Into the great wide open, Fairfield from Dunmail Raise

30th October 2016

It was touch and go whether I would make it to Lakeland with a mix of work and a low confidence forecast due to poor visibility caused by fog which wouldn't clear well into the afternoon. The upside to this was the forecast did also mention that due to an area of high pressure over the county 'inversion conditions' could be created.

Despite the forecast mentioning the possibility of cloud inversions by 9:00pm Saturday evening I had talked myself into not making the trip to Lakeland, instead I would catch up with some website stuff but I set my alarm anyway for 06:30am just in case the forecast changed or I had a sudden change of heart.

06:30am came along the extra hour in bed which saw me check the forecast once more which was exactly the same as the previous evening. Mmmm what to do..."You'll only end up regretting it if you don't go" said the wife, I know but...I just didn't have the energy, I was feeling sleepy tired and to be honest, a lie in looked more appetising but I threw on my walking trousers anyway because Paula was right, come 11:00am I'll be sulking like a two year old.

I had packed my pack 'just in case' the previous evening and by 07:00am I was on my way to Dunmail Raise on a walk that I had hand picked from a dozen or so routes that I have planned to take me up to Christmas, talking about Christmas, while stood on Fairfield today, I thought all mine had come at once.

Wainwright Guide Book Six
The Eastern Fells

-The ridge route "One of the easiest miles in Lakeland"

Leave the summit at the shelter and proceed due south. There is no path at first, but the objective is clear ahead. The springy turf induces giant stride. Safe in mist,

Ascent: 3,404 - 1,038 Meters
Wainwrights: 4, Seat Sandal - Fairfield - Great Rigg - Stone Arthur
Weather: Mild & Overcast With Fog Below 2,700ft. Cloud Inversion Above 2,700ft Highs of 12°C Lows of 13°C Feels Like 8°C
Parking: Roadside Parking, Raise Cottage, Dunmail Raise
Area: Eastern
Miles: 8.3
Walking With: On My Own
Ordnance Survey: OL5
Time Taken: 4 Hours 45 Minutes
Route: Dunmail Raise - Seat Sandal - Grisdale Tarn - Grisdale Hause - Fairfield - Great Rigg - Stone Arthur - Greenhead Gill - Michael's Nook - A591 - Dunmail Raise

Map and Photo Gallery


Dunmail Raise 09:20am 12°C

The journey north was slightly busier that what I was used too but at least it was done in daylight due to the clocks going back just hours earlier. After passing through a set of temporary traffic lights along the A591 at the junction with Grasmere I started to climb towards Dunmail Raise from where todays walk starts all the while the only thought that occupied my mind was that I was going to have to walk this section of road later after forgetting just how far, and how steep it actually feels but I soon bury the thought upon arrival at the parking spaces next to Raise Cottage.

There is already a few cars parked up but I manage to park with ease next to the 'AA Dunmail Raise Telephone Box' a structure that I had only seen in passing. The morning air feels incredibly mild with no wind to stir here at valley level although I suspect all that will change once on the summits. I probably could have done with my Gaiters today, a thought which had occurred to me during the drive up but I leave them behind as I cast my mind back over an almost dry week here in Lakeland. With the car locked I strike out towards the top of Dunmail Raise not before crossing a wooden sty which lead me onto open fell side which avoided any road walking as I figure, there'll be plenty of time for that later. After crossing the sty I follow a grassy path singular in track which leads towards Raise Beck now flanked by the broad western slopes of Dollywagon Pike also known as Willie Wife Moor together with Seat Sandal north west ridge also known as steep, very steep.

I get a glance of the path up ahead which is always re-assuring as it traces steeply through the dying Bracken at a point when my only hope was that my lungs, and indeed legs were in good fettle this morning.

Fog approacing from the direction of Grasmere.
The fog/mist appeared as low as what the forecasters had predicted and to be fair, I was feeling quite lucky at this point because I hadn't expected to see any views whatsoever.

Advancing on Seat Sandal North West ridge.

Minutes eailer I had arrived at a fork in the path, left here would see you gain Grisedale Tarn via Raise Beck or right, Seat Sandal via its north west ridge, I head right. The path steepens almost instantly and ascent isn't made any easier by the mud underfoot which is mostly unavoidable but I persevere non the less. It takes some considerable time for the sound of the traffic travelling along the A591 to ease away but ease away it does as I pick my way steadily soon accompanied briefly by the sound of Raise Beck.

Sweat is now pouring from my forehead which trickles down my face, this just isn't right for October surely, but I'm not complaining as I wipe the sweat away with a swipe from my sleeve. From the path I now find myself adjacent to Willie Wife Moor where I spot two sheep grazing who almost look within touching distance had it not been for the chasm that Raise Beck creates. Up ahead the path eases as I work my way into the fog which is now looking more substantial than that of ten minutes earlier and I wonder if these are the last views I'm going to see.

