Sunday, 26 March 2017

A late winter wander around lovely Loweswater

At just a mile long, and half a mile wide, Loweswater is one of Lakeland's smallest lakes. I also happen to think it is one of the loveliest. I well remember the first time I set eyes on it. It was during a family holiday in 1970. It was our first visit, and we were touring the area in the family minibus. Having visited Buttermere and been entranced by it's beauty, we took the road to the coast, where we were staying. Crummock Water passed by the window, resplendent with it's backdrop of mountains, the names of which I had yet to discover, and once the end of the lake was reached I settled back to enjoy the the rest of the journey, thinking that there were no more lakes to see that day.  When Loweswater suddenly appeared to our left, it was a such a delightful surprise that I demanded we stop and have a look around. My plea fell on deaf ears. The rest of the family had decided that we had seen quite enough lakes for one day, so we drove on by, and all I could do was promise myself to return one day to fully investigate it's charms.

It was three years before I was able to fulfil that promise, and I think that my opinion of this lovely little lake was truly formed on that day. The weather was perfect, a deep blue sky, complete with little white cotton wool clouds drifting lazily along on a gentle breeze. I clambered up the lush green pastures of  Darling Fell, to the north of the lake, looked down on it's clear blue waters, and decided that this was probably one of the most perfect places in the world. It was so peaceful, so far removed from the hustle and bustle of the world, that it was imbued with a level of tranquillity that was rare even in the Lake District. Yes, that day I fell in love with Loweswater. I've been besotted with her ever since.

Loweswater is less frequently visited than other lakes, mainly, I think, because it is small and a little off the beaten track. Close by are the ever popular lakes of Buttermere and Crummock Water. They are the City and United of the Lakes, surrounded by impressive mountains, with a huge fanbase, and visitors galore. The village of Buttermere, situated between the two, has more car parking spaces than residents. By comparison Loweswater is very much a local league lake, flanked by fells that even Wainwright could not get enthusiastic about, and apparently not worthy of a pay and display with information board. Yet that is one of it's greatest attractions.  There is a round the lake footpath, which because it features virtually no hilly bits at all, is suitable for the very youngest fell walker. Holme Wood, on the lake's southern shore has both red deer and red squirrels. They can be elusive, but the beautiful Holme Force, a wonderful little waterfall set amongst the trees, is easier to find if you know where to look. There is no need to scramble up the hillside to reach it, a nice wide path leads right to it, but as there is no sign it is easy to miss the turning to it.
On previous visits I have enjoyed the charms of this wonderful lake in many ways, and for my latest visit in mid March, I decided to stay on the south side, walking along the shore through Holme Woods, before heading up the fellside to High Nook Tarn, and then following the footpath along the side of Burnbank Fell to the western end of the Lake. The day was completed by re-tracing my steps a quarter of a mile to enter the woods via a small gate leading to a narrow path that eventually meets a wider forest track. A short distance along this track the delightful Holme Force provides a pleasing end to the walk.

What passes for parking at Loweswater. A large lay-by, one of two beside the minor road, and the small car park at Maggies Bridge, at the Crummock Water end of the Lake, are all there is, and I'm told that there is almost always a space or two available.

This is the only hill on the round lake walk. It leads up to Hudson Place, a small farm. It is not very steep or far, but has this wonderful roadside display of daffodils in mid March.

Beyond Hudson Place the track swings left to drop down towards the Lake Shore, with wonderful views down the lake.

Half way along the Lake Shore and this bothy appears. Owned by the National Trust, it is available for hire.

The small beach outside the bothy has wonderful views across the Lake to Darling Fell and Low Fell. It also has full recreational facilities for those long summer evenings, in the form of a swing.

Looking across Loweswater to the unmistakable profile of Grasmoor, which overlooks Crummock Water.

At the other end of the Lake the track leads to Maggies Bridge, where there is a small car park, a signpost, and a lot of mud!

