Causey Pike (637m) is an imposing prow, with its mad cockscomb ridge visible from the A66 more or less once you get past Threlkeld, heading west.
From the village shop (it’s a splendid shop by the way), I head due south out of Braithwaite and leave the road where a broad track leads up to Braithwaite Lodge and the foot of Barrow. House martins skim above the pasture around the lodge and a skylark is bickering (can you bicker on your own?) over the dried bracken carpeting the foot of Barrow. I skirt around the eastern flank of the ridge; a garden warbler trills in the woodland to my left. Spring is doing its thing as summer hovers in the wings.
The path drops me back onto the road beyond the woodland, gorse filling the air with its exotic coconut perfume. As I follow the road south, I hear a soft klonk klonk above. I look up to find the raven, turning lazy circles above Barrow. Beyond and to the south, I can see a couple stationary on the side of Causey Pike.
The road takes me over an absolute shortbread tin of a stone bridge. Looking west, Stonycroft Gill winds up into the tops flanked by gorse. The couple have not moved since I first saw them. As I start to ascend, I see they have stopped where the path separates – they can either push steeply up Rowling End, past the Lone Tree of Causey Pike, or they can take the more gradual ascent that draws you up under the ridge to Sleet Hause.
They choose the former (as I already have – I like a steep ascent and a gradual descent) and I sit on a rock and drink water. I have not hydrated properly after last night’s drinks, it is really very sunny, pretty steep, and I am unfit.
I set off again up the side and then moving ’round to the prow of Rowling End. There are some short sections where I must use my hands to get over some step or other in the rock. It is altogether more pleasant than the my last excursion on this mountain. There are clumps of Sphagnum, too desiccated for my ID skills (I only recognise about 3), heather, bilberry. I pass the couple – they are older than I – is this a reverse Gandalfing? Legolasing? They step back to let me past and we exchange friendly small talk about the route. I am soon pulling past the Lone Tree of Causey Pike (unlike my last visit, it has leaves now and is definitely a rowan) and up onto the ridge.
The walk along the ridge is like an aircraft carrier deck, albeit an undulating one covered in heather. The bilberry up here is in fruit (I assume because the plants get more sunlight) though they are pink and unripe. A gentle breeze keeps the insects down as I make my way toward the summit ridge. Somewhere down in Newlands Valley, there is a cuckoo calling; ahead, I see a raven drift over the summit.
The main summit ridge looks a beast from the far end of Rowling End, but up close, it’s really not that bad. I stop for more water and some chocolate. My chocolate bar has been in the lid pocket of my rucksack and, once unwrapped, is a hot (admittedly tasty) turd.
There is a klonk immediately overhead. The raven, gliding above me, has its wings cocked back flanking its wedge shaped tail. For a shining moment, silhouetted against the bright sky, it is the head of Gungnir, Odin’s spear, dedicating the fallen to old one-eye. I’ve definitely not read too much Norse mythology, no.
I start to pick my way up the ridge, pausing frequently for breath. Some species of wood wasp lands briefly at my feet, her ovipositor a bright needle in the sun. Fun wasp fact: only female wasps (or bees or ants) can sting because the sting is a modified ovipositor. Pushing through my breathlessness, I force myself to keep going to try to build some level of fitness. The last 10 metres of so require the use of hands. Even AWS wouldn’t call this a scramble but it feels good to be using climbing wall skills (I started again in December) in the real world. At the top, I pause again for more water and to take in the view. I can see all of the Newlands and Coledale horseshoes, Great Gable, Green Gable, Helvellyn, Skiddaw, Blencathra, Haystacks and the ridge that runs along from there above Buttermere. It really is splendid.
Making my way across the nobbles toward Scar Crags, I’m climbing once more, but so gently that it’s not apparent. I have timed my walk so as to be on the summit in the hottest part of the day. Obviously, this is idiocy, but it makes my next decision for me. Rather than walking the length of the Crags and then descending through Sail Pass, I drop off the north flank of the hill before; a sheep track leads me under Scar Crags and down to High Moss, just under Outerside. On the summit there is either someone dressed entirely in red or a postbox.
The path leading due northeast here is one of my least favourite paths in the Lake District. It’s navigationally very easy, but it’s basically a trough full of rubble so if you’re an organism with ankles and/or knees, it is a misery. I take the first sheep track on the left, which loops me around the worst of the builders’ aggregate, and then I take another track running east(ish) into Barrow Door. The first time I came here, aged 16, I spent ages looking for an actual door in an actual barrow. As you may have gathered, Tolkien has cast a long shadow across my life.
Slipping between Stile End and Barrow, I start the final stage of my descent back towards Braithwaite. I Legolas (see) another older couple. They are each wearing what looks like about 4 layers. It is 23°C. They smile at me, but do not look happy. The path takes me northeast back to tarmac.
On the far side of Barrow Gill, I can see a woman cross over into sheep pasture with two dogs, neither of which are on leads. One of them, a Jack Russel, immediately starts chasing lambs. The woman is shouting at it and chasing it, but it is not interested in her. I am too far away to intervene, but if you own the first bit of pasture east of Barrow Gill and south of Barrow and your sheep have been attacked, the dog was called Muffle or Buffle or such and its owner is a light-haired woman in a pink top. If you are the owner, please keep your dogs on leads around livestock.
As I do through the gate back onto tarmac, a couple from the South West ask me if the wasps have gone. I look baffled and they point to a gorse bush behind me and explain that when they tried to go up that way, they were prevented by a cloud of wasps or bees. I can tell them only that I have been unimpeded by insects. we exchange pleasantries about the weather and then I am back at the village shop.
In my pack (a Macpac Amp 25): Rab Demand pullover, Rab Bergan pants, Klättermusen Vidblåin smock, Montane Flux belay jacket, Silva mirror-sighting compass (stupidly, I left my map in the kitchen, but I know the route and the visibility was endless0, Benchmade Presidio lock-knife, Highgear AltiTech 2 altimeter, iPhone, Veho Pebble phone-charger, half a litre of water, a Bounty (no, dark chocolate – I’m not a savage), Terra Nova 2 person emergency shelter, Black Diamond ReVolt head torch. I wore some Marmot shorts designed by Tommy Caldwell, some Clavin Klein microfibre base layer Mountain Hardwear Canyon shirt, a cap by Blurr, Julbo sunglasses and Millet Super Trident GTX boots.