Red Screes

Published 27 August 2015

Trig point at the top of Red Screes

A three fell tour of Wainwrights near the Kirstone Pass Inn, starting at Red Screes.

The car park opposite the Kirkstone Pass Inn was full of people, but few seemed to be going anywhere. Most were just milling around, staring at Red Screes. Or, if I was to be more accurate, staring at where Red Screes would have been visible, had it not been for the heavy layer of cloud covering it.

I glanced around, pondering the options. I could just head on up and hope for the best. Alternatively I could join the milling throng, and loiter until things looked better. I could even give up, and pretend that the only reason I’d headed here was to pay a visit to the pub.

Cloud had been expected; it’s presence clearly indicated in the day’s forecast published by the Mountain Weather Information Service. Low visibility in the morning; clearing in the afternoon. The forecast had been part of the reason I’d walked up from Ambleside, rather than drive up like everyone else obviously had. Walking would delay my arrival at the foot of the Screes, giving time for the cloud to depart.

We’d arrived in Ambleside the previous day, after a week staying in Keswick with a group of good friends. Everyone else had headed back to their respective homes, however my partner Catherine and I had decided to rent somewhere else and stay another week with our young son. And a shortage of two-bed houses in Keswick meant we’d moved onto Ambleside instead.

My walk had had a good start, as I’d wandered around a network of narrow streets, above the town, trying to find the right path, without getting lost. I was failing a little on that last point.

“Excuse me! Excuse me!” came a loud voice. “Where are you heading to?”

Turning round, I spotted her; a woman standing in the doorway of a bungalow on a cul-de-sac that had a gate at the end that I assumed would lead to a footpath.

“Middle Grove,” I replied, giving of the name of the farm Wainwright had suggested walkers head towards when tackling Red Screes from Ambleside. “The path’s for it is near Stockghyll Force,” I added, quickly realising the name of an obscure farm probably wouldn’t mean that much to her.

“Ah, we get that a lot,” she replied. “A lot of people come up here looking for that, or the path up Wansfell” and she proceeded to reel off a convoluted listed of instructions that if I followed, would get me to the right place. I duly thanked her and headed back the way I came, realising that I hadn’t taken in a single world she’d said.

Road on the way out of Ambleside, near Stockgyhll Force

A discrete distance from her house, I stared confused at my map. Truthfully, trying to navigate a place like Ambleside using an OS Explorer map is not the best route to success, but as I looked at it, I still couldn’t be particularly sure that the cul-de-sac hadn’t been exactly where I needed to be. But on the other hand, I couldn’t face going past that bungalow again; I’d have that woman coming out staring at me as if I was mad. And then she’d probably try and tell me those horrendously complicated instructions again, perhaps putting in even more detail to bamboozle me with. And I couldn’t cope with that. Instead I simply resigned myself that I’d have to retrace my steps, head down the hill, and take the sign-posted route behind the former branch of Barclays Bank that most people took.

The route followed the road to Stockghyll Force – Ambleside’s famous waterfall that, despite so many visits to the area, I’ve still yet to visit. Then, on the edge of the town, it gave way to more of a track as the procession of the Groves began.

Low Grove was the first, then a quarter of a mile away was Middle Grove Farm, where most of the buildings appeared to have been converted into holiday accommodation. And then, a mile and a half away, sat High Grove.

A large rock near High Grove

The tarmac had gone at Middle Grove, leaving a rough track for the stretch to High Grove. Not that many people would have been seeking it out as a target. The buildings of High Grove had long gone, leaving just piles of rubble, rubbish and, for some reason, an old caravan nestling in some trees.

As I approached it, I could see a man pottering around outside it. Surely someone couldn’t be living in there, could they, as images of a middle aged bloke with whispery beard living out a hermit like existence passed through my mind. But as I got closer, the man hoisted a rucksack on his back and began to walk towards me. No, this was no caravan owner, just a walker who had been poking around in the rubbish. Closer inspection also revealed that the caravan would be a dismal place to stay. The windows were smashed and the door hanging off its hinges. This was a caravan that had come here to die.

