Barf – oops pardon me
22nd December 2009.
Map: Landranger 90
Weather: Cold, low cloud, sleet, snow, and not much sunshine.
A circular walk from the A66 lay-by toThornthwaite, up to Barf and along to Lord’s Seat. Down to Aitken and back through the forest to Thornthwaite : 7.8 miles – as measured on Memory Map – 13 on Paul’s Satmap but that was wrong!
As Noddy Holder once shouted ‘It’s Christmas’, and so it is...nearly. The walk today was a last minute decision as I had been due back to work in
We parked up in a lay by as to venture into Thornthwaite would have been folly – the 4X4 drivers were looking a bit smug today. As we got ready at the car it was a little misty down in the valley and to be honest I was paying more attention to the traffic than to the weather. Maybe at the back of my head something was telling me quietly ‘it’s mist low down and blue sky up above’ – but I chose to ignore the message lest I tempted the cloud devils to visit. The week before I had walked up Skiddaw in the clag, and didn’t even have a look across to Barf. Well this week the boot was truly on the other foot, but it was uncomfortable so I swapped them around. Barf was sparkling brightly ahead of us in the sunshine and as we crossed over the fields in 4” of snow a beautiful winter wonderland lay before us – cue whistling. From the lay by it was a short walk alongside the road before cutting up across the fields past
We padded along quietly on the snow covered lanes and out came the fruit pastilles – they were a bit harder than usual today, but just as tasty. It was very peaceful apart from the road noise, and the snow muffled most of that, so it was the gentle crunch of powdery snow. We veered left up a lane towards Barf, through a very quiet Thornthwaite, must be a fair few second homes here. Barf got bigger as we approached and behind us it was still misty but not foggy. After a mile we turned left off the lane at Beckstones Beck looking for a path up through the woodland, which was difficult with all the white stuff laying around. But we found it on the far side of the beck and started up through the powdery stuff, Barf up to the right – the hill not anything else. Ahead of us was a steady ascent with the gradient steepening the higher up the valley we got.
After a little while we realised we should have been on the other side of the beck so we legged it through some thigh deep stuff and over a fence to find a nicely defined way up through the forest. The snow quite liked it as well, as there was quite a bit of the stuff, but it made it relatively easy progress up and up and up. The snow was much easier to ascend than slippery grass or mud. We passed by a painted stone and Cra
ig told me about a race they have every year up to The Bishop where they slap a bit of paint on another rock, not an actual Bishop – though that would of course be lots more fun and they’d have a lot more competitors. Imagine the posters – ‘this year’s Bishop is.....the Archbishop of Canterbury. Mind you they’d need extra paint to fill in his eyebrows. A little Robin followed us up the path for a while, but wouldn’t pose for the xmas card picture, although he wasn’t shy when it came to nibbling Craig’s nuts. So we plodded on ahead but really didn’t have any idea of what awaited us further up above the treeline, as the only view we had behind us through the trees was Skiddaw.
When I caught up with Paul he was balanced half way up a crag wondering if there was a better route, with all the snow around the way up and over was a bit
dodgy, especially if there were any icy stretches. So I wobbled off around the base of the crags to the right and went up by the fence. The only trouble was that the trees had been harvested from this slope which left the ground a tad uneven. The net result was that to bypass the crags was a struggle up through waist deep drifts and snowy holes, all mixed in with bits of random trees. But I persevered and came up onto the path proper, turned slowly and my breath was truly taken away. Down below us was a vast swathe of mist washing up the valley over Keswick and
Paul and Craig appeared from the snow below along with another couple of walkers, and we all stood and drank in the view, as well as some lucozade. The cloud below was gradually creeping north and creeping up the valley sides ever so slowly. Once we had our fill of the inversion it was time to knuckle down and plough onwards towards one last stand of pine plantation. The snow had nestled into the path about 1ft deep, which strung us out a little, but we all plodded on. Up through the trees
we made a right turn off the forest ride, following in the footsteps of our fellow fell walkers, emerging on the other side of the valley and onto the slopes of Barf. It was lovely crisp snow and I followed in Paul’s footsteps, eventually into bright sunlight – I wished I’d taken my sunglasses at this stage. The views continued to be WOW, and just got better as we got higher looking across to Skiddaw and the Helvellyn range beyond the forested slopes of Thornthwaite. The snow lay in hummocks reflecting the undergrowth, and the ridges of the Derwent Fells poked out into a sea of mist, looking like islands – a bit.
