Greg’s Hut doesn’t do pasties! It’s an old lead miners “shop” where men would live for weeks at a time whilst working on the slopes of Cross Fell mining seams of rock containing lead. Nothing more than a 2 room stone hut with a flagged floor and fireplace. Hard to imagine it as home to cold,wet and tired miners. Must have been grim to say the least. Today it serves as lofty bothy accommodation for the hardy,foolhardy or the plain lost. A wintry place to visit in February even with the Mountain Bothy Association improvements of stove and sleeping platform and I hoped it wouldn’t be considered too rough by the kids!
We set off from Kirkland in 8 degrees of Spring sunshine over fields thick with ewes and a wet winters mud. Somewhere in my rucksack a bag of house coal collected gravity like an affluent shopper bags air miles. Rucksacks were further swelled by molting fleecy layers which seemed useless down here beneath our snowy mountain.
Each step took us closer to winter above. Through hairpin bridleway bends drifted thick with hard packed snow which barely crunched underfoot. Upwards towards a cold clear sky where Cross Fell produced fingers of racing cloud. Yet out of the Easterly breeze and bathed in sun the acclimatisation seemed gentle enough. Behind our backs across a misty Eden Valley the Lakes hills seemed to float on a shimmering horizon.
Icy becks were burgled for water with crow bar boots and we sat on snow drifts drinking as sweat cooled on our bodies prompting us on in minutes. Dusk was creeping up and caught us higher by the old stone shelter as 2,000 feet of contours ease and February’s snow line is met. The sun’s arcing path headed rapidly for our Western horizon whilst at the same time the temperature did a Tom Daley, diving gracefully towards a negative value and creating ripples in pools of ice grey mists in the empty valleys below.
Moving on into the dusk we walked across a pathless moor crunching over sheets of ice and snow which had been molded by an Easterly wind like an incoming tide sweeps the sand before it. I love this time of day in this kind of place and at this time of year. We had no alternative accommodation but for the knowledge of this cold stone miners shop somewhere in the next mile or so of nothing. Oddly we met a group of three walkers who headed towards us as soon as they spotted us above them. They had a question “Where are we?”. Fortunately for them I could give a pretty precise answer yet like many people who get lost they took some convincing.
The Eastern sky turned a misty pink and all those layers shed earlier were put back on for even though the air was still we were now on the cold side of the hill and felt it keenly. The long snow chocked track from Garrigill curves along the North side of Cross Fell to an unassuming spoil heap which marks the location of Greg’s Hut. We headed down past deep snow filled shake holes and frozen becks only siting the hut at the last moment as the spoil heap is passed.
Inside the first room was full of snow and although I expected it my heart sank slightly as I told the kids not to worry. The second room was clear but very cold and of course the stove was full of ash and unburnt coal which took some clearing out. Once the stove began drawing and it’s warm flames cracked and lit up the walls things seemed much more habitable. Candles were lit and food prepared. Water was a problem as the bothy supply outside had to be dug out of a drift which soon froze up again. But we were here and it felt good.
By the time the stove was properly roaring, food eaten and kit organised a moonless night covered the hills and it was time for whiskey to warm the inner man.