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Lower Eskdale / 2 days / 23 miles (37km)

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Date: 19 Mar 2005
Start / Finish: Eskdale Green. Small free car park on the main road by Giggle Alley Forestry Commission entrance (141002).
Maps: Explorer OL6: English Lakes South West.

Day 1Boat How & Great How10 miles / 2650 feet (16.1km / 807m)
Day 2Hard Knott & Harter Fell13 miles / 2580 feet (20.9km / 786m)

A circuit of fells and tarns around Lower Eskdale, many of them delightful, secretive and little visited. The upper section in the heart of Eskdale is wildly beautiful in itself, but is also a spectacular approach to the mountains at its head. The architecture of the superb amphitheatre of peaks is awesome from here, and unknown to those who restrict their approaches to the popular Langdale or Seathwaite routes. Some say that Scafell Pike is an unimposing monarch for Englands mountains, but we wonder if they have seen it from Eskdale - its towering peak is much more impressive from here and looks every inch of its height.

This was the fastest and most profound transition from Winter to Spring we have ever seen. Last week we were pitched in snow and bitter winds wearing all our insulating layers, this week we were eating outside the tent in base layers to the sound of singing skylarks, and the pools and bogs were full of frogspawn. The recent rain and snowmelt had made the fellsides very wet and squelchy.

The circuit was designed to include Green Crag and Crook Crag on the return leg, but we spent so long exploring that we ran out of time and returned hastily along the valley road.

Day 1 - Boat How & Great How

A good track climbs directly NE from the car park and at a L bend, the R branch continues NE around Fell End following the forest edge. At a stile, we took the path diverging R from the forest which later takes a wide detour L around Sineytarn Moss, crossing a boggy stream with the aid of a wooden sleeper. Siney Tarn is part reedbed and the water remains hidden until further along, but the thick murky conditions made it look dull and grey today. Shortly after, the more imposing Blea Tarn comes into view, which looked similarly grey and was not seen at its best, though its setting beneath the small rise of Bleatarn Hill makes it attractive at any time.

Blea Tarn
Blea Tarn (19 Mar 2005__10:09:48)

Climbing past the tarn, the track contours the hillside and where it starts to descend, a thin damp path continues at the same level towards Boat How, now just about clear of mist, and reaches the first and best preserved of the stone circles. A faint path can be traced through the tussocks to a second pair of circles to the N, and then on to the minor summit of Boat How. Burnmoor Tarn could be seen and the first small patches of sunlight on Illgill Head. A grassy path descends to Burnmoor Lodge and swings around to Lambford Bridge, where we crossed Whillan Beck and joined the path down the other side of the valley that meanders along to Eel Tarn. The sun finally broke through and it became very warm.

Passing Eel Tarn along the boggy NE shore, we ascended a rake to pick up an intermittent thin path that climbs NE through a confusing array of rocky knolls, well to the L of the prominent boulder sitting atop Peelplace Noddle, and aiming for the dark heathery cliffs above Stony Tarn. This is another little visited gem of a tarn in a lovely rocky setting. Beyond the tarn we kept a check on the direction to ensure that we swung around N to the minor top of Whinscales, where we surveyed the trackless expanse of Eskdale Fell and weaved the driest line we could find to the cairn on the main E top of Great How. There were fine though hazy views, with Sca Fell dominating the E side across the colourful plain of Quagrigg Moss.

Stony Tarn
Stony Tarn (19 Mar 2005__13:53:23)
View across Quagrigg Moss from Great How
View across Quagrigg Moss from Great How (19 Mar 2005__15:08:07)
Great How tarn & Harter Fell
Great How tarn & Harter Fell (19 Mar 2005__16:09:45)
Great How tarn, Sca Fell & Slight Side
Great How tarn, Sca Fell & Slight Side (19 Mar 2005__16:11:42)
Great How tarn
Great How tarn (19 Mar 2005__16:25:17)

Walking across to the W top and pitching the tent just beyond, we set about a tour of the virtually unknown but very attractive retinue of tarns, the largest of which suddenly comes into view from the edge of the cliffs above. After exploring we set off down towards Oliver Gill to collect water, but heard a running spring well before the head of the gill.

