I could not tread these perilous paths in safety, if I did not keep a saving sense of humour.” Admiral Horatio Nelson.
It had been a last minute decision. I was back at work for the first time since January and Helen had been having “one of those weeks” she fancied a break and realised we could get away for the May day bank holiday weekend and do some activating. A quick scout on the Internet came up with a suitable cottage just outside Kirby Stephens in the Northern Pennines.
Our newly acquired GPS had proved itself on our last activation but I still had not had time to find out how to use it or Memory map, but Helen had so I left the decisions on summits and routes to her. Our plan was to do G/NP-018 Nine Standards Rigg on Saturday, G/NP-019 Yarlside and G/NP-013 The Calf on Sunday and finish up with G/NP-007 Wild Boar Fell on Monday. The big question in my mind was could the run of wonderful weather we had been having continue.
Friday morning and I was in buoyant mood, as I rushed around trying to get everything ready so we could depart as soon as Helen came home from work, it couldn’t last. I rang the property key holder and got an answer machine and again and again. Then the postman brought an empty envelope from the QSL Bureau, torn open by their machinery, they had lost the contents. I filled in a form in an effort to recover the QSL cards and took it to the post office. On the way back I noticed my number plate had been stolen from the back of my caravan on the drive so a quick call to the police in case some boy racer was running speed cameras and red lights on my behalf. From then on it was a series on niggles and irritations. Eventually I got hold of the key holder and they told me that we needed to be there by nine o’clock to collect the key, which would be pushing things.
The journey went well and Tom Tom told us we would arrive just before nine until we saw those dreaded ‘accident ahead’ signs and for three quarters of an hour we crawled at between one and ten miles per hour. I phoned ahead and the mistress of the keys said she would keep an eye out for us.
The cottage was one of the better ones we have used; it was comfortable and clean in the main, a few stains on the kitchen wall, the dishwasher leaked and the door did not stay open to load it, a couple of missing light bulbs and no remote control for the TV in the bedroom. The views of the hills were superb but the A66 wasn’t so pretty and the thundering trucks meant it was impossible to sleep with the windows open even a crack.
Much to my surprise we managed to get everyone up and out on time on Saturday morning and as we headed down the road I imagined that we might be up to an hour early on the summit. I got somewhat concerned however when Helen said we were not that far from the parking place in Kirby Stephens and a little argument ensued. She told me that this was the route she had downloaded from the Internet. I asked why she had not used Roger G4OWG’s route I gave her. Eventually discretion being the better part of valour I gave in and kept my mouth shut. Adam made the same mistake when he was in Eden I believe.
We parked in Kirby Stephens at Franks Bridge and after crossing the footbridge we followed a track SW along the side of the River Eden stopping to take a few photographs and watch a mother duck with a train of ducklings in tow. We came to a kissing gate and then followed the footpath signs right through some green meadow alongside the river. Just past an old stone barn the path turned half right and headed away from the river and we followed the clear way markers up through the fields of sheep on to the Hartley Moors. Eventually we came to a footbridge over the old Settle to Carlisle railway line, which now appears to be a neatly asphalted footpath and part of a nature reserve run by the Cumbrian Wildlife Trust. Ascending the next field we could see the rather impressive Podgill Viaduct in the distance, which has been restored by the Northern Viaducts Trust. It was designed by Sir Thomas Bouch, and constructed for a single line of railway, but, was doubled in width in 1889 and has eleven arches.
At the top of the field a tunnel of trees took us to a fork in the footpath and a little confusion before we decided the GPS was right and we crossed first one stile on the left then another before we descended though woods full of bluebells, primroses, and a carpet of white flowers from which emanated the overpowering stench of wild garlic. This was where things got a little tricky with low hanging branches and fallen trees to negotiate rucksacks had to be removed and we were reduced to near crawling at times. Oh for a chainsaw and a machete! It was worth probably worth the effort to see the spectacular limestone fault of Ewbank Scar, but I was by now somewhat hot and bothered by flies, which fortunately did not seen to be the biting kind.
Following Ladthwaite Beck the track took us up on to the shoulder of Birkett Hill where we deviated from our written directions and followed a path around rather than over the summit dropping down in to the valley of Ladthwaite Farm with its private airstrip. Here we found a welcome place to rest a while on a roughly hewn bench. An ice-cream tub was nailed to a fence post with the words ‘Open Me’ in felt pen on the side. The tub is similar to a Geocashe but it is not hidden and there was an invitation to ‘help yourself’ to a postcard, we signed the log and just to be different I left a QSL card rather than take a postcard. Once we had taken a drink and a snack we followed the track until it met the farm access road. From here another fifteen minutes walking brought us to the parking spot we should have used for Nine Standards Rigg. We were already hours later than our estimated/posted activation time.
