Nab Scar, Alcock Tarn and Loughrigg Fell

13th December 2015

There was a low point over the last week when I thought I may not see Lakeland again this side of Christmas, the stomach churning decision was of course out of my hands while the good people of Cumbria begin the clean up left behind by Storm Desmond. If it wasn't the weather then the next problem was access while trying to avoid the two I came up with a handful of walks that, given a dry few hours my boots should see fell again.

It was the Saturday evening when I had to shelve my preferred 'Plan A' walk on the High Street fells due to heavy snowfall that caused disruptions around Shap, my 'Plan B' walk was a hopeful ascent on Snarker Pike from Ambleside which never materialised due to parking issues, it wasn't the fact that the car parks were full, on the contrary, it was due to the two I visited had been flood damaged and I certainly wasn't taking a chance even though all the parking meters had a some point, been semi submerged, more parking issues at Miller Bridge (limited access and awaiting bridge inspection) saw me head out to Rydal which is where this walk begins.

They say things happen for a reason, and the best days are the unplanned ones which more than suit how todays walk turned out.

Wainwright Guide Book Two
The Eastern Fells

-The Eastern Fells

Lakes and tarns are a very special feature of the delightful prospect to south and west and the grouping of the Coniston and Langdale Fells is quite attractive.

Ascent: 2,621 Feet - 799 Meters
Wainwrights: 2, Nab Scar - Loughrigg Fell
Weather: Bright to Start Turning Overcast With Some Light Rain. Highs of 3°C Lows of -2°C
Parking: Roadside Parking, Rydal Church
Area: Eastern
Miles: 8
Walking With: On My Own
Ordnance Survey: OL5
Time Taken: 5 Hours
Route: Rydal Church - Nab Scar - Allcock Tarn - Brackenfell - Rydal Coffin Route - Rydal Church - Rydal Water - Loughrigg Terrace - Loughrigg Fell - Loughrigg Caves - Rydal Hall - Rydal Church

Map and Photo Gallery


Wansfell over Ambleside Inversion 08.30 -3°C

By the time I reached Rydal the first light of morning had started to break, I parked easily close to another car whose occupants were just about ready to leave kitted out in full waterproofs, this I notice as I lace up my boots together with my gaiters that I hadn't worn for some time, even if it does stay dry as predicted, I'm guessing after all the rain I'll need some sort of protection.

Despite the temperature being below zero there is a mildness to the air which causes me to second guess on whether I should wear my hat and gloves, as I don't really like stopping so soon into walks, I decide to wear my extra layers and see how cool it is once height is gained. I hadn't really noticed until it was time to lock my car how quiet Rydal was this morning, the lack of cars travelling up and down the A591 left Rydal feeling like an empty fairground if that makes some kind of sense.

Small rocks and boulders had found their way down the lane due to the flooding causing some parking issues, unless you are willing to spend the best part of the day removing them, parking for latecomers might be a problem. With the car locked I head steeply past Rydal Mount manoeuvering through the debris field that lay strewn across the tarmac lane, it was nothing but branches, twigs and leaves that had previously blocked the drains leaving them scattered here and there, the lane here at Rydal might make the small pages in our own local newspapers at home but here I guess it was nothing compared to what is going on north of Dunmail Raise and in the flood hit villages of Cumbria.

Once past Hart Head Farm I open a wooden gate and head out onto open fell side, I had no idea of what was unfolding behind me as what I had thought was valley mist, was turning out to be a cloud inversion that hugged the roof and tree tops of Ambleside, it sure was one of those heart stopping moments.

Starting the steep climb to Nab Scar.

Ambleside tree tops.

The unfolding scenery behind me probably caused me to stop more times than I needed to which then caused the couple who I had been following to disappear and gain good ground on me close to the shoulder of the fell.

With views as good as this there certainly was no need to be rushing this morning.

Wansfell sunrise.
It would appear that the inversion had extended from Windermere and was making its way through the Rothay Valley engulfing...

