Scafell and Slightside via Burnmoor Tarn

Another Mother’s birthday, another trip to Eskdale with the family, and therefore another run up from Boot to Scafell. Only this time, I actually managed to get to Scafell.

It’s been a goal of mine for a year or so, particularly as I enjoy the tops between Eskdale and Wasdale a lot – possibly one of my favourite little bits of the Lakes, and an area which usually remains relatively quiet despite its close proximity to Wasdale – arguably one of the more popular valleys.

As a bit of background; we were staying with family friends – Peter and Fionna. Peter especially, is very familiar with the hills surrounding Eskdale, having walked a huge variety of routes from the valley, and as such, is always worth consulting before a run. In this instance I’d planned to head up Slightside, as of last year’s foray, before heading on up to Scafell and dropping back down to Burnmoor Tarn, but Peter suggested running the other way around as the descent from Scafell to Burnmoor Tarn is incredibly rocky. It was excellent advice, as the scree I encountered was just the wrong size for descending quickly; too big to surf, too picky to get through rapidly.

As it was a family weekend, I wanted to get out early to avoid taking over the daytime. A friend of a friend was attempting the Bob Graham (he managed it with time to spare), and it was suggested that I meet them at Rossett Pike to have a look at the route up Bowfell in preparation for my attempt (hopefully in late June/early July this year). However, without a lift up Hardknott, it was going to be a serious day out just for me as well, and I felt would take too much out of the day, so elected for a shorter, albeit awesome, route.

Setting off just after 9am, the sun was out, a light frost was hanging around in the shade from the night before, and there was a slight breeze. In a word, it was perfect.

The first stretch takes you up from Christcliff (which lies pretty much half way between Boot and the Woolpack Inn) to Eel tarn, and is characterised by gorse and bog-myrtle, resulting in a lovely fragrant first ascent. I’d decided to try and run as much uphill as possible, as my performance at the Causey Pike fell race had left a little to be desired for someone with my uphill pedigree.

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As it was, I managed to run all the way up to Eel tarn where I stopped to take in the surroundings. I can never get bored of that area, it’s just fantastic – wide open Lakeland tops, basking in sunshine; Eel tarn is small, but perfectly situated, and you get the hulking mass of Scafell lowering in the background, with all the famous tops around Wasdale thrown in for good measure. Brilliant!

Moving on, I tried to keep the pace up on the flatish section to Burnmoor Tarn. This whole stretch is rapid running on soft, even ground, rising slightly from Eel tarn before dropping you onto Lambford Bridge. Here, the bridge gate was stuck shut – not a problem for me as I just vaulted the gate – and I spent a few minutes trying to un-stick the latch. The chain had twisted around and moved to the far side of its tethering ring, and I just couldn’t budge it.

Giving up on the gate as a lost cause (or something which would take far too long to fix on my schedule), I pushed on towards Burnmoor Tarn. Losing the path, I ended up thrashing my way through some boggy long grass for about five minutes, until the path revealed itself to me, and I could yomp on to Burnmoor.

Burnmoor hove into view, with the shooting lodge peeping over the hillside; “ah, it’s good to be back”. Running up the length of the tarn, I double checked the path up to Scafell, had a quick drink and got shifting again, trying to keep my pace down below 5min/mile.

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It was time for the big ascent up to Scafell summit, and I decided to try and run as much as possible. I managed pretty much the whole way up Hard Rigg, but eventually had to slow down and stomp my way up. Hitting the boulder field which characterises the entire top of Scafell, I slowed right down and followed a narrow path which switch-backed its way up and up. I wouldn’t like to come down this unless I had to, nice local knowledge there Peter, cheers!

After a good 15 minutes of stomping and scrambling, I arrived at the top of England’s second highest peak. At 964m, Scafell summit stands 13m below the summit of its better known Pike. In the clear bluebird April sunshine this was an unexpected blessing; I looked over to Scafell Pike, and could clearly see a number of people hanging out on its summit. In comparison, I was on my own, on my own little piece of heaven.

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If you’ve never been, the views from Scafell are stunning (given that it’s a clear day that is), and I’d even go as far as to suggest the peak itself has more to offer than Scafell Pike. After drinking in the views for five minutes I consulted my map again, had a sip of my dwindling water, and set off picking my way down toward Slightside. I met the only person I saw on my run at this point, a young shepherd by the looks of him, and exchanging a brief “hello” we were both on our respective ways, him heading up, me heading down.

