Loft Crag

Published 22 August 2013

Quite how many Langdale Pikes there are, is a matter of debate. And one I can’t really be bothered having. I’m going with five and that’s the end of the matter. But it doesn’t matter how many you do, it’s still a classic walk. And for me, it all started with Loft Crag.

Grey cloud covered the area, but at least the cloud level was high. Every fell top in the area was cloud free, visibility was good. Not too hot, not too bright, not too sunny. Great walking weather in fact. A day when you just want to sling on a rucksack and get going. Because time and fells wait for no man!

But they do sometimes have to wait for a bus.

I was heading to Dungeon Ghyll. Although by “heading” I actually mean “standing in a cramped bus shelter with a bunch of senior citizens who were busy extolling the virtues of their free bus passes.

“Once we get here, we don’t use the car at all. We just get the buses everywhere,” said one woman, talking to a visiting American. “There’s just no need to use the car. The buses are too good.”

I looked at my watch, wondering where this excellent bus service was as there didn’t seem to be much proof. Still it gave me time to learn that her husband had been an airline pilot in the USA in the War, that her father had been born in California, that they’d stayed a few days with a friend in Kendal before heading to a B&B in Grasmere and that they were heading for a day out in Hawkshead. Oh and during the war, her husband had once got lost flying his plane and him and three other planes had ended up 500 miles off course. When she finally boarded the delayed 505 bus to Coniston, the bus shelter suddenly got a lot quieter.

The 516 bus eventually arrived five minutes late, then went through a driver changeover which included an elaborate explanation of the route the new driver needed to take for some journey later in the day. When we finally did get to board, the new driver then spent several minutes trying to get his ticket machine to work, with his first attempt to sell me a £7 Central Lakes Dayrider being issued as a £4.65 single to Kendal instead. When another customer tried to buy something called a “North West Megarider”, he looked at his ticket in despair before letting her on for free and telling her to buy one on the next bus she boarded. We finally left Ambleside fifteen minutes late, then got stuck in traffic on the outskirts due to roadworks.

On the Langdale Rambler

The bus itself was similarly quirky. The whole thing was clearly designed for people far smaller than those travelling on it – the battered old vehicle had squeezed five seats on each row, with next to no leg room. The large emblazoned “Stagecoach Schoolrider” logo on its side gave some indication of its normal usage, with the large “CCTV installed” logo perhaps indicating that the company perhaps didn’t trust the bus’s intended passengers. Yes, it was clear why people left their cars at the hotel all right.

As we finally got going down Langdale, I mused that I was experiencing all this simply because I hadn’t had any change for the Langdale car park pay and display machines. Oh and because taking the bus had meant I had been able to pop into Ambleside’s famous Apple Pie Bakery and buy some Chorley Cakes.

I was, at least, heading somewhere nice. I was off to do the Langdale Pikes – a series of fells, closely sited, which loom high over the New and Old Dungeon Ghyll pubs. They provide perhaps some of the most stunning and recognisable fells in the Langdale area; craggy, rocky and with distinctive outlines. From below they always look superb, and I couldn’t wait to visit them. All I had to do was wait for the bus to finally pull in, for the the driver shout “New Dungeon!” and I would be away.

New Dungeon Ghyll

My intended route would take in Loft Crag first, accessed by a path up the side of the New Dungeon Ghyll. Now every time I’ve ever set off from New Dungeon Ghyll, I’ve always managed to take the wrong path, with me initially, and today was no exception. I first headed on a path that would just take me back to the main road, before I realised my mistake.

It was obvious that I need some sort of large scale map of the New Dungeon Ghyll paths, as I then proceeded to walk over a field and found myself having to climb over a locked gate just to find the correct path that Wainwright had offered for the ascent.

Wainwright actually offers two routes – one from the Old Hotel, and the other from the New. The “Old” route offered the chance to see the “spectacle too good to miss” that is Gimmer Crag, but looked like it might be more challenging to navigate. Given my inabilities to even leave the base of a fell without getting lost, I’d opted instead for the more popular route that also takes walkers to Thorn Crag and which leaves from the New Hotel.

Is it a cairn or just a big pile of stones?

Once I’d found it, I knew I’d have no problem finding my way up. This wasn’t as much a path as a stone staircase, providing an easy route most of the way up. Well, I say “easy”. It was also a steep climb, but one that at least provided the stunning views of Langdale and its fells. Looking out, it was a fine day for fell walking, even on the high summits.

A myriad of paths greeted me on my arrival at Thorn Crag; a series of craggy rocks whose top features four substantial cairns closely sited, but which wasn’t a Wainwright so is clearly of no interest to anyone. On my right Harrison Stickle stood, waiting for my arrival later in the day. At the back Pike O’Stickle.

Last push to the top of Loft Crag!

And just to my left, Loft Crag.

From afar, Loft Crag looks a little like Pike O’Stickle, and even close to them both it took me a moment to work out which was which. Loft Crag’s simple, rather abrupt summit greeted me after my climb and I stood on the top admiring the view, before sheltering on the north side of the summit for a bite of lunch. As I ate my cheese sandwich (the Chorley Cakes would be saved for later) I peered over at my next destination: Pike O’Stickle.

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