I was now beginning to near the Kirkstone Pass, and also the steep, twisting road from Ambleside known as ‘The Struggle’, that meets it. Cars could be seen, and heard, in the distance, and it wasn’t long before I found myself back on tarmac, standing outside the Kirkstone Pass Inn and wondering just what to do next.

The Kirkstone Pass Inn, right next to the start of the ascent of Red Screes

A dense layer of cloud lay heavily over the fell side. The reddish coloured scree runs that give the fell its name, were barely visible. A bit of the path I needed to take could just about be seen, however the further I looked up, the less I could see. Every few minutes a gust a wind would blow some of the cloud away, giving rise to a little optimism, but it came back soon enough.

Still the forecast said it would clear. I had hope, so I did the only sensible thing to do in such circumstances. I sat on a rock and ate an early lunch.

One cheese sandwich later, things hadn’t particularly improved, and after a little more milling, I took a decision. The path up, I was sure, would be reasonably obvious. Chances are I wouldn’t get lost. And by the time I would get to the top, the situation may have improved.

Red Screes hidden by cloud.

Sometimes you just need to take the risk and I wasn’t the only one who’d had enough of waiting. Several other people had decided the same, and soon there were a few of us weaving our way up the steep and winding path. So steep that I was rapidly gaining height; the coaches and cars on the Kirkstone Pass looking more and more like toys, the further up I got. Noticeably too, the cloud was indeed lifting a little as time went on. It had been invisible before, but now Lake Windermere could be seen many miles below.

Despite being damp, the rocky steps never caused particular concern; at least until one ledge where the path went over a large, and very smooth looking rock. For good measure it had a slight angle to it, sloping down towards the valley, and there was little room to get round it, and nothing to hold onto for safety.

Such rocks are my nemesis. I can just about cope with them when dry but they make me nervous when. Thoughts of slipping, and falling down the hillside begin to fill my mind; of sirens, helicopters and people carrying stretchers all looking at me wondering how I’d managed to injure myself on something so simple.

View towards Windermere from the side of Red Screes

There was a slight grassy ledge above the rock, and nervously I crawled up to it and sat down. My intention was simple: shuffle over the ledge on my bottom so I could get past the rock without having to walk on it – no doubt simultaneously looking a complete wazzock to two walkers on the path below. A perfect plan expect that the ledge also sloped downwards, and I was wearing my waterproof trousers. My nice waterproof trousers. The ones made out nylon that gets slippery when wet. In a genius like moment, I’d decided to avoid peril by putting myself at a greater risk.

Desperately clinging onto grass, undergrowth and whatever else I could find – as if that would help if all went belly up and a fourteen stone man ended up rolling down the hill – I edged along two metres required to avoid the rock, and breathed a huge sigh of relief as I got to the end and found the stone steps continued once more.

I kept on expecting another similar experience to hit me, but none came. Indeed I was almost at the top, and it wasn’t long before the path was levelling off and I was standing on the grassy plateau that the summit sits on. Not that there was much to see; the paths were visible but the views were all blocked by cloud.

Oh well, I thought. It’s being here that counts. Well, a little positivity never does anyone any harm, and I wandered over to the fell’s trig point. And as I stood there, as if by magic, the clouds began to part. Not by much, but enough to look down and see Patterdale, and even the Kirkstone Pass; the cars now mere specs on the road.

Middle Dodd and Patterdale, seen from Red Screes

I hovered around the top for a bit, watching as the cloud slowly began to drift away, replaced by sun and even patches of blue sky; Patterdale became more visible, nearby Middle Dodd appeared, and parts of the Fairfield range took their rightful place on the landscape.

Everything had taken place just as the weather forecast had said it would. There’d been cloud all morning, but now it was afternoon – 1pm according to my watch – and it was going. And by the looks of it, the rest of the day wasn’t going to be bad at all.

Next time: Middle Dodd. View all 44 of my Red Screes and Friends walk photos on flickr

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