Back in the bothy at Cruib I’d begun to come down with a cold which turned out to be the mother of all viruses laying me low through all of March and on and off through April. This walk then was a much shorter wander than originally day dreamed and I was somewhat uncertain of my staying power as we set off from Kirkby Stephen station for Wild Boar Fell.
Westmorland in May is sun on white limestone and wind roughing up tarns. Miles of walling sweeping weblike over empty fell country where boot prints in peat are as rare a find as hen’s teeth or an almost honest politician. Here light races across land unhindered. Cloud creates contrasts enhancing light with darkness. The air rings with Curlew calls and green oozes from the earth through hedgerows and trees.
Ahead of us the Nab on Wild Boar Fell loomed beneath cloud. Behind the great sweep of the empty North Pennines and Cross Fell. Steady away was the order of the day and we stopped often to absorb our place amongst the hills and enjoy just being here. There’s no rush in my wanderings these days.
Little Fell was a joy of stone cairns, warm sun and train rumbling views across to Mallerstang Edge . Always feel the hard work on this climb is over by this point and the spectacular awaits just a short steep pull ahead. That pull is a rocky crest which leads up to The Nab, for me one of the finest places to find yourself in the Pennines.
A good old breeze nudged us a little on the exposed rocks of The Nab so it seemed a good idea to get the backside down on the ground to enjoy our gusty view North. When I first walked up Wild Boar Fell myself and a mate scrambled up the friable crags on the East side of the hill. As I looked down today there was plenty of evidence of some sizable bits coming away in the winter and crashing into the boulders below. None of the crags along the Eastern edge look at all safe to climb on but ignorance was bliss back then.
We wandered on towards the lovely round stone men where half a malt loaf and some Wensleydale was eaten. From up here I’ve seen from coast to coast and from Sca Fell Pike in the Lakes to the Cleveland Hills in North Yorkshire. It’s such a small scrap of land we inhabit yet these rolling Pennine hills and skies have a vastness beyond what you can put your feet on.
There’s a detail and texture to this land too in the roughness of soft rush on boggy ground, broken scabs of rock , the rash of last years bracken and walls stitched into the earth holding it all together.
There were Plover calling from hags unseen somewhere between Wild Boar and Swarth Fell. The sound of Curlews and farm dogs drifted up from the valley below. The wind just blew. Swarth Fell was bathed in sun which we sat in warm against the rocks. From here a long boggy descent took us to Rawthy Gill Foot for tea time. I put up the tent and sat outside in the evening sun.
There were showers in the night and low cloud on damp hills by morning. I felt the best I’d felt since Jura and headed off up into the misty world of Baugh Fell. You could spend a good few days camped on this hill mooching about its tarns, cairns and peaty wastes. I doubt you’d meet anyone else. I took a bearing by sight for three stone men then one onwards from the map through the gloom towards West Baugh Fell Tarn. Every step is the same in the clouds. Walking from one rock or clump of soft rush to the next guided by a compass is a peculiar experience but an essential skill in the hills. We reached the tarn which was a wind whipped foaming mess then headed off on a longer bearing which took us off the top and down below the clouds to the lovely Ringing Keld Gutter.
Sedbergh sat below us held in green folds between Garsdale and the Howgill Fells. We walked through ever increasing rain off the tops and down into green Garsdale. Dent and the pub would be good I thought as we wandered through the knots and knowles of the Frostrow Fells. The walking became so wet there are only words from here on in as the camera was placed in it’s dry bag!
Wending over field paths and stoney lanes we came soaked through to The Rising Sun in Dent. Thankfully dog and man were welcomed inside to dry by a fire glowing hot from the chimney back. A couple of pints, food and an hour by the fire later I decided to bat on into the sodden afternoon for Ribblehead.
I stood on a lane at the top of the dale watching Swallows feeding low in the only wind free corner of Yorkshire. Holding out a hand I could feel them rush past. It was December dark and awful weather wise with a steep climb over the bare buttocks of Whernside ahead. It was an “I’ve started so I’ll finish” moment and on we went.
We met a sodden walker coming off the hill as we began the climb and by the state of him it didn’t look promising. It’s not the rain or cold but the wind that hurts. It blew in at some speed from our right driving cold dollops of rain relentlessly for the rest of the day without even a hint of stopping. You get the picture.
We came down utterly soaked through and pitched the tent by a roaring waterfall hoping to wake tomorrow in a more idyllic world.
I’d brought the wrong tent pole with me and it didn’t really matter the previous evening in good conditions but tonight as the tent could not be tensioned properly the wind could get in between flysheet and inner which flooded us out by morning. Best bit of kit I take is a 25 quid bivy bag which completely saved the day for me although Mutley wasn’t too happy.
And so it rained and blew throughout the night and sleep was hard to find. By morning it had just about blown itself out and we limped off in the muggy murk the 10 miles to Horton. You probably won’t believe it when I say how much I enjoyed myself!