Walking the Wainwrights in 30 Walks - Walk 1 A Greenburn Skyline

16th January 2016

I had ambitions to start the Wainwrights project with a tour of Blencathra and the Caldbeck Fells making the use of every available daylight hour but due to the snow arriving in Lakeland this week that particular walk will be put on hold but not to worry, alongside this route I have planned a handful of project walks to coincide with shorter daylight hours, although I do admit, on a walk that should have taken me six hours today, due to wading through thigh high snow this walk took me close to seven and a half.

Todays route of the Greenburn Horseshoe is no different to what would be considered to be the normal route with the exception that todays walk 'would have' included High Raise which was switched in favour of Sergeant Man due to conditions.

It's been exactly three years since I was last on these fells which meant that anticipation was high and despite it being second choice, I couldn't have picked a finer walk to kick start Walking the Wainwrights in 30 walks by.

This is walk one, A Greenburn Skyline.

Wainwright Guide Book Three
The Central Fells

-Helm Crag

Helm Crag may well be the best know of all Lakeland fells, and possibly even the best know hill in the country. Generations of wagonette and motor coach tourist have been tutored to recognise its appearance in the Grasmere landscape; it is the only feature of their Lakeland tour they hail at sight, and in unison, but the cry on their lips in not "Helm Crag" but "The Lion and the Lamb" - in a variety of dialects.


Ascent: 3,150 Feet - 961 Meters
Wainwrights: 5, Helm Crag - Gibson Knott - Calf Crag - Sergeant Man - Steel Fell
Weather: Bright Start Turning Overcast With Low Visibility After Midday. Highs of 0°C Lows of -3°C
Parking: Roadside Parking A591, Outside Grasmere
Area: Central
Miles: 11.2
Walking With: On My Own
Ordnance Survey: OL4
Time Taken: 7 Hours 30 Minutes
Route: A591 - Butharlyp Howe - Easedale Road - Helm Crag - Gibson Knott - Calf Crag - Brownrigg Moss - Broadstone Head - Sergeant Man - Broadstone Head - Brownrigg Moss - Steel Fell Tarn - Steel Fell - Cotra Breast - Helm Side - Low Mill Bridge - Goody Bridge - Grasmere - A591

Map and Photo Gallery


Dawn on the A591 Just outside Grasmere -3°C 8:30am

It's been a tough old week within the Sharkey household due to my father contracting a mild form of Pneumonia which saw him spend all week in hospital, as if this wasn't bad enough on Thursday while Dad was in hospital I and my brothers were requested to take Dads beloved 16yr old Collie to the vets for one final time, from Dads Hospital bed he had given my the grim task which I didn't question, he knew her time was drawing to and end and the way he saw it, he wanted his memories of his beloved dog to be just as he remembered stating 'Paul I won't have the emotional strength to do it when they let me out' he was right, and Dads dog was given a grand send off surrounded, and held by all who loved her.

Towards the back end of the week things had started to catch up to me and I developed a throat and ear infection, this I put down to fatigue of work, hospital visits and looking after Dads dog sometimes spending the night, despite feeling under the weather my cure for this was to spend some free time in the place I love.

There was only one other car parked up at the parking spaces alongside the A591 and given the weather forecast, especially at this time of the morning I would have expected more, nevertheless I parked with ease crunching to a stop on the ice covered layby. Due to this being a winter walk I had prepared accordingly packing an ice axe and crampons in the eventuality that I might need them. I have recently come accustomed to wearing Gaiters again, something that I haven't done over the last two winters, I guess I had forgotten how well they finish off a winter kit by. Boots are laced and double knotted, then laces are tucked in between the Gaiter, I guess the last thing anyone wants is to have to tighten a wet snow covered shoe lace in two feet of snow.

With the car locked I head back in the direction of Grasmere.

Helm Crag.
There was a mix of ice and snow underfoot even at valley level which saw me walking along the middle lane of the A591. As I was doing this the sunrise was breaching just above Heron Pike and Nab Scar leaving a pink afterglow over the summit of Helm Crag having already cast first light over the Blea Crag ridge in the distance.

The snow covered fell.

I had soon left the A591 and was heading into Grasmere taking a right at Pye Lane which had a covering of both ice and snow. Cars that had been parked up all night and indeed for days looked froze solid as surrounding chimneys puffed out wood smoke, the tips of my fingers despite wearing gloves are starting to feel the chill as I pass an elderly couple kitting up behind their car who smile and say 'morning, looks great doesn't it!' Just perfect I smile back.