...Rydal Water, seen here with a snow capped Loughrigg Fell.
At 1'000 feet I soon found myself in the snow line walking over sodden ground that had frozen which new snow had settled upon, the snow had drifted in hollows sometimes upto six inches in depth but didn't cause any particular problems along the path, all that was needed was a little extra care although, had I been continuing to Fairfield or further I would have put to good use an ice axe and a pair of spikes, or even crampons if only for reassurance such the conditions underfoot.

Ambleside mist.
The houses and tree tops of the Rothay Valley start to appear as the inversion slowly begins to lift.

Views towards the snow capped summits of Coniston Old Man, Wetherlam, Swirl How and Great Cars

Heron Pike is just ahead.

Despite trying to tell myself that on a day like today continuing to Fairfield or indeed completing the whole horseshoe simply outweighed the cons, although I knew that in the end the right thing to do was to stick to my plans and descend towards Alcock Tarn once Nab Scar summit had been reached.

It sure was a tussle between body and mind.

Morning glory from Nab Scar.

Heron Pike from Nab Scar summit cairn.

The snow had started to feel more compact underfoot once I had gained the summit shoulder, the kind of snow that doesn't leave that reassuring crunch when passed over, instead awkwardly tussling ones ankles. The stone wall which divides Nab Scar from Heron Pike is reached where, two large slabs of flat stone have been placed between the wall making the crossing easier with the exception that today the rock slabs have a coating of black ice which is chipped away with my walking pole tips, could be worse I suppose, the same set up on Kentmere Pike summit leaves you treading carefully as its rock slabs wobble. However this did not stop me crunching through the snow on the other side of the wall giving my right boot a coating of mud.

The summit of Nab Scar was soon reached and my boots were soon mud free again due to my off path excursions in order to see the views of Grasmere which looked exactly as I had remembered it, smoke billowed from wood burners as cars bumbled around the village, cars also had started to fill the laybys on the outskirts of the village and tiny walkers had started to kit up at the side of them, this looked like any other normal morning in Grasmere and showed the strength of people who like myself, hold dear to Lakeland and everything in it.

Views towards the Coniston Fells, the Crinkles, Bowfell and the Langdale Pikes seen here over Silver How and Grasmere.
It's looking much more wintery in the south of the county.

Descending towards Alcock Tarn.

Nab Scar wasn't just a summit to be gained this morning, Nab Scar felt like the crows nest from which surveys were taken, so much has happened in the last two weeks it boded well to spend just a little time absorbing my surroundings which included the fresh snow that had fallen on fells. Views south looked chilling inspirational and I wondered if anyone had managed to get onto the higher southern summits or if like me, they just needed to spend a bit of time taking it all in first.

From the summit of Nab Scar I took the narrow path below Lord Crag towards Alcock Tarn, here the snow gave way underfoot with a reassuring crunch, up ahead I can make out the outline of a figure heading towards me.

Alcock Tarn.

Alcock Tarn was soon reached but not before I had stopped to chat with a fellow walker who I later found out was a chap named Ian Bridge, it turned out we were both out on the fells 'after the floods' and just wanted to get a feel for the place, we stood there chatting for a while and found we had more things in common in how we first found our passion for fell walking as Ian also like me, needed to find a way of keeping fit after suffering football injuries.

We shared our routes then bid each other a 'good walk' Ian's route today would see him summit Nab Scar then head out towards Heron Pike and Great Rig before descending back over Stone Arthur which I thought was a great little route.

I soon found myself at a deserted Alcock Tarn and followed the prints that Ian had left behind around the outside of the Tarn, wanting to get a better view of the Tarn and my surrounding fells I decided to climb the two small grassy outcrops from where I could take in the views over Grasmere and Dunmail Raise.

Alcock Tarn reflections.

Great Rigg, Greenhead Gill and Stone Arthur.
What's the easiest way to get from Heron Pike to Stone Arthur? ...there isn't one, not unless you like out and backs...there's a little clue there for what I have planned for 2016

Grasmere with a snow capped Silver How and disant Coniston Fells.
There wasn't a stir in Grasmere which left a rather uncomfortable feeling, spotting movement every now and again left reassurance, so too did the retreating flood waters in the fields below.

