for myself on returning home, but panic? No, I simply wait for my mouth to stop running away with itself (thankfully I catch up with it long before intercepting Jen further along!) and claw my way out of the other side, confident that with the brisk breeze and a couple more hours’ hiking, all evidence of my misfortune will vanish from my quick-dry hiking trousers before I get back to civilisation! I make my way up to Calf Top…
Calf Top is home to another desolate trig point, which Jen and I have visited before in snowy, claggy conditions and from the opposite direction. Having reached this familiar spot I begin to feel that regardless of mishaps, I’m on the home straight, so to speak. I begin jogging again as I head toward Barkin Top, but my enthusiasm is short-lived… the path becomes precarious, and as they say, “Once bitten,” etc.
I had promised to send Jen a text when I was about an hour from the goal of Holme Knott, and so I begin punching letters out on my phone to let her know I am about 2-3km away, little realising that the deceptive curvature of the landscape has given me a false sense of security. I receive a text back informing me that chocolate is on its way, and all finally seems well with the world again.
Merrily hiking a further 2-3km I soon become concerned that I don’t appear to be getting any closer to said goal, which sits proudly in the distance, lit up by the late afternoon sun. I decide I’d better rein in my bounding step and take another look at the map. All is as it should be, other than the fact that my path is about to disappear. But hey ho, if you can’t take a joke, etc… I decide that at least the boundary wall is correctly marked, and opt to continue handrailing it as originally planned. I text again to let Jen know my error,
giggling ermmm… saddened at the fact she may need to run a couple of kilometres further to meet me.
The wall itself stretches almost as far as the eye can see, snaking across these low, undulating fells, and one wonders why it even exists. It reminds me of Hadrian’s Wall, and I pass Green Maws and Longbank Peat Moss somewhat lost in musings about the history of my guiding wall, when suddenly the view becomes even more inspiring. I have a full view of my home mountains, the Howgills.
I continue on now; Sedbergh is in sight and I know I can’t be far from Jen… and then I see her bouncing across the fell towards me and throwing up a wave.
We meet up and she turns to walk back with me, telling me about her run up what is about to be my last section of the day. We’re now only a few km from where Jen has parked the car, and a couple of minutes later we reach my goal for the day: Holme Knott. It’s a small peak, more akin to a molehill than a mountain but nonetheless it has been on my radar for quite some time, and can finally be ticked off the map as one that did not get away!
Simon Duringer is an award-winning blogger, interviewer and author. His own books can be found on Amazon too by clicking any of the following icons…