Walking: Hard-won battle with the elements: Andrew Bibby in the Lakes

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The Independent Culture
LIKE handfuls of frozen peas flung down a wind tunnel, the hailstones raced down the gap in the hills, arriving from out of a black sky. The wind was from the north-west, from the general direction of Scafell and Scafell Pike. I was struggling up the slopes of Harter Fell. In height terms (2,140 feet) Harter Fell may be in the Lake District's equivalent of the football Second Division, but it seemed quite high enough.

Wainwright liked the hill. 'Not many fells can be described as beautiful,' he wrote, 'but the word fits Harter Fell, especially so when viewed from Eskdale.' It looks good, too, from neighbouring Dunnerdale, the quiet valley at the back of Coniston which even when the rest of the Lakes is busy with visitors remains remarkably uncrowded. It was in Dunnerdale, close to the hamlet of Seathwaite and its well-placed Newfield Inn, that I'd come with a group of friends for a weekend's walking.

The weather forecast was not promising, but the day at least had started bright. From the valley bottom, Harter Fell looked an ideal morning's outing: not too far, not too high and with the prospect, guaranteed by Wainwright himself, of some pleasant walking. 'The fell is not only good to look at, but good to climb,' he had promised.

We left Seathwaite in sunshine, walking through attractive woodland to reach a footbridge over the River Duddon and the path up to the hillside farm of High Wallowbarrow. From there a farm track climbs north beside the waters of Rake Beck, skirting the sides of Wallowbarrow Crag. We made good progress, soon arriving at the edge of Dunnerdale Forest, created by the Forestry Commission on Harter Fell's lower slopes.

Recent felling at the forest edge beside Grassguards Gill has left the bridleway churned up and made walking unpleasant. The wind was getting up and the sky darkening and now was the time to start the serious ascent of Harter Fell, still about 1,000 feet above us. The hailstones must have come with heat- seeking technology, designed specifically to seek out unprotected skin. Each 10 feet of height was hard won from the elements.

Of course, it was worthwhile. The view from Harter Fell is excellent, even if you have to hug the triangulation stone against the wind to enjoy it. England's highest mountain, Scafell Pike, is almost due north, about five miles away. North-east are Bowfell and the Crinkle Crags, while closer at hand to the south- east is the back of the Old Man of Coniston. When the weather is clear, there's also the entertaining opportunity of looking from Harter Fell to Harter Fell, the mountain of the same name 15 miles away, near Haweswater.

Our path downhill took us east and south off the summit to the edge of the woods and then further down to the old farm at Birks, now a beautifully located activity centre used by schoolchildren. A further two miles of relatively low-level walking lay ahead, before we would arrive back at the Newfield Inn in Seathwaite.

Before the pub, however, there was another delight to enjoy. Birks Bridge is an old stone bridge that spans the river Duddon at a point where it has burrowed down to create a miniature gorge. Below the bridge are deep rock pools, looking ideal for a quick swim. It could be a delightful way to finish off a walk: perhaps next time I'll do this one in a heatwave.

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