Tarn Crag (Easedale)

Published 28 February 2021.

The summit of Tarn Crag

It’s September 2020 and after a year full of lockdowns, cancelled holidays and just general chaos, I unexpectedly found myself in the Lake District for a week. Day one was spent near Borrowdale, the second in the wonderful Newlands. The third was a splendid day around Grasmoor. But now it was time to leave Borrowdale, and head to Langdale. And on the way, there was a chance to grab another fell…

Normally when visiting the Lakes, I have an idea of whereabouts I want to visit – what fells I want to climb, and so on. Then I try to book accommodation based on that. It almost always works.

Covid-19 had meant this visit had upended things completely. I’d found accommodation of any kind had been in rather short supply.

The problems were numerous. Accommodation providers of all types had reduced their capacity. The YHA had kept most of its Lake District hostels closed, with only a few open. Demand from a population who had spent much of the year cooped at home was high. Availability was not. I’d found I could get rooms in swanky hotels for £300 a night. But space at the more affordable range was a lot harder to find.

New Bridge, Easedale – on the way up to Tarn Crag

This was one of the reasons I’d opted to spend my nights under canvas. But even then there were challenges. Several campsites were completely shut. Others had re-opened but were keeping their toilet blocks closed. Only a handful were operating anything close to normality.

My plans became firmly based around where I could find somewhere to stay. When I’d found space at the Skykes campsite in Buttermere, I grabbed it immediately. But they’d only had room available for two nights. So I’d had to scout around for ages to see what else I could find. And what I could find was three nights at the National Trust campsite at Langdale. If the weather was likely to be anything like it had been whilst I was at Buttermere, it would be glorious. Although the weather forecast suggested I shouldn’t get my hopes up. Getting between the two was a big drive, so I decided to break it up by stopping mid-way for a couple of cheeky fells.

But the forecast was giving a big hint that going too high would not be the best idea. After three days of glorious sunshine and clear skies, cloud now clung to the Lakeland fells. The further I drove, the lower they seemed to get. By the time I parked up at Grasmere, it was almost a miracle everywhere wasn’t covered in a thick blanket of fog. Only the smallest of fells would be able to provide a view from their top, that was for sure.

Given that, I decided to start with Tarn Crag. If the weather improved I’d go on to Gibson Knott and Helm Crag, both fells bad weather had thwarted me on doing previously. When all was said and done, today was not looking promising either.

Clouds hugging the Easedale area

Tarm Crag is a fell that sits by itself at the end of Easedale, overlooking Easedale Tarn. The walk up to the tarn from the village is a popular one, even on a murky and miserable day. The walk up the fell, less so. Leaving the village I was soon part of a straggling mini army of walkers, all going to pay homage to the tarn.

The popular route is a circular one. Well more thin wobbly heart shape, to be truthful. You walk up to the tarn on one side of Sour Milk Gill. Once at the tarn, you cross the Gill and head down again, passing by the start of path up Tarn Crag. Most people ignore this. They just follow the path towards Far Easedale Gill, and then meander back to the village.

For anyone trying to get to the fell, it’s not the most direct route. So in his Pictorial Guide to the Central Fells, Wainwright recommended avoiding it. His suggestion was to take a turn off from the Tarn path, crossing the gill earlier. That way you cut out a kilometre or so of walking. Which is fine except I couldn’t find the place where he recommended turning off. Anyway, the tarn would be – I was sure – a nice place to visit. All these people couldn’t be wrong, after all?

So up alongside Sour Milk Gill I went. Ah now there seems to be a name with a story behind it. Could a cow have drunk the water and her milk turned out to be pretty awful after doing so? It’s possible, although this was sheep country. So maybe it was a ewe. More likely though, it’s some old English word meaning something completely different. Sounds bonkers? Well in North Yorkshire there’s a Fryup Dale and the name has nothing to do with a full English. It’s a corruption of Old English ‘Frige-hop’. Frige was an Anglo-Saxon Goddess and hop meant small valley. Frige-hop became Fryup. Still not convinced? Well guess what Friday means. Frige’s Day. Yup.

Enchanting waterfalls coming down Sour Milk Gill

Thanks to the popularity of the walk, a wide and substantial stone path led up the hill. It passed a great looking waterfall, with a rather enticing pool in front of it. The whole thing looked exactly like the kind of place where people would bathe in the kind of novel where people bathe in front of waterfalls. I could imagine the Famous Five splashing around under it. Although if they did, they’d end up being watched by scores of walkers shouting “Brr! Looks a bit cold that!” and other such witticisms.

Easedale Tarn itself was also enchanting. And also huge. Even if it hadn’t been swaddled in cloud, and the clouds hadn’t been trying to rain on me, it would have been difficult to see it all.

Behind it stood Tarn Crag. Well, I presume it did. The cloud meant it was impossible to actually see it.

Easedale Tarn with Tarn Crag behind it. Honest.

I stopped by the waters edge for a short while to admire the view. And also to pull on my waterproofs. I had a feeling I was going to need them. A sandwich was then scoffed, a second too, and then I hauled myself up and followed the path down the other side of Sour Milk Gill.

Truth be told, a part of me was tempted to follow everyone else and make my way slowly back to Grasmere. I could have a cup of tea and a slice of cake in some convivial yet Covid-safe cafe. It was the kind of weather for such an activity. But there was the turn off for Tarn Crag. Could I, in all good conscience, actually turn it down?

So up I went.