Views over Helmside and the Greenburn Valley.

A closer view of Helm Crag, Greenburn and Steel Fell.

Wintery scenes looking south towards Bowfell, Harrison Stickle and Sergeant Man.

Alcock Tarn and a distant Windermere.

Not feeling in any rush I spend time taking in my surroundings often disturbed by a metallic rattle which I couldn't seem to see which direction it was coming from, it was loud which meant it had to be close yet after scouring the fell side I still could not hear where the sound which started to get more frequent, was coming from.

From my vantage point I am still overlooking Grasmere with a view on the fell side behind me, still the sound but no sight of what is causing it until I move then spot three sheep which have surrounded a metal gate perched between a stone wall.

Two sheep it would seem are accompanying the other which has somehow managed to get its head stuck in the metal gate, the poor sheep was obviously in quite alot of distress and knowing what a Fox could do should it chance upon the stricken sheep I thought I would go down and see what I could do.

Oh dear, what do we have here.

The two sheep who had stayed with the stricken sheep had wandered off as they saw me approach, I kinda got the feeling they knew I was there to help. Now, bearing in mind I am an animal lover and this kind of scene distresses me, on the other hand, am I the only fell walker who hasnt handled a sheep before? and not to mention, one as distressed as this poor thing.

Okay what do we have here, ermm you bloody daft idiot it's a sheep with its head stuck in a gate! Okay...Hello sweetheart let me have a look see if I can get you out, it was soon apparent that the sheeps head was stuck between a rock and a hard place...

Does anybody have a blow torch?

The sheep had no problem letting me handle her, her poor head was twisted into the gate framework at a forty five degree angle and was obviously causing her alot of distress due to how she had to twist her neck, it looked painful. By this time the gate was still closed limiting my access, the only thing I could do was open the gate and try to get a better hold of things.

Which was a bad move.

The sheep thought it had been freed and bolted quickly jamming her right horn further into the metal work, if only I could free this I could then push the head through freeing the left horn that had wrapped itself over the upper frame. Dear god, this is going to be difficult.

For anyone who hasn't handled a sheep it's kind of like trying to pick up a keg of beer with four legs, a head and a tail, THEY ARE HEAVY! the poor mite was in further distress and all I could do was talk while trying to free the right horn with my fist.

((((Twang - Twang - Twang)))) went the metal work, I might as well have been hitting a brick wall with my fist, I take a look around to see if there is anything harder than my fist, a rock, a log anything! but nothing was close by...I could have left the sheep but when I tried she just jerked and jolted causing further distress so I decided to stay with it and carry on punching the horn with the inside of my fist until TWANG!! and she was free..

Now that I had freed the right horn all that I had to do was to manhandle her pushing her further through the gate so her left horn 'righted' phew!! now sweetheart all I need you to do is back up.

There she goes.
She backed up and jolted free, I was at this point exhausted but elated.

You have got to be kidding!

I had only turned my back to collect my walking poles when I heard a 'crunch' then a 'crack' she had now fallen through the ice and was too exhausted and distressed to do anything about it, the poor thing just sat there looking at me.

For how funny this was turning out to be I simply couldn't turn my back on her, my only trouble was how do I get her out now?

I walk over, her eyes follow mine until I reach the waters edge, I take out my walking pole and measure how deep the water is which turns out to be around knee high even around the edges, she struggles but it would seem that her back legs are stuck, her front legs crash over the ice cracking it in doing so leaving her with no purchase whatsoever.


At last a hold.

She manages to free one front leg as I wade in, without physically picking her up which would be impossible how would I drag her out? I do a small test grabbing just one horn then test her reaction, her head moves less than one inch, her body, much less, and that was with my strongest right arm.

Bloody things stuck fast I mutter.

Right, theres no farting about now your coming out, I wade back in remembering my training as a St Johns Ambulance Member when in training (and in real life on once occasion) I have had to lift an unconcious casualty from the ground) Okay miss your coming with me I say, grabbing both horns and fearing at the same time I was about to tear her head off I pull with all my strength, this seemed to not add any further stress so I just keep pulling and pulling until her back legs moved a little forward, come on girl! come on girl I shouted you can do it!

