It has been a long winter, and whilst spring is undoubtedly in the air, there has been yet another sprinkling of snow over the Howgills and Yorkshire Dales. In fact, the weather has been more localised and unpredictable than ever, with rain, hail and snow all battling it out to determine which kind of precipitation will reign supreme over my stomping grounds.
Jen has announced that she’s off for a run, and I feel inclined to take advantage of the sunshine however brief its appearance may be. She has her eye on a few peaks around Cautley Spout, which begs the question – how far is Simon’s Seat from this start point, and can it be conquered from the east with more ease than from the south?
Yes, that old chestnut still eludes me. Several failed attempts to get that far in fading light have left me almost resigned to a night of wild camping or at least a bivvy night to get to my namesake hill without breaking my neck. Of course that would, given my age and lack of desire to rough it too much, have to wait until the temperatures improve. My sleeping bag represented cutting-edge (?!) slumber bag technology in its day, but our recent camping adventures in Iceland and the Faroes proved that the years have taken their toll. Until I find the funds in my coffers to replace it, any overnighters will only be taking place in more amenable temperatures… But as usual, I digress.
So I’m wondering whether Simon’s Seat is a realistic goal for me today, and if Jen were to drop me at Cautley Spout and it turns out to be unrealistic after all, what my route home would be.
We pore over OS Explorer OL19 and look at the logistics. Quite simply, it looks doable! With a spring in my step I head off to pack my daysack, and Jen readies herself for a fell run that her mindset wasn’t actually ready for at all, as it turned out.
Cautley is about 5 miles away by road and we head off. As we leave home the squeaking of car brakes suggests we may have a problem. It’s a problem that obviously plays on Jen’s mind (along with the snow and freezing wind at height!), as she later cuts her run short and makes a beeline for the garage. Anyway, blissfully unaware of her stress levels I make my way across the flattish valley bottom, past the Iron Age settlement, to the foot of Cautley Spout and the start of my ascent.
There is a well-built, but very steep, climb up rocky steps next to Cautley Spout, and today the tributaries that feed the waterfall are in flood, making the cascade quite spectacular. I tire quite easily on this sharp climb, and stop on a number of occasions to peer over at the peaks to the west. I catch a fleeting glimpse of Jen bombing up a nearby fell (Yarlside) across the valley. It will be a few hours before we meet up again back at home.
As I reach the top of Cautley Spout, I take a moment to watch the water running past my feet and tumbling over the sheer edge, and then decide that for a change, I’m going to check my map. This is not new ground per se, but I am unfamiliar with the route from this spot to Calders and beyond. It’s only as I remove my gloves that I realise just how cold it is, and my thoughts return to Jen and how she must be coping (or not!) with the piercingly cold winds.
Reading the map is not too much of an issue as there are easily-identifiable features around me. There is a sheepfold in sight, and I find it on the map exactly where I expected to. My location looks like a no-brainer; however, the recent snow has drifted across my route and the path is hidden. I hadn’t anticipated so much snow, and as I keep climbing, hoping to intercept the Dales High Way path, I am sinking knee-deep into snow in places, which makes for a frustrating climb. The streams are also covered, so one has to listen for the sound of invisible running water to avoid making life worse by sinking knee-deep in freezing cold H2O!
I can soon see a track on the tops where the snow would have been more exposed and had drifted away. I head across to it. I soon find myself missing the shelter of the drifts, since now, on the flats, the wind has more momentum. It is piercingly cold across my face, and within minutes the heavens open. For the second time in just a few days I find my face being machine-gunned by hail. This relentless battering is making my skin sting and eventually I raise a buff across my face to deflect the sharp little balls and limit the pain. I probably now resemble a 19th century outlaw straight out of the Wild West… fortunately, the hail soon stops and the sun reappears. I am almost at Calders (672m). I can see the Calf a way off to my right and must now make the decision – Do I go to Simon’s Seat or leave it for another day? Calders very often feels the full force of the wind, so should this dissuade me? I flounder, yet I am not ready to return straight home.
Looking out from Calders I think of where the path has yet to take me…
It’s easy to strike out for Middle Tongue from here, but it’s one of those shoulders that carries little interest for me. Then it hits me… For months I have been muddling up the adjacent peaks of Crook, Sickers Fell and Knott (all next to my nearest peak, Winder). I have visited the huge cairn of Crook a number of times, but whilst driving on the A683 towards the Dales I always seem to confuse it with its neighbour, which I have yet to visit.
Decision made. I will head down Calders, homeward bound, but will have time to take an ‘out and back’ detour to the cairn at Knott. In doing so I can almost bag Sickers Fell without going too far off piste. I start my ascent to my favourite wind-break at Rowantre Fold. From there I will go… ermmm… actually no, I will stop. I decide to treat myself to chocolate and coffee out of the wind! (Lol) Then after much munching and musing I head out via Hobdale Scar, bag Sickers Fell and stop for a moment to take in the view.
At this point, and with the perspective offered by my current location, I must stop to apologise about a few comments in a previous blog of mine, referring to Crook as the pretty insignificant peak with the big cairn. From Sickers Fell, Crook takes on a majestic look. I mean, really, who did or would know? I mentally slap my own wrists for my being opinionated – and incorrect – about Crook, and then rapidly move on. I’m conscious that although I have now deviated so far from my original plan as to make it unrecognisable, I still have to reach home before dark!
Even though it’s somewhat out on a limb, Knott would make a fine picnic spot, I decide. So, on my arrival and taking advantage of this, I now take a sandwich out of my daysack, find the least windy side of the cairn and lean back against the stones to enjoy the views… and of course, a bit of chocolate!
An RAF fighter jet arrives. Well, I say arrives… of course I actually mean it tears into and out of my sight in something like the blink of an eye. An impromptu fly-past, one might say. Before I have finished my sandwich another aircraft pitches up, this time a Merlin helicopter travelling at a much more leisurely pace… I begin to wonder if I’m being treated to a personal VIP air show!
I finish my lunch and look up at the next ascent. I have descended 250 metres to get to Knott from Calders, and whilst there are easier ways home I will head back up to the cairn at Arant Haw (605m), an ascent of another 200 metres or so, in a further challenge to my already worn out and knobbly knees!
From Arant Haw home seems close, and I put in an advisory text to my taxi driver (Lol) requesting a pick-up from Sedbergh Spar…
I slip down much of the wet, grassy fell back towards Winder, often my first but today my last peak of the day. The sun is out again and I wonder, whilst heading down the side of what I consider to be my back yard, whether I could, or couldn’t, have reached Simon’s Seat today in the time available…
Guess I will never know. But there will be other days!
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…