|Date:||13 May 2020||Weather:||8’C, partly cloudy|
|Height gain:||1,394 ft||Distance:||4.7 miles|
|Time taken:||4 hours 5 mins||Wainwrights:||120 of 214|
Route: From layby beyond Kirkstone Pass Inn up to St Raven’s Edge and then along it until we see a monument to our left where we turn right to the top (Stony Cove Pike) and back the same way.
The coronavirus lockdown which has been in place since 23 March 2020 has kept us to short local walks during the most glorious seven week stretch of perfect hillwalking weather that Cumbria has probably ever experienced. After a long winter of unrelenting wet and windy weather it has been somewhat frustrating to let all those beautiful days pass by without stepping foot in the national park. The lockdown was essential, though, so we gave it our full support.
We were very surprised at Johnson’s announcement on Sunday that from 13 May we can spend as much time exercising outdoors as we want with no restrictions on how far we can travel to get to the countryside, national parks or beaches.
The Lake District National Park, however, was “shocked” by the announcement and immediately tweeted and updated their website with messages asking everyone to stay away, they didn’t feel it was safe and all facilities, including car parks, would remain shut.
The date happens to coincide with our wedding anniversary and now we were unexpectedly presented with an opportunity to celebrate with a hill climb, but given the reaction of the national park and its residents we had to examine our consciences carefully.
The park authorities had also been doing some thinking in the very short timeframe the government gave them to plan for the changes and on 13 May itself they issued revised guidance which asked people not to rush back but if they did visit then to choose new areas rather than the usual popular ones and to avoid villages, farms and keep to social distancing rules. They were opening most car parks and their rangers would be visiting them each day to report on how busy they were so people could stay away from areas which were getting crowded.
This made up our mind – given the special date we would head into the national park but choose a lesser known mountain where we knew the parking would be away from residential areas and farms.
We headed for Caudale Moor from the Kirsktone Pass. The weather was good – cool but clear with winds which should stay below 15 mph at 2,500 ft. It felt very strange driving into the national park and we felt a degree of trepidation about the trip. When we arrived at the top of the Kirkstone Pass bollards still blocked the entrance to the main car park but there was space in the layby opposite – usually reserved for coach parking.
There were four other vehciles already parked – two car loads of young men who were having a chat and not dressed in walking gear – they soon got into their respective cars and drove off. A people carrier in front of us with a man taking photos down the valley with a huge telephoto lense and a little car parked behind us which looked like it probably belonged to the lone walker heading up Red Screes. I was glad we weren’t alone up here but also glad that it wasn’t busy and that no-one else was heading for Caudale Moor.
We got our boots on and packed up the rucksacks and off we set. We start up the path and pass the three huge wind turbines which are turning enthusiastically despite the wind not being all that strong. It is, however, coming from the north and surprisingly cold – thankfully we did pick up winter hats and gloves and are just warm enough in all our gear.
The first 500 ft up to St Raven’s Edge is very steep and we gain height quickly – the Kirkstone Pass Inn and our car soon look a long way down:
There’s two short sections of climbing up steep rock which is very enjoyable – I try not to think about coming back down this way, though:
Our first ascent of Caudale Moor was in January 2000 when my family got together up here to celebrate the Millennium. We brought everyone on this walk and both S and I are thinking at the same time that this was a mad route to bring my parents on with no hillwalking experience at all, and on a very cold winter day. They coped, though, and I don’t remember them being too traumatised by it – although it didn’t encourage them to take up hillwalking in their retirement!
We finally haul our way up to St Raven’s Edge where we perch on a cairn to catch our breath. S’s legs are wobbling with the unaccustomed effort and I’m probably not helping by being full of beans and feeling a lot better than I should be.
There are good views across to Red Screes on the opposite side of the Kirkstone Pass. It still mystifies me how that route is actually ok (even enjoyable) when it looks so vertical and daunting:
We can also see Lake Windermere peeking out in the valley below us:
A short break and glug of water restores our legs and we set off on what is now the less steep section of the route:
We reach the crest of St Raven’s Edge then descend 150 ft quite steeply before starting to climb again. The ground is dry and the path is clear and it feels wonderful to be out in the hills again. The sheep have obviously got used to seeing far less humans than usual as the ones we see pause their grass munching to give us quizzical looks as we come into view:
We get to the top of the ridge and see Mark Atkinson’s monument on the hillside to our left – a large cairn with a wooden cross on top which has two plaques to Mark Atkinson, who died in 1930, and his son William Ion Atkinson who died in 1987. They chose to have their ashes placed here within sight of the Kirkstone Pass Inn which the family owned and ran for many years.
We don’t go across to it today, but turn right for the last pull up to the summit, known as Stony Cove Pike:
The views up here are great – much better than we remember them being (we were last up here in September 2014 on our way to Hartsop Dodd as we neared the end of round one). The Kentmere Horseshoe with its scallops of Yoke, Ill Bell and Froswick looks tempting behind the summit – I look forward to the day we’re fit enough to do that walk in one go.
We can just make out the tall column shaped cairn on top of Thornthwaite Crag with High Street stretching behind it to the left:
To the north is a pretty view down the Eden Valley with Ullswater just visible:
To the west is the Helvellyn range and, to the left of the picture we can see the unmissable shape of Great Gable just sticking up above the ridge – it isn’t very clear in the picture but it looked very distinct and slightly silly in reality:
After much scampering about taking our photos we tuck ourselves into the wall to shelter from that cold north wind and have our lunch – no option but homemade sandwiches at the moment. Two fell-runners pass us at a very safe social distance of several metres and give us a wave – they are the only people we see up here all day.
As we eat the sun starts to peek out from the clouds and it’s very pleasant in our sheltered spot. We take our time, enjoying the views, the sun on our faces and the pleasure of being back above 2,500 ft.
Eventually we have to drag ourselves away and start to retrace our steps in descent. As we make our way south we have good views down to Windermere snaking around the hillsides below us:
We make quick progress on the steady gradient but huff and puff our way back up the 150 ft to reach the crest of St Raven’s Edge. The clouds have cleared more now and we admire the views across to Red Screes again as we perch on the large cairn:
We brace ourselves for the final 500 ft of very steep descent and scrambles down rock. We take it steadily and, even though S has forgotten his walking pole, we’re soon through the worst of it and nearly back to the car:
We can see one car in the main car park now, and when we reach the layby we see that the bollards have gone and it’s now officially open as promised. There are quite a few people about now and we pass a couple of teenagers who ask us, from a five metre distance, how long it might take to get to the top. Their parents aren’t keen, though, they are sitting just below and their Dad tells us this is his first trip out after a heart attack nine weeks ago – not sure this would be my first choice of walk in those circumstances. It doesn’t look like they plan to climb any further, though.
As we get back to the car there are two couples sitting at the pub’s table with flasks of coffee enjoying the views – clearly we’re all glad of the opportunity to be out here again.
We’re very pleased that we made the decision to come out today to celebrate our anniversary in our favourite way. We made a good choice – it hasn’t been crowded and we had Caudale Moor pretty much to ourselves all day. A new phrase has been added to my list of things I wouldn’t have imagined myself saying six months ago – “thank you Boris…..”