Wainwright Walk 15 – Birkhouse Moor and Red Tarn

You may remember from my first Wainwright walk post, Cold Pike and Pike o’Blisco, we used to get around the Lakes in Old Peg, our brilliant old campervan.  We’ve missed having a van so last year, after much scrolling through eBay, we bought Tormund the Transit.  And our first trip (after the back garden) – the Lake District.  Travelling up on Friday night, we stayed at Sykeside Camping Park and after tea in the pub and a wander down the lane at the back of the site, we settled in for the night.

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We were to be in the Lakes for the whole weekend, with our first day spent walking another Wainwright fell.  In the area around Ullswater, you are spoiled for walking choices, but we opted for Birkhouse Moor.  At 2,318 feet and between seven and eight miles, it would be the highest and furthest Rowan had adventured so far but as we all fancied climbing Goat Fell on our summer holiday, we thought it would be good practice and give us an idea whether Arran’s highest mountain could be achievable later in the year.

Our walk started in Glenridding, so we parked in village main car park, postcode CA11 0PD, called at the toilets then set off, heading down a lane running alongside Glenridding Beck.  I had planned to take us to Lanty’s tarn, so we followed a couple of fingerposts to find a pitched path leading us up through the trees.  As we climbed, breaks in the trees afforded us snatched views across Ullswater where we spotted one of the islands me and Rick had rowed out too on one of our first visits to the Lakes.

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Passing through a gate, we came out of the trees, where we should have turned left to head up to Lanty’s tarn.  However, along the footpath on to our right, in fields indigo with bluebells, we spotted some familiar faces.   Volunteers from Fix the Fells were out doing a great job making repairs to the paths and drains so we changed our plan to say hello – and it was brilliant to catch up with them.  You can find out a bit more about the work they do here.

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IMG_5130After our chat we continued on, passing shark fin boulders wedged in the ground, the craggy slopes of our target coming into view.  Our change of direction had thrown me a bit and I began to have a crisis of confidence on my navigation skills.  Again.  Out came the map and compass complete with a magnifying glass to help me work out, from the many details on the map, where we were and where we needed to go to get back on track to Birkhouse Moor.  Much flapping ensued but eventually, I got my act together and worked out the new route, the whole process being much easier than I had made it seem.  So crossing a little stream then continuing alongside a drystone wall, we ambled across the fellside, knowing that at some point soon, this gentle path would start to climb.

It was a warm and sunny day, and as we reached Mires Beck, Rowan needed a bit of a rest, sitting down by the stream before we started the climb.  But it seemed he didn’t sit for long enough.  After just ten minutes of walking up the stone steps, it was all too much and this time, a lie down was required.

It was clear the boy was flagging.  Given we were only just over a mile into our walk, we asked Rowan whether he wanted to continue, showing him where we still had to go and explaining that there were a lot of miles to do if we were to continue to the summit.  While he pondered, we took in the view behind us – Glenridding Dodd and the Far Eastern Fells framing Ullswater.  The boy assured us he wanted to continue.

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We were climbing again, the pitched path snaking its way to the skyline, but another ten minutes later, we were a man down!  Rowan’s little legs were struggling, but he wanted to carry on.

At the time of this walk, I was in training for the Lakeland Trails 23k.  We decided I would take his rucksack and see how we got on as we climbed a little higher.  All good training for me, and I felt like a mighty beast as we set off, Rowan now free of any extra weight, skipping off up the path like a mountain goat.

Our current track would meet the original plan at a wall where we would turn right for the final steep section leading to the grassy plateau of Birkhouse Moor.  As we approached, we noticed the path becoming busier – lots of people were taking advantage of the nice weather and heading over Striding Edge to Helvellyn.  Our tummies were telling us that a bit of food was in order before tackling the last section so, finding a suitable rock, we ate our dinner whilst admiring the views under the ever-watchful eyes of scrounging spaniels.