Instead of continuing through to Grasmere and picking up Easedale Road from Pye Lane I take a right through Butharlyp Howe, which is a wooded area that runs along side the River Rothay, here my path climbs easily over frozen ground with views of Helm Crag between the gaps in the trees which is still lit up in a morning afterglow, soon after I emerge on Easedale Road at a wooden gate, pausing to take this photo.

Easedale Road on route to Goody Bridge.

It's only a short walk to Goody Bridge made a little precarious this morning by the ice and snow underfoot. Goody Bridge is soon reached as I pass a woman dressed for a day out on the fells 'mornings' are exchanged as I head out along the lane towards Lancrigg with views of a snow covered Tarn Crag at the head of Easedale, but strangely, I can't hear Sourmilk Gill like I would have expected.

At the far end of Easedale Road I head right passing a large cottage before picking up a stone path where I startle half a dozen sheep dozing, thereafter the steady climb towards Helm Crag begins by way of a stone staircase.

Despite the temperature being below zero there is still quite a lot of water running from the fell side, some of which had frozen leaving the path in a semi frozen state which meant for some careful footings.

Views over lower Easedale towards Grasmere and Loughrigg Fell.
High level cloud for now, is obscuring that wonderful sunlight and it's starting to feel much colder with height gained.

Frosty views over Seat Sandal, Great Tongue, Fairfield and Great Rigg.
The sound of traffic along the A591 would never be out of ear shot when climbing towards the summit of Helm Crag, but not today which I found a little sad, still the views weren't too bad...no movement was spotted along the summits or ridges for now.

Grasmere and Loughrigg Fell taken just below the summit of Helm Crag.
A mix of ice, running water and snow layers the path, with ease I climb steadily until snow covered ground takes over, here the snow is light and powdery and causes no issues with little depth to contend with making the ascent a real pleasure.

Looking across the Easedale valley towards Blea Rigg, Pavey Ark and Harrison Stickle.

Further south we can see the Coniston Fells.
With not much contrast between summit and sky at the moment.

The Lion and The Lamb.
I top out at the summit Plateau instantly greeted by the Lion and The Lamb, the snow underfoot is much deeper either sides of the path which many people before me have stuck too creating a pleasant track towards The Howitzer, for now however I have a roam about the summit each time treading off path through thick snow so I can take in the great views over Dunmail Raise below.

Commanding views over Steel Fell, Dunmail Raise, Seat Sandal, Dollywagon Pike, Nethermost Pike, Middle Tongue, Whelp Side, Helvellyn and the Browncove Ridge.
There seems to some dramatics in those clouds overhead, what great timing.

The Howitzer.
Along side Pillar one of Lakelands most famous rocks.

Steel Fell with the Helvellyn ridge beyond.
Steel Fell is my fifth and final fell of todays walk, despite looking so close at the moment by the time I reach its summit some six hours later I'll have walked through some of the deepest snow I've encountered, lets hope the bar is still open when I get there!

Descending Helm Crag for the Calf Crag ridge.
Descent was done more rapidly than usual as the powdered snow provided cushioning which allowed me to switch descent from side to side and at times allowed controlled slides, it was rather good fun and I was down on the ridge within no time at all.

Helm Crag complete with sun dog from Bracken Hause.

Much like conditions on the summit of Helm Crag a path way had been cleared by previous walkers through the snow, but unlike the summit of Helm Crag here, the snow besides the path was upto a foot in depth, even so, should I stray off path at any point this wouldn't be a worry due to how powdery and fresh the snow is.

Any boggy areas notorious to the area had frozen over leaving a reassuring crunch as I pass over, the snow for now is maintaining a steady depth but I have a feeling this won't be the case much longer...

Striking out towards Gibson Knott.
I didn't need to wait long until the sun came out illuminating the snow covered fells in a brilliant white, could winter walking get any better than this? I think not!

Distant views over Tarn Crag (Easedale) Pavey Ark and Harrison Stickle.
If you look in the bottom left corner you can make out Easedale Tarn, which I would have expected to be frozen...

Outstanding views over Seat Sandal, Great Rigg and Fairfield.

Magical Seat Sandal, Dollywagon Pike, Birk Side, Nethermost Pike and Helvellyn.
I guess we have all had our own wet weather walks as of late, but to grab a day like today in these conditions was worth every drenching, it's so glorious I am almost left speechless.

Steel Fell and Cotra Breast under brilliant winter sun.
From the summit of Helm Crag I had been tracking four walkers ascending Cotra Breast, their progress it would seem hampered by deep snow, I can't blame them one bit for taking time out on the knoll of rock seen on the lower slope of Cotra Breast, their views can only match my own, I guess I would have stopped too.

Gibson Knott summit.

