A Lion Keeps Watch Over Grasmere

Lion and the Lamb, Grasmere. — Yesterday we dined at the best table in the Lake District and traversed ledges to discover a needle. Today, we are going to meet a lion and perhaps fire a cannon. I received a puzzled look. I just smiled. “Wait and see,” I said, laughing. “It’s true!” We opened the gate and set out towards Steel Fell.
My original idea had been to traverse the Langdale Pikes, including High Raise, and bag a clutch of Wainwrights. I decided to save that for summer; when we can bask on soft, golden grass, swim in Stickle Tarn, sunbath on Harrison Stickle and …. I’m dreaming again.

Today, isn’t going according to plan. It should be the best day of the week, according to the forecast, but drizzle continues to splash our jackets as we head across Dunmail Raise. I intend a circuit of the Green Burn Valley. It should be an easy and enjoyable day, once we get over Steel Fell that is.

Rather than slogging up from Ghyll Foot, we started from Dunmail Raise, heading for the corner of the wall to join the main path. We are the first on the hill.

Steel Fell

The view across Dunmail of Seat Sandal and Helvellyn is fantastic, or certainly would be on another day, in better weather.The summit of Seat Sandal hides under a cap of cloud, while Helvellyn and the ridge to Fairfield are not even visible.

The exposure, as we gain height, is intimidating. Below our feet, Steel Fell sweeps down for over a thousand feet into the valley. Our car resembles a toy, camouflaged against the hillside. Seat Sandal rises like an upturned bowl, steep flanks lead unrelenting to the summit. We will have to climb it one day. “It doesn’t look to bad from farther down the valley,” I said, pointing to Little Tongue its southerly ridge.
Rusting fence posts stick out of rocks. There are two summits. The first one, the western summit, affords the best vantage point to gaze over Helvellyn and Fairfield. The cloud is lifting, just in time, although the wind doesn’t allow for dawdling. Fastening our hoods against the wind and sleet, we turn west towards Calf Crag, just across the moor.

Scrambling up the ridge on Rainsborrow Crag

The Lion and the Lamb

We climb Steel Fell with Helm Crag in background.
“Where’s the lion?”  I point to Helm Crag and the lumps of rock. From here we cannot see it. The ‘Howitzer’ points menacingly over Grasmere – a military deterrent against those who would invade!

On top of Helm Crag, which is at the end of the ridge, there are some rock formations that resemble a cannon, and a lion sits with a lamb between its paws.

The route to Calf Crag is quite pleasant, if you keep to the eastern edge of the plateau that is, and do not venture into the bog. It only gets messy as we reach the two tarns and follow the path across the moor towards the summit. A little side stepping and jumping, the occasional squelch as my boots sink into waterlogged peat, followed by sucking noises as I drag them out before they can fill with water, make for a rather unpleasant crossing.

Hannah skating on the frozen tarn on Yoke

Wolves and Bears

I take the opportunity to explain about the features of a glacial valley left over from the last ice age. Pointing out the u-shaped depression that was carved out thousands of years ago by the progression of a glacier. I point out the moraines: the deposits left behind as the ice melted, and explain that at one time the valley was full of trees and nearly impenetrable; the haunt of wolves and wild boar. Sheep and farming have produced what we see today. We gaze down the beautiful Green Burn valley and out towards Grasmere.

Climbing out onto dry land, away from the bog, we move between the rocks that lead to the summit of Calf Crag. Behind us, two people are following the path. In front, a head appears over a rock, followed by another. We are no longer alone. It’s lunchtime. Nestled behind a rock, sheltered from the wind, we settle down for a splendid table, and gaze upon Far Easdale Gill and Tarn Crag. Over our shoulders are the wind-blown slopes of High Raise. Impressive as it is, it doesn’t compare with my favourite eating-spot on top of Pike O’Blisco. Perhaps I should start a list of the best eating places on the Lakeland Fells.

Hannah skating on the frozen tarn on Yoke

Refuelled and away

The team head down the ridge; two lion bars, refuelled, their eyes fixed on Helm Crag. Hastily pushing the rest of the gear into my rucksack I run to catch up. Their pace has quickened. I stop to take pictures. The lighting is improving. Clouds break and a spotlight, runs across the fells, highlighting peaks, sweeping across the valley floor. It is going to be a great day.

Just before the summit of Gibson Knott, I stop to take pictures. Sunlight races along Steel Fell. It hits the summit; the pictures in the bag. A couple of walkers walk along the ridge. Sunlight touches them; perfect, another picture.
A couple of walkers smile and nod, as I pass by, my rucksack swinging lazily from one shoulder, camera from the other.
Ahead, someone stands on the top of the ‘Howitzer’. I throw my rucksack onto the floor, using it as a support for my lens, while I shoot pictures of the brave person teetering over the precipice.

The Howitzer

On the summit of Helm Crag, our final, and fourth summit of the day, walkers are trying the make the ascent of the ‘Howitzer’. We pass them by and head for the lion and the lamb. Swarms of people, breathless after climbing the direct route from Grasmere, wander around on the formations. Children clamber over the lion, standing on its head, frantic parents grip them onto them, white knuckles and bated breath.

The Summit

It had been a fantastic walk, a great mixture of ascents and ridges a grand mountaineering day, even though we did drop into the valley after Helm Crag, staggering down the steep zigzags from Bracken Hause and became exasperated climbing up the other side to the wall to gain our path back to the car; we didn’t enjoy that part one bit!
For now, our legs have had enough, it’s definitely a ‘lion-in’ tomorrow. Fish and chips on the way home? Saturday looks promising. Good weather. Fairfield anyone?

Hannah on the summit of Ill Bell