Steel Fell

Published 17 September 2013

553m above sea level according to the old OS map, and the highest point of my intended walk.

A classic Grasmere round starts at Steel Fell, visits two other fells, then finishes off at Helm Crag. And that’s exactly what I had planned on 4 July 2013. It all started with Steel Fell. But if only the weather had been better…

The trouble with holidays is that they end too soon. Sadly, all holidays must come to an end. Like mine was. My two weeks in the Lakes would soon be up. On Saturday morning we’d pack up the car, leave the cottage, drive down to Manchester, quickly wave Sam at both sets of grandparents and even a great-grandparent, then board a train back to London

That was in two days time. Before that I had some more fells to climb.

The weather forecast for Friday was perfect walking weather, which was unfortunate as I was heading out on Thursday instead where things were, well, less so. Heavy rain and low visibility in the morning, moving to bright and clear in the afternoon.

The forecast didn’t say when “the afternoon” would be. Noon? Two o’clock? Half four? I stared out of the cottage window on Thursday morning, all the fell tops covered completely by cloud, wondering whether heading out was really the best thing to do. Then a patch of blue sky appeared; the rain stopped and looked like everything was about to clear. Within moments I’d hoisted my rucksack on my back and was running down the street as fast I could go.

The rain started again merely three minutes later.

Not looking great out there

In my mind it all made perfect sense. I’d set off after ten, pick up a sandwich en-route and get the bus from Ambleside to Grasmere. The first port of call would be Steel Feel. Looking at the map, this would require walking about a mile and a half down a road before I could start the ascent, but given it would be chucking it down, this didn’t really matter.

By the time I’d managed to get near to the top of Steel Fell, it would be after twelve and the weather would be getting better in time for me to tackle the rest of my walk.

From Steel Fell my path would take me to Calf Crag, then Gibson Knott before arriving at the pièce de résistance of the whole day, Helm Crag. I’d enjoy it’s outstanding summit and views of the Grasmere area before heading back to the cottage for tea. True, I’d get a bit wet at the start but the reward at the end would be amazing. Plus I’d be able to pick up some gingerbread.

It seemed a perfect plan. As long as the weather improved anyway, and there seemed to be no indication that that would be happening any time soon. As I traipsed along the narrow Easdale Road, the rain was bouncing off the tarmac in epic proportions.

Cottages at Ghyll Foot

A couple of cottages at Ghyll Foot marked where I’d be turning off; their bright white paintwork shining out like a beacon on a grey day. From there another narrow road led steeply up to another couple of cottages, and a behind one of them stood a wooden gate inviting me to the hills.

Given it was pouring down, the path up could have been far worse. Thankfully this was no muddy morass. Instead a grassy track, lined with bracken, led the way up. There wasn’t much to see. The cloud levels made quite sure of that. Just the occasional glimpse of Steel Fell’s neighbours, in the gloom. Still, the path was clear and there was little chance of going wrong.

Even at the most complex point of the walk, where two paths met, things were easy. Wainwright’s instructions said to follow the line of posts from a long broken fence.

Follow the broken fence to the summit

For a minute I paused to think about that. Wainwright’s Pictorial Guide to the Central Fells had been published in 1958; the text written (presumably) in 1957. Here I was on the same fell 56 years later, and the metal fence posts he’d seen back then, drawn so delicately in his guide, were still there. How long had it been since a fence had actually run along this felltop, I wondered? How long had it been when Wainwright had noted them down in his notebook? And how many more years would they remain there, gently rusting away in the Lakeland rain?

Perhaps they weren’t the same fence posts at all; perhaps the National Trust had replaced them with replicas, restoring the fell top to some bygone age. Nah, that was just a bit far-fetched. But still, it seemed odd to think that I was here, stood looking at posts for a fence that had been long removed twenty years before I was born.

I followed the posts to the summit’s cairn; a lumpy thing sat on top of some rocks, and surrounded – as if by an honour guard – by metal fence posts on either side. The rain was still coming down; the nearby fells were still invisible, and for a moment I pondered what to do as the rain slid down my face. Eventually I decided to take the plunge. I hadn’t come all this way to little a rain put me off. Besides the weather would be getting better soon.

Yep, there was no way I wasn’t going to Calf Crag.

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