Pitch on Great How with Sca Fell & Slight Side
Pitch on Great How with Sca Fell & Slight Side (19 Mar 2005__17:27:21)
Quagrigg Moss, Slight Side, Bow Fell & the Crinkles
Quagrigg Moss, Slight Side, Bow Fell & the Crinkles (19 Mar 2005__17:33:42)

Day 2 - Hard Knott & Harter Fell

In the morning the mist was gathering above on the high peaks as we descended apprehensively on a thin path towards the very wet looking Quagrigg Moss. Passing between the first close pair of pools and then to the R of the pool beyond, this was a surprisingly dry crossing and we veered R to arrive easily at the Slight Side path. At the bottom of the bouldery area we were surprised to find an intermittent path, roughly contouring the slope NE below the boulders to emerge at the bowl of Upper Eskdale and the first views of the towering crags. On the mound at Sampson's Stones below, as half expected, there were some tents pitched.

Cam Spout Crag & the Esk
Cam Spout Crag & the Esk (20 Mar 2005__09:05:42)

Carefully crossing the river at a wide and shallow part, we joined the path SE where the Esk plunges through a rocky gorge. Curving around Scar Lathing, the main path turns R with the river towards the striking Green Crag but we continued eastwards climbing over the rise, while to the L is one of the finest mountain peak views in England. Descending trackless slopes to Lingcove Beck, we arrived at the thunderous upper waterfalls. Exploring the beck upstream against the superb backdrop of the mountains, we were hoping for an easy crossing further up but to no avail, the beck was swollen with snowmelt. As we had not brought our river crossing gaiters, there was no choice: off with the socks and wade!. Surprisingly the water did not feel very cold at all.

Green Crag
Green Crag (20 Mar 2005__09:43:50)
Long Crag & Crinkle Crags beyond
Long Crag & Crinkle Crags beyond (20 Mar 2005__09:58:00)

We followed the path on the E side back down to the foot of Hard Knott and started the gradual climb. There is a new electric fence that follows the line of the broad N ridge with a grassy path alongside it. When the first reedy tarn comes into view below a small cliff, we crossed the low fence to gain the smaller tarn beyond, which has a rocky edge and grand views. Resuming the climb by the fence, the top is quickly reached and has fine panoramic views, though hazy today.

A path leads S to the left of a prominent dark rocky knoll and descends to another pool and a stile in the fence by the infant Hardknott Gill. Crossing the fence, a short steep climb R against the cliff wall brought us to a shelf where an even more exquisite tarn lies hidden on the edge of the crags, encircled by small rocky outcrops and a backdrop of Harter Fell.

Hard Knott tarn
Hard Knott tarn (20 Mar 2005__12:01:05)
Raven Crag Tarn
Raven Crag Tarn (20 Mar 2005__13:00:02)

Returning to cross the stile, a path descends to the Hardknott Pass, where we followed a wet path that parallels the forest to a stile at 227005. The path climbs SW and improves at firmer ground higher up to reach the rocky top of Harter Fell. A short clamber up the boulders gains the summit, which is significantly higher than the nearby trig point.

Harter Fell
Harter Fell (20 Mar 2005__15:27:03)

It was too late to include the Green Crag section, so we descended a short way S to join the main cairned path WNW and began the long descent to the valley. Eventually the path reaches Spothow Gill by a gate in the cross wall. Through the gate, the main track slants down NE to Jubilee Bridge but we took the steep path NW alongside the fence which joins the valley bridleway at a gate near the bottom. At Doctor Bridge it was getting late, so rather than following the pleasant bridleway route we took to the road and marched briskly back to Eskdale Green.