Hills: Loughrigg, Gowbarrow Fell, Sallows, Sour Howes
I think it’s fair to say that after the weather we had on our first visit to the Lakes this year – which was nothing short of great – normal service had to be resumed eventually! We were heading back to Ambleside after a hectic 3 days of meetings for two nights in the Salutation and then a week in a gorgeous cottage which we had been to before. The forecast was however ‘mixed’ with low pressure and strong winds predominating. Now one thing I’m not keen on is walking in rubbish weather and whilst a decent waterproof will keep out the rain there isn’t much that can be done about wind. Fortunately the Lake District has plenty of interesting smaller hills to tackle when the bigger ones are likely to be a little bit too ‘interesting’..
The first decent weather day was spent pottering up and around Loughrigg, a nice little walk that I had done before but Stuart hadn’t. The views were as good as I remembered but I’d managed to forget quite how many little lumps and bumps the thing has – I think my comment before was that even the false summits have false summits. Far too many FFS for my liking, anyway! The weather was nice as it turned out, and it was fairly warm but still pretty windy.
The next couple of days were a washout and mostly spent chilling out, visiting favourite hostelries, cooking and the like (I am one of these annoying people who post pictures of their food on Instagram, and was trying out a couple of new recipes). Monday however dawned not too bad although certainly nothing like what had been a pretty good forecast. By not too bad I mean not actually chucking it down and I headed off to do Gowbarrow Fell, somewhere I had had on the list mostly because I hadn’t been to Aira Force in years – I’d been there about 15 years ago in my pre hill walking days and realising that there was a Wainwright behind it was all the excuse I needed. Plus, with the amount of rain over the previous two days the waterfall was bound to be impressive.. and it was.
Of course the flipside to lots of water in the waterfalls is lots of water on the hill! The path up the side of the wall to the summit of Gowbarrow was nothing more than a wet mess with the path resembling a rocky stream for the most part. I had read in the guidebook that a wonderful constructed path eventually appears – what I hadn’t realised was that this only appears about 50 yards before the summit by which point it is really of zero use. The views from the top were good though, but even better on the way down as I took a different way off which dropped more directly back towards the waterfall, with some great views of Ullswater and some snowy fells. Again, the wind was pretty strong and there wasn’t much in the way of hanging about to be done. Plus a lot of the higher fells seemed to be hanging on to snow… more snow than I had really anticipated. Isn’t it meant to be spring? It would have been a really nice little walk to be honest had it not been for conditions underfoot.
The next walk felt anything but spring like! On Tuesday night it rained… a lot. On Wednesday, the snow line was down to about 350/ 400m – really not what had been expected and it certainly put paid to any ideas of going up high, not least as it was still windy and we didn’t have crampons with us (I hadn’t expected to need them in the Lakes at the end of March – oh well). After a bit of thinking, I settled for a quick smash and grab on Sallows and Sour Howes, two of the more unheralded Far Eastern fells.
This walk was probably best described as four seasons in one day! Or at least three of them as summer seemed to be distinctly lacking. On the way up the Garburn Pass it poured, though only briefly, and cloud then seemed to move in and out all the way down the valley, clearing and then unclearing (is that a word?) from time to time. I hit the snow line at about 400m although there was only a dusting at that level, but once at the top of the pass and over the stile up to Sallows the snow was rather deeper, and covering what can only be described as megabog or possibly the slough of despond. I ploughed on up through it reaching the top to swirling cloud, which I couldn’t decide was menacing or atmospheric or possibly both at the same time, but gave some pretty good views.
I took a few photos but it was not the sort of day to hang about as it was windy and also bloody freezing. A clear path (albeit continuing to be megabog) continues along the wall to Sour Howes, and then drops down from Sour Howes to meet the Garburn Road a bit lower down. The views from Sour Howes to Windermere (particularly part way into the descent) were pretty good, and I got some good views back towards the Ill Bell ridge too in breaks in the cloud, which were plastered with snow – very different from when I had done them just over a week before.
The descent proved a bit interesting in parts. The path was pretty clear, but very wet, and at least until about the 400m level covered in a thin layer of slippy soft snow which had me ending up on my backside on one occasion – there was however no point putting on my microspikes as they would have been of zero use. Once off the snow the descent was, although still boggy, relatively trouble free although it involved the negotiation of deer fence / ladder stiles- I hate the things with a passion but realised that two of them could be avoided by a 5 minute detour although the first one – which is very short on one side of a wall but extremely tall on the other side – was unavoidable. After that I pushed the pace and was back at the car about 3 ¼ hours after I had left it, which I felt wasn’t too bad given conditions underfoot. I imagine these hills are boggy at the best of times, so with the benefit of hindsight maybe ones to do after a hard frost. Never mind, soggy feet called for a post walk drink (not that I ever really need an excuse).
All in all I wouldn’t say either Gowbarrow or the other two were classics (though I still think Loughrigg is a nice walk, more for the views on descent really) but both had their good points and the views made up for the terrain underfoot. Sallows also brought up the 25% mark for me which I didn’t actually realise until I had done the maths later as I am not actively trying to bag Wainwrights. Next hill I pick though, I’m going for one with a good non boggy path.. though this is likely to be a case of famous last words!