"Er thanks for that Paul see you next time"

Once her back legs started to move she smashed the ice with her front legs before one huge jolt which saw her standing on the waters edge, she looked exhausted, she wasn't the only one.

For my kind efforts she had decided to 'shake' the water off her right next to where I had left my gear, my walking pole handles were caked in mud which I had to wash in the icy water, along with giving my hands a good swill at the same time.

Half an hour had passed and in that half hour I had almost exhausted myself, then froze my hands and not to mention how filthy my new Rab jacket looked, yet after all that, the feeling that I had helped this poor sheep was enough to put a smile on my face for the rest of the day.

Seriously though...she does owe me a pint.


Descending towards the Coffin Route above Brackenfell with views of Grasmere and the Coniston Fells.

I retrace my steps along side Alcock Tarn easing my cold hands into my gloves, during my time trying to free the sheep I hadn't noticed that the sun had gone in leaving the skies an overcast grey, with this the temperature had also dropped as I started my descent through Brackenfell before picking up the Coffin Route towards Rydal.

The ground underfoot was trickier than it was in ascent, made more so as the snow held over the top of frozen ground leaving a 'cracking' sound rather than a reassuring crunching one, descent took time and care but I was within the treeline soon enough where the ground although covered in snow had a mix of mud leaving some slippery moments to say the least. The bones in my back ache and I'm not sure if it's due to what had happened back at Alcock Tarn or the numerous jolts it was taking while sliding over mud and snow or just a mix of both.

Helm Crag.

By the time I had reached Brackenfell I had left the snow behind, here evidence of the recent floods was everywhere you looked from deep gorges that had been cut through the paths or something as simple as noticing exposed tree roots, even in woodland everything has its place, here sadly the scattered remains of branches and logs that had fallen or had been felled lay along sections of the path, but I am quite confident that after a little help from mother nature, woodland such as Brackenfell will soon return to its natural glory.

Whitemoss Common Tarn.
Found along the Rydal Coffin Route.

Views towards Loughrigg Fell from the Rydal Coffin Route.
It was while I walked back to Rydal along the Coffin Route did I start to see more walkers heading towards Loughrigg Tarn which was great to see people enjoying Lakeland after the recent storms. A settling calm had descended over the Coffin Route, temperatures rose bringing with it a mist that hung around the tree tops and lower slopes of Loughrigg Fell.

There's some ten pences in there!

Rydal Cottages.

It's been some time since I had walked the Coffin Route which in actual fact brought back some personal memories before my Mum had passed away.

These were good times and brought back some great memories.

Rydal was soon reached and the Tea Rooms looked busy which was great to see. My plan now is to first (walk past my car) then head right crossing the A591 then the River Rothay at the Badger Bar.

St Marys Church, Rydal.

St Marys Church, Rydal.
Not before passing through the ground of St Marys.

Crossing the footbridge over the River Rothay.
It's plain to see that the River is flowing in spate and the huge rocks that I can see below the waters surface used to be above it, I suspect that again, the water level will return to normal in its own due course.

Silver How reflections.

Dunmail Raise.
After crossing the River Rothay I round myself at Rydal Water, a young couple stand at the foot of the lake with a tripod and camera I suspect trying to capture the calm after the storm.

Snow capped Langdale Pikes.

Dunmail Raise from Loughrigg Fell.

Traces of drift wood were evident more so close to Rydal Water as I take in the lake path, incredibly some of the debris lie fifty feet from the waters edge, it is incredible to think that where my feet are now, last week were under feet of swollen lake. Instead of continuing along the lake edge I opt to climb higher in line with Loughrigg Terrace, this a path that I hadn't used for some time.

It is here more and more walkers are passed, some families just out with their dogs or walkers whom like me, are getting their feet back into Lakeland, nods and smiles are passed, dogs bark loudly and the smell of wood smoke drifts over the lake from the direction of Grasmere village.

Its great to be back.

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