From Maggies Bridge the farm track leads up to High Nook Farm, and beyond, the open fellside. To the right of the path is High Nook Beck, a lovely little stream running down the fellside towards the Lake. It joins the outflow of the Lake just below Maggies Bridge, and becomes the River Cocker, which eventually joins the River Derwent at Cockermouth.

Looking back across the fellside from the path beside the beck. Grasmoor is prominent, and Crummock Water can also be seen.

High Nook Tarn, a lovely little water which drains into High Nook Beck. My walk does not pass by the tarn, but it is in clear view and a narrow footpath, boggy in winter, leads up to it.

The path swings right, crossing High Nook Beck by a narrow bridge, then climbs the flank of Burnbank Fell.

A little further on and despite gaining height, the trees of Holme Wood start to conceal the view.

The highest portion of this path, and also the highest point of the walk, is also the most disappointing. The view is totally hidden by trees, with the flanks of Burnbank fell blocking the view in the other direction. There is about half a mile of this lack of scenery to endure.

The other end of Holme Wood and the trees are left behind. The view appears, and it is worth waiting for.

The head of the lake. This end is closest to the coast, and conventional thinking dictates that the small stream there will flow away from the lake towards the sea, but it doesn't. Loweswater is unique in that the water from the lake flows towards the centre of the Lake District as opposed to away from it. Crummock Water is lower than Loweswater, and the water from Loweswater flows into Crummock.

Backtracking is something I'm not keen on, but on this walk there is far greater reward in going back for a quarter of a mile rather than carrying on along the path that skirts Burnbank Fell. On the way back Holme Beck is crossed for the second time. This is the view looking downstream as it heads down the slope towards the lake. I shall meet it again shortly.

I've turned left into the woods and followed a narrow track down to a junction with a much wider track, then turned left, to follow the wide track down the slope, athletically hurdling this fallen tree on the way, as you do.

It is not long before this beautiful little waterfall appears on the left. Before getting to it there is little indication of it's existence. It is the aforementioned Holme Beck, cascading down through the woodland. The falls are called Holme Force.

The lower pool of Holme Force. It is not big, but it is beautiful, and a real treat to enjoy towards the end of the walk.

Getting to Holme Force from the main track through the woods is not easy. The track it is on, although wide, runs higher up in the woodland, and not used regularly. To add to the navigation problems, there is no sign to the falls. These two trees are all that mark the start of the path from the main track through the forest.
A fine view to end the day. The car is about 250 yards away, and the sun has come out. It is been a super walk, in weather that was better than forecast.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

A little Winter wander on Lingmoor

Lingmoor, in Langdale, draws me back time after time. So when looking for a fell walk to fill a few hours on a cold and showery Saturday in February with two good friends, it was an obvious choice. Overnight snow on the fell tops added to the splendour of the scenery, whilst the heavy shower cloud hung menacingly over the central fells, giving them a mean and moody look.

We started in Elterwater, at the National Trust car park, and headed towards the quarries via the river. This first half mile is very pleasant, and helps to get the muscles nicely warm before the main climb starts. From across the quarry the Langdale Pikes were bathed in sunshine, capped with a light dusting of snow, and surrounded by menacing looking cloud, all adding to the atmosphere of the day. Despite it being Saturday, the quarries were not silent, winning the slate is clearly not a Monday to Friday 9 - 5 job.

From the quarries it is a 1/2 a mile walk along first a bridleway, and then an old quarry track, to reach the old quarry spoil heap overlooking the village of Chapel Stile. I've been here many times before, of course, but what was different about today was the backdrop. Despite heavy cloud all around, there was a bright clearing of blue sky and the sun was glinting on the snow covered mountains of the Fairfield Horseshoe. The Blue Sky did not last.

From the spoil heap, we then headed up the quarry track as it skirts the fell, before turning sharp left to follow the path up the fell to a green gate with a built in stile.

From the gate, we turned right to follow the line of the wall. This wall runs close to the top of the fell, and the path follows it for most of that distance. Behind us, as we climb, the views of Windermere are superb, even on a day such as this.

