Great Gable

The last day of my holiday in Borrowdale, and I still hadn’t been up on the high fells. It was raining when I woke up and the weather forecast suggested that it would continue for a while before clearing late morning, so I decided I’d have to venture out, and after a hearty breakfast, that’s what I did. Unfortunately, I discovered, yet again, that weather forecasts can be unreliable. On Monday and Tuesday it had been better than forecast, and I was keeping my fingers crossed it would be the same outcome as I set out heading towards Seathwaite, with the intention of climbing Great Gable.

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It was raining, but I was wearing appropriate clothing that would keep me warm and dry. I certainly wasn’t the only fool setting out. I spotted a number of walkers setting out up on to the fells.

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Although when I reached Seathwaite I stopped to chat with a couple around my own age, who had decided to leave it for another day. Undaunted I continued along the path

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until I reached the picturesque Stockley Bridge,

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where I turned up the path that started to climb up the fells up to Sty Head.

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It’s a good, engineered path (at least most of the way) so I made good progress.

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But it continued to rain and I could see that the tops of the nearby fells were shrouded in cloud. Never mind, I thought, it’ll clear up soon! Looking back down the valley I convinced myself that there were signs that this was happening.

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I made steady progress, enjoying the walk despite the rain (fortunately it was coming from behind me; much preferable than having it hitting me in the face)

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and after a couple of hours I’d made it to Styhead Tarn, which is almost at the top of the pass. Now this is a wonderful viewpoint at the foot of Great Gable and with Scafell Pike, Scafell and their adjacent siblings dead ahead. But today the high fells were largely covered in cloud so most of the summits weren’t visible. In fact I began to wonder whether Scafell Pike actually existed! But I could see that those mountains I could see had a covering of snow towards the summit. Now this wasn’t what I was expecting.

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I stopped for a while to refuel and took stock. A group of walkers ahead of me had turned off and it looked like they were going to tackle the Corridor route to Scafel Pike. That didn’t seem such a good idea to me. And it probably wasn’t such a good idea to head up Great Gable either, as I could see some snow settled towards the top. But feeling optimistic I decided to carry on.

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Looking back to the tarn. Looks like conditions are improving.

Reaching the stretcher box at the top of the pass, just beyond the tarn, I turned right to take the path up Great Gable.

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The Mountain Rescue stretcher box at the top of Styhead Pass, with the Scafells behind. I was hoping I wasn’t going to need this!
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Scafell Pike is in there, somewhere!

It was continuing to rain as I climbed, but I was making good progress.

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The start of the path up Great Gable. Doesn’t look too bad?

But then the rain got heavier and there was some hail mixed in with it. Never mind, carry on. Looking down I could imaging what a fantastic view I would have had on a better day. I could also see a small party coming up the path further down, so that encouraged me to carry on.

Getting closer to the top, there was some patches of snow underfoot. But nothing too serious. I can cope with that!

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But then it started to snow. I reckoned I hadn’t too far to go so decided to carry on, but as I climbed the snow started to come down harder. Eventually I realised that’s I’d reached the summit, but visibility was very poor as the snow continued to fall and it was windy too. So I huddled down behind the cairn.

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Reaching the summit

The summit of Great Gable is one of the best viewpoints in England with views across to the Scafells and down Borrowdale, Wasdale and Ennerdale. But I couldn’t see a thing. I’d been up here once before, when I was about 17 with a party from school led by a Maths teacher who was a keen walker. We didn’t have snow that day but there was low cloud so when we reached the top that day we were in thick mist and couldn’t see anything. This time it was even worse.

The cairn and rocks I sheltered behind was the site of a monument dedicated to the members of the Fell & Rock Climbing Club who died in World War I. The club bought 3,000 acres of land including Great Gable which it donated it to the National Trust in memory of these members. An annual memorial service is held here on November 11th, Remembrance Sunday. I braved the wind to take a look at the monument.

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By this time the group coming up behind me had reached the summit and, as you do, we had a chat. I was feeling a little vulnerable up on top on my own in the snowy conditions so asked if they would mind if I tagged on to their group as they descended down the “Windy Gap” and then back down to Seathwaite, which was also my intended route down. It seemed the sensible thing to do (as I hadn’t been that sensible carrying on up on my own when conditions were deteriorating).

