Tarn Crag

Published 15 July 2018

A close up on the Wall of Tarn Crag

Tower of Sauron, minus the eye

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 and Branstree done, I walked on to Tarn Crag.

I first started walking next to the fence on my way up to Selside Pike. Then I followed the fence all the way to the summit of Branstree. The fence was a feature. A core part of my day. It was just there. A constant feature.

But now I had to leave it. The fence would not guide me from Branstree to Tarn Crag. No.

Instead, I needed to follow a wall. A dry stone wall. A dry stone wall. A rather neat, very well maintained and very picturesque dry stone wall. It was such a good looking wall that I took a photograph of it. Now that’s the sign of a good wall.

A close up on the Wall of Tarn Crag

A close up on the Wall of Tarn Crag

I get why farmers prefer wire fences to walls. Building a drystone wall requires significant effort, time and skill. It is a work of at. You have to create a cohesive hole by assembling stones of all different shapes and sizes. Without anything to stick them together. It is like completing a jigsaw puzzle without a picture of the solution to refer to. I know. (Such things do exist. We did one in our house recently. It was Columbo themed. As in the cult TV detective drama staring Peter Falk. You had to interpret what the jigsaw would look like, based on “clues”.)

Oh yes, wire fences are much easier. Bang some wooden stakes into the ground and string some wire between them. Sorted. Quick, simple, easy.

But they don’t look as good.

Some might argue a fence looks better. That a fence merges into the landscape more, whereas drystone wall dominates it. Me? I’d say that a good wall improves the landscape. Man made features can enhance the scenery no end. They add definition and interest to the landscape. Break things up. Something to look at.

Drystone wall on Branstree

The Great Wall of Branstree - leading to Tarn Crag

So I was happy to see the wall. It was a good wall. A great wall. And it was great to walk alongside it.

And then, halfway down the hill, it stopped. Abruptly, it was gone. For no visible reason. It didn’t become tumbledown, or enter a state of disrepair. It didn’t turn off at an angle and go somewhere else. It ended. It was a very neat ending, but an ending it was.

What would I do now? Ah well, never fear though as there had been a fence running behind it all along. Yes, all the way back from when the wall started at Branstree. Like someone didn’t trust the wall, so built a backup. Because you never know.

It seemed that really, you just can’t escape a fence.


The fence of Tarn Crag

The fence that runs between Branstree and Tarn Crag

Wainwright described the walk I was doing now as a “moorland trudge”. I could see where he was coming from. It wasn’t a particularly interesting walk. Especially once that wall had ended. It was a case of go down the grassy hilside of one fell, and go up the grassy hillside of another.

Tarn Crag did attempt to raise the excitement levels a little by adding in some peat hags and bogs. For those thrillseekers who like to run the risk of getting their feet wet. I am not such a person. But I did end up putting my foot in the wrong place. For my efforts, I got a wet right foot.

Now there did come the point where I got to leave the fence. That was exciting. Ish. The summit’s not on the fence line. You have to go right and stroll over some grass for about ten minutes.

But blimey, what a sight when you do. A strange, stone pillar stands near the top of Tarn Crag. One with a distinctive shape, and two prongs on top. It stands, all dramatic-like, surrounded by a small pool of water. Like some sort of mini Tower of Sauron or something. Thank goodness there was no flaming eye staring out of it.

A close up on the Wall of Tarn Crag

The sinister looking pillar on Tarn Crag

Why was it here? It didn’t say. What did it do? Well, nothing really. But, of course, it has it’s tale.

In 1929 work commenced on a major construction project. It would see the 4km natural lake of Haweswater extended in size. Two villages, Mardale Green and Measand would be demolished, a dam built and the land flooded.

The project was undertaken by the Manchester Corporation, to provide water to the city. It’s a role the reservoir continues to fulfil to this day. Indeed it supplies a quarter of the North West’s water needs.

But it’s no good having a reservoir and nothing else. You have to have a way to get the water to the city. And it does this via a glorious feat of engineering. It flows through a 56 mile aqueduct. Every day it carries 570 million litres of water. And it does all that without any pumps. The water flows completely naturally, even when the pipes go uphill.

It took 20 years to build, and four survey pillars were built to aid the work. One was the Tower of Sauron I stood next to now. It has no use these days, other than to confuse people by its presence. Oh and to look photogenic on the fell top. More than one photograph was taken on my visit. Mostly by a man and a woman who had arrived at the summit at the same time as me, and who were taking photographs from every angle.

The summit of Tarn Crag

A slightly blurry shot of the summit cairn of Tarn Crag

Great as it may be, but the pillar does not mark the summit of Tarn Crag. That honour falls to a spot a few metres away. I wandered there now. On the short stroll I mused about the fact that Tarn Crag had no tarns near by, so was a wholly inappropriate name. It wasn’t a thought I had for long, for soon I was stood at the small, undistinguished cairn that marked the summit.

It was alright. But it was no survey pillar. And no wall for that matter. Although it was, at least, a step up from that confounded fence.

Next up: a ridge walk to Tarn Crag. View all 52 photos from the Swindale round, on flickr.

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