Wainwright Walks 19: Black Fell, Holme Hell!

Hills: Black Fell, Holme Fell
When: 25 September 2015
Who: self, Stuart and the mountaineering minion
Weather: Bit mixed – sunshine and showers
Distance: Was supposed to be 8 miles, actually nearer 12!
Bog factor: Almost none on Black Fell; absolute quagmire on Holme Fell
Path factor: Generally very good until Holme Fell. Generally good after Holme Fell. Holme Fell itself: awful!
Post walk drink: Rioja
Post walk watering hole: The Royal Oak, Ambleside

After a couple of days of ropey weather where we mostly chilled out and watched the rugby, the forecast for the 25th was… okay. Not brilliant, and on seeing the cloud level when we surfaced, a decision was taken to abandon the original idea of doing the Fairfield Horseshoe, a walk I’ve done before on a really good day (albeit having managed to inadvertently miss out Low Pike) and one that deserves another really good day for a repeat performance. I needed two more ‘ticks’ to reach 50 Wainwrights, so we hit the internet looking for a reasonably low level walk that wouldn’t take too long and would deliver the required two. A Lakes walking website suggested a circuit from Tarn Hows, heading up what sounded like good paths towards Black Fell, one of the lower Wainwrights, and then dropping down via some old quarries and looping back over Holme Fell. Both hills were less than 350m high and therefore it sounded as though a nice, straightforward, relaxing walk was in prospect. Did this happen? Well, the title says it all!

The route guide stating that almost 700m of ascent was included on the walk should have been the first indication that all was not going to go to plan – as was the weather, as it continued to rain on and off during the morning and for the short drive from Ambleside to Tarn Hows. The fact I felt knackered should have been another indicator.. as should only having the Harveys 1:40000 map for this area. I much prefer navigating with a 1:25000 map but didn’t have the relevant one, and decided not to go and buy one as I was sure the walk – which the website had graded ‘easy’ – didn’t really warrant it. We were parked up at Tarn Hows and on the move shortly after 11 and set out along the great paths along the side of the tarn, before cutting off up a clear path, then heading right up a bridleway. One of the hazards of navigating in the Lakes can sometimes be there are too many paths, and it can therefore be easy to take the wrong one, or cut off too early, and for whatever reason I wasn’t feeling confident with my navigation, probably because I didn’t have the more detailed map. The early part of the walk is pretty well signed though, but I kept wondering if I had missed something.

The walk was however pretty straightforward as far as Black Fell. A clear path cut off from the track at its high point and winds gently up the hill, managing to avoid any major bog in the process, and leading up to a very windy trig point about an hour and a quarter after leaving the car.

The views were pretty good, but it wasn’t the place to hang around as it was clear it was much windier than forecast and that the decision not to go up high was the right one.

We headed off back down to the bridleway, then followed it as it dropped down towards the road past a couple of farms. Again my navigation seemed to be off and it took ages for the cut off path we wanted to appear, to the extent that I had convinced myself we had missed a turning. On finding it a little later it turned into a rather damp path which dropped steeply to the road losing a lot of height. I was starting to realise why there was so much ascent in a walk over two very small fells!

We picked up a clear track leading to the quarries at Hodge Close, which were pretty impressive (to quote one of my all time favourite movies, Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey ‘This was a totally deep hole’).

From there, we picked up another path which bent round the back of Holme Fell, looking for what we had thought would be a clear path heading up the fell. There was a clear path to start off with… which quickly petered out into major league bog. The ground underfoot was absolutely terrible, bog, heather and rocks and didn’t look to be going to improve any time soon, plus there was bracken everywhere. This made for slow progress and much cursing as we squelched our way slowly up the hill. I was seriously flagging at this point and not liking the hill at all, particularly given the comparison with how easy the first one had been.

Eventually, we picked up a clear path which wound up between two rocky outcrops to a cairn… which on reaching it is quite obviously not at the top. FFS another false summit!

What was also obvious was that the route up from there to the true summit involved a short scramble and I remembered that the walk description had mentioned a ‘rock step’. I don’t like scrambling – I am not good at it and don’t like exposure, so my heart sank on seeing this. Stuart shot off to have a closer look and I followed somewhat hesitantly as he said that it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as it had initially looked. He got up it pretty easily but I struggled – the rock step was wet and my feet seemed to be slipping on the footholds. I managed to haul myself up using a combination of arms, feet and knees (acquiring a few lovely bruises as a result) depositing us at the true summit of my 50th Wainwright at about 3.00. We had hoped to be back at the car by this point, which was a bit depressing as was the thought of more descent through bog… not to mention that rock step.

Stuart went off to take a look to see if there was a easier route down and said that there was, so we decided instead of dropping off the front of the fell as per the walk description we would drop down the back, pick up the path then minor road that circles round the fell then back down to the main road, where we would rejoin the route on the path back to Tarn Hows. So it was back to bog and bracken hopping with the path dying out all over the place until we passed one of the tarns. After that things did get a bit better and there was a clear path round the side of the fell back to the minor road, then another path cutting off the corner and coming out just over the main road from the path we wanted.

By this point the idea of more ascent to get back to Tarn Hows was pretty depressing and my boots were soaking; normally I would have really enjoyed this bit as it passes some pretty waterfalls, and I do like a good waterfall, but I was absolutely done in, and delighted when I popped out back at the tarn.

Eventually back at the car at 4.30, which for a walk which was supposed to take 4 hours over 8 miles, seemed excessive. Stuart however has one of those fitness gadgets that tells you how far you have walked and given the planned detour and the bog-hopping it was eventually close on 12, which made a bit more sense.

We headed back to the cottage in Ambleside (which was so good we have already booked to go back next year) and went to the Salutation Hotel as we had guest passes for the spa, which includes an outdoor hot tub, just the thing to soak away aches and pains. It was then off to the Royal Oak for the inevitable post walk drinks, followed by a fantastic dinner at Lucy’s on a Plate (recommended – especially the alcoholic hot chocolate which was amazing).

In short – it was nice to get to 50 but Holme Fell is not one I will be in a hurry to repeat. Black Fell is a nice little hill with good views and decent terrain underfoot, probably a good choice for anyone wanting a no-effort short walk (a bit like Silver How in that respect) but Holme Fell was a bit like everything that I don’t like about hill walking in one small package – mega-bog, disappearing paths, annoying false summits and a scramble (albeit a minor one). It is probably better done in winter or early spring when the bracken isn’t there and whatever paths there are might be easier to see plus the scramble can be avoided by going up the way we came down. Gripes notwithstanding though, I still like the fact that Wainwrights don’t have any height (or drop and reascent) criteria which makes it far easier to pick a short day if you want one than (say) Munros do. And luckily I’ve still a fair few of the ‘tiddlers’ left to do!

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8 thoughts on “Wainwright Walks 19: Black Fell, Holme Hell!

  1. Hmmm – that did go a bit wrong didn’t it? We did them a year or so ago as Richard hadn’t done them and it was years since I’d been up them. We didn’t have any of those problems though, even though we picked a lousy wet and windy day to do them – and we didn’t walk anything like 12 miles – more like 5 I think. Nor did we meet the scramble on Holme Fell – I didn’t realise there was one to be honest. We didn’t set off from Tarn Hows as such though – we picked a layby on the road between the fells. We passed quite near to the end of Tarn Hows but didn’t visit it. Oh well, at least you don’t have to do it again now…
    Carol.

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  2. Yes not one of our finest hours! The scramble is just a rock step but I made a bit of a hash of it as it was wet and I was so pissed off at the terrain on the hill. As you say at least they are done! I quite liked the first one actually and Tarn Hows was nice.

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