My phone began to ring, and I carefully reached into my pocket to decline the call. An estate agent (I’m moving soon) with exceptionally bad timing! My other hand and feet were resting precariously on the small rocks tumbling down the steep slope about half way up Fisher’s Wife’s Rake, threatening to slide me down with them. Although in little danger of being hurt, a lot of work scrambling this far was about to be undone with one false move!
In my angst I swiped the wrong way!
“Hello is that Mr Furnish?” asked the agent cheerily, before I could close the phone and get back to the task at hand.
This was now my second time in this situation, having previously promised myself to keep away from the small loose rocks. Now they were unavoidable, and my left hand fingers deep into the dirt beneath a mound of grass were all that was holding me in place, while the next section flat enough to regain some composure was just centimetres above.
I had set out from Keswick still undecided on which walk I would do, and it was only as my bus approached Threlkeld, that I settled on a hike to Clough Head and the northern Helvellyn Range, rather than a return to Blencathra via Hall’s Fell ridge and maybe also Sharp Edge.
Still suffering a cold, and with the weather cool and windy with a chance of rain, my gut told me to leave Blencathra’s ridges for ideal conditions, even if they didn’t come on this trip with some gloomy forecasts for the week ahead.
Arriving in the village of Threlkeld, at the foot of Blencathra, at about 9:30, I took off south, crossing the A66 and following a route planned out on my GPS that would take round the back of the Threlkeld Quarry to the bottom of Fisher’s Wife’s Rake on the western flank of Clough Head, the northern terminus of the Helvellyn Range.
Reaching a locked gate it was clear I had made an error in mapping out my route. Mistaking a private track for somewhere I had access to. I diverted down slope to the old coach road to get back on course, and was pleased to find a style back up to where I had been denied entry.
The pleasure was short lived however when I came across a bull, large enough I mistook it for a horse at distance! Suddenly contemplating my choice of a red fleece, I quietly backed away, heading straight back where I had come from.
Relieved to get to safety, I soon realised the way I should have gone was up over the top of Hilltop Quarry, on a track through the open access land heading for the bottom of Fisher’s Wife’s Rake, the steep scree path where once upon a time, Mrs Fisher had hauled sledge loads of Peat dug up my her husband above!
Back on track, I was soon approaching the start of the rake by the solitary Rowan tree. The steepness of the rake made it obvious that this was going to be a tougher proposition than either Sheepbone Rake or Striding Edge, and that Fisher’s Wife was one tough lady!
I cautiously began my ascent well to the right of where I should have, seeking the big and firm rocks, but ultimately making the whole adventure that much harder!
By about half way up, Fisher’s Wife’s Rake was proving far harder than anything I had done before in the Lake District, though I did wonder how much my cold was affecting my feelings about that.
It appeared I should have been further to the left, where a grassy verge made a pavement to the road of small loose scree I was slowly attempting to climb, often at gradients right on the limit of gravity defiance!
With some mad dashing, I managed to clear my predicament and gain some momentary relief, before continuing on more cautiously towards the top. The final part of Fisher’s Wife’s Rake turned up towards the east. As I finally exited the Rake, a light rain began to fall, and I used the excuse to sit down and put on my waterproof over trousers, silently acknowledging that I was happy to be here, rather than on Sharp Edge at that moment.
As a sign of my efforts so far, bending my legs to put on the trousers gave burning cramps in both my upper legs, and as I continued up to Jim’s Sheep Fold, I wondered how much further I would be able to go while feeling this tired and unwell. But I decided I would at least continue to Clough Head’s summit for a rest before committing to an afternoon plan.
No sooner than I had dumped off my rucksack and placed my bum on Clough Head’s 726 m summit, a bloke and his kid arrived, and I got up to oblige their request to snap them a few photos by the cairn.
Good deed done, I opted for an early lunch while mulling over the map. Rather than continuing on the Helvellyn range south to White Side, including an out-and-back to Hart Side, I would cut the afternoon short after climbing the three nearby Dodds – Great Dodd, Watson’s Dodd and Stybarrow Dodd, heading down to Thirlspot from Stick’s Pass.
With sufficient energy recovered, I took off south towards the day’s revised high point of Great Dodd at 857 m. With visibility rapidly deteriorating I couldn’t see much ahead, but the clear path made the trudge a straight forward affair, with two quick detours to the top of Calfhow Pike and then Little Dodd.
Well and truly in the clouds, I was grateful to have my GPS at hand on Great Dodd’s summit. Without which I would surely have had more trouble locating the cairn and shelter, which are some feet away from each other.
With little to see, I soon pressed on. Next up was Watson’s Dodd, a kilometre to the south-west and surely one of the Lake District’s easiest ascents. From the col with Great Dodd, Watson’s Dodd was barley more than a hump on the path, scarcely deserving the recognition as a separate fell from its parent!
Still with little to view from the 789 m summit cairn, I continued, following the GPS to what would be the days final fell, and my 112th Wainwright overall – Stybarrow Dodd. With more of a proper climb this time I reached the 843 m summit, thankful it would be all down hill from here!
After a little rest I began my descent towards Stick’s Pass. Heading along the well trodden path, a thinning of the clouds finally revealed some scenery. Ahead Raise and White Side – now being left for another occasion and to my left a view of Ullswater between Sheffield Pike and Hart Side.
The weather improved with every downward step, and I even stopped to eat the remainder of my lunch in afternoon sunshine on the path back down. Instead of exiting the open access land by Stybeck Farm, I took a sharp left, continuing south for my intended finish at Thirlspot.
The footpath led over Fisherplace Gill, with a great view of the impressive waterfalls, before exiting out by Thirlspot Farm, right by the bus stopand well placed pub!
I attempted a pint during the half hour wait for a 555 bus back to Keswick, but with my cold it wasn’t going down well, and now my ears were also becoming blocked.
Some proper rest would be needed before deciding on what walks I would be doing next, and I headed back to my B&B with nothing but an early night in mind!
Time: ~8.5 Hours
Altitude: High: ~857 m/ 2812 ft
Low: ~ 80 m / 262 ft
Distance: ~ 11.5 Miles / 18.5 Km
Wainwrights: 4 – Clough Head, Great Dodd, Watson’s Dodd, Stybarrow Dodd.