 

Once we set off after dinner, Rowan was back to his usual self, climbing every bit of rock he could find and clambering upwards barely getting out of breath.  Looking ahead, me and Rick guessed at how long it would take us it reach the top, Rick opting for an hour, where I went for a more optimistic twenty minutes.

Thirty minutes later (go me) we’d reached a wide gravel path.  To our left was the magnificent triangular peak of Catstyecam.  I’ve read that this brilliant name comes from Old Norse meaning ridge with wild cat’s path – definitely one to tell Rowan about when we tackle the fell, especially given how excited he was about potential ferocious felines when we climbed Cat Bells.

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To reach Birkhouse Moor, however, we needed to turn right.  Pretty soon we found ourselves alongside a cairn marking the termination of the spur and one of two tops mentioned in the Wainwright guide.  Reading the chapter dedicated Birkhouse Moor, I got the impression that Alfred Wainwright wasn’t overly enamoured with this summit, stating that it was “generally without interest”, and though I do see what he means, I quite liked it.  Maybe it was because we were heading in the opposite way to the masses heading over the airy ridge walk of Striding Edge and therefore had the top to ourselves, free to admire the views, take photos and watch the world go by that did it – but it was a good top for me.

It was a bit breezy as we strolled back along the path we from which we had come.  We kept a dry stone wall on our left as we head over to the cairn marking the high point of the moor, passing some pretty little tarns as we went.  The corrie housing Red Tarn was clearly visible behind us and vague memories of arêtes, steep back walls and frost shattering flooded back from Geography lessons.  I loved all that – might have to do a bit of revision.

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Given Rowan’s earlier tiredness, we thought it best to give him a choice when we reached the Hole in the Wall.  We could return a similar way, taking in Lanty’s Tarn, or we could take the longer trail passing by Red Tarn.  It turned out that the great amphitheatre sitting under the summit of Helvellyn and its ridges, Striding Edge and Swirral Edge was too much of a lure, and we carried on along the stony path towards the foreboding cliffs and Red Tarn.  Rowan had found his walking legs.

 

The flattish walk soon led to a stream, with Red Tarn nestling in behind.

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Sunlight glinted off the clear water as we sat down to soak the atmosphere at this glacial lake.  It is a stunning spot – so peaceful and serene.  Above us, we could make out people still traversing Striding Edge, and while the peak of Catstyecam looked temptingly close, I kept the thought to myself.  Best left for another day.  We sat and had a little more to eat while the dogs rested their weary paws lying in the long grass being warmed by the sun.

With faces filled, it was time to head back down the clear path to Glenridding.  There was plenty of daylight left and we were able to take it easy, plodding down the path following the course of Red Tarn Beck.  Convenient boulders along the way made for perfect rest stops when tired legs demanded.  At one point, I could hear Rowan gleefully telling me he was putting out a fire.  That’ll be a standing up wild wee mastered.

We were having a great time.  Rowan was doing brilliantly, especially considering his shaky start.  And despite the boy taking a tumble, Rick’s bad knees and my double rucksack we were all in good spirits, enjoying a brilliant day out in the fells.

The path meandered down to a series of footbridges where Red Tarn Beck joined Glenridding Beck.  Upon reaching them, we had a magnificent view up the valley where we could make out the path we descended on our Dollywagon Pike to White Side walk.

Further along the narrow, stony path, we had the choice to cross a footbridge to the opposite side of Glenridding Beck.  This probably would have been the best option as Rick’s old man/motorbike spill knees were now really starting play up and the track past the youth hostel was tarmac, therefore easier going.  We didn’t realise until we had gone past so I took the dogs and Rick soldiered on without having to worry about the furry pair dragging him over.  And it was nice to explore new paths.

 

We skirted around the base of Birkhouse Moor following the wall on our left.  Ahead we could see a beautiful mixed woodland but we turned left towards Gillside Campsite and the car park in the village before reaching the cover of the trees.

 

This had been a great day out.  We walked just over seven miles (though my Garmin said I’d covered eight miles), and climbed 2600 feet.  If you like the look of this walk, you can find the route here.

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