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Looking down towards Styhead and the Scafells.

We located the path we wanted to take (not so easy in poor visibility) and started to make our way down. It’s quite steep and required a bit of scrambling, a little tricky in descent, especially with snow underfoot. But this path is more sheltered and there was less snow and as we descended conditions underfoot improved.

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The start of the path down to Windy Gap
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It didn’t look too bad on Green Gable, which is lower than it’s “sibling”
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Looking down towards Ennerdale from Windy Gap. Visibility wasn’t great but at least I could see something of the valley and Pillar Mountain with Ennerdale Water just visible in the distance.

Reaching the hause, in better conditions I’d have liked to have climbed the neighbouring fell of Green Gable, but today continued on down the scree covered path that would take us back down to Styhead Tarn.

The Scafells were still hidden in the mist, but looking back I could see that the cloud was clearing off Great Gable and conditions were certainly improving. If I’d reached the top an hour or two later then I might have had a view. Ah well, the Fates are clearly determined to stop me experiencing the great views from the top of this mountain.

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Looking back up to Great Gable. Conditions definitely better. If only I’d set out a couple of hours later 😦
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Looking across the tarn to the Scafells

I continued back down to Borrowdale with the group. As we descended, conditions were certainly improving, although it continued to rain.

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Heading back down the pass towards Borrowdale
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Conditions definitely improving
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The view along Borrowdale towards Seathwaite
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Back at Stockley Bridge

After crossing Stockley Bridge we continued down the path to Seathwaite. A short distance along the metalled road from the farm towards Seatoller we parted company when the group reached their vehicle which they’d parked up on the verge.

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The road back to Seatoller.

I continued the last mile back to the farm and was glad of a soak in a deep hot bath.

So my last day in Borrowdale had been something of an adventure. On reflection I’d have been better if I’d set out a little later. But I hadn’t and encountering the conditions when I reached Styhead, I really should have turned back. I still would have had an enjoyable walk, though I know I’d have been disappointed not to have made it to the top. But hindsight is a wonderful thing and decisions have to be made on the spot. Luckily, I didn’t come a cropper, but on my own I could have done, particularly if conditions had deteriorated still further.

So I’ve been up Great Gable twice and on both occasions haven’t been able to enjoy the views. But the mountain hasn’t gone away so I’ll just have to look out for a good day when I’m not in work and get up there again. Mind you, will I be able to trust the weather forecast?

Glyderau in the mist

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On the third day of my break in Snowdonia I drove from Capel Curig to the far end of the Ogwen Valley, parking up near Ogwen cottage. My plan for the day was to climb Glyder Fawr and Glyder Fach, the two main mountains in the Glyderau – a range of mountains between the Ogwen valley and Llanberis Pass, in the heart of Snowdonia.

I set off up the path up towards Cwm Idwal a glacial “corrie” with a lake, Llyn Idwal, surrounded by a wall of high crags, in a landscape of screes, moraines rocks and boulders.  My route would take me round the lake and up the steep slopes by the “Devil’s Kitchen” , up on to Glyder Fawr, a touch over 1000 metres high (1,001 metres, or 3,284 feet), across to the slightly smaller Glyder Fach (994 m or 3,261 feet) and then down the “Miner’s path”, across the Bwlch Tryfan and past Llyn Bochlwyd, returning to Ogwen Cottage.

The National Trust took over the management of the Glyderau and Cwm Idwal in 1951 in lieu of death duties on the Penrhyn Estate and they have done  a lot of work to ensure that there’s a good path up to the popular Llyn Idwal.

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Reaching the lake there was a great view of the surrounding mountains, and I could see low cloud drifting in, starting to obscure the summits.

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I followed the path along the west shore of the lake and then the first hard stretch of the day approached, a climb up the steep path up through Twll Du,known in English as the “Devil’s Kitchen”. 

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Allegedly, in olden days when there was cloud on the mountains it looked like smoke coming out of the chimney, and it was said that it was the devil cooking.
I’m not sure whether the “Devil’s Kitchen” is the whole of the jumble of rocks and steep cliffs at the head of the valley or the deep cleft in the rock face which forms a “chimney”. The Welsh name for the feature, Twyll Du, actually means “Black Hole”, which is certainly a good description of the deep cleft in the rock face.

