Hills: High Tove
Wainwright number: 108
When: Saturday 22 December
Weather: Rather wetter than it was supposed to be!
Time: 2 ½ hours. No breaks – too miserable a day
Conditions underfoot: Slippy stone pitching, followed by a bit of half decent path, followed by semi-quagmire!
Who: me and the mountaineering minion
Post walk drink: Loweswater Gold – later red wine
Post walk watering hole: The Lily Bar, Ambleside
Mishaps: Does the weather count as a mishap?
Uses of the arse crampon: None (surprisingly given how slippy things were underfoot at times).
By my standards, the last few walks have been pretty much free of any serious sort of mishaps – either transport related, gear related (picking the wrong trousers for the occasion, etc) or weather related. Notably, my last walk was done in glorious sunshine when I brought up the halfway point on Lonscale Fell following a glorious ridge walk up Longside Edge then a repeat of Skiddaw, which I had been meaning to re-do for ages as I saw absolutely nothing when I first climbed it way back in 2010. Inevitably something had to change!
When I came off the hill that day my back and knees were hurting and over the next week or so it became obvious I had tweaked one of my knees worse than I had thought. Unhelpfully the lift in my office was also broken and given I work on the 4th floor this was not conducive to it healing up quickly either. By the time Christmas – and our planned festive visit to a cottage in Ambleside – came round it was much better but I had done no exercise to speak of since my previous visit to the Lakes so my fitness was decidedly not at its best. Combined with very short days and a high level of knackeredness, long walks with lots of ascent were not going to be an option.
The forecast for Saturday 22nd was pretty reasonable – but the actual weather on waking up was rather more damp than forecast. However, it was meant to improve in the afternoon. What I needed was a quick blast up something short – and given that for once I had the car with me it seemed to make sense to go for something which was less easy to do on public transport. I’d kept an eye on the United Utilities website and knew that the Thirlmere access road was now open from the south up to Armboth car park, and I’d always intended to go for the rest of the Central spine either in winter (when there was some chance of the bog being frozen) or in a dry summer… so the plan was to do High Tove and hopefully, if I had enough energy and didn’t run out of daylight, Armboth Fell as well. The daylight was a factor because I didn’t leave the cottage until after 11, so needed to keep a close eye on the time.
It was just as well I had checked the UU website as it turned out – as there were still ‘road closed’ signs at the end of the Armboth road and several at other places along it. The road was totally empty but at least not actually blocked off. I arrived at a deserted Armboth car park at about 11.45 and parked up, to find that the pay and display machine wasn’t working. I was starting to wonder if there would still be access issues regarding the path, but again the UU website had confirmed the path was open, so after the inevitable faffing with gear I set off at around midday.
On leaving the car park you turn right and the path starts a few metres further along – just past where there actually was a road closed sign in the road, with a small gap to allow pedestrians through. The path crosses a bridge and then rises to a couple of large rocks… at which point it started to rain again. On went the waterproof jacket, though I left the waterproof trousers in my bag – I hate wearing the things unless it is really wet as I overheat, and I was wearing my winter lined trousers anyway. The rain eased off shortly after, and that was to set the pattern for the next hour or so – on again and off again!
Past the big rocks, the path follows the line of a fence and for a while is stone pitched. This bit was not pleasant! I’m not a fan of stone pitching anyway and given the lack of usage of the path due to the road closure maybe it had suffered from lack of use – the stones were wet, mossy and in some cases very slippery indeed. Whilst this was okay going up, it looked as though it would require some care going downhill (and possible deployment of the ar*e crampon if necessary). Fortunately, this bit didn’t last too long and there are then some relatively easy angled zigzags before the path flattens out, emerges from the trees and…enters the bog!
In previous blog posts, I’ve explained the context of ‘bogatory’ as that particular type of hill walking purgatory arising from a particularly unpleasant and highly glutinous walking surface. The worst bogatory ever encountered was on Ben Klibreck in the far North of Scotland. The central spine has the reputation of being the boggiest part of the Lake District – unless dry or frozen – neither of which was the case on the 22nd December! The bog on the way to the top of High Tove was pretty bad, though still not as bad as Ben Klibreck, or for that matter Kinder Scout where I had gone in up to my knees. Yes my feet were wet but I had expected that having realised it was far too mild for the bog to have frozen in any way – and it had started to rain again so my feet were not the only bit of me that was wet. There were relatively few photos taken as my phone had long since gone into its waterproof case to avoid more iPhone killing disasters, having lost 2 to pouring rain in the Brecon Beacons and then had one pinched earlier this year – plus one die on me in the Central Fells before (albeit later revived) I was not taking any risks!
I finally reached the top of High Tove with some relief at about 1pm. It was wet and the weather was gloomy but the views were actually pretty good, though inevitably didn’t come out brilliantly in the photos.
However it was not a place to hang about, the rain was not easing off, the forecast ‘patchy sunshine’ was not in evidence and I had a decision to make about whether to go on to do Armboth Fell. I set off back down the path and somehow managed to end up slightly off line and in a really bad patch of bog – this was easily enough rectified but by the time I reached where I would need to cross Fisher Gill to head for Armboth Fell the rain was getting heavier and quite frankly I had had enough. I was going to need to take my time getting down the slippy stone pitching and did not want to risk running out of daylight on a hill where there was nobody else mad enough to be around – indeed I was wondering if I was the first person up there from the Armboth side since the road reopened. Time to head back down and leave Armboth Fell for another day when at least there may be less water coming out of the sky, even if the ground is still likely to be squelchy!
As it turned out the stone pitching, although slippy and requiring care, wasn’t too bad but it was approaching 2.30 by the time I got back to the car which confirmed that it was the right call not to go on to Armboth Fell – back to the cottage for a nice hot bath, then to the Lily Bar for a pint of Loweswater Gold, then some nice red wine was a much more pleasant option! We followed this by a lovely meal at Lucy’s which rounded the day off nicely. As for the hill, one to get out of the way – and not one I’m in a hurry to repeat!!