The route up from the parking spot is quite straightforward but would have been a bit of a slog even if we hadn’t already walked further than our stamina dictated. Soil erosion from the pounding of thousands of feet makes a lot of the path quite uncomfortable to walk on and trying to constantly find somewhere flat to step increased the strain on already tired feet and sore ankles. Time after time we seemed to have nearly reached the summit only to find there was another dip before an even bigger rise. When at last the summit came in sight we sat for what seemed like an age totally exhausted. We took are time on the top to recover a little, to re-hydrate and eat a late lunch. Setting up seemed to take forever and the mast didn’t seem to want to stay up but at 14:42 UTC I made a first contact with Mike G4BLH.
Conditions on 5mHz were poor as they had been for a few days but I managed twelve contacts including a summit to summit with Jack GM4COX on Fell Hill GM/SS-217.
Helen GW7AAU worked the first four 5mHz stations including Jack and then QSYed to two metres FM were she worked four more stations including a summit to summit with 2E0FZK on Great Gable G/LD-005. Calls on 40 & 20 metres went unanswered, as did those on 70cms.
After finding a Geocashe at the summit and taking a few photographs we began the descent. I felt mildly better after the time resting at the summit but it did not last long and being unable to lift my legs quite high enough, along with a very sore right ankle made the going slow and painful. The relief at getting to the flat tarmac road was also short lived and we started to retrace our steps.
As we approached Ladthwaite Farm again we were surprised to see some brightly coloured free flying parrots and macaws sitting on the roof of the farmhouse, which I estimate, must have been worth thousands of pounds. At the farm we were greeted by barking dogs belonging to a very friendly chap and his wife who offered us a cold drink and refilled our water bottles. He was a member of mountain rescue and we had an interesting conversation about SOTA, RAYNET and the parrots on the roof. They were not his parrots but belonged to a local man some miles away. Apparently he had lost a few birds to thieves until he started letting them roam free, now when someone tries to steal them they fly off and return when the threat is gone.
We discussed our route back and were told the longer route via the road was easier so we retraced our steps back to the car parking spot and then followed the private road which took us passed a real blot on the landscape, a massive quarry. By now every bone in my body ached and every muscle felt like it was about to explode. Eventually we came into Hartley and crossed a small bridge over the brook to pick up a footpath over some fields back to where we had parked in Kirkby Stephens, a total of 15 miles according to the GPS data. It was 20:30 when we arrived back at the Landrover and most of the shops were now shut. We still had no shopping for the bank holiday weekend or anything to eat for an evening meal. We arrived at the only open supermarket and the announcement that the store was closing came on just as we walked through the door. Cue the slowest trolley dash in history.
After we had grabbed as much shopping as we could we started looking for a place to eat. All the hostelries had the same story ‘last sitting 20:00hrs’ we were too late and somewhat underdressed. Chippy it was then. When we found the local fish and chip shop we also found another supermarket, which was still open and stocked up some more. After taking out a mortgage for pie and chips times five we headed back to the cottage for a much-needed shower and lots of hot coffee.
Needless to say we slept well that night and were most surprise to wake feeling almost normal the next day. The weather however had turned on us and it was blowing a gale so no summits today, we did some site seeing and searched for some Geocashes instead. After a short walk in some woods away from the wind and occasional shower I was surprised to find my joints seemed to have become less stiff and on the Monday, after another good sleep, I was ready to tackle Wild Boar Fell.
For Wild Boar Fell we parked at the parking spot at SD77409 near Cotegill Bridge crossed the road and went over stile opposite. From there we followed the route up through thick heather and deep bog until we came to a deep gorge. We stopped and were puzzling how we should best safely traverse the gorge when the sky turned black and in a few minutes we were dripping. The silent bugle sounded retreat and we returned to the Landrover, defeated once again.
I feel sure there are easier routes up NP-007 but the one I knew of which avoided the gorge has been cut off since a new owner took over the farm and suspended access. Any information on which route people take up would help for next time, I am not letting it get away and intend to conquer this one next year.
Having read this you may think that maybe we did not enjoy our break but we did, you may think that there are more relaxing ways to spend a weekend and you would be right. Activating is addictive!
Regards Steve GW7AAV