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Either way it was a strenuous climb up along a steep path to the left of the chimney, which required the use of hands as well as feet for a good part of the climb.

Looking back down to Llyn Idwal

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At the top of the climb, I arrived at a small lake called Llyn Y Cŵn (the dog lake) and sat down for a short while for a bite to eat as my blood sugar was dropping . I could see the low cloud swirling over Glyder Far and the other nearby peaks. 

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The next stretch of my route took me up a steep scree slope up into the mist and the summit of Glyder Fawr. This was a difficult climb as it was hard to keep from slipping back down. I unhitched my walking poles from my rucksack. They made it a lot easier to keep upright and moving onwards and upwards into the mist.

The word “Glyder” is supposed to have been derived from the Welsh word “Cludair”, which means “a heap of stones”, a that’s a pretty good description of the summit with it’s piles of shattered rocks and boulders and weird formations. It looks like the surface of the moon, made even more eerie with the mist swirling around.

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I stopped a while to eat my packed lunch and snapped a few photos before setting off along the flat top of the mountain. The low cloud swirling around me.

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I walked along the ridge and then descended down into the Bwich Ddwy-Glyder before climbing back up into the mist and the summit of Glyder Fach

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I spotted some mountain goats grazing on the slope above me

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Looking down to my right I could make out Llyn cwm ffynnon and the Llanberis Pass, but Snowdon remained hidden in the blanket of cloud

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The summit of Glyder Fach was another mass of rocks and boulders

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and includes the Cantilever stone a popular spot for photographs!

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Carrying on to the East I descended to a grassy slope

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where I saw more Mountain goats

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and had a fantastic view of the shark’s fin of Tryfan

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I descended down the Miner’s path before climbing back up to Bwlch Tryfan

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From there I took the clear path down to Llyn Bochlwyd. Looking at it from above, some people reckon that it looks rather like Australia.

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From the lake a steep path down by the river leaving the lake and heading down to Llyn Ogwen

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followed by an “engineered” path across some flat, boggy land took me back to my starting point where I immediately headed to the snack kiosk to buy myself a most well deserved brew!

It was about 4 o’clock and I now had about an hour to kill. I’d booked myself into the Youth Hostel, Idwal Cottage, and I couldn’t check in until 5 o’clock. This was a new experience for me as I’d never stayed in a Youth Hostel before!

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North Wales Adventure – Day 1

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Way back in February, I got the idea that I’d like to try sea kayaking. I’d had a taster quite a few years ago on holiday in south west France, but never got round to following up on it. Well time is moving on and I decided if I didn’t do something soon I’d never have the chance so I booked on a 2 day small group introductory course in Anglesey. After I’d committed myself I had another thought – I might as well extend the break and do some walking in the mountains of Snowdonia, so that’s what I did – I sorted out accommodation for three nights in advance of the course so I had 4 days to explore.

I packed up the boot of my car last Tuesday morning and set off for Capel Curig where I had booked a couple of nights in the Bryn Tyrch Inn. Arriving around midday I parked up and set out on a relatively easy walk I’d based on a route found on the Snowdonia National Park website which would take me up to the modest hill of Crimpiau. I started from the hotel rather than the car park near the chapel but returned to there and extended the route, looping back to the hotel through the Coed Bryn-engan forest.

We’d had several weeks of hot sunny weather with blue skies, but there was a change in the air in Snowdonia and although it was warm, cloud had moved in and visibility wasn’t brilliant. But that didn’t spoil the walk.

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Initially the route followed well defined paths. After the prolonged dry spell the going underfoot was good, but it would normally be boggy in places. But the OS maps for Wales don’t show all the paths through the hills and mountains, even though they may we well worn and quite obvious in places. This makes planning a route tricky, but I was following one from the National Park and had printed out a copy of the route with a map and photographs. The second half of the walk moved into uncharted territory, but there were clear paths most of the way even though they weren’t marked on the OS map.