Half way to the top we are hit by a sharp rain shower. Hail, rain, and strong winds blow in from over Wetherlam. It gives us an exhilarating ten minutes, and the added bonus of this rainbow.  It is not a common view on the fells.
 With the rain quickly clearing through, we are treated to superb views across the fell towards Crinkle Crags, Pike O Bliscoe and Bowfell, all of which were shrouded in cloud.
 Meanwhile, looking north over Great Langdale we can clearly see Pavey Ark and the flat looking top of Harrison Stickle. The occasional gap in the cloud throwing sunlight on one area of fell, whilst others remain in dark shade.

The summit of Lingmoor is Brown Howe, so called because it is clad in a mixture of bracken and heather which for much of the year gives it a brown appearance.  It also has this stunning view of the Langdale Pikes

Still at the summit, this superb view down Great Langdale to Chapel Stile can be seen. Seat Sandal, Nethermost Pike and Dollywagon Pike are in the distance, while the summit of Helvellyn is covered in cloud.

Our route back is via the flank of the fell, passing by the old quarries that dot this region. From the top we drop down the steep slope, following the line of an old wall, that has been supplemented at the top by a wire fence, to this stile over the wall.  From here there is a fine view up Mickleden, with the Band visible to the left, and the summit of Bowfell shrouded in cloud.

We could cross the stile to drop down towards Blea Tarn, but that is for another day. Instead, we turn left, along a barely visible yet boggy path, towards an abandoned quarry, a great lunch stop.

From the quarry we continue along the flank of the fell, passing by other quarry workings. There are several small workings on the side of the fell, with abandoned buildings and spoil heaps the only sign of their existence. In the background, the summit of Wetherlam enjoys a brief interlude from the cloud, before being shrouded in mist again.
 Another abandoned quarry working on the fell side. The small quarrymans hut has what appears to be a chimney at one end, with a gap for a small fire beneath. I cannot have been the best work in bad weather.

As we continue along the fell side, dropping gradually as we go, the views to the south over Little Langdale are superb, with Little Langdale Tarn prominent in the valley below.

The path drops down the fell side, towards a wide track that will lead us back to Elterwater. It is quite steep in parts, and rocky and wet underfoot. A certain amount of erosion control work has been undertaken otherwise it would be considerably worse.
 Looking across the valley bottom, towards Wetherlam, with Little Langdale Tarn looking dark and foreboding. The water in this tarn always has a grey look to it, even on sunny days. I'm lead to believe that this is due to the local geology. A dull day like today does not help though.

A friendly Herdwick greets us at the bottom. Apart from a couple of sheep on the road to the quarries at the start of the walk, this was the only farm animal that we encountered all day. However, we did see numerous birds, including Buzzards and a very cheeky robin. Trouble is, I was too slow to get a picture of them.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Alcock Tarn, or 'A fellwalkers guide to Victorian plumbing'

June 2016. Referendum day to be precise. A near perfect day weather wise, and as it turned out the ideal day for shooting a video of the walk from Grasmere up to Alcock Tarn. The views are so good on this walk that a clear day with sunshine and fluffy white clouds is essential.  But this shoot has an added bonus. I have a couple of production assistants (first class, unpaid) to help me out. My good friend Nicola and her son Michael. Nicola is a bright and busy single mum who loves to get out on the Lake District fells whenever she can. Michael has a very enquiring mind, and is developing an interest in history, as well as all things artistic, including videography. It was a chance for them to experience a very different day on the fells, and to also see what goes on behind the scenes on one of my video shoots.
Alcock Tarn, on the western side of Heron Pike, overlooking Grasmere in the English Lake District
Alcock Tarn
 Alcock Tarn is on the western side of Heron Pike, overlooking Grasmere. On the face of it it's a nice walk through the woods and then up the fell side to a pretty little mountain tarn. But things are not all they seem. This is not just a scenic walk, and believe me, it is very scenic, it is also a stroll through the world of Victorian plumbing, and one of the very best examples of hidden history in the Lake District. So it makes not only the perfect subject for a ten minute video, but also was ideal for a fell walking enthusiast and her history loving son.  This is the story of our day. The pictures are low resolution stills from the finished video. If you want to see that, scroll down to the bottom.
St Oswalds church in the village of Grasmere in the Lake District
St Oswald's Church Grasmere
We started from the church in Grasmere, close to Wordsworth's Grave, and headed out towards his old house at Dove Cottage. Once there we headed up the old road towards White Moss Common before turning left to follow the path up to Brackenfell Woods. Up to that point the walk had been at a normal pace, with a couple of short stops to take establishing shots. We soon reached the seat just before the entrance to the woods, and the first major stop for filming, a piece to camera about the plush 18th and 19th century villas visible on the other side of Grasmere. It was at this point that the benefit of having a production assistant really paid dividends. Normally, I work alone, so have to spend time setting up the shot and ensuring all the camera settings are as they need to be. But not today.

