Wainwrights Challenge – (almost) The Dodds

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On our continuing mission to seek out new hills, far from civilization, the next target was The Dodds – the fells making up the northern end of the Helvellyn range. Fortunately we know people who live in Threlkeld, which removed difficult parking issues, and provided us with a BBQ to come back to in the evening.
Setting out a little later than planned, we crossed the A66 with ease (not something you hear every day), and started the climb towards Threlkeld Knotts. If you haven’t explored this area I’d really recommend it. Although part of its appeal is that it’s much quieter than many of the surrounding areas, so don’t all rush at once…
Threlkeld Knotts is a hidden gem. Much like my other favourite Lakeland fells, it’s not the biggest, but offers excellent views just off the beaten track. It also provides an interesting route up Clough Head, passing a couple of disused quarries. The higher, smaller quarry contained a couple of locals pissing about on dirt bikes which looked like a cracking way to spend a sunny Saturday morning. From then on we saw no one until the final traverse onto the southern flank of Clough Head.
Neither of us have previously explored these fells, which is where a large amount of the appeal of The Wainwrights lies. Clough Head provides unparalleled vistas across to the Northern Fells, with bonus views of the Eden Valley and the Pennines. What’s not to love? We also bumped into a group reccying the Bob Graham round – good luck to them for their attempt at the end of the month.
The joy of the Dodds is that once you’re up, the hard work is pretty much done. There’s a bit of a sting getting onto Great Dodd, but really it’s comfortable yomping the whole way along. The problem is that it’s totally exposed, with Lucy being blown all over the place on the summit of Great Dodd.
Watson’s Dodd is, by comparison, nice and gentle – an extended plateau protruding between Great and Stybarrow Dodd. Unfortunately due to the BBQ in the evening we had to turn around. Skirting around Great Dodd, we dropped onto Mosedale Beck to join the Old Coach Road back to Threlkeld. At Mariel Bridge we were treated to a parade of green-laning Landrover Series who kindly offered us a lift to Dockray. It’s a shame that was the wrong direction as it looked awesome.
It looked like there was a quick cut from the Coach Road back to the track to Threlkeld. It doesn’t exist. We took a bearing which should have dropped us right on to the cut, but found nothing. Before accusations of crappy navigation are thrown around, my nav is not that bad, and Chris backed me up when we got home; obviously he’s had the same idea in the past, with the same result.
Finally we were tramping back up past the little church in Threlkeld to enjoy a well deserved BBQ. Nipping back into Kewick we availed ourselves of the excellent beer selection in Booths, and rounded the day off with a tasty 7.5% bottle of Halcyon.

Wainwrights Challenge – Little Mell Fell

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We have given ourselves the challenge of bagging all of the Wainwrights within a year. We’ve already been up a few, bu decided to start from the beginning and do it properly.

We started on our 3 year anniversary and ticked our first one off: Little Mell Fell. Straight from work, we headed over the A69 and took the Alston road, over the top. It was a lovely evening, we were so lucky.

We turned off the A66 on the way to Keswick, and headed to the Lowthwaite where we parked up just opposite the footpath onto the flanks of Little Mell Fell. Following this up until it started to contour and then drop, we turned off the path up the gentle(ish) hill to reach the trig point.

Standing at a mere 505 meters, Little Mell Fell isn’t large by Lake District standards, but holds a situation shared only by its larger sibling Great Mell Fell – way out on its own, completely separate from any of the nearby large ranges. This isolation means that even with its diminutive stature, the views from the top are just awesome! Ullswater, the Helvellyn Range, Blencathra, the Solway Firth, and the Northern Pennines surround you with views even Scafell Pike would be proud of.

Reaching the top, we took in the views and got the stove out to start boiling the water for our boil-in-the-bag Extreme Food. Tucking into our meals, we watched the clouds begin to boil dramatically over the far eastern fells. By the time we had finished the temperature had begun to drop, plus it was passed 9.30. Time to head back down from our idyllic eyrie and towards home.

Little Mell Fell is surely a hidden gem within the National Park. Everyone drives by it; if you’ve been to Keswick you’ll have seen it sitting there in isolation, nestled behind its larger sibling. It is however, well worth a visit, giving vistas far in excess of the moderate climb required to reach its summit. But enough for now, it’s time to let the pictures do the real talking…

Bank Holiday Monday

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Yesterday we enjoyed a very relaxed Bank Holiday Monday together, lopping around in the morning before heading out for a bike ride in the afternoon.

The weather turned glorious later on in the day, and so taking the lazier approach seemed to pay off!

We cycled into town to purchase some much needed bike locks (we can now spend more time on the bikes and use them for commuting more regularly) and headed along the Quayside to The Cycle Hub for some coffee and snacks.

We then followed the cycle routes back up from the Quayside, along to Shield’s Road and back home through Heaton Park – a lovely afternoon pootle.

