Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Deer Country

A sabbatical of 4 months had seriously impacted my plan to complete the Wainwrights and Outlying Fells this year.  So, to feel as if I was making some progress, I chose a route with a significant number of previously unticked summits that could be completed within the slowly growing hours of daylight.  Also, due to the recent cold spell, usually boggy terrain would most likely be frozen so this opportunity should not be ignored.  Shap was the obvious choice.

Parking in a large layby at the summit of the A6 at Shap, I headed downhill towards Hause Foot Farm at the bottom of, as Wainwright described, the loneliest valley within the national park.  It was quite easy to reach the ridge of the Crookdale Horseshoe and the first summit of High House Bank.  The broad ridge led easily to Robin Hood and then to Lord’s Seat, at which point I thought that I was not going to see any other walkers during the day. But a chap had walked up from Crookdale and after a brief conversation, he headed east along the ridge I had just walked, as I set off over varied ground towards the Nuttall of Harrop Pike.  I took advantage of a quick photo stop and headed towards more isolated country and Ulthwaite Rigg.

Despite a couple of days of above zero temperatures, the ground underfoot was quite firm.  Although the top inch or two had thawed, there was a permafrost-like layer underneath, strong enough to prevent my boots sinking into the peat.  Cold spells are definitely the best conditions to journey on to the fells west of Shap.

Descending towards Ulthwaite Rigg I spotted what I first thought were a number of fell ponies.  Once I’d looked through my monocular I clearly saw that they were a herd of 16 or 17 deer.  I got to within about 400 metres before they turned tail and headed down towards Sleddale Beck.  I saw them again as I traversed towards Great Saddle Crag but my viewpoint soon changed to leave them out of sight.  I saw another three as I climbed up the final slopes and two of them headed towards the previous herd and the third ran off towards the east.  This summit was the most defined of today’s Outlying Fells and offered welcome rocks upon which to rest.

Deer on Ulthwaite Rigg

On the next traverse to Sleddale Pike  I saw another, larger, herd of deer; this time about 50 in number which the previously seen third deer had joined.  Like the previous herd, they made their way down towards Sleddale once they realised I was heading in their direction.  The isolation of the Shap moors suits deer far more than humans, as proved by the numbers seen.

From the tiny cairn on the summit of Sleddale Pike the large granite erratic of Gray Bull is easily seen.  When I reached it I was tempted to climb it but didn’t want to risk a less than straightforward downclimb in winter boots.

Grey Bull - a Shap erratic

I crossed the slopes of Wasdale Pike, disturbing another herd of 20 or so deer, before dropping down in to Wasdale to cross Wasdale Beck and then head up to the top of the plantation.  From there, the walk to the car was the final easy stage of the walk, one which had seen the ticking of one Nuttall and six Outlying Fells.