I might be forgiven for indulging in a smile. The sun is out. Can winter really be over?
Who knows whether this is a one-off day of freak Cumbrian sunshine, or if spring is really here? The new lambs next door have had to resist some cruel weather during their first two weeks of life, and are finally enjoying a little respite in the warm sunshine. They are hopping around, gambolling and generally full of beans as they play together, getting under their mums’ feet.
You might call it a hint for Jen and I to take our cue from them and get outside too! So, with a spring in our step we too dance off towards the hills. This one is a local hike that will turn into an epic 28 km for me. For a change we don’t head towards the nearest peak, Winder; after all, there’s only so many blogs that can start with “We headed up the calf-burning slope to 473m!” Instead, Jen and I walk up the muddy path that links the two main roads into Sedbergh, and onward to Slacks Lane.
We’re going to head up the shoulder of Arant Haw. Calf burn to 473m be damned; today our goal is calf burn to 605m, an ascent that Jen regularly runs down on her local fell running play-days!
I have not been up – or down – this section before and as such I am happy to be led. Now I may sometimes come across as a bit of a drama queen as I relate the trials and tribulations of my hiking adventures… perhaps nature simply doesn’t like making my life too easy? True to form, once we had scaled about half of the side of Arant Haw a cloud descended upon us, bearing gifts… unwelcome, fast-moving icy gifts!
This offering felt like that of a firing squad as small, hard pellets of hail machine-gunned us horizontally, stinging whatever exposed skin they could strike (i.e. our faces). Looking around, I could tell that this was a fleeting, but nevertheless sustained attack, and indeed it followed us a fair way up the slope. Suddenly, and surprisingly in those conditions, we heard a beep from Jen’s phone that signalled a new email: a client abroad was asking her to do an urgent assignment, and saying “yes” to it would mean she needed to get off the mountain and head home. Lucky thing, I thought. I stood and willed my phone to do the same for me, but alas, I was fated to continue on.
Soon enough the hail passed over us to wreak havoc further on, and there was a very distinct moment when the cloud above us swept away and we found ourselves bathed in sunshine again. What views! Hail now highlighted every carved channel in every hill around us… Onward and upward we walked, and as we reached the summit of Arant Haw we shared a hug and Jen trotted off in the direction of Winder and home. I looked up at the skies, now much clearer, and decided to head off to Calders (673m). Secretly, I harboured a desire to reach my namesake, Simon’s Seat. Yes, yes, I know… I have had several attempts at getting that far, which usually failed due to fading light, but I thought that perhaps on this occasion it may pan out differently. And it did! Well, kinda 😉
The beauty of hail is that once you’ve recovered from the sting of being struck several hundred times by it, you’re still dry… and that’s great for me in endurance terms, since if I’m dry I can keep hiking all day long. It should be noted that the physical challenge at this point is no longer hail, but wind chill, and it’s not until I reach my favourite wind break (just prior to Calders) that I manage a pause, a coffee and of course, a refreshing – yes, it truly is – pipe!
As I get up to Calders, the amount of hail that has dropped from the sky becomes even more apparent, and it looks as if the mountainside has received a whole load of snowfall. It looks amazing, and I take some pictures to immortalise the moment…
I move on. I haven’t visited the Calf (676m) for some time. Its trig point has become something of an old friend in the six months since we moved to the area. It is the highest point in the Howgills and already I’ve lost count of the number of coffee breaks I have enjoyed up there whilst resting and taking in the views. But today I walk straight past… I’m a man on a mission. I go over White Fell and White Fell Head and can see another friend, Fell Head Scar, in the distance. However, that one isn’t on today’s agenda either.
I continue to Height of Bush Howe and grind to a halt. The sun is shining but the wind is piercingly cold, and as I look to the North I see what I believe to be Simon’s Seat. Other than bearing my name (no, no, it wasn’t literally named after me – lol), it always seems to be a fairly pointless conquest. However, I aim to bag them all, all those pointless peaks that the majority of hikers avoid for that very reason. As a local resident I have the luxury of time in getting to the lesser-known peaks, having already enjoyed visiting their big brothers on so many occasions. My hands are suffering from the cold and I opt to move on, hastily, without checking the map.
The last shoulder up to my destination peak has a dense covering of long, wet grass and I cross several boggy areas on my way up, where I shall celebrate in the traditional manner of a lunter. Oh, a lunter is someone who walks whilst smoking a pipe… yes, really, I was surprised too! I have reached the end of my outward hike, and now survey the peaks around me. To go in any direction from here other than back the way I came, I’d have to descend 200-300 metres on any side before crossing a watercourse and heading straight back up a similar height; this mountain has deep valleys on three sides. For me, today at least, it’s the end of the road.
I have at last conquered Simon’s Seat, the peak that has eluded me for so long. My namesake. I am finally… ermmm… finally… hang on a minute… that peak over there… it kinda looks familiar. No, no, I really am finally there… I remove my gloves and rummage in my daysack. I pull out the map, which has been open at the correct area, waiting for me to consult it. I stand tall, look around and try to ignore the piercing wind which is rapidly turning my hands blue…
Yes, yes, it’s true; I look at the ground, the features, the contours, the surrounds… it is indeed true…
I have finally conquered… COBLES?!?! *Uuuuurghhhh*.
The hike back is uneventful, lost as I am in thought… and occasional hail. Nature is laughing at me. But at 28 kilometres, this has nonetheless been an epic hike, and I WILL be back!
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…