Detailed Route Map
Social distancing is easy in Longsleddale. There's few people, lots of space and lots of open ground with few gates or stiles to contaminate or be contaminated by. I count myself fortunate to live here in such a time as this, especially given the immaculate weather that the virus seems to have heralded. Days of unbroken sunshine, skies clear of vapour trails and fells empty of people, have been the one escape from the depressing limitations of lockdown. But I know these fells well and the instinct to explore meant longer and longer outings from the house. First, the 20 mile round of Longsleddale over Ulgraves, Brunt Knott and the rough environs of Skeggles Water to the more trodden higher fells and the whaleback ridge of Capplebarrow and pointy summit of Whiteside Pike. Then additions over the Shap fells and down to Haweswater and over to Kidsty Pike and back along the Ill Bell Ridge. Finding somewhere 'new' was getting increasingly arduous, eventually extending the Longsleddale round to a 45 mile yomp adding over High Street to Glenridding and over Sheffield Pike to Stybarrow Dodd and Helvellyn. On the long way back, I ran out of water, failing to find any flowing streams on the baked earth on the high ridges of Fairfield, Stony Cove Pike and Ill Bell. In all these excursions I never met more than a handful of people in an eerily empty landscape.
|Sunrise on Ulgraves (click image to view)|
I thought I might leave it at that, as 'running' is a bit of a misnomer for me these days. Age has not been kind, with acute stiffness and non-proverbial pains in the backside, but an idea had formed in my mind and the thought got the better of me. I like staring at maps and an aesthetically pleasing loop presented itself, running all the way from the house over the Kentmere, Fairfield and Helvellyn fells to Pooley Bridge, and back again over the long High Street and Longsleddale ridges - a sort of extended Ullswater Horseshoe. The route kept high so very few gate crossings, hardly any people and easy ground, making it a low risk enterprise. If I did suffer an injury, I'd crawl off rather than call the rescue. With no travel involved, I considered it a Covid compliant outing, albeit stretching the definition of 'local'.
|Early morning light approaching Brunt Knott (click image to view)|
So ten days later at 5am, I find myself once more pounding the hard earth up Ulgraves, to be greeted by sunrise on the summit. I feel weary but mellow, and unlike in former years when I would have eased over such ground on fresh legs, I shuffle along with heavy legs. I've learnt to adapt to this slower pace which has its advantages. It allows time to fully imbibe the heady brew of birdsong, golden rays of sunshine on frosted ground and the freedom of open space. In any case, it's too nice a morning to hurry, so I saunter over the familiar ground to Brunt Knott and onwards to Kentmere. It's still early and there's little sign of activity beyond the cacophony of chirrupping birds and baaing lambs. I had learnt my lesson from the previous Helvellyn excursion and fill up the water bottles before the climb to Yoke, for there would be precious little before the distant Dockray.
|Looking to the head of Kentmere (click image to view)|
Early morning grogginess wears off on the rollercoaster ride over Ill Bell and Froswick, and by Kirkstone I had seen no-one. The car park is strangely deserted with not one car parked. I pass a lady on the ascent of Red Screes, but she had walked from Ambleside and I am soon alone once more. The high fells of the Lake District are a very different place when devoid of people - an empty quarter above the life of the valleys. After weeks without rain, the land is parched and dried up; the greenery turned an ochre brown. Yet this time I manage to find water near Scandale Pass and come upon the familiar face of Ben Abdelnoor, trying to sort out the mysteries of his iphone. Our socially distanced chat is soon over and my day on the bare mountain resumes. Stone, earth and sky meets in an empty land. No water, no people, little life. The tops pass silently - Dove Crag, Hart Crag, Fairfield, Seat Sandal, Dollywagon, Nethermost and finally Helvellyn where the reverie is broken by a few fellow escapees. The summit is mine to savour alone, so I sit on the edge of the headwall to eat my lunch, legs above the last remaining vestiges of winter.
Post-lunch lethargy sets in for the romp over Raise to Stybarrow Dodd, leading to the unfamiliar tussocky slopes of Hartside and Common Fell. By Dockray I'm flagging, but what a place to flake out. The shade of the rivcr provides a welcome relief from the intense sun, the burbling brook a rhythmic calm. Fortified by afternoon tea, Gowbarrow comes and goes, then (for me) a road less travelled leads over Great and Little Meldrum to the grassy dome of Little Mell Fell. As the haze of the day disappates to the softer shares of evening, a mellowness follows, amplified by the shady lanes leading to Pooley Bridge. Cyclists are in abundance, enjoying the balm of the evening and the gently lapping waves on the shores of Ullswater. Hobbling along, I'm asked if I am okay, so I must look in pain, but I'm determined to make Pooley Bridge before stopping for tea. I had discovered that the footbridge was closed whilst the crane was lifting the new bride in place, but to my relief, I am late enough to be able to cross and hobble my way through the village. I am at the furthest reach of my journey and a longer than hoped for night beckons.
|Last vestiges of light on Blencathra (click image to view)|
A summer's evening is my favourite time of day when the harshness of midday is replaced by the richer tones of the golden hour. At such a time, the flanks of the fjord-like Ullswater are a delight, and so it is with renewed vigour that I made the gradual ascent over Arthur's Pike to Loadpot Hill and thence to Wether Hill where darkness descends. With darkness, a fresh wind has developed and with it a gripping chill. I am ill-equipped for the cold which drove me onwards over the long, lonely miles to the windswept summit of High Street, and beyond that the homely dome of Harter Fell. A full moon shines brightly from a clear sky, transforming the familiar to something quite magical - a world of silvery shadows and soft folds. Time speeds up or more likely, I slow down, but time doesn't matter. I'm on no schedule, I just need to keep going, one foot after another, pole after pole. The softness of the moonlight is replicated by the fuzziness of my thinking in the wee small hours. I stumble onwards over the tussocks. All I need to do is to keep moving and the end will draw nearer. Night passes to day on Whiteside Pike and birdsong greets the new day. The circle of the day is almost complete as I reach home. Its as if nothing has changed, except me. The journey has reached its end.
|And the end of all expoloring will be to arrive where we started|
and know the place for the first time (TS Eliot - Little Gidding)