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Crimpiau is a small hill, but there was a short, sharp climb to the top which required use of my hands in a few places. The main attraction is the magnificent view of the surrounding mountains of the Snowdon horseshoe, Moel Siabod, the Ogwen valley (the Glyderau, and Trefan)the Carneddau and Llyn Crafnant. On reaching the summit I could see all of these and more, albeit the visibility wasn’t brilliant. It would have been outstanding only the day before!

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Return was along the ridge, passing Llyn y Coryn. It was wet underfoot in places and I reckon it would be quite boggy during much of the year with normal rainfall.

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Looking down towards Capel Curig and the Snowdon horseshoe

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Reaching the “centre” of Capel Curig there wasn’t much to see. A couple of walking equipment shops, a convenience style store (the café mentioned on various web sites appears to have shut), the Chapel and St Julitta’s church. I headed west on the road towards the Plas y Brenin Mountain Activity Centre, stopping off to take a look at the small church of St Julitta’s.

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This old building was the original chapel after which the village was named. Originally named for Saint Curig, it’s dedication was changed when a larger chapel was built a short distance away at the junction with the A5 in 1883.

Reaching Plas y Bryn I crossed over the river bridge at the top of Llynau Mymbyr

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and followed a path through the forest

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that took me back to the A5 opposite the Moel Siabod café, a few hundred yards east of my hotel. I stopped for a brew before heading back to my car and checking in.

Aira Force and Gowbarrow Fell

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After the return of the “beast from the east” a couple of weekend’s ago we had to abandon our plans to spend a couple of days up by Ullswater. Last Saturday, though the weather looked much more promising so we decided to chance a day trip up to the lake for our first proper walk of the year. It turned out to be a good decision.

It’s about an an hour and a half’s drive up to Ullswater and although we left a little later than planned we arrived around midday and managed to park up in the National Trust carpark close to Aira Force. A post by Mark of Beating the Bounds had give me the idea of a walk to have a look at the water fall which was sure to be looking good after all the rain and snow the previous weekend. A popular walking route goes up past the waterfalls then over and around Gowbarrow fell. Nothing too ambitious given that our walking legs were rather rusty!

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Setting off from the car park we followed the course of the river and soon came to Aira Force, the first of a series of waterfalls. As expected it was quite a sight, which the photographs cannot give justice to.

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A little further up the river – High Force

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After about a kilometre walking along the river, we turned right following the path that would take us up on to the fell.

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Great views across to the lake and the high mountains soon opened up behind us.

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It was a relatively modest climb to the summit at Airy Crag.

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This is the view over to Blencathra and Skiddaw

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and over towards Ullswater with the Pennines in the distance, still capped with snow.

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After a short break to admire the view, we resumed the walk which would take us west and then south parallel to the lake but high up on the side of the fell.

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Part way round we got “picked up” by this lady

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who seemed unwilling to return to her owner.

We reached the viewpoint at Yew Crag

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More good views

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There’s the steamer sailing towards Glenridding

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Coming towards the end of the walk, as we started to descend, we passed Lyulph’s Tower. It looked like one of the fortified farmhouses which are common in this area close to the Scottish border. However, although there used to be a Pele Tower on the site at one time the current building was constructed in the 1780s by Charles Howard, the 11th Duke of Norfolk, as a hunting lodge.

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Returning to the car park, we decided it was too nice to head straight back home so we drove the short distance to Glennridding to take an easy stroll along the Lake by the steamer jetty

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The view to the head of the lake

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Driving back along the lake, the evening light was fantastic so I pulled up to take a few snaps

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ON a fine day, there’s nowhere I’d rather be than the Lake District.

Kendal Castle

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After our visit to Abbot Hall to see the Julian Cooper exhibition we had a wander round the town centre and then, as it had turned into a pleasant afternoon, we decided to walk up to Kendal Castle. The Castle was built in the early 12th Century on a glacial hill left behind from the last ice age, to the east of the town. It was more of a fortified manor house  for the local barons, than a military stronghold, but it would have dominated the town, looking over it from it’s prominent high position. And it would have been a potent symbol of their wealth and power.

Crossing the River Kent near to Abbot Hall, it’s a short walk to Castle Hill.

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It’s then a short, if steep, climb up to the castle.