A rather murky view of Thirlmere with Ullscarf on the horizon.

Seat Sandal summit cairn.

It wasn't long before the fog had crept down the fell side which then merged with the fog in the valleys and before I knew it my views in every direction were reduced to around thirty meters and with it, fell silence. Long gone was the sound of any traffic just the slightest of winds which caused my nose to weep. Sheep grazed and watch me pass from afar as I crest the broad grassy summit shoulder over a succession of false summits until the west cairn appeared through the clag which could easily be confused with the main summit cairn which is found another two hundred feet away due east.

I wasn't surprised to find myself alone at the summit which receives a tap from my walking pole, a glance towards the summit shelter causes me to flash back to summer where I sat to rest during this summers Wainwright Challenge but it looks completely different in the clag, but still a great flash back all the same.

Next, I strike out north towards the familiar stone wall which soon appears through the mist from where I will begin my descent towards the top of Raise Beck.

Descending Seat Sandal via the Stone Wall.
I hadn't given much thought which way I was going to descend by until the decision was actually upon me, given todays conditions and how slippery the rocky descent above Grisedale Hause would be I decided to descend via the stone wall instead which should at least let me cast an eye over Grisedale Tarn, that's if the fog hasn't devoured that too.

Grisedale Tarn.

I was in luck, as you can see the fog lay just above the waters surface and I, and my eyes felt thankful for my view. Minutes earlier I had passed a solo walker in ascent who slowly ascended by the stone wall, we stop for a brief chat and comment about the steepness of our routes in both directions before turning the topic of conversation to the conditions which left only one comment "A fine day for it" before departing our separate ways.

Close to the bottom of the wall I leave the path and head towards the direction of Grizedale Tarn where I hear voices behind me, the fog swirled around and through it, the yellow hood of a fellow walker who had just reached the top of Raise Beck, before the stillness returns as I make my way towards Grisedale Hause.

At Grisedale Hause a grassy hump marks the start of my ascent on Fairfield which is where I bumped into two walkers, a man and his wife and their dog. The couple, slightly out of breath strike up conversation as the woman comments on how the fog was supposed to clear later during the day as I agree and say, the forecasters had predicted we might see some cloud inversions but predicting where these might be is like choosing the winning lottery numbers! Well you never know.

The couple ask my advice on the best way to gain Seat Sandal by and my reply was to ascend via the rocky path just above Grisedale Hause then to descend via the stone wall as I had, they agree and we part with 'enjoy the rest of your day'

The view down from my ascent on Fairfield.

I ascended the grassy hump at the top of Grisedale Hause and began my ascent towards Fairfield summit first by a series of stone steps which petered out just below the half way point where the gravel path takes on a series of zig-zags if only to ease out the steepness. I feel in good stead, much better than I had during my Seat Sandal ascent, not stopping just concentrating on the ascent before I arrive at a familiar point on the lower shoulder of the fell where the path straightens meaning the summit wasn't too far away and the hard work, was almost behind me.

It was at this point did I notice the sun in the corner on my right as it illuminates dew in the patches of grass. At first I pay this no attention, this is merely the sun making a brief show during a gap in the fog. I continue to climb as the murk starts to lighten all with the space of no more than three or four minutes.

I couldn't believe what I saw next.

A jet vapour trail set against a blue sky.

At first, the blue sky appeared as a small gap in the clouds set against the grainiest of white backgrounds which appeared confusing, I mean what am I looking at sky or fog? it was difficult to tell but as those next few unfolded it soon became apparent that I was looking at a ever widening blue sky as my heart started to race.

Please let this be what I think it is.


Into the great wide open.

For any walker who has just spent his/her morning in fog, then to ascend onto a summit with blue skies overhead would feel like heaven had just been served on a plate, there is no greater feeling than this.

I leave the path and branch away towards the direction of Cofa Pike where I pass three Chinese tourists who only spoke in broken English but I guess when faced with views as good as this, anyone including myself would be lost for words.

Dollywagon Pike, High Crag, Nethermost Pike, Helvellyn and Catstye Cam.

The Grisedale Valley.

After a brief conversation I walk slightly eastwards still not quite believing what is unfolding before me, back where the three walkers were standing and oblivious to me I had left my walking poles stood in the ground, I guess I had a good enough reason to leave them a while longer.

Dollywagon Pike, High Crag, Nethermost Pike and Helvellyn.

It's quite difficult to see in the photograph but I could make out people who were stood on Helvellyn and Nethermost Pike summits, most probably thinking much the same as I was at fatastic it was to be above the clouds after spending most of the morning below them.

I guess it doesn't matter how many times you have been above the clouds, each time still feels like the first.

The view North West with not a summit in sight.