Tarn Crag may be somewhere in all that.

It was a gentle climb to start with. Up a wide grassy path, surrounded by swathes of browning bracken. Up and up I went, passing my greetings to a sheep that lay happily on some ferns.

Further up, bracken gave way to grass and rocks. The path got a tad less distinct. Oh, and I was heading into the clouds.

If the path had been clearer, things would have been easier. But it wasn’t, so it wasn’t. The disappearing path and an inability to see where I was going, complicated things. I couldn’t see where I was supposed to be heading for – the summit was completely hidden.

Rocks on Tarn Crag

Every now and then I’d reach some impressive cluster of rocks. The kind that other fells would be proud to have as their summit. (How much more exciting Mungrisedale Common would be if it had a few rocky crags like these!) So I’d get excited. I’d bounce towards them, thinking this must be the top of Tarn Crag! Brilliant!

And then the cloud would lift a little. It would be revealed that this was a mere sideshow, and that there was still quite a way to go. So plod on some more I would need to do.

I came to a stunning outcrop with a splendid view of almost all of Easedale Tarn. This was the top, surely? Ha ha, laughed the cloud as it parted once more to reveal the path carried on, and on, and on.

On other fells, this might mark a summit. Not Tarn Crags.

So when I came to a grassy plateau, littered with rocky mounds, I was in no hurry to celebrate. I had been fooled more times than I dare admit to. But as I walked on, I couldn’t find any further up I needed to do. One of the rocky crops even had a cairn on it. It seemed like job was finally done.

I’d tell you about the view. But I could see next to nothing. Only the grass and stones that surrounded me. I felt like I should linger. Celebrate me getting here. But I also couldn’t see the point. What would I do?

By now the rain was coming down heavily and the wind was joining in too; bashing and crashing against me. It was all rather grim and a swift descent off Tarn Crag felt to be in order.

The summit of Tarn Crag, hiding in the cloud

So I did. But there was a problem. Where was the path?

The top of Tarn Crags turned out to be a confusing place. Paths were non-existent. Cairns completely absent. In the cloud, it was horrendous. I’d planned to go back down the way I’d come up. But for love nor money, I couldn’t find it. I couldn’t find a path at all for ages. Which is why, when I did finally find one, I made a text book error.

Well, okay, two text book errors.

The first was that I didn’t check the direction I was now heading was the direction I should have been going in. And the second, I didn’t check that what I was on was actually a path in the first place. Only many minutes later did I realise I was going west instead of east. That what I had been following was probably a sheep trail than anything useful created by humans.

Err, which way do I go now?

I wandered round for what felt like an age, looking for clues of where I should go. But nothing looked familiar at all. There was not even anyone to ask. Few people had been coming up this way. I was beginning to get a little worried. Visions of being stuck up here for hours began to fill my mind.

And then, just like that, I found the path. And then, almost miraculously, another walker appeared. Someone coming up the hill. Someone presumably who had come up from Grasmere. A person who could, at the very least, confirm I was going in the right direction. And then to top it all, the cloud lifted a tad. I saw a bit of hill I recognised. I was saved!

Rejoice for there is the path!

It was a stroke of good fortune. More so when I didn’t see another soul on my way back down to the Far Easdale Path. Although a did see a sheep, sat in the bracken. It looked suspiciously like the one I’d passed in the opposite direction. Like it hadn’t moved in all the time I’d been gone. I suspected it had had the right idea all along.

As I came down hill, I looked across to Gibson’s Knott and Helm Crag. Any notions of following Tarn Crag with them was most definitely put out of my mind. The cloud was still too heavy. The paths would, I was sure, be fine. I doubted I’d get lost. But there didn’t seem much point. They’d wait for another day. A day with better weather.

So instead I went downhill to Grasmere. I pondered the idea of a cup of tea, and a slice of cake before heading on to Langdale. I rather felt I now actually deserved it.

Far Easedale isn’t looking much clearer either.

Your Comments

Vic Flange

28 February 2021 at 11:20 am

Always a tough one to decide upon when the cloud is like that. Will it be worth the effort or not?

Tarn Crag was one of the last Wainwrights I climbed (on 30 October 2019). It was my last day of my Lakes trip and I had been staying in Ambleside so I took the the bus up to Grasmere.

I followed your route but crossed Sourmilk Gill just beyond the waterfall. As you say, there was no clear path but I followed the route on my phone and soon enough a path re-appeared 50-100m the other side. Or maybe it was a sheep trail. Either way, having good visibility (sorry), I was able to follow the route marked on the OS that runs just around the north side of Greathead Crag to Tarn Crag.

After that I continued on and down to Codale Tarn, back up to the ridge to the south and followed the ridge to Blea Rigg and eventually Silver How, descending down to Elterwater for a pint (or two) before catching the bus back to Ambleside.

Happy days.

I did Gibson Knott and Helm Crag as part of my Coast-to-Coast but I can only assume you took the lower-level route alongside Far Easedale Gill when doing the C2C?

Andrew Bowden (Rambling Man editor)

28 February 2021 at 8:04 pm

Hi Vic. Unless navigation will be difficult, or there’s risks, I generally will carry on walking even in cloud. But I do have a list of fells I want to re-visit in better weather!

And yes, on the Coast to Coast we did the lower level route. The weather that day was not great and we were heading right through to Patterdale. Something I’d like to do is try out some of the different Coast to Coast variations – see which one is “best”. If I find myself with a few spare days I may give it a go!

Your Comments