Bleaberry Fell

Published 25 August 2015

In July 2015 I spent a week staying with some good friends in the beautiful town of Keswick. And when you’re in the area, what better to do than take in a few fells? Well one morning, my friend Tal and I decided to do just that. Well I did and he came at the last minute. We started with the fantastic Walla Crag. But would our second fell be as good?

Put a lake in a landscape and it will inevitably steal the scene. They have this natural ability to liven up any view. And so enticing was the view of Derwent Water from the top of Walla Crag, that it took me some time before I turned round and took a look at what else was out there.

And that was when I spotted the looming hulk of Bleaberry Fell, set against a dramatic background of grey cloud. Funnily enough it didn’t quite have the same appeal as the view of the lake.

Still, Bleaberry Fell is a Wainwright. And if you’re in the neighbourhood, it’s a bit rude not to pay it a visit. I looked at my watch. We’d both planned to be back in Keswick for lunch, but Bleaberry wasn’t really that far away. And it looked pretty straightforward.

“I think we’ve just about got time for another one,” I said to my cohort in walking crime, Tal. “If you fancy it.”

Tal paused, and stared for a moment at the hulking morass in front of us.

“Let’s do it.”

With that decided, it was just the simple matter of getting there. There was an obvious path on the ground, which seemed to go in the vague direction of Bleaberry Fell. However it didn’t really tally at all with what was written in my trusty guide.

“Wainwright says there’s no path. We just have to go towards some ruins and then head up to the fell,” I informed Tal, scouring the skyline for signs of some fallen stones or something.

There wasn’t much that looked like a ruined building, but off in the distance I could just about see some rubble. It was nowhere near that ever so inciting and well made path, but that was okay because old AW said that there wasn’t one.

“That might be the right way,” I decided, and confidently strode off across the thick grass towards the rubble. Which turned out to be a rather dilapidated sheepfold.

Perhaps if I’d bothered to look properly at the Ordnance Survey map I had in my pocket, some alarm bells would have started ringing in my head. For if I had, I would have spotted that a) there is a path between Walla Crag and Bleaberry Fell, b) that there’s a sheepfold marked on it, and c) the two are nowhere near each other. But I hadn’t, and so they didn’t.

For good measure, AW didn’t mention a sheepfold at all. So my mind made the obvious connection. These were the ruins Wainwright had told us to head for. Result! Of course, since AW had visited them, someone had clearly co-opted them into being a sheepfold. After all, the guide I had with me, had been written in the 1950s. Things do change a bit, don’t they? Although the fact that they may have changed so much that someone would have come along and built a path where there previously had been none, and that I’d decided not to follow it, didn’t enter my mind one bit.

“I think all we have to do is follow that stream,” I called ahead to Tal who, with longer legs than me, was going just a bit faster. “Then we should be able to find a path to the top.”

Goodness knows how, but this all made perfect sense in my mind, even as the ground changed to boggy grass. With no clear path to follow, we had to make our own way, bouncing over heather in an effort to keep our feet dry.

Heather. It always makes me think of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books; books that, as a child, I devoured enthusiastically. Even if Julian was a tedious bore, Anne was a wet blanket and the whole thing was completely bonkers. I mean, they only have to set foot out of their front door and they’ve managed to find smugglers, or uncover some spooky goings on. Oh and there’s always lashings of ginger beer, and some rotund farmer’s wife or pub landlady who is more than willing to make them massive cooked breakfasts.

But the thing that always stuck in my mind the most from those books (besides wondering quite what Uncle Quentin was really up to) was that the gang of five always seemed to end up in some remote location, sleeping on beds of heather.

“I think I’m going to get heather today for my bed, after all.” That’s Anne in Five Run Away Together.

“I vote we have a simple supper – something out of Anne’s little larder – and then spread our rugs over some thick heather and sleep under the sky,” informs Dick in Five go to Billycock Hill.

“Shall we go out and get some heather for beds?” is the novel idea of Julian in Five On A Secret Trail.

Such is the way that Blyton portrays heather, that for years I was under the apprehension that the stuff would make an utterly divine seat or bed. And then I actually sat on it for the first time, and decided she clearly had no idea what she was on about. And certainly, there’s no way would George and the gang want to sleep on Bleaberry Fell’s heather. Even if it did have Dick’s thick rug spread over it. The stuff here was vicious.

Whilst Tal was wearing trousers, I’d decided that as it was a warm day, shorts would be a better option. Soon though, the spiky heather had taken its toll. My legs were being ripped to shreds, with them now covered in scratches; trickles of blood now coming out of them where the undergrowth had attacked me.

At long last, I was beginning to have doubts about the approach I’d taken, but by now it was far too late to turn back. We fought our way onwards, heading uphill and doing our best to get out of the mess we were in as quickly as possible. Much effort was spent trying to find sensible paths, which would always turn out to be barely used sheep trails that would disappear almost as soon as we’d stood on it. And then we’d have to scout out another, and the whole process would start all over again.

If only I’d remembered that bit in Five go off to Camp where Julian mutters “It’ll be a bit tiring scrambling through heather all day”, rather than all that bed nonsense. For it was tiring. The exertion required for this traverse over tough terrain, was beginning to wear us both down. Not that there was anywhere to sit down and rest; the ground too waterlogged, but even if it hadn’t been, wouldn’t have been particularly comfortable because of that confounded heather.

Finally we saw a cairn in the distance, and we battled through the celebrated as we found ourselves on a firm, solid path made out of ever so nice rocks. Never had stone felt so good on the feet.

After collapsing on the side of the path for a few minutes to regain our composure, we made our final push. With better conditions, the remainder of the walk was almost trivial and soon I was leaning against the summit cairn. We’d made it. It had been a hard thought battle, but we’d got there.

“That’s the most difficult walking I’ve ever done,” panted Tal. “Even more difficult than that bit on the East Highland Way we did where there was no path.”

Yes, that had been easier in comparison. That half-mile stretch of Scottish heather moorland had been particularly flat, far drier and a lot less painful to walk over. I stared at my tattered legs. The scratches had clotted, however there were still plenty of smears of blood on my leg.

I consoled myself by looking at the view instead. Derwent Water was now hidden by Walla Crag, however the increase in elevation meant that Bassenthwaite Lake could now be seen twinkling in the specks of sunlight that were making their way through the cloud. Oh, and of course, there were all the surrounding fells too.

Glancing at my watch though suggested it was time to go.

“I’ve been thinking about how we get back down,” I said to Tal as we looked out over the water. “How about we take that clear and pretty obvious path back then?”

I pointed off to the path we’d finally joined. From our vantage point, its route was clear and obvious, circling past Walla Crag and heading off down towards Keswick.

“Sounds like a plan,” replied Tal, and with that we set off back to town.

And not far from Walla Crag we passed a ruined building. But the least said about that – and the exploits of Famous Five for that matter – the better.

View all 25 of my Walla Crag/Bleaberry Fell walk photos on flickr

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