The Great Outdoors (UK)

Vivienne Crow avoids the Lakes’ summer crowds


ACRES AND ACRES of grass. The green seemed to stretch on endlessly. Matterdale Common and the smooth, broad ridges at the northern end of the

Helvellyn range don’t attract thrill-seekers; there are no adrenaline rushes to be had here. There is, however, something soothing about walking those acres, watching the grasses and sedges blowing backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards, in a warm summer’s breeze, caressing frayed nerves.

My partner Heleyne and I had chosen this area of the Lakes not because we were feeling stressed or anxious but because it was the height of summer, and we knew it wouldn’t be on many

holiday-makers’ radars. We set off along the Old Coach Road, an 8km track that links St John’s in the Vale with High Row near Dockray. On reaching Groove Beck, we joined a bridleway heading upstream into the heart of this verdant expanse. The green would’ve been unbroken but for the few small rock outcrops on Randerside.

The ascent was generally steady until, nearing the 857m top of Great Dodd’s massive dome, the trail abruptly swung south and steepened considerab­ly. A different gear was needed. Grass was replaced underfoot by stone, with dazzling glints of quartzite poking through. Until now, the views ahead had been largely limited to the spiny truncated spurs on Blencathra, the Skiddaw massif and, beyond that, the waters of the Solway Firth. Attaining the bald summit, though, brought an uplifting change in perspectiv­e with a sudden opening out to the south and the west. Much of Lakeland was there – Helvellyn, Bow Fell, Scafell Pike, Pillar, Dale Head, Grisedale Pike

– as well as a lot else besides – Wild Boar Fell, the Howgills, Ingleborou­gh, Pendle Hill.

We headed north along the ridge, fully expecting to be sharing the higher ground with a few summer visitors, but there was still hardly anyone around. The rocky knobble of Calfhow Pike stood out on the otherwise empty, featureles­s ridge. Behind it, Skiddaw – probably not as quiet as our fells on this clear, warm day. Clough Head (726m) is crowned by a trig pillar perched above skittery Red Screes. With the ground suddenly dropping away dramatical­ly to Threlkeld Knotts below, this was the only moment on the walk that felt in the slightest bit edgy. Savouring this, we kept to the crest of the fell as we veered north-east. Soon, we could see the shattered rocks on White Pike below. A faint trail led us to the base of this small dome before we began descending more steeply. Blencathra filled the scene ahead, its arêtes a reminder of what edginess can really be like in the Lakes.

Finally, we dropped on to the Old Coach Road. We enjoyed almost complete solitude on these closing stages of our walk – only two mountain bikers passed us. Not bad for a summer’s day in one of the UK’s busiest national parks.

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 ?? ?? Cribyn & N escarpment from Pen y Fan [Captions clockwise from top] On Matterdale Common; Trig pillar on Clough Head; White Pike
Cribyn & N escarpment from Pen y Fan [Captions clockwise from top] On Matterdale Common; Trig pillar on Clough Head; White Pike

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