I arrived on the summit of Gibson Knott after negotiating various craggy outcrops some of which their paths had been completely covered by snow. Walkers before me had opted to flank the outcrops but the adventurous side in me came out as I blazed a trail over their tops, it was great fun and before I knew it the summit cairn came into view.

Looking back I now realised that I wasn't alone as behind me two fell runners are approaching although as I was yet to find out, their progress was slow because of the depth of snow and the route they had chosen, beyond the fell runners I could also spot two walkers who had just ascended the ridge from Bracken Hause, but the most surprising thing is the three walkers up ahead of me, where did they come from?

Looking into Far Easedale with Tarn Crag (Easedale) Broadstone Head and Calf Crag seen at the end of the ridge.

Despite knowing that I had to ascend Broadstone Head in order to reach High Raise I had kinda put it to the back of my mind just how deep the drifts across Brownrigg Moss might be, I knew it would be a tough ordeal, but how tough, well, I won't know that until I get there.

More on that soon.

Steel Fell surprise view.

Steeling the show.

Calf Crag is seen beyond the peak of Pike of Cars.

I had let the three walkers gain some ground on me whilst I made some gear adjustments, you may be able to spot their figures in the centre of the photo as they head for Pike of Cars, I'm quite liking the trio as they provide the same route choices through the deeper snow that I would use myself, I make a mental note to thank them should I catch up to them.

Good chaps.

However, they are hampered slightly when they choose an ascent on Pike of Cars were instead, I opt for high ground to the right as we top the summit shoulder roughly at the same time, but they are always that one step ahead.

Behind me the fell runners are gaining ground but appear to have gone too wide finding themselves on an island outcrop surrounded by deep drifts, they spot me and start to follow my footprints which by no means is always the best route, the only route of ascent at times was unavoidable deep snow drift, nonetheless, we are all about to reach the summit together.

Here, pausing to look back on Gibson Knott and further along the ridge, Helm Crag with the Easedale valley falling away to the right.

Calf Crag.
As if by magic, a solo walker appears at the summit post of Calf Crag.

Trail blazers, close to the summit now.

Calf Crag summit cairn.

By the time I reached Calf Crag summit I find the trio stood talking, I smile and pass on my morning but fail to thank them because they are deep in conversation, a quick check behind me confirms the fell runners are only yards away. With the arrival of the fell runners the trio head out towards Brownrigg Moss which confirms it would seem they too are making an ascent on Broadstone Head.

In the buddy pocket of my pack is a Snickers Bar waiting to be eaten, or at leasy half so without haste I deshoulder and snap the Snicker Bar in two leaving one half for later, the fell runners are now at the summit as we pass comment on each others routes 'where you heading they ask?' hopefully High Raise then back down to Steel Fell, ahh nice...we had plans to head to Great End but it's just so hard going with the depth of the snow we'll just head out for High Raise ourselves and see what happens from there.

Good choice I reply.

Any chance you could take our photo? Yeah no problem although this involves me taking off a nice warm glove, with a couple of pictures taken on the guys camera phone they ask would I like a photo...nahh I'm good thanks.

They strike out as I finish off my Snickers Bar soon overtaking the trio of walkers who had just left the summit, well, guess I should be leaving too.

Views over Broadstone Head, Ash Crags and Birks.

Despite how inviting Broadstone Head looks it was here I stopped to survey the best ascent by, a path navigates through the lower crags keeping right before following an ascent up alongside Mere Beck seen in the centre of the photo below Ash Crags. It was quite difficult to determine how deep I might find the snow, my only niggling worry is, if it is as deep as it looks, then time is going to start slipping away and time, isn't something that I have to play with.

Passing Brownrigg Moss.

Hard work crossing Brownrigg Moss.

It was only a matter of minutes since leaving Calf Crag did I find myself in thigh high snow whilst crossing the outer edge of Brownrigg Moss, here as my walking pole demonstrates the snow depth is well up to my walking pole handles, in english...thats about three feet deep.

Thankfully however the trio of walkers who I had been following are up ahead, and it would seem that they have broken up into three as they take turns cutting through the snow, up ahead and at the head of the pack I spot the first walker where it would seem he is starting to make his ascent much quicker than his fellow walkers, the reason for this is that he has cleared the worst of snow as I can clearly make out his boots.

This is a good sign, but also a little deceiving as alarm bells start to ring at the back of my mind.

Splendid views back along the Calf Crag ridge.
But the views during my frequent rest stops always made up for the hard work.

Ascent on Broadstone Head.
Having navigated around the lower crags through thigh high snow I too started to climb, here the snow was still powdery and around knee high in length as rest stops started to get more frequent, which meant time was being added on to what was becoming an already tight schedule.