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I didn’t have my camera with me, but the good light meant I was able to get some decent shots using my phone.

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Visibility was good so there were great views over to Red Screes and the Kentmere fells.

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We could clearly see Yoke and Ill Bell that we’d climber only a few weeks before.

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We had a quick look round the interior of the ruined castle

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Julian Cooper at Abbot Hall

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On Easter Saturday we drove up to Abbot Hall to take a look at their latest exhibition – a mini-retrospective of the work of a Cumbrian artist, Julian Cooper.

The paintings on display could be divided into four periods

His earliest works, shown on the landing at the top of the main staircase are quite abstract, although clearly based on vegetation and geological formations. The paintings from the second period, displayed in the first room, were figurative. A number of them based on Malcolm Lowry’s novel Under the Volcano and feature characters from the novel. But dominating the background are mountains, which later became the primary focus of his work.

The work then evolves again into a unique form of representation that is frequently near-abstract in its emphasis on the texture, shadow and irregular surfaces of rock and ice.  these mature period works

These mature period works were my favourites.

The second room was dominated by two large paintings of the Tibetan holy mountain, Mount Kailash which he visited in early spring 2006. One painting shows it’s north face, the other, the south.

A unique mountain, Kailash is worshipped by Hindus, Jain and Buddhists alike as the home of their Gods yet is so remote and difficult to get to that it is visited by only a handful of pilgrims each year. (Art Space Gallery Press Release)

The majority of the other paintings in this and the third rooms are close ups of rock faces, many of them from quarries in Italy, Tasmania and his native Cumbria.

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They are very detailed and standing back they are very realistic – particularly the Cumbrian works. However, they also have an abstract quality particularly when viewed a little closer.

A number of his paint brushes and palettes give an insight into his method of work. He works on large canvases yet despite this many of his paintings are started “plein air” and supplemented by photographs and then finished back in his studio Working in a large scale he uses large paint brushes with long handles, sometimes extending them to make them even longer.

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It must be something of a challenge to get his large canvases up into the relatively inaccessible locations in the mountains.  I found this interesting article by the artist, describing how he went about painting the holy Mount Kailish in Tibet.

The Nan Bield Pass

Today Kentmere is a quiet, isolated spot. This wasn’t always the case. There are three passes that lead out of the valley (besides the road from Staveley) one to Mardale in the north, another to Troutbeck to the west and the third to Longsleddale in the east. So at one time, many years ago, the valley would have been a relatively busy crossroads for people and, in many cases, their animals, travelling between the Lakeland valleys. There was also industry in valley with slate mines to the north of the village and although they’ve been closed for many years now there is still evidence of the mining activity on the hillsides.

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On Tuesday, the first full day of our stay in Kentmere, the weather forecast was for intermittent rain and we’d planned a low level circular walk up along the river to the reservoir at the head of the valley and back. But one thing we learned during our break was not to trust the weather forecast. It was raining heavily when I got up but by 10 o’clock the rain had stopped and the cloud was clearing. By 11 we had sun and blue skies. It was windy, though, and I expected that the wind would be much stronger on the exposed ridges of the high fells. So we set out with a plan to start out on the low level walk but if conditions looked promising to cut up the Nan Bield Pass at the north end of the valley and then loop back along Harter Fell and Kentmere Pike. For various reasons this changed plan didn’t work out but we did manage to climb to the top of the pass.

Setting out at about 11:30, we crossed the river and walked through the village, making our way along the road until we reached the well defined footpath which ran along the floor of the valley parallel to the river. There had been a lot of rain during previous weeks so the path was wet and frequently quite muddy.

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We were soon into more open country with the high fells appearing on the horizon

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Eventually we could see most of the high fells comprising the Kentmere Horseshoe

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We had to cross numerous becks (the Cumbrian term for a stream) – only one of them was bridged so our boots got wet – not a bad thing as it washed at least some of the mud off them!

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The path started to climb gradually. We passed Kentmere Pike

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We spotted several old mine workings such as this one, high up on the side of the fell. What must it have been like to work here? P3140705

The workers would have lived in huts near tot he mines, making there way down the valley to spend their wages in the local pub on their day off. The mine workers were so rowdy that the local magistrates withdrew the licence for the pub in Kentmere  and the village has been “dry” ever since . The nearest pub is in Staveley.