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From Scafell to Slightside, the terrain varies from picky and rocky, to a lovely sweeping grass slope, and back to picky and rocky as you hit Slightside summit. Another stop for reflection and to enjoy the views, and I was back on my way, dropping off the southern end of Slightside and contouring around toward Stony Tarn.

I managed to pick the wrong track between Slightside and Stony Tarn, but realised when Cat Crag and Dawsonground Crags appeared on my right instead of my left. More tramping across boggy ground ensued, and I managed to drop myself onto the track which skirts around the north of Stony Tarn.

The pace picked up again, and I bombed downhill past Eel Tarn and down toward Christcliff, clock watching the whole while. I’d said that I could do it in 2h30 before heading out; Peter had hedged at 3 hours, and my watch was showing 2h11 as I hit the top of the final slope where paths part ways to Christcliff or the Woolpack.

I can get under 2h15, come on.

Belting down the hill, I ignored the gorse and brambles as much as possible, and hit the track up to the house at about 2h12.

Go go go!

Sprinting up the track, I finally made it into their car space and stopped my watch. 2h13, get in!

All in all, including photo stops and gate fixing attempts it had taken 2h31, which was pretty much bang on. I’d managed to get a little sunburnt as well (always happens in the Lakes in April), and arrived home to a big mug of tea and some biscuits. Perfect.

New Fell, New Shoes

Historical Note: This should have been published about three weeks ago (prior to the OMM Lite), but due to my PhD and generally feeling a bit all over the place, it never was. Either way, this is my account of a new fell, new shoes, and a few lovely photos from upper Eskdale.

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Firstly, I’m sorry for the large gap since the last post. It turned out that after my Byrness – Windy Gyle – Alwinton I had picked up a foot injury which was then exacerbated on the Pooley Bridge Daffodil Run (an excellent run by the way). I was also shifting much more slowly than I would have expected on the Daffodil Run, and the following weekend at Thrunton I failed to even complete a 5km bimble. Breaking point had been reached, and as hard as it was, I had to accept that the only option was to stop.

Until last weekend.

I have family friends who live just above Boot in Eskdale, one of my favourite spots to start from for fell running. With Scafell to the North, Hardknott to the East and Harter Fell to the South, as well as all the associated fell sides and ridges, what more could you ask for?

The answer to that question is a fresh pair of Salomon Fellraisers. After chatting to Lucy, Jim, Kip, and a few more people I can’t list off the top of my head, we’d come to the conclusion that my old Fellraisers had finally bit the dust. A moment of silence please for our fallen friends. I’m glad to say though, that the new pair were just as comfortable as the last (after replacing the footbeds with Inov8 footbeds; sort it out Salomon) and we were soon under way.

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My planned run was an extension of a loop from almost exactly a year before – up past Eel and Stony Tarns, only this time instead of turning round to head down past Hare Crag, I continued up to the summit of Slight Side.

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I’m ashamed to say that this was the first time I’d been up Slight Side, and all I can really say about it is that it was worth every step of the way. At 700-odd meters, it’s no snip of a hill, although it is somewhat dwarfed by its neighbours of Scafell and Scafell Pike. The weather was perfect, after a bit of warming up my running was thoroughly enjoyable, and the views were to die for; I think I’ll let the photos do the real talking.

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All too soon it was time to leave my panoramic eerie, and I decided to descend this time via Burnmoor Tarn. The plan was to head down Broad Tongue and drop directly onto the top end of Burnmoor, but as often happens with my running I got overexcited and ended up contouring around the precipitous sides of Oliver Gill. This added some undesired time to my excursion, but I then had the pleasure of passing a shepherd out at work, and boy can they move! As I arrived at the shore of Burnmoor I turned back, expecting to see the shepherd still making his way along the hillside. Not a chance, he was over the brow of the hill behind and moving fast.

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After a quick jog, and a final consultation of the map, I crossed over Whillan Beck and enjoyed an unexpectedly fast track back down to Eel Tarn and finally Christcliff. From the gate to the top of Slight Side and back to the gate again had taken almost exactly two hours, and I sauntered back up to our friends’ house for lunch feeling better than I had done for weeks.

Interestingly, since having been out on my run, my research seems to have picked up again. Coincidence, or simply wilderness therapy providing a clear head? I’m inclined towards the latter, so the main thing I’ve learnt from the past month or so is – not running is bad for me. Oh, and new shoes make a hell of a difference!

Post by Johan