Friday, 22 April 2011

Harter Fell from Birks Bridge

It had been six weeks since I had last climb a mountain due to a broken toe I acquired playing footy. I played my first game back this Thursday and was chuffed to find my toe was okay so the next objective was naturally to get out in the hills again. The last walk was the wild camp walk up to Esk Pike and Bowfell, which involved walking across icy boulders, snow fields and camping out in dropping temperatures, this walk's weather forecast however involved scorching temperatures and smog warnings! So it was a huge relief to be preparing for a walk by removing items from my rucksack and lightening to a summer load. It was Easter Bank Holiday Friday and last minute, or midday to be precise, we decided to pack our bags and head up to the Lakes to tackle something moderate yet satisfying. I've often looked up or over to Harter Fell and thought it must be a great position to spend an afternoon. This small yet interesting mountain is flanked on both sides by the beautiful Eskdale and Duddon Valleys and gives a unique panoramic view of the Southern Fells.

Myself on Harter Fell summit

Harter Fell is only accessible by a long forty mile drive round the south of the Lakes or over the not so driver friendly Wrynose Pass. The Duddon Valley is definitely one of my favourite places in the Lakes. I was expecting it to be quieter than the rest of the Lakes as it usually is but after queueing for hours on the M6 all afternoon I expected the Lakes to be littered with Bank Holiday tourists. I was so wrong, in the few hours it took us to do the walk from Birks Bridge all the way to the summit of Harter Fell and back down we saw just one guy fell running and that was it! We set off at midday and were soon trying to find ways to avoid the car park that was the M61. We got off the motorway and took the A6 instead which lead us across to the M6 which to be honest was just as bad. We stuck it out and crawled our way to the Lakes with the masses. Windermere and Ambleside were fairly busy as we passed through but after that things were not too bad. We drove through Little Langdale and passed the Three Shires Inn. Little Langdale is a beautiful place. We headed up and over the Wrynose Pass where usually on a bank holiday you would struggle for a place to park but there were only half a dozen cars. Turning left at Cockley Bridge to the Duddon Valley we soon found ourselves at the Birks Bridge car park. It took me a long time to understand that there was no machine asking me for an extortionate fee, a free car park surely not!

My broken toe

The car park had several cars and a few campers too who were chilling out on the side of the River Duddon basking in the sunshine and enjoying the views. We set off on foot, crossed the new bridge and turned left towards Birks. Crossing a small stream we watched tiny fish darting from our shadows in the water. We ascended through Great Wood to the old farm buildings at Birks which I understand is now some kind of outdoor education centre. After rounding the buildings at Birks we headed up the track then took a muddy footpath past some old stone wall ruins into a bowl shaped area that has been deforested. The path was not easy to follow here as the path just disappears at times in to the boggy mess left behind by the deforestation. The path eventually reaches the far end of the deforested area and starts its steep ascent of the craggy slopes. The deforested area has been replanted with deciduous trees that are already looking at home and attracting many small bird species. The twin crag of Buck Crag towers above the deforested area and looked like the kind of place Indians would jump Cowboys!

Buck Crag with Grey Friar behind

After the deforested area the path got much steeper and rougher then rounded Mart Crag. The views behind us now of the Coniston Fells opened up. I had never seen the dam wall of Seathwaite Tarn reservoir before or the Walna Scar quarry spills. The path entered a vibrant area covered in Heather and Bilberry after Mart Crag and then reached a stile and gate over the forestry fence at the unmistakable Maiden Castle. We took a photo here along the fence line as it was astonishingly obvious which side of the fence the sheep could graze. Below the fence was green foliage they couldn't munch on and above it was just dead barren land. Maiden Castle is s prominent crag of rock with two devil like points on top of it. The path was much easier after Maiden Castle and headed in the obvious direction towards the highest ground. It was certainly not going to be the kind of day for clear crisp views to other mountains as any visibility was blocked by the extremely hazy sunshine. One thing I do like about these conditions is that they turn the views into pastel colours in layers one after the other creating a confusing sense of distance. We soon reached the summit area but avoided the easier path to reach it on the left and instead headed round the back and took an exciting scramble route.

Nicky with Altocumulus clouds above

I was really impressed with the summit area. Harter Fell sits in a perfect position flanked on each side by two of the Lakes quietest valleys, the valleys provide impressive views, especially down to Eskdale and the Roman Fort of Mediobogdum on the Hardknott Pass. Even more impressive though is the panoramic view that Harter Fells position gives to the Southern Fells. There is an impressive panorama to the back of the Coniston Fells and a unique panoramic view of the Scafell Fells. There are also views seaward to the Irish Sea, the Isle of Man on a clear day and to the south the lesser trodden Black Combe and the Dunnerdale Fells with the pointy Stickle Pike prominent. We sat for half an hour sheltered by one of the summits rocky tors basking in sunshine with views over the Eskdale Valley to the Scafells. Fun was had scrambling up each of the summits three rocky tors before making our way back down the way came up. After getting acquainted with the friendly Herdwicks we reached the stile and gate over the fence at Maiden Castle. The steep path back down to the deforested area above Birks was loose underfoot and saw us both on our backsides at times. We moved several hairy Caterpillars off the path to safety. The sun had gone down behind the other side of the fell and the many small song birds gave us a few lovely tunes.

River Duddon

Passing Birks we laughed at sheep looking at us through holes in the stone walls. As we entered Great Wood  I saw an unusual looking bird on a tree in the distance, at first it looked like a Jay as it had black and white on its chest but as we got closer we realised it was a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. It flew off across the trees in true Woodpecker style, I think they fly a little like Penguins swim with each flap the wings go all the way down and almost hook round its body. At almost the same moment another larger bird flew on to a tree around thirty metres from us and we immediately recognised it as a Buzzard, the bird that I would have to say is one of our favourites. The wildlife didn't stop there either as we stood on the new bridge at Birks Bridge we marvelled at the dozens and dozens of jumping fish. Not sure if they were Trout or Salmon, I do know that the huge Salmon do travel up here during spawning season from the Duddon Estuary and leave plenty of eggs in the spawning areas at the top of the Duddon. The Duddon Valley really is a fantastic place and anyone who hasn't discovered it is really missing out.

I have uploaded the photos from the day here.

Route Map...