STARTING OUT UP SKIDDAW:
On a cold December morning we arrived at our start point near the Ravenstone Hotel ready to climb Skiddaw. With rucksack on back and boots on feet we began to ascend the ridge leading to Ullock Pike. My walking buddy for the day is a close relation to a famous Lakeland fell running family…and 16 years younger than I. He sped ahead, being the first to appreciate the unfolding vista of Bassenthwaite Lake to our right as we climbed.
As we reached the snowline at around 900ft the northerly wind began to whistle on our backs. We reached our first objective, the top of Ullock Pike and the temperature was noticeably colder. The ridge we were walking was a feature I had often gazed at when travelling the road to Carlisle. This had been placed in the basket in the brain to climb one day. Well here we were, now looking down on that road snaking along through fields and wood. We looked out on wind turbines, the Solway coast and Criffel in the distance.
MIDPOINT ON THE CLIMB:
From this point we ascended to Carlside Tarn which was totally frozen. Here we could view the steeper snow covered path we needed to take disappearing into the cloud. The wind was now very strong and rather cold. I took a few quick photos toward Keswick and Castlerigg before the fingers totally froze. Then off we set up the last pitch to the summit of Skiddaw.
REACHING THE SUMMIT:
As we levelled off and approached the summit we had a look at a small cornice that had developed. Large blocks of snow had sheared off sliding down the fellside. A timely reminder not to underestimate the Lake District weather and conditions it can create. Avalanches can occur and care is needed in choosing the safest route.
Now at 3053ft on the summit the plan was to enjoy lunch tucked out of the wind. But with little shelter available and a high windchill we decide to descend almost immediately. However we couldn’t leave without snatching a few snaps of the Baltic scene. The swirling cloud, which obscured the views from this iconic Cumbrian mountain, added to the atmosphere.
I recall it was similar visibility back in July 1981. I climbed Skiddaw with some friends to witness a beacon lit in celebration of the marriage of Charles and Diana. We found a group of people lighting the beacon that no one would ever see unless you were stood within 50ft. The best bit was a Landrover was parked on the summit serving warm drinks and beer!
I remember being taught about the makeup of Skiddaw Slate at school. The ancient rock beneath our feet was formed from the build-up of mudstone on the edge of the Iapetus Ocean. These are the oldest rocks in the Lake District, hence its more rounded appearance to the more central Borrowdale Volcanics. It was at Brigham School in the early/mid 70’s that our class listened to an instrument of stones. Like a Xylophone, this was the Musical Stones of Skiddaw, using Hornfels from the mountain. You can now enjoy the sound of these stones and have a go playing them yourself in Keswick Museum.
STARTING THE DESCENT:
Unfortunately no Landrover or drinks this time so down we trod until reaching a fence. Snow and ice had built up on the netting creating a wonderful picture postcard scene. Climbing over the stile we descended down toward Skiddaw House and picked the track up to Dash Falls. here we sat in the sun and enjoyed very cold sandwiches.
Here the wind had subsided and we enjoyed a pleasant walk past this underrated waterfall. Then taking the path through the fields passing inquisitive sheep at Barkbeth back to our start point. The last section of our route is not to be recommended as you have to walk along the A591. Far better to either walk back up the ridge and drop down behind the Ravenstone Hotel. Alternatively park at the small lay-by past High Side avoiding the A591 altogether. The other option of course, is the various bus services from Keswick.
LOGFIRE AND A PINT:
And finally the part of the day we always look forward to. Find a bar for a pint and a warm up. Here we could study the OS map to see if our aches and pains reflected the distance we had walked. (which was just over 10 miles incidentally, so not too bad)
It wasn’t long before we settled into the armchairs of the Ravenstone Hotel bar by a log fire. With a pint of Cumberland Ale in hand we chatted about the route we had just completed. Recalling my son had climbed Skiddaw at the age of 4 without being carried, but now won’t walk up Walla Crag, we began to reminisce about the days working together at Castlerigg Hall Caravan and Camping Park. Memories such as cooking breakfast for campers and trying to fathom how to boil the perfect poached egg and witnessing the transition from post to email. We discussed the new craze of Glamping and campers moving away from tents and navigating the fells with maps rather than electronic devices…. But now to plan our next hike, preferably when its warmer!
Article and photography: David Jackson Castlerigg Hall. December 2017 ©. www.castlerigg.co.uk