Carrying on climbing steadily up the path. To our left the reservoir constructed 1848 to regulate the flow of the river which powered mills further down the valley. Ill Bell and Frostwick can be seen towering over the lake. The steep flank of the former plunging down into the small man-made lake.

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Looking further up the valley towards High Street – it’s hard to believe that there was a Roman Road up on the fells.

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The top of the pass was becoming ever closer, but still some way to go. So far the path had been a relatively easy gradient as height was gained gradually, but we could see that there would be a much steeper climb to come.

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We eventually made it to the top where there were views down into Mardale, the next valley to the north. This had been flooded during the 1930’s creating a large reservoir – Haweswater – to supply Manchester with water. The small settlement of Mardale Green was submerged in the process.

Zooming in

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It was extremely windy at the top as the wind funnels through the gap, making it difficult to stand up. We’d only made a the late morning start and the the sun would start setting at 6 o’clock. It had taken longer than anticipated to reach the top. So discretion being the better part of valour we decided to retrace our steps rather than risk walking in strong winds on an exposed ridge with a chance of not making it back down before it went dark.

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Harter Fell and Kentmere would be there another day! In any case, it had been a good walk through some dramatic countryside, and as the top of the pass is just over 2,000 feet high, it was a decent enough climb!

Wetherlam and Tilberthwaite

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Friday morning and the view from the bedroom window looked promising – sunshine, albeit with cloud over the tops of the fells. So it looked liked we be able to go ahead with our plans for the day – a walk up Wetherlam (2503 feet), one of the Coniston Fells, at the other side of the ridge from the Old Man.DSC01016

We headed into the village and took the path towards Coppermines valley along the river. We passed the Ruskin Museum.

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The Yewdale crags looked inviting

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Along the path to Coppermines valley

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passing the Miners’ bridge

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The fells came into view

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An industrial landscape with the remains of mining and quarrying industries. There’s still a working slate quarry in the valley

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We took a right turn and started our ascent to Wetherlam

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Looking back over Coniston Water

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On our left there were great views of the Old Man and Swirl How. The cloud had largely cleared from the tops.

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We passed a small tarn

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and views over to the mountains of the Fairfield Horseshoe opened up

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We could see Windermere in the distance

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Finally, we reached the summit of Wetherlam. There were a few other people around but I reckon it would have been a lot busier on top of the Old Man.

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It was a clear day and there were great views of the surrounding mountains.

Scafell, Scafell Pike, Pike o’ Blisco, Crinkle Crags and Bowfell

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Over Langdale

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Helvellyn and the Fairfield Horseshoe

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Over to Windermere

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Swirl How

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We decided to descend the way we’d come up and then cut down the valley to Tilberthwaite before doubling back to Coniston along Yewdale.

Taking in the view of Coniston Old Man

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and Coniston Water

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At the bottom of the descent we reached Hole Rake which we were to follow along to Tilberthwaite

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In the bright afternoon sunshine and good visibility the views, and autumn colours, were outstanding

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Eventually we reached Tilberthwaite Gill

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Looking back to Wetherlam

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The late, low afternoon sun was illuminating the distant mountains

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and intensifying the autumn colours

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Looking down into the Tilberthwaite valley we could see a sheepfold (more about that in another post)

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After a short stop we set off down the road towards Yewdale passing Holme fell on our left

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Reaching the Ambleside to Coniston road through Yewdale we took the path on the right side of the road that led through the woods back to Coniston

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The view across the valley

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Finally reaching Coniston

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Looking back over the Yewdale crags

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We stopped at the Co-op in the village to pick up some supplies, but it was still light and a lovely early evening so we decided to take a detour over to the lake

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It was after 5 o’clock by now and the Bluebird Café was closing up. However, they have a take away window and this was still open so we bought coffees and sat for a while enjoying the view. 

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There were a few other people around, most of them tempted by a brew or ice cream

Canoeists coming back in after a trip on the lake

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A brave soul going in for a swim

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The sun began to set so time to make our way back to our B and B.

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A beautiful sunset to finish off a great day

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