Grey Crag

Published 22 July 2018

The summit cairn of Grey Crag

The summit cairn of Grey Crag

On a glorious May bank holiday Monday, what better thing to do than spend the day exploring Swindale, and the four most easterly of the Wainwright Fells? And it was a great day that would see me visit four fells. With Selside Pike, Branstree done, and Tarn Crag completed, there was just time for one more before heading home.

There was something of a Pennine vibe about the fells I’d walked to from Swindale. All grassy, with the feel of moorland. If I hadn’t known I was in the Lake District, I would have swore I was near Cross Fell or Wernside.

Grey Crag (not to be confused with Gray Crag, also in the Far Eastern Fells) takes this one step further. It features peat haggs and bogs. Oh the bogs. Naturaly I put my foot deep into one. By accident. But accident or not, I still had soggy socks and bits of damp grass stuck to my boots.

Fence running between Tarn Crag and Grey Crag

It's that fence again

The walk from Tarn Crag was a simple one. Walk back to the fence (oh how I learned to love that fence), follow it a bit, then stride off to Grey Crag’s summit.

The climbs were gentle, the walk uneventful besides the aforementioned bog. There was no one about and the only sounds were that of birds and bone-dry grass rustling as my foot landed on it. It was blissful.

With a relatively low height of 638m, and a position at the extremes, little of Lakeland is visible from its summit. There’s the Kentmere fells, and those on the opposite side of Haweswater. But that’s about it.

greycrag-cairn1

Wainwright wasn’t that keen on the place. In fact he had a bit of a downer on all four fells I walked that day. Too Penniney. Not enough like “proper” Lakeland.

He did praise the view I admired now. No, you can’t see Bow Fell or Blencathra. But the panorama across Shap towards the Pennines is glorious.

Whilst he was a little dismissive of the place, Wainwright did give Grey Crag an honour. It’s the most easterly fell he documented. The furthest out you get in the Far Eastern Fells. There’s moors and high ground in the Lake District National Park but he eschewed them. He set the boundary for his activities to be the church in Longsleddale, meaning Grey Crag gets a tick. Everything to the right was out of the occasion.

Looking down on the Kentmere valley from the summit of Grey Crag

Kentmere seen from Grey Crag's summit

This distinction meant that I’d reached a milestone in my Wainwright bagging. I may not have done half the fells. Or even finished all the fells in a single Pictorial Guide. But I had made it to my first edge. Everything else I would visit would be to the west of this point.

I felt like I should be celebrating this terribly minor achievement. Cracking open a small bottle of champagne or something. But it was too hot for that. Even if I’d had the foresight to put a bottle in my bag, I doubt I would have opened it.

Instead I celebrated by setting off back to Swindale to pick up my car.

Wainwright doesn’t give a route to Swindale for Grey Crag. For whatever reason, he concentrates on routes from the Kendal-Shap Road, or from Longsleddale. But my car wasn’t parked there. This meant breaking my usual rule of only following Wainwright approved routes.

There was a get out clause. He does mention a Swindale route for neighbouring Tarn Crag. When I say “mention”, I mean dedicates a whole sentence to it listed under “Other ascents”.

“From Swindale or Shap, the obvious route is by Brunt Tongue, an easy ascent.”

That was all I had to go on. But it was good enough for me.

Tall and narrow cairn on Harrop Pike

The slightly precarious looking cairn of Harrop Pike

I returned to that old friend, the fence, and made my way to Harrop Pike. It may have been a secondary summit, but it had an impressive cairn, even if it was leaning to one side a little.

There’s no path from Harrop Pike down to Brunt Tongue and Mosedale; the pass that connects Longlesdale and Swindale. Your only option is to strike out into the grass and bog, and hope for the best. Ensure you stay to the east of Mosedale Beck so that you can cross it via a handy bridge, and that’s it.

Mosedale was an empty, lonely and wild looking place. There was little sign of life. No paths. No sheep. Few birds. Nothing of any real interest. Grass and streams, and little else. There were plenty of trees, but they were all clumped together in a single plantation. Then I turned a corner and spotted something strange. A building. White, with a few trees surrounding it. Out here in the middle of nowhere, with no road access or anything. Not even a track.

Mosedale Cottage sitting in the middle of an empty grassy area

Remote and isolated - it's Mosedale Cottage

It was too far away to investigate but later research revealed this was Mosedale Cottage. Occupied until the 1930s, it’s now maintained as a bothy where anyone can spend the night. As long as you’re prepared to walk there. And back.

After a good stroll I found the car-wide bridge spanning Mosedale Beck. A short way on, I rejoined the path I’d taken on my way up to Selside Pike. And then I was standing at the head of Swindale once more.

“It’s a lovely valley,” said a fellow walker who had been sat enjoying the view with her companion.

“It sure is,” I replied.

She was right. The fells had been fine, but Swindale was the highlight of the day. With its plethora of flowering gorse bushes, and rugged hills lining it, it was gorgeous. It’s beauty outshone the wild, grassy hills I’d spent most of the day walking on. The fact that there were few people there – even on a busy Bank Holiday Monday – adding to its charms.

Looking down Swindale from the top of the valley

And it's back to Swindale after a lovely day on the fells

For this was a remote corner of the Lakes. A peaceful haven in an otherwise busy part of the world.

Would I ever come back though? I wondered as I walked the remaining couple of miles back to my car. I wasn’t sure it would be the first on my list of areas to revisit. The fells themselves were not the most exciting. Perhaps once was enough. But the memories of Swindale itself, well they’d remain forever.

View all 52 photos from the Swindale round, on flickr.

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