Pavey Ark

Published 3 September 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. But after doing Loft Crag, Pike O’Stickle, and Harrison Stickle, you’re firmly in the zone of “yes, but is it a Langdale Pike?”.

“Where on earth do these names come from?” is what I would have asked had I not been alone. Although to be fair, I’ve never been particularly averse to mumbling to myself.

Still, it was a pertinent question. The Langdale Pikes in particular seemed to excel in names which verged on the ridiculous. Did Loft Crag get its name after someone looked at it, then thought of a room full of Christmas decorations and old bits of carpet? Did Mr Harrison wander around the fell top and find a Stickle Brick on the floor? And don’t even get me started on Pike o’Stickle.

Even if someone had been walking next to me, they probably wouldn’t have provided a satisfactory answer. Who could? It was all rhetorical anyway.

And besides, there were more important questions to be answered first. Like, is Pavey Ark even a Langdale Pike? And to answer that, you first have to answer “Just how many Langdale Pikes are there, anyway?” Opinions vary on how many of the nearby fells can be considered as part of the Pikes. Some say there’s five, others just two. And don’t even think about going to Wikipedia for a definitive answer. Even there there’s no conclusive answer. On one page the internet’s favourite encyclopaedia firmly states that there are four, whilst on another, it’s absolutely confident that there are three three.

Harrison Stickle is a given. Pike o’Stickle is too. But after that it’s up for debate. The inclusion of Loft Crag is less controversial, taken as read by most. As for Pavey Ark? Well how could it? After all, it’s not even a fell. It’s just a bunch of craggy rocks; cliffs overlooking Stickle Tarn that just happens to be near Harrison Stickle.

There’s the crux of things, right there. Pavey Ark is a crag, not a fell. Wainwright tells us this in his pictorial guide, pointing out that Pavey Ark is basically the eastern boundary of the fifth possible member of the Langdale Pike family; Thunacar Knott.

He also goes on to say that Pavey Ark “has its own proud little summit, an exhilarating place of grey rock, small tarns and soft vegetation.” Although he strangely didn’t mention that it’s also a maze of a place. Pavey Ark may only be a square half mile, but it’s highest point is well hidden to the walker approaching it from Harrison Stickle.

Marshy grassland on Pavey Ark
Squelch around in a waterlogged Pavey Ark.

There was probably an easier way to reach it than the route I took A twisty-turny zig-zagging route on an undulating path, regularly swerving to avoid large boulders or sections of marsh, mud and puddle. I don’t think I walked in a straight line for more than two minutes.

Trying to find the summit was almost infuriating. Several times I thought I’d found it, only to spot some distant pile of rocks that were clearly higher in altitude. Was I really suffering from false summit syndrome whilst wandering on a reasonably flat landscape? Well, yes.

As I struggled to find the cairn I wondered what Wainwright would have made of my efforts. From his words it was clear that Pavey Ark was a place well worthy of exploration, and I could easily imagine him spending all day poking around in every nook and cranny. Although in another of his books he passionately wrote that the aim for the fell walker must always be to find the highest point. Here I was, trying to do just that, and not necessarily succeeding.

Had I read the Pavey Ark pages of my Wainwright properly, I would have found it all so much easier. But where would be the fun in that? Still, when I did finally get frustrated enough to read my guide book, I quickly learned that the summit cairn was “hidden” behind a dry stone wall. Yes, that one a quarter of a mile away.

Climbing over it, it was clear I’d made it to the right place. This group of rocks were obviously at least inches taller than all the others, and there was even what looked like a cairn; well, three rocks scattered on the top of a boulder, anyway.

A handfull of stones on Pavey Ark's summit.
The ‘summit cairn’ on Pavey Ark. Well at least I think that’s what those three stones are.

There were no other contenders. I stared at it, musing how long it had taken me to find something so insignificant. I pulled out my Pictorial Guide and checked out the view.

“Seated comfortably with his back against the cairn, one leg pointing to Loughrigg Fell and the other to Lingmoor, the walker finds reward for his toil.”

Ah, yes, that would have done it all right. Some careless walker had followed Wainwright to the letter. One back against that small cairn and it would have scattered in seconds, with the person leaning against it soon tumbling on to the grass shortly after.

I decided it was better to stand instead. As I did, a father and his early-teenage daughter arrived to share the summit with me, the daughter using this moment to pose the question of the day.

“Daddy, how long do valleys take to form?”

The wind changed so that I didn’t hear his reply. I just hoped it involved him moaning about the lack of a cairn.

Next: Thunacar Knott.

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