Sergeant Man and Pavey Ark.

In the back of my mind I could see that the light was fading but I was so focused on reaching the top of Broadstone Head by the time I got there the mornings blue skies felt like a distant memory. The trio of walkers who I had been following had stopped to rest around half way up Broadstone Head to eat lunch, it was here I finally get to thank them as they smile and joke, your turn now!

I plow on at a point when really I too needed to rest but I choose to only do this when my next summit is reached. From the top of Broadstone Head two walkers appear wearing bright blue jackets which has a startling contrast against the murk of a stone white background, we don't speak just wave our right hands semi high just to say Hi and that we are ok...

I look NW towards High Raise but all I see are drifts and two steel fence poles that disappear into a void of grey and white, my legs need rest and I'm lacking in energy, I need to refuel.

From my position High Raise is eight hundred yards away, Sergeant Man is less than two hundred...I think back to the Central Fells on which I have carefully planned routes to each summit....it's no hardship to switch High Raise for Sergeant Man, especially when your against the clock.

It starts to snow.

Pavey Ark from the summit of Sergeant Man.

A group of four walkers had occupied the summit and were still there as I arrived, only a couple of them turn around to greet me as I deshoulder leaving my pack against a snow covered rock clearing the snow off another as I ease myself down in what felt like my favourite arm chair, my knees are raised due to the amount of snow below my feet as I scatter the snow with my boots, now my dining table is ready.

Cold chicken flavored rice high in energy is on the menu but I dream of something hot to drink, right at this moment I think back to the early eighties when a cup of oxo bought from the stands Springfield Park on a bleak Tuesday night fixture provided my hands and body with all the heat I would need, but it was just a dream as I tuck in to my cold rice thinking...

Time is ticking by while your sat here.

I leave half of the rice for later and instead, tuck into a semi frozen Snickers Bar whilst packing my gear away, in my pack I spot my snow goggles which I wrap over my beanie, reshouldered I say 'see yah guys' who are still eating their own lunches in silence before making my way back towards the top of Broadstone Head.

I have to admit, the views were grim and visibility was decreasing with every minute that passed, I soon pick up my footprints but not the trio of walkers that I had left behind, in fact, I hadn't seen them since leaving them whilst they ate their lunches around half way up ealier, perhaps they turned back I wasn't sure, but they hadn't passed me.

The descent of Broadstone Head was done much quicker as much like the descent from Helm Crag where drifts provided support I was able to leap and slide down part of the path, soon Brownrigg Moss through the murk appears as does as vague outline of Calf Crag. Two walkers are spotted making an ascent towards me as I look down at my watch, there is close to three hours of light left as a feeling of concern dawns over me, I go through my route using my fingers as the hour hand and I'm assured I will be ok...but for anyone making an ascent now? I'm not so sure.

Through the murk and crags I lose sight of the walkers half expecting to see them next closer this time but this never happens, they must have turned around and I breathe a sigh of relief. I bottom out on Brownrigg Moss and in good stead I wade through the thigh high snow, it's still soft and powdery as it would seem eating lunch has left me feeling back up to full strength, if only I had the views of just a few hours ago.

I plough on passing Calf Crag Tarn where despite there being less snow, it is also less stable and hard going. Two steel fence posts confirm the path which will lead me towards Steel Fell Tarn and I'm thankful for sighting them through the gloom, a couple appear who ask how deep is the snow along the Calf Crag ridge 'its easy going I reply' there's some deep snow back there the guy replies.

I mutter it can't be as deep as what I've already been through, we laugh and go our separate ways.

Passing Steel Fell Tarn in ever decreasing visibility

Steel Fell summit cairn.

The couple who I had met close to Calf Crag Tarn had mentioned that there were four lads up ahead, but I couldn't see them due to low visibility, the fellow was right, there was still some deep drifts to contend with but they were few and sparse and before I knew it, I happened across the summit cairn confirmed by the steel fence post on which is stands.

The roar of a motorbike engine broke the silence over the wind, it could be heard as far way as the A66 as it brings the last few hours back to reality when all that was left for me was to drop below the cloud and drizzle spotting the porch lights of nearby cottages and the lights of a distant Grasmere. Just as my walk began I can smell the wood smoke as it rises from the chimney pots as I pass through Helmside and Thorny How bringing the first walk of my campaign to fitting end on an otherwise bleak winters day, few cars pass but those that do head towards The Travellers Rest and turn on to its car park, for me...I cant feel my arse its so cold and Ive got a hour and a half drive home.

Lucky buggers.


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