Wainwright walks 83: Up and down in Wasdale

  • Hills: Middle Fell, Seatallan, Buckbarrow
  • Classification: Wainwrights (155 to 157)
  • When: Thursday 16 September
  • Who: Me and the mountaineering minion
  • Distance: About 7 miles at a guess.
  • Weather: Glorious sunshine for most of it, cloud blowing in and out on Seatallan
  • Post walk drink: Pale ale, followed by Merlot (again)
  • Post walk watering hole: The Strands Inn, Wasdale (again)
  • MAMBA factor: Pretty high. Wasdale can be heaving on a good day but these are some of the lesser frequented hills in the area.
  • Uses of the arse crampon: Still MIA.
  • Mishaps: Does work count? (again..)

I said in my last blog post that one of these days one of my blog posts would not start with a rant. At some point, this might even be true – however once again this is not that post. At least the rant is a bit shorter this time than it was for my last blog post which consisted of more ranting than description of the actual walk! The ratio is at least not quite so skewed as the last time. It is however beginning to occur to me that the rant to walk ratio being skewed seems to be taking the place of either (a) the mishap to walk ratio being skewed or (b) the  time/ distance to get to the hill versus the actual time on the hill being completely skewed as it has been in the past. At least on this walk nothing really went that wrong with no mishaps to speak of on the walk itself, unless the absolute bugger of a steep ascent of Seatallan counts as one!

As regards the rant – once again work managed to get in the way of my supposed time off, although this time the impact was more limited than it had been in the past. This time it consisted of getting a message just as I was getting off the hill asking if there was any way I could be on a conference call over Zoom in an hour’s time. Unfortunately this was something that couldn’t wait till I got back to London so I negotiated an extra 15 minutes to at least allow me time to get back to the hill, get out of hill walking gear and make myself at least vaguely presentable but it was certainly not ideal! Had this not happened I would probably have thought about going for an open water swim, which I did the following day instead. Even going to somewhere with very little mobile signal doesn’t seem to work these days for getting away from work as whilst there is no phone signal in Nether Wasdale there is WiFi in the pub…

After my lovely walk in the Far Eastern Fells the previous day, the forecast was once again excellent and it would have been a good day to do a big walk. However the mix of lockdown related lack of fitness and work induced tiredness meant that an epic was still not an option, plus given parking issues in Wasdale on a previous visit I did not need the stress of worrying about whether I would be able to find a parking space! Going for Middle Fell gave me the option to extend to two other hills if I felt up to it, I knew there was a reasonable amount of parking and the views looked as though they would be great. Decision made in the bar the night before about what walk to do, I had some excellent pub grub at the Inn (portions are huge) and turned in for an early night.  

I am not a natural early bird by any stretch of the imagination but when I am walking on my own I often tend to get going reasonably early as a side effect of the fact that I often don’t sleep that well when I’m away on my own. I managed to get to sleep pretty well but was awake by about 6am and failing to get back to sleep. Sorted my gear out and was down for breakfast just after 7.30 which is unheard of for me! I was parked up at the base of Middle Fell shortly after 8.30 and even given the inevitable faffing with gear I was still away from the car before 9. I know some people would view this as a late start in hill walking terms but I am never going to be one of those people who is parked up at 4am in order to get a parking space. Even a broken night’s sleep is better than getting virtually none!

The climb up Middle Fell is straightforward, with the gradient not being too bad – however, I was having to take it very steadily as I felt pretty tired. I’d read in guide books that this is one of those hills where the ascent feels as though it goes on forever and I definitely concur with that! The compensation however is that the views become increasingly good as you climb and in the end it took me just over an hour to reach the summit cairn to excellent views all round… including making it clear that there was one heck of a drop and reascent in order to get to Seatallan. There was no way I was bailing after one hill though given the good conditions and that even after having a bit of a break it was still before 10.30am!

The descent off the back of Middle Fell, which again is reasonably graded, lands you in a dip between the two hills which I suspect would be a bog fest most of the time but fortunately was dry. However, it became apparent just how much of a slog the direct route up Seatallan was going to be! It felt practically vertical at times with the passage of many feet having worn rough steps into the slope. It was also not the sort of slope where the angle can be alleviated by regular photo breaks and had I been going down hill the arse crampon would definitely have been pressed into service. It does not really work as a jumar however so there was nothing else for it other than to grit my teeth and carry on. I was absolutely knackered when I popped out onto the summit plateau and staggered over to the trig point. Cloud was blowing in and out so I took an extended break to wait for it to clear so I could take in the views (and take the inevitable terrible summit selfie). Having seen one person on the way up Middle Fell the same person was also on Seatallan so these hills were – despite being in Wasdale – definitely delivering on the MAMBA factor!

The slog up Seatallan had taken me a while, but it was still only lunchtime (and an early lunch at that) so extending the walk to take in Buckbarrow was a no-brainer. Besides, the descent to Buckbarrow was obviously nowhere near as steep as what I had just come up! I did know that descending from Buckbarrow back to the road was supposed to be steep but from a quick look at the map, not too bad and with a reasonable path the whole way. The only snag was that initially it wasn’t obvious what direction I needed to go – one of the issues with what amounts to a summit plateau – but that was easily corrected and the walk over to the third and final hill of the day was lovely. The summit of Buckbarrow was busy to start off with but not for long and I took another extended break to take in the views, which were probably the best of the day – another one of those smaller hills where the view can be better than from some of the bigger ones!

The descent from Buckbarrow unfortunately took me longer than it should have – I inexplicably managed to miss the path in the first instance necessitating some back tracking, and then the drop back to the road seemed to take forever as my knees were giving me some trouble on the steep bits. Nothing which required the deployment of the AC, though! Once back on the minor road it was a short yomp back to the car – just before reaching which my phone buzzed with the aforementioned request for a conference call. This meant that the post walk drinks had to wait until a couple of hours work had been done and any idea of a post walk swim (which given the weather would have been lovely) also had to be shelved. Nonetheless it had been a great walk overall and I would cheerfully do either Middle Fell or Buckbarrow again – the ascent of Seatallan, on the other hand, can do one!

6 thoughts on “Wainwright walks 83: Up and down in Wasdale

  1. Did these as separate hills as recently as 2019 when all R’s ailments were beginning to catch up with him. Still super hills with much more bang for your buck than you might think. I really don’t know what modern employers are up to. Just because they CAN get at you 24 hours a day, it doesn’t mean they should. We have an outpost of a consultancy based in Belgium currently in my spare room, and they seem to take on loads of extra work without considering they might actually need extra staff for it.

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  2. I’m glad my mobiles are permanently turned off. Mind you, they’re personal phones and not work ones so I suppose that’s different. That would have really spoiled my day getting that call.

    Forgotten what MAMBA stands for?

    I actually liked the ascent of Seatallan (I like Seatallan too) as I like short and steep – I don’t remember it being eroded back in the days when I last did it though so perhaps it’s deteriorated. That’s the trouble of a path being formed up steep ground without a zig-zag – it just wears out!

    You got some great photos there – very atmospheric and some unusual viewpoints.

    I was wondering what the parking would be like in Wasdale nowadays – I never dare go there as it would be a long drive and probably a waste of time when I got there. You started what I’d class as very early though – it would be nearer 11 when I got there from up here so don’t think I’d get parked.

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  3. Really enjoyed this walk when I did it, I loved Middle Fell as it gave a great view of the Scafells. Its a cracking little walk this one. I think like you I need to head further down Wasdale to get the rest of the fells I need starting around Overbeck Bridge etc, will just have to make an early start to get in there and go mid week to help with how busy it is.

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