Cloud Inversion from Fairfield summit.
It almost looks like a giant knife has been sliced through the cloud, It appears I'm right on the edge of the inversion now as I make my way towards Fairfield summit and I best get a move on because it looks like the cloud is closing in.

The view towards the West.

Islands in the sky.
Only the highest summits peak out above the cloud.

It's proving difficult to tear myself away from the summit shoulder!

The sun has made an appearance now leaving the Cloud Inversion looking like cotton wool.

St Sunday Crag over Cawk Cove.

The Cloud Inversion starts to spill over the top of Link Hause with a distant High Street on the horizon.

Looking South towards the direction of Grasmere.

After tearing myself from the Grisedale side of the summit plateau I wondered over towards the summit cairn tapping it as I walk by with my walking pole. Close to the summit shelter a young couple admire the views and take turns to take selfies. I wander wide and capture their eye and I raise my hand, the young girl who turns out to be Dutch smiles and say how wonderful it all is as we take up a brief conversation while her partner, who I can only assume didn't speak much English looks on and smiles.

Conditions change rapidly as the sun is partially hidden by cloud before I am treated to sudden sun bursts which illuminates the cloud cover before higher cloud drifts back leaving the summit feeling atmospheric indeed.

Not long before I start my descent for Great Rigg.

After wishing the young couple well I head off and follow the stone cairns before passing this chap who I stop to have a chat with "Here's me thinking he says, what the bloody hell am I doing in this cloud" The chap went onto say that he was walking the Fairfield Horseshoe but had felt pretty deflated after continuously walking in cloud only to emerge and get treated to views like this, I must take a picture he says, that's if I can work my camera phone that is!

We part at which point the chap starts to fiddle with his camera, I hope he managed to get it his shots.

Because you wouldn't want to miss out on views like this.


Views towards Crinkle Crags, Bowfell, Esk Pike, Scafell Pike, Scafell, Great End, Great Gable and Green Gable.

Before descending back into the cloud I took one last picture of the only summits which managed to peak out above the cloud and I wondered if the people who were stood at their summits were like me, taking a few moments to see which summits they were actually looking at but I guess for me, the distinctive summit of Bowfell gave it away.

Oh well, the light is fading and the sun has been hidden by cloud for some minutes now, I guess it's time to descend.

But before I go, one last photograph of a streak of blue between the clouds.

Great Rigg summit cairn.

I reluctantly started my descent passing many a walker along the way, most of whom pass on their pleasantries while others ask "what's it like up top" you're in for a treat is all I can say.

I hoped that they all got the same spectacular views as I did.

Great Rigg as I start my descent on Stone Arthur.
I'm back in the clag well and truly now, had it of lifted slightly I was planning to take a trip to Alcock Tarn which I can only just make out between a wall of hazy fog and frequent gaps in the cloud, oh well not to worry.

That's Stone Arthur just ahead with the village of Grasmere below the lingering cloud.
It's all easy downhill from here.

Grasmere from Stone Arthur summit.
By the time I had descended the ridge the cloud had started to lift slightly leaving my eyes adjusting to a contrast of dying Bracken and Autumnal colour which was spread out in the valley below.

Helm Crag and Gibson Knott as I descend Greenhead Gill.

Autumn in Grasmere taken from Greenhead Gill.
My descent follows the tree line in the lower right before passing the large white house on the left, from where it's a nice easy stroll passing under an array of contrast and colour.

Following the steep stone path towards Greenhead Gill.

Greenhead Gill as I head towards Michael's Nook.
Reflection time.

Helm Crag from Michael's Nook.


Stone Arthur above Dora's Cottage.

Well what an incredible walk I have had all within the space of four and a bit hours. All that is left is the rather long walk back to the top of Dunmail Raise where I had under estimated just how steep that walk can feel which saw me sweating much similar as I had whilst ascending Seat Sandal north west ridge earlier this morning but eventually I made it to the top as the back of my car came into view, a much welcome sight after the power crawl

My temperature has risen which left me physically steaming once I removed my jacket, I can't sit down just yet as I plonk myself down on the rear panel of the car and remove the only mid layer I had been wearing and swap it for a spare that I left in the boot of my car. I've been known for forgetting stuff which I put down to being old, or dizzy of both so I physically say "camera is in the boot" just so when I pull away in a while I don't start to think have I left it on the roof of the car.

I figure I've earned myself lunch today after the pull from Grasmere to the top of Dunmail Raise which I unpack from my pack soon realising that I had forgotten to pack my plastic spork without which, how I am going to eat my chicken flavoured rice? I scour the car for a replacement fork but find nowt that's up to the job until I unfold my wallet and proceed to go through my credit cards most of which all have chip and pin which I would only damage as a make shift fork.

There's one flimsy card left in my wallet which I could use to scoop up my rice, it's my Wainwright Society Membership Card which I'm sure if A.W was looking down on me right now he'd say go on lad, either that or clip me roun't ear.


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