Grey Crag & Tarn Crag

Date: 15 Oct 2019 Weather: 11’C, cloud, still
Height gain: 1,756 ft Distance: 5.9 miles
Time taken: 5 hours Wainwrights: 100,101 of 214

Route:  From Sadgill up field to Great Howe and to the top of Grey Crag then north to Tarn Crag continuing north to a wall then turning west to descend hillside along fence line and a small river to join the quarry road track back to Sadgill.


It’s done nothing but rain during October so far but today sunny spells are forecast until late afternoon when rain is expected to start again.  We decide to stay closer to home and tackle the two most eastern fells in AW’s books.

We last did these as the first walk on a holiday in May 2011 after a night spent at the Castle Green hotel in Kendal – on that occasion the drive back on the five miles of narrow wiggly road from Sadgill was made more interesting by car after car coming towards us as they headed to what we presume was a wedding at St Mary’s church in Longsleddale.

There were no such problems today and while the drive in does seem long – it takes just over 15 minutes after turning off the A6 at Garnett Bridge – the couple of cars we do meet are at fortuitous spots near a gate or a passing place.

There are quite a few cars parked up at Sadgill when we arrive but there’s still plenty of space for our car.  We boot up in sunshine and the scenery around us looks stunning:

1

We don’t really notice the cloud building at the head of the valley.  We’re taking the direct ascent up Grey Crag via Great Howe so go through the gate next to the car and head up through the field.  A sign asks us to head diagonally to reach open access land and we think we can see the stile we’re aiming for in the wall at the top of the field.  The views down the valley towards Branstree are beautiful as we gain height:

2

It’s a slog – a steep gradient right from the word go but we persevere and before too long we’ve reached the stile – to find that it isn’t a stile any more, it’s just a tall fencepost sticking up.  The gradient is so steep we can barely stand up and the wall has wire mesh on the top of it.  We can’t see a path on the other side, either.  But we decide we have no choice but to clamber over the wall and the wire and deposit ourselves very carefully on the steep ground on the other side.

The ground is covered with ferns and there are no distinct paths.  We push our way upwards – almost looking downhill through our legs as we go due to the gradient (Kirk Fell style – see Kirk Fell 4 in book seven “The Western Fells”).  We manoeuvre to the left as we climb and reach a patch of rocks beneath Great Howe.  They are steep and slippery in places but give us a break from the vertical ferns.  We pull ourselves slowly up the rocks using hands and arms as well as legs.

As we approach the crag itself we head right again and into the ferns and finally spot a path heading to the shoulder beyond Great Howe.  I look down and can make out the path going all the way down to the wall and what looks like a gap in it – that initial sign in the field and the fencepost misled us unto heading too far to our left and away from the actual path.  It would still have been steep but not quite so challenging underfoot.

We join the path and finally make it past Great Howe and to the shoulder of the hill.  We’ve only climbed 800ft but it’s taken an hour and a quarter (felt longer!) and we’re exhausted.

The cloud has also gathered and lowered as we climbed and this is now our view:

2a

At this point if there was a reasonable way down we would have taken it but we both agree that there’s no way we’re going down what we just came up so we have no choice but to press on.

We follow the path as it turns to avoid crags and finally can see the last 300ft up to the top.  S decides he needs food or that 300ft will take him another hour so we find a good rock and settle down for home made pasties – first of a new batch and the best so far I think.

Slightly restored by food we carry on and make it to the top without any further drama:

3

The cloud has been lifting very slowly as we stopped to eat and made our way up the final feet of ascent and while this means we can actually see the top the views around us are still subdued by the cloud.

We can see across to the trig point in the distance on our next destination, Tarn Crag:

4a

We head north east towards Harrop Pike for a short distance to pick up the fence line and avoid the worst of the bogs – even so it’s very wet up here with plenty of weaving about needed to skirt the deepest sections.  We reach the start of the climb, only 250ft, and meander up the pathless hillside before finally finding the foggy top of Tarn Crag:

5

About all that we can see up here is the structure left by the engineers from the Manchester Corporation just north of the summit:

6a

We wander over to it and take its picture – wonder what it was for?

7a

We don’t hang around but carry on north for a while to the fence which we cross at a stile before heading west and down on the pathless hillside.  As we turn I notice an interesting light reflecting off Windermere in the distance:

8

It looked a bit more interesting than the picture perhaps shows.

The descent is steep but grassy and not too challenging.  We stick to the fence line as we descend in the cloud:

9

As we get below the cloud line the quarry road below us becomes obvious and helps us keep our line without paths to guide us:

10

We reach the quarry track and have afternoon tea perched on the rather triangular stones on the little humpback bridge at our joining point.  We don’t hang around for long, though, and set off down the quarry track which will take us back to the car:

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The track is initially quite steep but the stones are not too loose and it’s relatively easy going.  We get a nice surprise just as the steeper bits are coming to an end – we peep over the wall to see a lovely collection of waterfalls hiding behind it:

11

The gradient levels out and we quickly stomp the last one and a half miles back to Sadgill and the car.  We look up at our ascent route as we walk beneath Great Howe – no wonder we struggled going up all that vertical fern and scree.

It’s a shame we exhausted ourselves straying from the “proper” route up past Great Howe and a shame the cloud came down – this valley is really beautiful and quite quiet (we didn’t see anyone once we started climbing) – but we came away saying “never again”.