With script in hand, Nicola took to her new role as though she'd been doing it all her life, whilst Michael put himself in charge of the camera. I'd already done the settings, so all he had to do was actually push the red button. Even so, saying the word "action" gave him a feeling of being in control.

The entrance to Brackenfell Woods, Grasmere
Heading into Brackenfell Woods
With this first filming stop complete and the footage checked, it was time to head up into Brackenfell Woods. This route is along a wide sweeping path which follows the line of an old pack horse route, but that is not the reason it is so wide. Pack horse routes were narrow, often little more than the width of the horse and pack. Similar in fact, to a normal footpath today. This path is considerably more substantial, and was clearly constructed for much wider traffic. The answer to the question of why it is so wide is very simple. What is now Brackenfell Woods was, in Victorian times, a landscaped garden, complete with woodland trails, waterfalls, artificial streams and, to facilitate ease of access, a wide carriageway leading to the top of the garden. This allowed the owners to convey their guests to the top of the garden by carriage from where they could stroll back down, admiring the various features as they went.
The remains of an ornamental pond in Brackenfell Woods, Grasmere
The remains of an ornamental pond, dating from the days when Brackenfell woods was a garden.
After two aborted attempts to tell the story of the woods direct to camera, one because other people walked past, and the second because I totally fluffed my lines, we reached a point where there is a seat overlooking a view of Grasmere, from where I was to do another short piece to camera. Unfortunately there were two people sitting on the seat about to start lunch.

It is amazing how accommodating other walkers can be when you have a camera on a tripod and a production assistant with a script in hand. Had I been on an ordinary walk and requested that this couple give up their seat for a few minutes, they might have been, quite rightly, a little annoyed. But on spying the camera they were only too pleased to make way, standing a short distance away to watch proceedings. Unfortunately, after going to all that trouble, the shot did not make it into the final video. Their lunch was disturbed for nothing.

Gate on the path up to Alcock Tarn, a National Trust owned area of land at Grasmere in the English Lake District
This gate is a bit misleading. The tarn is still some way off.
It was late morning by the time we had finished filming on the path and woodland, and as we proceeded to climb the fell carrying the camera and tripod in the heat of the day up the steep slope was beginning to take it's toll. Michael decided that his mother and I were just too slow, and raced on ahead, leaving us to struggle on behind. We arrived at Grey Crag to find him sitting smugly on the stone viewpoint admiring the view. There was another filming stop here. Not to show the views from Grey Crag, which are very good by the way, but for me to make a confession on camera. You see, I've been telling tourists little fibs for some while now. It was time to come clean. Progress was then halted by the laughter that followed as Nicola and Michael could hardly believe what I had just come out with.
Alcock Tarn on the western side of Heron Pike, overlooking Grasmere in the Lake District
Alcock Tarn, which was formerly known as Buttercrags Tarn
Lunch was taken at Alcock Tarn. Not only was it a chance to enjoy a break, but also a paddle. I may take my video making seriously, but it is also a day out with friends, and there is a certain amount of fun to be had. So having fought against a bracing wind to deliver the story of how this tarn is not all it seems, and having made the occasional error necessitating at least 4 takes, it was time to relax and enjoy the sunshine. All good things come to an end however, and the time to leave came too soon. The second half of the video, and arguably the most demanding, remained to be made.