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Old County Tops

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After getting home from the OMM Lite and turning on my phone, I discovered that I’d received a missed call from the one, the only, Chris Swanepoel. Chris was the manager of planetFear (now Kong Adventure) in Keswick while I was working for them, and we’ve stayed in contact ever since I left to do my MSc in 2014. I’d been thinking of calling him and asking if he’d be interested in doing the OMM with me this year anyway, so I was interested to find out what the craic was. To cut a long story short, Chris wanted to know whether I’d come and race the Old County Tops with him, and I wanted to know if he’d come along for the OMM. We both said “yes of course”, but I had to warn Chris that I was basically confined to barracks due to a foot injury which only seemed to be getting worse, and wouldn’t be able to get any training runs in beforehand.

Skip forward a month, and the Old County Tops were looming (both literally, and figuratively in my mind). For those unaware, the Old County Tops is a fell race which summits each of the highest peaks in the old counties of Westmorland, Cumberland and Lancashire (Helvellyn, Scafell Pike and the Old Man of Coniston respectively). Each peak on its own is usually considered a reasonable day out by sensible folk, so to summit all three, adding on the distance between to start and finish at the New Dungeon Gill in Langdale, was going to be an interesting endeavour.

Interesting proved to be a fairly accurate assessment. The race is around 37 miles long, with somewhere around 10000 feet of ascent (or 3000ish metres), and we’d decided to set our sites high and aim to get round in 8 hours, although not entirely expecting to achieve this.

It’s a good job we weren’t too tied to our expectations as we ended up coming in at around 10 and a half hours! I hold my hand up to say that this was really my fault. Chris was running much more strongly than I was, and whilst we had a nice strong start up and down Helvellyn I began to suffer a little on our way up to Scafell. I just couldn’t get my legs to start firing properly again after a steep descent off the front of Helvellyn, and was starting to feel better when the rain set in.

Despite the race being held in mid May this was a true Lakeland hoolie, and to compound matters it seemed that my waterproof top was all but that. Hypothermia reared its ugly (but somewhat too familiar head – I should probably do something about that), and Chris mistaking my odd behaviour for hunger tried to feed me through the cold. Eventually, I just sat down and put on my waterproof trousers to try and trap a bit more warmth, and by the time we were at Angle Tarn I was almost back to “normal”. Some legend of a race marshal had a cup of tea, and after a couple of biscuits we were back on our way.

I’m actually quite proud of our descent off Scafell Pike. Visibility was low, and the rocks are magnetic, so the original plan of using a bearing to get us down past Esk Buttress wasn’t entirely possible. At this point, the entire reason Chris had invited me along – my navigation skills – came in useful. We’d joined a couple of other pairs trying to take the direct line down to the Great Moss, but with clouds swirling it was proving difficult. It was a case of taking half a minute to have a look at the features available, and I managed to drop us down through a small saddle onto a trod down. We did end up just a little further round than I’d hoped, but that was ok as it actually ended up giving us a better line to the path down to Cockley Beck.

From Cockley Beck onwards it was just a pure slog up Coniston Old Man and back to the Three Shires Stones. I had to sit down once or twice on the way up, which really isn’t typical for me, but we could all but taste home. I ate as much as Chris would allow on the road down from Three Shires Stones, but my legs were suffering. Chris was as well, but at the moment he’s just a much better athlete than I am, and was in much better form. Unsurprising considering the two months off I’d taken due to injury after my Byrness – Alwinton run.

As the New Dungeon Gill came into site, and we could see some guys who had split off from us just after Blea Tarn crossing a field in front of us, but not ahead. Chris urged me to start shifting “we can’t let those guys with the poles beat us on the last stretch”, and so we dug deep, and for the first time I left him behind with nothing he could do about it. Always save those last beans for the finish!

All in all, it was an excellent experience! Thank you Chris for inviting me along, and I’m already excited to try again next year. Hopefully, I’ll have trained a bit more for the next one, and my clothing will not produce any surprises!

The Old County Tops is an excellent day out, and I have a lot of respect to the top boys and girls, as well as all who completed or even entered. Definitely my hardest day out yet, but with the Spine Challenger lurking in January, it’s going to be far from my hardest outing ever…

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Harlow Hill round

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A few weeks ago, we decided to take ourselves out to an area of Northumberland that we hadn’t been to before, and found oursleves exploring the area around Harlow Hill. I’ve driven past this place countless times on my way up to Kielder, but never actually stopped to explore.

After checking out the OS maps, Johan stumbled upon a disused airfield which looked worth exploring, so off we went.

The walk itself was eerily quiet, with barely anyone around. And most of the footpaths were disused and overgrown, which made it feel like a proper little adventure. We made our way to the airfield, to find that it is now being used as a MOD base and is unaccessible. But it was still pretty cool to wander around the outside and have a peak.