A Walk on the Wild Side: St Sunday Crag

by the “Wainwright of Durham PS”, Dennis Hardingham

Last month I tried to get up onto St Sunday Crag and the weather was vile; freezing cold, icy tracks and poor visibility in the low, dark cloud layer. All I got as a memento of the trip was a couple of uninspiring photographs and torn ligaments in my hand from an undignified fall. So this time I was not going to piddle about in the valley like some big girl’s blouse, while the day melted away.

I set of from Bridgend and started up Deepdale as before but, on reaching ‘Wall End’, I took a sharp right and set of straight up the side of the valley towards the summit of St Sunday Crag. There was a muddy track for a couple of hundred yards, but this soon petered out and I was on my own. There is a rocky outcrop, Lord’s Seat, which juts out over Deepdale from just below St Sunday summit, and the plan was to keep this on my left, as a protection against the worst of the prevailing strong wind. There had been heavy rain overnight, which had mellowed to driving drizzle with the odd heavy showers to keep me interested, and the climb was accompanied by the constant rattling of raindrops against my gortex hood. After a steep climb, through water draining off the hillside, the slope shelved slightly and I had to cross a wide expanse of saturated marshland. Slippery, unpleasant and tedious going until I moved onto a firmer but steeper climb up beyond Lord’s Seat.

Now two hours into the climb, I took a much-need five minute break and used the calm between showers to fire up the Nikon. A couple more minutes and I stepped up onto Gavel Pike and almost had my legs blown from under me by the shocking gale force wind. Using my walking stick as an extra limb I was able to make like a little tripod and shuffled forward to enjoy the views over Deepdale, Deepdale Hause and Hartsop above How. Time to reconsider my route plan. I had intended to follow the ridge in an anticlockwise direction, climb Cofa Pike and stroll gently down Hartsop back to Bridge End. Plan B was a clockwise route, following the St Sunday Crag ridge back to Glenridding. This had the disadvantage of being steep and rocky, as well as putting me down a long way from where the car was parked, but it had the advantage over the original route of getting me down with something resembling a pulse. I grabbed a couple of photographs from the top, with the ISO hiked up to 800, lying on my stomach for stability, and shooting in bursts of four exposures to hopefully eliminate camera shake.

I repacked my bag and stayed below the ridge while I descended to a spot where the wind force was slightly reduced, then I moved onto the ridge path proper and enjoyed the viewpoints down into Grizedale, forward to Ullswater and backwards to Striding Edge and Nethermost Pike, both of which still had banks of unmelted snow clinging to their summits.

The weather conditions for every one of my walks this year have been pretty nasty. I used to think it was just bad luck but now I am starting to take it personally. I can’t decide if I force myself to do these things just to prove I can, to maybe get a photograph worth showing the grandkids, or simply to stop John Clark making hurtful comments about my waistline. I certainly didn’t enjoy flogging up that hillside through the interminable rain and muck, nor did I really want to repeat the sensation of almost being blown into Grizedale by the wind, but I have to admit a great deal of satisfaction from actually being up there, enjoying the experience and the views. And once I got home, it made the long soak in the hot bath all the more pleasurable.

Dennis Hardingham May 2015

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