Fell Head Scar
December isn’t renowned for its good weather, so if a nice day comes along you need to be ready to jump all over it!
I am at home on the doorstep of the Howgills and twiddling my thumbs. The weather seems promising. A few days earlier there had been a scatter of snow and I am keen to see what the peaks look like. But Jen is hard at work on her laptop… “To go or not to go, that is the question?” With all my fidgety pacing to and fro I might actually be safer going out rather than staying in disturbing her any further…
“Perhaps just a short one?” I suggest, knowing that she would rather I be gone for a while than distract her from achieving her imminent work deadline… “I’ll just head up Winder and see how I go…” I continue, before heading off to get changed into something more suitable than scruffy jeans.
Returning several minutes later I am greeted with a warm hug and informed that ‘lunch’ is in my daybag along with a hot flask of coffee… “Lunch? Maybe I’ll go up Calders then…” I do the maths and suddenly my planned hour-long workout transforms into a two and a half hour hike – suits me madam!
It’s good to have an understanding partner.
On the downside, Jen is gunning for a deadline (and hoping to get out for an afternoon run later), which means I’ll be walking to my usual start point at the Spar before the walk, and back afterwards. It’s a boring walk and a tad testing on the nerves, walking at the side of this twisty, pavement-free main road. In places it’s a squash for two larger cars to pass each other, let alone two cars and a pedestrian, so I just hope I won’t need to jump into a hedge or some such on the way!
Packed and striding along, I’m pleased the sun is shining. The air is fresh and chilly but nothing like it has been of late when the temperature dipped to minus six degrees. The sun is fairly low in the sky and I am aware that I need to get a move on in order to achieve any decent distance.
At the Spar I begin the customary route up the footpath to Howgill Lane. I cross the single track road and in no time at all I am at the farm… The noise of squealing pigs reminds me of a scene from the film Hannibal and I am glad to get across the yard and start the ascent up Winder (473m).
Is it breathlessness or simply the incredible 360 degree views from half way up Winder that make me grind to a halt? I mean, I know from experience that compared to the views from the top, these early low-level views pale into insignificance, but I can’t help myself… I pause and lean on my poles for a moment whilst taking in the first views of the day.
It’s not long before I am moving again, and every so often I hear Janet calling from my jacket pocket. Janet, the unruly GPS, wants to inform me what a hero I am, how far I have gone and how quickly. I want Janet to b*gger off and I quickly turn my phone to mute. She is not welcome on my walk until I know I have achieved something to be proud of, at which point of course she can sing to the world on my behalf! (LOL).
I reach Winder’s trig point, where the vista of the neighbouring fells opens up before me, and am delighted that the route ahead is clear. Often Winder can hide bad weather from the unsuspecting hiker, especially clag! From our home, the view (of Winder alone) would have informed me incorrectly that there was no longer snow on the peaks.
Local knowledge can be a great thing!
I take out my phone to get an idea of the time. This also prompted me to allow Janet to rejoin the hike. She cannot help herself and immediately rattles off a plethora of facts and figures about what I have achieved thus far… but I’m just curious about the time. With the sun showing no signs of retreating, I figure I will head onward up Arant Haw and then further still to Calders. I can feel a plan forming but it requires me to move my feet rather more quickly than I did on the ascent. So, with a three hundred metre descent passing Green Mea ahead of me, and nobody on the radar to see me, I start running!
About 100 metres beyond the saddle leading to Arant Haw I felt the need for a ‘view stop’.
Okay, a view, coffee and pipe stop to be precise but nonetheless I was making good time and nearly up at the cairn marking the top of Arant Haw at 605 metres. I slog up the last hundred metres to the peak as fast as I can, heavy-breathing all the way, but once up there and with a strong following wind I decide to stride out once more. I negotiate the long, steep descent to Rowantre Grains Fold where the natural wind break offers a welcome opportunity to wolf down a protein bar before I head up to Calders. There’s no way I’m attempting to run up this ascent. I have watched many a fell runner maintain a running posture on their way up this gravelly fell path, and they seem to be practically hopping on the spot. By my reckoning it’s far simpler and more effective to walk up this stretch which ends at almost the highest point of my day, 674 metres (2211ft).
Calders is another peak which doesn’t inspire me much aside from the achievement of reaching it (due to its elevation!). The highest spot in the Howgills lies about 10-15 minutes’ walk further on. The ground on this stretch is undulating but the trig point of the Calf (676 metres) is in sight. I move off, promising myself a bit of a break once at the trig point and as I move off Janet reminds me that I have been out for one and a half hours. I need to think about: 1. Where I am going to stop? and 2. How am I getting home? But for now the Calf looks like a good next target and my legs are wanting me to believe I have joined the insane ranks of would-be fell runners, albeit mainly on the downhill slopes!
The route thus far is not new to me and on my arrival at the Calf, already a peak further than I had planned on going (indeed, after it was suggested that I take lunch), I am considering striking out for Simon’s Seat, a peak that has been on my radar almost since we moved to the Howgills back in September 2016. The question is, can I make it that far and back before dark?
I stop, for a decent rest this time. I eat the offerings Jen has prepared in my daysack and have a coffee and a decent pipe. After all, I may as well enjoy being at the highest point in the Howgills…
I look across towards the cairn of Fell Head and the steep drop of its sides. That’s another great place that offers stunning views back over the Howgills… or should I attempt to get to Simon’s Seat? I decide to pack up and continue as far as Breaks Head, delaying any decision as long as possible. My running legs have all but given up on me by this stage so either way it will be a hike not a trot, and time is drawing on.
I get as far as Bush Howe and see the steep descent/ascent in front of me. I figure it’s decision time, and I look at my watch. If I head to Simon’s Seat I can cut across the fell and shorten the route… or with absolutely stunning scenery and clear skies I could aim for Fell Head. The hike across the fell to Simon’s Seat looks like it may be boggy and while the peak in question looks temptingly close, I still haven’t worked out how I’ll get home. The single ‘known’ is that from Fell Head I can either convert the day into a circular route and head the 10km or so home via the lowlands and country roads, or I can turn back and enjoy these fantastic views which, given the time of year, may not be visible very often during the winter months ahead. However, if I venture onward to Simon’s Seat, whilst I can guess that it’ll take about an hour and twenty minutes to get there and return to my present point (depending upon the terrain), I’ll be pushing the boundaries of the sun’s cooperation to get home before dark…
It’s not the first time I have bottled out at a late stage in a hike. I know there’s an added ‘what if’ as regards Simon’s Seat. Aside from being my namesake it’s a new peak to me, and what if there’s something amazing beyond it? Today isn’t the day to find out…roll on longer days and lighter evenings! I turn away, head down the steep slope and with a good 12-13km under my belt already I struggle up the other side to the delightful cairn on Fell Head. A good decision I think, and there I’m greeted by awe-inspiring views. However, the sun is already low in the sky and I know that time is running out. For the return to Sedbergh I simply retrace my steps back across the fells, since if the darkness outruns me I can follow my nose all the way home… no doubt Jen will have something cooking for us by then!
Distance suggested: approx. 8km
Distance covered: > 25km! But worth it 🙂
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…