Anybody who’s walked up the Pennine Way may not recognise Great Shunner Fell in its winter clothes – but they will probably have the long slog up from Hardraw imprinted in their souls, specially if it was raining when they did it.
Today’s walk is even yet more in the series of Yorkshire Dales 2000 foot tops. I’m doing the ones easiest to get to from our house at the moment. This is the theory. But as I battered along the A68 this morning I came across three cars each with their own free parking spot in the ditch. Each one had somebody stood next to it feeling a bit sorry for themselves and one had the rescue vehicle about to reveal the damage. I decided it might be best to slow down a bit, and go down by the A1 and the main road into Richmond instead of my usual Dere Street and country lanes thing. It was, apparently, quite slippery.
So I was a bit late at the Ropemakers car Park in Hawes.
Me and superdawg followed the Pennine Way up to Hardraw, where a toddler in the kissing gate first described the lubbly doggy and then pointed at me and said “Old man” – and repeated this several times until his mum was convinced. The cheeky little beggar. A hoody in the making, hanging about at strategic spots making disparaging remarks about the ever-so-slightly – more senior generation.
Unbothered by these insults (badly brought up little…!!!), we continued up the PW, having first an encounter with a white and black sheepdog who was distracted from rounding up the sheep for a breakfast of turnips, for an invitation to Bruno to have a bit of a play. I don’t believe the shepherd was over-impressed and he did some shouting and a bit of whistling and the junior collie ran off to chase some sheep.
As we climbed the South Ridge (!) of Great Shunner Fell, we came eventually to a kind of frost-zone where the grass was covered in hoar frost – and then patches of deep, hard snow – but only hard enough for a dozen or so steps on the top before the next one (at random) would let in one leg up to the knee. A bit irritating (but not as irritating as having your way blocked by an urchin whilst he shouts insults at you – but lets let that drop now and call it water under the bridge, eh?)
Two lasses appeared out of the fog and explained that they’d turned back due to losing the path and the snow higher up was getting difficult. They refused an offer of a joint expedition (probably a good move) – and I continued ever upwards, following footsteps on the snow.
Then they stopped. One set of footprints clearly had second thoughts and turned back. I’d followed the two girls’ route and was now on a blank snowy, foggy and flat moor.
So I navigated. I’ve had the dog specially magnetised for just such an emergency and if I input a grid reference into his left ear with a promise of a bit of my cheese butty in the other, he can find a footpath in a flash. And so he did. It was mainly under several feet of neve most of the time, and it was apparent that nobody had been beyond this point for a few days – but we got to the top in the end and Bruno got his reward and I got my coffee and banana on the frozen snowdrift in the summit shelter.
To vary the descent, we followed the fence which denotes the parish boundary down to the Buttertubs Road. I found that by walking near the fence the snow was hard enough for very quick progress for 80% of the time, but whenever I did plunge through, it was quite a jolt and there’d be a soft patch of, maybe 20 yards before normal progress was restored.
We reached the road which had been ploughed and gritted and had a few bits of traffic, and we followed this downhill towards Hardraw, turning off at a footpath to investigate a group of two dozen cairns of all different sizes.
And so, by lanes and short bits of footpath, we returned to Hawes, still in daylight, which is a sure sign of spring.
In better conditions with more daylight, a return by Lovely Seat is a good way back. Dogs are banned from here, though (as they are from today’s route from the summit to the road) – so my advice is to put pointy ears and long whiskers on the dog and tell the gamekeeper that its a cat. Cats are OK. But not dogs.
We did about 12 miles and 1900 feet of uphill. The weather forecast was for light rain and snow at high levels. It snowed about ten snowflakes altogether.
But how would I descibe the ascent of Great Shunner Fell?(for those who’ve never been up it and are interested)
Its easy – just a gentle uphill stroll, really. The path is normally pretty easy to follow and it can be magical on a sunny day in early summer (say June…go on, say June….) – specially if you enjoy larks, pipits and curlews. The walk over to the Buttertubs road is tussocky and rough and, normally fairly boggy.