Finally up on the summit we all stood in awe of the 360degree panorama, except to the west where we could see the weather approaching. The mist continued way to the north of the lakes up into
tive of Lord’s Seat away to the west across a blanket of untouched snow. On the summit we met Neil who has the www.lakelandphotographs.co.uk site and had a good chat about Nikon v Cannon as I’m thinking of upgrading my camera, but hopefully it won’t make me any slower or I’ll have to start going out on my own again.
The path to Lord’s Seat was a long snaking mile and a half, over gentle undulations, and the only blight on the horizon was the storm clouds incoming fro
m the west. I knew we would get dumped on before the day was out, but who cares when you’ve had a morning like that. We continued to stop and stare periodically, and when Paul got a bit too happy he flopped down and made a snow angel, which turned out pretty good actually. The bigger fells of Grasmoor and Crag Hill had a cloud cap on already and the cloud base was gradually dropping the further west we walked. There were plenty of sharp icicles on the spring line – a perfect murder weapon – apparently – don’t try this at home. The snow varied from a few inches to a foot deep, with most of it being powdery – rubbish for building a snowman that’s for sure. We had a look over to Broom Fell and Graystones, two of our Wainwrights today, but time was ticking away and after his exertions yesterday Craig was struggling to keep up.
Up on the summit of Lord’s Seat the view back to Barf was grand, but with the weather closing we had to make a decision on how far we could go before running out of daylight, and were also mindful of the road conditions for the journey home. We looked wistfully over to Broom Fell and decided that we would leave it for another day, and re-planned the route to make a beeline for
Whinlatter by dropping down to Aitken, and onwards to the valley below. The walk over to Aitken was hard work and high stepping on tufty grass, with occasional deep drifts to get through, but it was worth it for the fun in going down a steep slope in the snow. It acted as a brake to your momentum so we could stride out down and across. Paul acted as a human skittle and I tried to bowl him over with a large snowball, but his footballing instincts took over and he made a dive to save it – shame I didn’t have the camera ready.
As we progressed our world turned to sepia as the clouds finally lowered themselves around the surrounding hills, so after crossing a stream we decided to have lunch before it got any worse. We stood and snacked on a forest ride with not a sound to be heard, with the gentle hint of snow in the air. I trotted up the track to see if there was an easy route up to Whinlatter beyond the trees, but there wasn’t and while I was gone Craig was honest enough to admit to being too bushed to get up to Whinlatter. He was right though and good on him, and to be fair it would have been a push getting up there and back to the start in daylight, and that coupled with the weather threatening to close in was the right decision. It was very energy sapping walking up through the snow, and we can always return again.
There was still work to be done to return through the forest, even though we were on the tracks it was a good 6 to 10” deep and powdery - a bit like walking in sand on the beach. We couldn’t even see Whinlatter after a while anyway as it started to gently snow on us – I couldn’t help but start whistling winter wonderland again. It was a picture postcard scene all around amongst the pine trees. As we ascended a group of runners came hurtling past us, treading lightly where we left heavy footprints and the collie dog with them bounding along with a big doggy grin and a lolling tongue. Once we had reached the top of the forest ride it was pretty much all the way downhill to Comb Beck and then back through
It was an uneventful walk back down through the woods, and we walked through ‘Go Ape’ – an activity centre full of aerial walkways, wirelines, scramble nets etc. It all looks fun but not in this weather. We wound our way down to the lanes of Thornthwaite in the gathering dusk of a truly memorable day. We retraced our steps across the fields to the cars, and a thankfully clear of snow road. Time to go home and reflect on another years walking, but not before I ate a frozen turkey sandwich – brilliant when you’re hungry. Walking in a winter wonderland....all together now....