Hartsop above How

Published 17 December 2017

The summit of Hartsop above How

This way to the top of this low hill!

Want to do a horseshoe shaped walk that takes in Fairfield? And that starts at Patterdale? And takes in St Sunday Crag? You do? So did I, and I did on my third day spent in Patterdale. After a visit to Arnison Crag, Birks and – of course – old St Sunday herself – I finished off with a visit to Fairfield, Hart Crag and Hartsop Above How.

From St Sunday Crag I followed the path on to Fairfield. For those who visit Fairfield from the west, as I first did, the ascent is little more than a casual wander up a gentle, grassy fell. It’s a long climb up, but nothing taxing. Pleasant, gentle, easy to get on with. Like a cat. Until they leave dead birds on your kitchen floor anyway. But from the east, Fairfield is rocky, spiky, dramatic. It’s full of scree runs, jagged outcrops, and spiky rocks. A fierce lion. Or maybe a tiger.

This is a great thing when you are – like me – visiting a fell for a second time. If you’re going to pay a second visit somewhere, how great to be getting a completely different experience when doing it.

Cofa Pike, seen from St Sunday Crag

Cofa Pike. An interesting place.

The highlight has to be Cofa Pike. It’s a rather scary and sinister looking part of Fairfield, and requires some scrambling to get over. I confess to being glad I wasn’t going in the opposite direction, but it was a fantastic experience, and a great way to get to Fairfield’s flat, grassy top.

My next stop was Hart Crag. Again, it was my second time there, having dirst done it as part of the classic Fairfield Horseshoe. And I confess as I stood on the top of Hart Crag, it was tempting to keep on going on the Horseshoe route. Forget my plans, and follow the ridge down to Dove Crag, High Pike, and Low Pike, before heading to straight to the bar of the Golden Rule Public House. After a few pints in by far the finest pub in Ambleside, I could bag a bed somewhere and spend the next day in the fells as well. Stuff that I needed to return to work the next day, the little cartoon devil on my shoulder whispered into my ear. Call in sick. They’d never know.

View of Lake Windermere, from the top of Fairfield

Windermere. Enticing and entrancing.

I whacked the devil off my shoulder, kicked in into the grass, and left it to go and tempt someone else. Tempting it was to follow the horseshoe with its fine views of Windermere, I had a plan and I would be sticking to it. And that was to go to Hartsop above How.

Now that’s an interesting fell name isn’t it? Knowing nothing of it, you may assume that the fell known as Hartsop stands guard over a village called How.

That’s grand. Except that it isn’t. It’s Hartsop that is the village down in the valley, sitting a few miles south of Patterdale. And as for How, well it doesn’t exist. There is no place called How for this particular fell to be above. The How part is most likely the Old English for “low hill”. Yes, we’re talking about Hartsop above a Small Hill here.

Yes, that’s headache inducing, so let’s conclude with the obvious. Hartstop above How has a name that in modern English, makes little-to-no sense.

Hartsop above How looking very flat

A low hill.

There’s one thing that is right in the name though. Hartsop above How (or, The How, as those who know it well must call it) is a low hill. Well in contrast to its neighbours of Hart Crag, Fairfield and St Sunday Crag anyway. Hart Crag weighs in at 822m in height. The How? A mere 586m. It’s not even a hill, just a long ridge coming out of Hart Crag. This means that attacking The How from How from Hart Crag sees the walker make a substantial drop in height. And it starts within minutes of leaving the summit of Hart Crag. Almost immediately I scrambling downhill, often shuffling along sloped rocks on my bottom as I tentatively made my descent.

Descending scrambling is not my favourite. Scrambling up is much easier. But going down requires more stretching out for footholds, and worries that your centre of gravity isn’t right. Concerns that put one foot wrong and you’ll tumble over and start rolling down a rocky hillside.

I had another foe too. My knees were twinging. I’d had this problem before, spectacularly so on a walking holiday in France that had left me hobbling for days. During that trip, I discovered the benefits of walking poles. For knee problems, these are great as they redistribute your weight, and so take the pressure of your knees. But where were my poles? Oh yes. In a cupboard in my house, a hundred miles away. Yes, I’d forgotten to pack them. In fact it hadn’t even occurred to me to take them. Now I was suffering from that omission.

Hart Crag, seen from the path to Hartsop above How

Spiky and pointy is Hart Crag.

Also missing was the tube of Ibuprofen Gel that normally sits in my first aid kit. It’s a wonderful thing for such situations. As an inflammatory it can reduce the swelling, and, of course, knocks out the pain. I always carry some with me, as you never know when it may be useful. Except it was missing. The tube had some point had been removed from my first aid kit, and not replaced.

So with nothing to ease the pain, there was nothing to do but grin and bare it. With every downward stretch and twist, the pain shuddered through my knees and up through my body; my face grimacing with every drop of my foot. I knew I’d be okay once on level ground, but this descent was like torture.

As another jolt ran through my knee again, the words of Wainwright’s description of this path forced themselves to the front of my mind.

“An easy walk.”

An easy walk? Were we the same fell? I had been scrambling for about ten minutes. Under no definition can scrambling be classed as an easy walk.

A cairn on the path between Hart Crag and Hartsop above How

Am I going the right way? Cairn says yes.

It was then that I was given a clue that something was wrong. There was a walker climbing up to Hart Crag with her dog. She was walking with ease. In fact she made the whole thing look a doddle.

She was also quite far away from where I was.

Somehow I’d left the path and had ended up descending not via a nice gentle route, but by a steep, rocky side of Hart Crag. I’d gone the hard way, and no mistake. And for good measure, I’d done pretty much all the descent before I discovered this.

Still, nothing broken. Even with the knee pain, I’d survived. And now I was on a gentler path, I could walk to the fell summit.

Once you’re on it, The How is a long, bumpy ridge full of peat haggs and waterlogged interludes. The latter made the ground soft and squidgy, and that proved to be most welcome by certain joints on my body. That these boggy areas were interspersed with rocky sections, was welcomed far less.

The number of bumps and mounds made it tricky to work out exactly where the How’s summit was. However the legendary describer of Lakeland’s fells had the answer. His guide book told me to look out for a small cairn on the lump of ground.

A pile of stones representing the summit of Hartsop above How

A cairn, or just a pile of rocks? Either way, this is the summit of Hartsop above How.

Small was an understatement. The cairn was little more than a few rocks, piled on top of a large rock. Besides the base, the whole edifice was no bigger than a large potato. A definite ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ cairn. But with it spotted, I’d captured my sixth fell of the day. That left me to complete the two mile descent down hill to the main road at the hamlet of Brigend, then back to Patterdale. A descent that included mild scrambling, some steep knee-pain-inducing drops, and a rather soggy path through some woodland.

And as I arrived at Patterdale, the weather began to change. It had been bright and sunny all day, but now the clouds began to cover the sky, the wind bag to whip up. Minutes after boarding the bus for the journey home, the heavens opened in spectacular fashion.

Perhaps then, it was a good job I’d told that cartoon devil, after all.

You can see all of my photographs from my three days in Patterdale over on flickr.

Woodland near the foot of Hartsop above How

Trees welcome you back to the valley floor

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