Leaving Alcock Tarn
Having assistance has great advantages. The shot of me leaving the tarn, taken from one of it's many viewpoints, would not really have been possible had I been working on my own. The time taken to set up such a shot, as well as executing it, would make it prohibitive. But with Nicola and Michael keen to add their input the shot was captured in less than 10 minutes.

Heading off down the northern edge of the fell, a steep and rocky slope.
We didn't return by the outward route. This is a circular walk, and although the descent is steep, and rocky in parts, it is very scenic, with stunning views north west up Easedale and towards Steel Fell.
Thirlmere to Manchester Aqueduct
At the bottom of the slope is the Thirlmere to Manchester aqueduct, the longest gravity-fed aqueduct in the country. It supplies water to the city of Manchester from Thirlmere, which is just 3 miles north of here. It has a fascinating history, yet most people pass by without paying it any attention. Telling the story of the Aqueduct was to make an interesting final segment to the video, but first we had to get down to it. The normal way would be to follow the path to the bottom of the fell, cross the bridge, then turn right to follow the stream up to where the Aqueduct crosses it. But there is no bridge, it having been washed away by the winter floods. With a camera and tripod to carry, I didn't want to get down to the bottom of the fell only to find no way across. So the decision was made to make our way down through the bracken, which thankfully had yet to reach full height. Poor Nicola was not really dressed for hacking her way through 5 feet high foliage, so Michael led the way, and loved it.
The top of the Aqueduct turns out to be about a foot deep in rubble from the December flooding
First job when we got to the aqueduct was a check for ticks. Nicola was wearing shorts, and as we were unlikely to go through any more bracken it seemed like a good idea. It turned out to be a good decision as Nicola had one on her leg. Luckily, it had not sunk its jaws into her, so brushing it off was easy. We also found that she had a nasty case of greenfly! It all added to the fun of the day, but as you all know, it could have been different. Ticks are nasty little creatures and if they burrow into your skin and start to feed on your blood there can be bad health consequences as they can carry Lyme Disease. It is always worth a quick check when you've been through high bracken.

The Aqueduct crossing Greenhead Gill
Telling the story of the Aqueduct and it's construction took longer than I envisaged, mainly because it was a complicated script that contained facts and figures that needed to be delivered correctly. Not only that but I also had a sound problem as the nearby stream was fast flowing and the noise from it threatened to drown out my voice. So I took double shots. One set with pieces to camera, and another set without me in them, or with me just looking at the Aqueduct or into the stream, the idea being that if the pieces to camera were not usable, I would have enough footage to accompany a voice over. Nicola was excellent at this point, ensuring that I got the words right and prompting me when necessary. Michael, meanwhile, continued to make an excellent cameraman.

Time for a paddle
With all footage in the can, it was time for a break, a drink, and another paddle. I always think that on a hot day on the Lakeland fells, a towel and a clean pair of socks is a good thing to pack. The feeling of cool water on the feet is as refreshing as any drink. We sat reviewing some of the footage we had taken, although in truth we had checked it at the time of shooting, but it was a nice way to re-live what had been a lovely day.
The riverside walk in Grasmere
From the bottom of Greenhead Gill we enjoyed a nice stroll back to the main road, then across the fields to Grasmere. I'd decided to finish not by road, but with a walk along the river back to the church yard via the daffodil garden, which turned out to be delightful. Just 4 days later, the video was published on You Tube. Another benefit of having an assistant with me was that I was able to organise the walk and filming in order of shot, which made editing so much easier. Some nice jaunty music rounded the video off nicely, and I have to admit that I was very pleased with the result. What do you think? Have a look at the finished production below and let me know if you like it.