Lake District – Day 1

A few days in the Lakes: Day 1 – Langdale Valley

Last week I managed to have a few days away with my old social bubble neighbour who moved away a few months ago. We were both in need of some time with a change of scenery. I lost my mother mid-year and the last few months have been trying for various reasons. My ex-neighbour had moved a few months earlier. 

We’d actually booked the trip a few months ago, in the vain hope that by mid-December Covid issues would be behind us. Anyway, we’d booked a couple of rooms in an hotel in Ambleside in the southern Lake District.

This is an area that I know quite well. I have done a lot of hill-walking in the area, particularly around Great Langdale and Coniston. The local ‘big’ route near to Ambleside is the Fairfield Horseshoe, which can be tackled by just walking from the hotel. I can remember doing Fairfield with work colleagues about 20 or so years ago. That day was one of only two times I’ve witnessed a Brocken Spectre – more about that in a later post.

Weather in the Lake District is very unpredictable at any time due to the multiple ranges of mountains. We had reasonable weather for December, with one very good day, a grey day, and a mixed day.

My plans included an attempt at a ‘serious’ landscape shoot in Langdale and testing out the Sinar F2 with my Nikon Z6. I also wanted to get Castlerigg Stone Circle near Keswick. My plans for a nice easy walk over Cat Bells had to be dropped due to the Derwentwater boat having stopped its regular schedule for the winter – missed it by a week.

View from Stickle Ghyll

Great Langdale is a classic glacial valley with a flat ‘U’ bottom. There are remnants of lateral and terminal moraines. The western side of the valley has the long ridge of Lingmoor Fell and then the more demanding Crinkle Crags via which you can get to the head of the valley, with a choice of continuing up Bow Fell, or taking Esk Hause to Angle Tarn and then descending via Rossett Ghyll, or via The Band.

The eastern side of the valley the home of the Langdale Pikes: Harrison Stickle, Pavey Ark, Thunacor Knott, and Pike of Stickle. Although very imposing from the valley floor, once you are on the tops, the terrain opens into upland moorland, which can be boggy due to the peat.

Day one’s plan was to walk up Stickle Ghyll, which has a beck with pools and waterfalls, up to Stickle Tarn at the foot of Pavey Ark, one of the Langdale Pikes. Stickle Tarn gets you up to around 1,550’ which is about two-thirds of the height of the Langdale Pikes, which are around 2,400’ high.

There had been substantial snowfall only a week previously and the hills had been white. Unfortunately, a sharp rise in temperature and several days of rain had washed it away just leaving hints of white in high gullies.

The beck in Stickle Ghyll

Stickle Ghyll is a popular route with families and has a largely ‘made’ path to help control erosion. The ghyll follows the path of the beck with emanates from the tarn. The lower section is a series of water falls and pools. As you ascend, the vista down the valley towards Lake Windermere opens, as does the view across the valley towards Lingmoor Fell and Crinkle Crags.

The National Trust put in the new made path sometime in the early 2000s, which in places altered the route footpath, which in some cases switching which side of the beck it takes. It confused me a few times as the route did not follow the path as I remembered it and I could see evidence of the old route.

Taking photographs is time consuming and I did not make it all the way to the tarn. I got as far as the final pitch of the ascent (about 300’ or ~100m) before it drops down to the tarn. I decided to stop at that point. It’s a steep pitch and there is no made path up this final section. It would have taken a good half hour to get to the top over moderately rough terrain, say same again for photos, and then another half hour to get back to the bottom of the pitch.

Looking up to Pavey Ark

I couldn’t really justify that extra hour-and-a-half, so headed back down.

The half day walk had reasonable weather with some blue sky and sun. Being mid-December, the sun never gets very high – only around 13 degrees even at local noon. With stops, it took about two hours to get the turning back point. I got down in about 40 minutes.

Photographically it was a bit mixed. Some shots – both with main camera and phone – worked well. I had less success with the waterfalls. They probably needed a lot more time to work on composition and location.        

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