I’ve been trying to scratch an itch for a while now, to spend a night in the hills alone. An opportunity presented itself as the working week came to a close and I hastily made plans and gathered some kit.
I jumped on a train on Saturday morning and headed to Staveley. I planned to explore the other half of the Kentmere valley after last year’s partially successful trip, but more pressing was to tread the lonely fells of Longsleddale.
These soggy hummocks barely feature on the horizons of ardent fellbaggers, but I fancied avoiding the weekend crowds. My route would plot a course over Kentmere Pike and Harter Fell where I planned to pitch for the night before heading to the unfamiliar uplands of Longsleddale.
Leaving day-trippers heading to Windermere, I struck off through Staveley and on to Kentmere. I followed the lane east of the River Kent and the valley seemed to be caught in a palpable pregnant pause, waiting the riotous explosion of spring.
Early daffodils on roadside verges craned stems to seek out nourishing sunlight. When the breeze dropped, the still air was heavy with the promise of the changing season… an enveloping, comforting warmth carrying the faint yet sweet smell of renewal returning to the valley after grey winter torpor.
I continued along the lane slowly, my route framed by unkempt moustaches of moss that drooped, sodden, from stone walls.
Turning right along Lowfield Lane heading to Green Quarter, I then joined the path to the south of Nunnery Beck. This contoured across muddy fields but offered majestic views of the western crags and fells of the Kentmere Round.
Reaching a junction with the main Longsleddale Pass bridleway, I headed north and climbed Wray Crag following a steep path, which snaked around rock outcrops and through boggy terraces. Shipman Knotts and Rough Crags soon followed, before the steady climb to the summit of Kentmere Pike.
Here, I felt the full force of a chilling south westerly scouring the tops. I put on my shell jacket and woolly hat. Gloves soon followed (prepared, for once).
Dropping to a saddle on the ridgeline and I climbed again meeting several folk heading off the hills for the day. Just briefly, I envied their evening of warm cars, maybe holiday cottages, hot dinners, open fires… Oh, how the mind wanders!
I lay back on the rusty rubbish heap of a cairn on Harter Fell and considered my options. Water supplies now low, I considered the sources up high only as the wind became the prime motivational force. I would seek a bit more shelter lower down and had somewhere in mind.
I reached the top of Gatescar Pass after visiting the boundary stone at Adam Seat and headed to Brownlee Bottom and it’s scattering of disused quarries. The impact on the landscape of these old workings is minimal, but they do offer reasonable platforms on which to pitch a tent. After a scout, I settled on a mossy heap of slate tucked away to the north which afforded me fine views of the jaws of upper Longsleddale and the promise of early sunshine should the forecast prove reliable.
The main disadvantage of pitching on a heap of slate is that pegging a tent can be a challenge. Although I managed to pin down one end, the remaining guy lines had to be trapped under slabs that were, of course, in abundance.
Dinner and several brews enjoyed, I sat outside the tent and gazed at the stars.
Waking early, my internal alarm clock kicked in just as the sun enlivenedbthe westerly wall of the valley. It soon breached the saddle to the east – my route for the day – and warmed my bones. Coffee and breakfast done, I had the sun on my face as I climbed and bog trotted east before following a boundary fence south to Tarn Crag.
As I climbed, I noticed cloud gather in the valley to my right. It stopped abruptly at 500 metres I guessed which prompted me to wonder if I would be lucky this morning and be treated to an inversion. Negotiating more boggy ground I followed a path southwest from the fence to the survey pillar on the ‘Crag and was stopped in my tracks.
To the south, no views of low hills and fields but a white blanket extending to the horizon. Tarn Crag was a cliff on the coast meeting a sea of cloud. I found it disorientating, and my mind spun with near vertigo. It was magical too, though, and I stood and gawped.
Moving on, I returned to the fence and then diverted again to Sleddale Fell with a similar awe-inspiring vista. It then occurred to me that I would be ploughing through this cloud down to Longsleddale and I considered my routes of descent. I’d already decided not to follow the boggy ridge all the way to Capplebarrow and beyond as I wanted to sample the valley and follow the River Sprint, if only for a short while. While poor visibility posed no real threat due to the boundary fence tracing a route along the ridgeline, things may get a bit tricky heading west and down.
I found a path on the OS map heading northwest from the fence to Brow Gill. It looked fairly steep but manageable and I descended into the mist.
Counting features was fairly straightforward on this route and I resisted the temptation to switch on the GPS, relying on undercooked map-reading skills instead. By gauging distance to terrain, and using compass to confirm changes in direction of the fence, I was delighted to predict the position of my turn with some accuracy. After the remains of a stone wall joined my route from the east, I expected it to ultimately mark my path and so it did.
The drop to the gill was steep and, on reflection, it would have made more sense to follow the streambed off the hill. Knees protesting at the descent I soon found the boundary of an expected plantation and skirted it, eventually joining a path at Stockdale.
Looking back, my route was completely obscured by low cloud. Down safe and sound.
I followed a bridleway to Hollin Root before heading east again across the bleak plateau of moorland separating the valleys of the Kent and Sprint. The track was poor in places, but firm and well compacted elsewhere, reminding of the drovers’ road that provides relatively easy passage across Rannoch Moor.
Reaching the track at Hall Beck, I joined another quiet lane and, with sun now breaking through the cloud, walked into a spring day, providing a neat symmetry to my weekend.