Wainwright walks 51: a stunner on Skiddaw

Hills: Ullock Pike, Long Side, Carl Side, Skiddaw, Lonscale Fell
Wainwrights: 104-107 (Skiddaw was a repeat)
Furth Munros: Skiddaw
When: Saturday 17 November
Weather: Glorious autumn sunshine, windy at times
Time: 6 hours including breaks
Conditions underfoot: Paths generally good – a few rocky bits on the ridge, scree on the ascent of Skiddaw
Who: me and the mountaineering minion
Post walk drink: Wainwright (aptly enough); later a nice Merlot
Post walk watering hole: The Wainwright Inn, Keswick; later the Inn at Grasmere
Mishaps: None to speak of. Yes really.
Uses of the arse crampon: None. Though if it would have been any use on one of the rocky bits on Ullock Pike, or the scree slope on Skiddaw I would definitely have considered it.

I should point out for the record that the stunner in question was the weather. Being pushing 50 I am making no claims about myself!! 😄

On the evening of 16 November, I was sat in the residents lounge at the Inn at Grasmere studying my maps and trying to work out a plan of attack for the following day. The weather forecast for the Saturday was – for November – unexpectedly good; for once I had had no issues at all with the trains, having managed to leave work early and do some work on the train, then make a tight connection at Windermere. A taxi pickup from Windermere got me to Grasmere at an unexpectedly civilised time, and instead of worrying about missing the last train, stressing about getting a taxi and then turning up at 11pm totally knackered I was able to have a civilised evening, a nice meal and a glass of wine as well as spend plenty of time thinking about walk options.

Of course, if something does not go wrong with the weather something else will usually go wrong instead. In order to try and prevent this I probably checked my kit about 3 times and the bus timetables just as many times if not more. I changed my mind about which trousers to wear about 3 times too – I never know at this time of year whether to go for the winter lined ones (and risk boiling if too warm) or not (and freeze if temperatures are lower than expected). I also had various different options for the walk, from not ambitious to rather more ambitious. I was, however conscious that it was a long time since I had been on a hill of any real size and since my Cornwall walk I had done basically no exercise at all due to being very busy at work.

Plan A – and the actual plan as it turned out – was to get an early bus to Keswick, change to another bus, get off at the Ravenstone Hotel then go up Longside Edge, which would get me 3 new hills and give me the option either to go up Skiddaw (which I had climbed before and seen nothing) and drop back to Keswick over Lonscale Fell, or bail after Carl Side then drop to the tea room in Dodd Wood and wait for a bus. I needed to be conscious of daylight and keeping an eye on the timings would be important if I was to have any chance of doing the longer option. After a rather patchy night’s sleep I was up fairly early and easily made the 8.45 bus from Grasmere which dropped me in Keswick at 9.15. There were a couple of taxis waiting at the bus station so rather than hang about waiting for the connecting bus I decided to just get a taxi to the Ravenstone Hotel, which dropped me at the start of the walk at 9.30 – quite an early walk start time for me!

The start of the walk is a very steep path which goes up directly from a gate next to the hotel. No, make that extremely steep. It was pretty lung busting and I was very glad I was not trying to come down it! Fortunately, it doesn’t last for long before joining up with a more gently graded path which follows the top of the plantation for a short while then angles up to meet the ridge of Longside Edge. The only issue I had on this bit was avoiding getting flattened by two mountain bikes by more or less pitching myself headlong into a path of heather. After that I hit the ridge pretty quickly and followed the path which rises at first fairly gently up Longside Edge. The summit of Ullock Pike, however, reared up slightly intimidatingly further ahead.

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For the most part, the ridge walk was fine. There were a couple of bits where the path goes close to big drops, and there were a few rocky bits but fortunately never both at once. There was one semi scramble which I dodged by means of a scrappy bypass around the side and there is another slightly scrambly bit just before the summit which has a straightforward bypass. I hit the top of Ullock Pike shortly before 11 having made good time and took in the excellent views all round. It was a truly stunning day to be out.

