Bagging the Welsh dragon in the Black Mountains
Crossing the Black Mountains, starting at Pandy and moving on to Hay-on-Wye, the route has incredible views and a line of trig points ending in one decorated with a Welsh dragon.
Take this journey on a beautiful and clear day on top of the high Coniston fells of the Lake District, with our #GetOutside Champion Hilary Tomlinson. This is as close as we can get to heaven on earth!
Our journey begins by navigating the Wrynose Pass to its summit at the “Three Shires Stone”. This car journey is not for the faint hearted as this is a narrow road and care must be taken at all times and you need to keep your speed down. You can guarantee that if you meet a vehicle coming in the opposite direction it will be in a difficult spot with one or other of you having to reverse and hope that there is room to squeeze by. We manage it with only a couple of these passing difficulties.
Even relatively early on a morning, the few car parking opportunities off the side of the narrow road are filling up at the top of the Pass but we are fortunate to get one right by the footpath marker posts that are the start of our walk.
Now some people (the purists) take the view that driving up 1400 feet before starting the walk is cheating. I disagree. Yes, it helps, but any summit in the Lakes is a challenge and requires a lot of effort to achieve. So take these few opportunities when they arise is my view and I still feel a worthy fell walker for completing my climb regardless. Even with this help I still have to climb the next 1400 feet to achieve my goal.
The walk and route are simplicity itself if you ignore the fact that it’s uphill all the way and there’s a small amount of ice to avoid in some areas but the path is clear with some nice steps at times to help you on your way. Part of our walk is in the accompaniment of a wonderfully chatty guy called Brian from Lancashire.
As you know I have my own challenges to overcome but talking to Brian makes me feel a fraud to be a GetOutside Champion largely on the basis of my health issues. He is 68 and only started walking 10 years ago. Three years ago, he had to have triple heart by-pass surgery and he was literally heartbroken thinking his walking days were over.
He was unable to walk for one year and took another before he got back any fitness but when we met him, he was 4 summits short of completing the 214 Wainwrights and would manage another two of them this beautiful day. What an inspiration.
We trundled along with Brian chatting about health and walking and how good it makes you feel and before long we were approaching the first “false” summit of Little Carrs.
By this time Brian’s friend and his granddaughter had caught us up and we had a very pleasant few minutes talking as we once again felt humbled that the little 10 year old girl at our side was loving every moment and trying to talk her Grandad into doing the 3 Peaks Challenge of Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon with her (she’s already climbed them all individually and now wants to complete them in 24 hours!)
Soon afterwards we part company as they are heading up Grey Friar which is to be our last fell for the day. In no time we reach the summit of Great Carrs in glorious sunshine with not a breath of wind to be felt and look to our left over the edge into the cwm that takes in Swirl How (our next goal) and the huge bulk of Wetherlam. Our feet seem to glide along effortlessly as it’s now virtually a level walk with little height gain.
Down to our right is the memorial to the crew of “S for Sugar” the Halifax bomber that crashed here in 1944. It’s a poignant moment as it is when any of the numerous memorials are reached on the high Lakeland fells.
We leave this behind and it’s a hop skip and a jump and we’ve completed the quarter mile or so to the summit of Swirl How.
We wish Happy New Year to the few other walkers at the summit then wander away from the summit cairn to gaze over Levers Water towards Coniston, the heights of the Old Man itself and Dow Crag that are nothing more than silhouettes in the bright sunshine.
After a number of minutes of just taking in and enjoying the magnificent landscape surrounding us we turn back the way we have come and head over towards Grey Friar. There’s a bit of downhill involved before another climb but nothing arduous and the clear path to the summit just draws us on.
In less than two hours we have achieved our goal and take a well-earned rest and eat our picnic. It’s still around freezing point with only the part of the many rocks that are in full sun showing any thaw and the parts that are in shadow still covered in frost that highlight the beautifully intricate patterns in the stone. It’s at this point that we really appreciate the flask of soup we have brought as we gaze over the silver glints of Morecambe Bay away to the south. Then it’s a quick repacking of our back packs and the return trip which is equally as rewarding as the ascent.
We arrive back at our car in just under 4 hours from starting, feeling thoroughly pleased with ourselves and totally at peace with the world. Walking in the Lakes has this effect on you, and we would recommend it to everyone, whether it’s climbing the fells or strolling along a lakeside or riverside path.
It’s at times like these when you feel just happy to be alive and count your blessings.