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After this, the rest of the ridge is straightforward and continues over Long Side to the rounded summit of Carl Side where it is possible to cut the walk short and drop down to Dodd Wood. However, it wasn’t yet noon, I was feeling pretty good despite the long lay off and the weather continued to be fantastic. Would I go up Skiddaw or not?

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I realised I would kick myself if I didn’t. However, the scree path which contours round the side of the hill looked horrible, and with a nasty drop off. I’d read that there is an old zigzag path which heads straight up the nose of the hill from the col with Carl Side, and although this still looked steep it didn’t look exposed so I decided to follow that instead. I hate scree at the best of times but at least it is a bit easier going up than going down as I don’t worry so much about my feet going out from under me and pitching headlong down the slope! The first bit of this path was fine, but steepened gradually and the zigzags are pretty steep in places. It was manageable enough though and before too long I popped out on the ridge, from which it was a simple walk to the very busy summit of Skiddaw. The last time I had been up there, in 2010, it had been my 4th Wainwright and I had seen absolutely nothing from the top except for grey clag. This time the views were tremendous and I spent quite a bit of time taking them in and taking photos including the inevitable terrible summit selfie.

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Once I was done, I headed off down the main Skiddaw ‘motorway’ deciding not to bother going over Little Man; I had done it before and wanted to make sure I didn’t risk running out of daylight. I then picked up a path which led off in the direction of Lonscale Fell, which I reached just after 1.30. I stopped at that point for my lunch and to take in the view from my 107th Wainwright, which puts me half way through the list and even though I may never do the lot it was a good feeling. Both me and the mountaineering minion definitely needed a break!

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Eventually it was time to get going. Rather than double back I picked up a narrow path which cuts off the corner and meets the main Skiddaw path lower down. By the time I hit the main path I was flagging; my back and knees were quite painful and I became pretty slow on the steep bits of the path. On getting back to the car park I decided against going up Latrigg (having done it several times before) in favour of making sure I could get back to Keswick before it started to go dark. I was back in Keswick by 3.30 and headed to the Wainwright Pub for post walk libations before getting the bus back to Grasmere where a swimming pool, Jacuzzi and an excellent meal were waiting along with a nice glass of Merlot.

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The day after I woke up to glorious sunshine again; however my back and knees were painful and I’d also had a poor night’s sleep for no really good reason. Getting up a hill of any size was clearly not going to be doable. I vaguely considered Stone Arthur but since I have already had one failed attempt on it I really didn’t want another and wasn’t convinced my back and knees could cope with anything at all steep. I ended up instead opting for the now traditional potter up Orrest Head before getting an earlier train from Windermere for the long journey back to London.

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Amazingly there were no mishaps on the journey home either! I made a connection I should have missed at Oxenholme because the London train was late and the journey went totally smoothly getting me home to South-east London by 6pm. A truly excellent weekend on the hills.

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8 thoughts on “Wainwright walks 51: a stunner on Skiddaw

  1. That walk’s something of a baptism of fire after a long lay off. Well done and congratulations on reaching the half-way point! Looks as if you couldn’t have picked a more perfect day.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent. Always good to hit a significant milestone and a bonus having that weather.Hope you saw us waving at you from the other end of the Lake District ion Gowbarrow Fell.. I alwys love photos wwwwhere the hills seem almost interleaved with mist.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Very jealous – I’m dying to get back up Skiddaw as he is now one of my favourite Lakes hills and my local ‘biggie’. At least I’m getting out into the hills again now.

    Those mountain bikers are getting to be a real pain on Skiddaw. They’re ruining all the footpaths, especially the old zig-zag you went up (used to be 27 small zig-zags and pretty pleasant – now they’ve made it just a few and long, steep ones which will soon be gullies. You can even see where they’ve been coming down on your photo – on my old photos of the old zig-zag, you can barely make the path out from Carlside. They’re also ruining the Ullock Pike ridge – especially the descent – it’s getting really eroded now 😦

    Liked by 1 person

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