Thursday, April 12

Favourite Spots - No 1 (Orrest Head)

Welcome to the first in what may become an irregular series about some of my favourite spots. They're not necessarily the highest, most extreme, or at times even the prettiest, but all have been places that I've left thinking - ' Yep I'll be back here again. Soon'. Most have a story to go with them which might help explain their personal appeal to me. And maybe interest you as well.

(Thanks to Alex from uk.rec.walking for permission to post this shot. Best clicked on for the full effect to see the fell names)

Orrest Head
Height 239 m (783 ft) Grid Ref SD 414 993

Not your typical rugged fell top. Little more than a 30 minute easy uphill wander from Windemere Railway Station, it's not the most obvious spot that 'serious' hill walkers head for.

I believe Wainwright in Book 8 of his Lakeland guidebooks (Outlying Fells) named this spot as having one of the best views of the Lakeland Fells. At least I think he did because when I went off to my own reference library somehow Book 8 was not amongst my AW volumes. An omission that Amazon and myself will sort out as soon as this post is published. Wikepedia reminds me that it was also the first fell he climbed.
Andrew Leaney's Lakeland Fells site provides some excellent material on views and routes (as well as being essential material for any of the fells) And then there's a quick panoramic movie over on Go4awalk taken on an overcast day which reduces some of the impact.

The only reason I tripped across this fine spot was pure luck. After a week's backpack I had to be on the first southbound train of the morning at (if memory serves) before 06:00 to get to a meet-up at Heathrow later in the day, for the latter part of my trip homeward. I needed to be both near to the station and sure that I would not get delayed. Sleeping on the station platform did not appeal to me.

Lakeland taxi services were disinclined to turn up for such an early start. The nearest YHA meant a forced march at some ungodly hour. The nearby independent backpack hostel was full. That left me with the choice of a local B&B for the night, with little of the Bed and none of the Breakfast, a waste of cash, or a wildcamp bearing in mind I had been using the gear during the week.

Some cross posting on walking sites suggested this as one option but requiring guerrilla camping; Being a popular spot & rather too accessable, camping is 'not allowed', or so the sign at the foot of the fell path states.

A leisurely departure from Ambleside YHA, late morning, a trip down Windemere Lake to Bowness pierhead via steamer, and even an even more leisurely stop at a cafe before the stroll upwards to the start of the fell path still meant I'd was heading uphill early afternoon. The sun shining all the while. A glorious day and no hurry to be anywhere at all.

I meandered around the zig zag route at probably the slowest pace I've ever backpacked, one eye open for discrete pitching places that wouldn't draw attention to myself, or offend others. Fields half way up seemed a possibility but I felt too visible to the houses lower down. By chance I met up with another there, also enjoying the off route peacefulness and was given some pointers as to local reaction to my plans for that night, and the positive likelihood of camping permission from the field's owner. Unfortunately the house was back at the foot of the fell, so I kept that one up my sleeve as a fall back plan. I was also told of a nearby badger sett which was of particular local concern, keen to avoid any undue disturbance to the resident brocks.

So I continued upwards and all too soon was topping out on the fell.

The views are spellbinding. On this day it seemed the length of Windemere glistened in the sunlight, and looking north the central fells were clearly laid out. I made my temporary home on one of the benches for the remainder of the afternoon, and into the evening, occasionally heating a fresh brew, patiently waiting for the crowds to die down. They in a rush to get from there to here, and back again. Me with no need to be anywhere else. A rare set of circumstances that meant I could just sit quietly, doing nothing except watch the hills, the lake, the clouds, and note the passing of people and time around me.

But this fell is never quiet for long. Three separate sets of school parties during the afternoon, regular passing foot traffic, and once the day's work had finished the dog walkers and folk out for a pleasant stroll or run in the early summer sun.

As the evening wore on, and the visitor numbers started to quieten down I considered my options. Back down or set up camp here?

During the previous hour the wind had picked up slightly, and dark clouds were moving in from the north. So it was little surprise that the first heavy raindrops started to fall. Figuring that the inclement weather would keep down any further visitors that evening, and sure of my early departure before sensible folk would be astir I took the decision to pitch my ProAction tent just below the fell top, hopefully well out of sight from any curious eyes below. With the rainfall starting to get heavier the tent was up in five minutes and the last of my week's food supply on the cooker for an early supper.

I sat in the tent entrance for the next hour watching the thunder and lightening display across the far off fells, secure in the tent, my belly full of hot food, and at the end of a successful week.

There had been no activity since I pitched, so deciding that was it for the evening I bedded down, with a couple of hours of daylight yet to go.

Sods law. Over the next hour or so the weather lifted slightly, and the last few visitors of the day appeared. Deciding discretion was the better part of valour, snug in my sleeping bag I feigned sleep, awaiting a shout to 'Move On' But despite a few grumbling noises far off, probably filtered through a mildly guilty sombulant state, a demand to move never came, and I fell asleep.

I awoke naturally with dawn, around 04:30, and with no need to rush as yet I brewed up the first coffee of the day. Also the last of my wildcamping week.

I can think of no better way to round of that particular trip. It was also my last outing with the ProAction tent, later passed onto another just starting on solo backpacking. A fitting last pitch for a good friend.

Alone on Orrest Head, everything packed except cooking kit, I sat for an hour listening to the birds, and gazing at the temperature inversion over Windemere. Regretful that I had to leave. But feeling truly honoured that this scene was unfolding before me. And that I was in the right place, time and frame of mind to soak up the experience.

(Look familiar? This web site's graphic at the top of the page was taken from this view)

Eventually I packed away the last of my gear, and quietly moved off, leaving Orrest Head to it's own special sense of peacefulness. A rarity for this particular top I'd guess.

On the descent I dropped by the badger sett, but any activity from the night seemed long over. All was quiet, and on I quickly descended to the railway station.

That special state of mind, so rare to be accepted, keeping the smile on my face and deep within, staying within me through the worst of London madness later that day. And for days to come.

And even now, recalling the moment in detail, that feeling comes back to me. A special place to recharge my psychic battery, or whatever else you'd like to call that sense of personal well being so deep within.

Orrest Head. A place to recommend. Not difficult to climb. Not even a particularly special top. Far too busy most of the time.

But some of the greatest fell views I've ever found, and at the right time, a very special place to be.

I can understand the impact it might have had on Wainwright. That calling to return again, and soak in more of the surroundings.

And for me one of those Wordsworth moments. The point of the Daffodils poem, but all too often obscured by the chocolate box associations that this piece has seemingly taken on.

"For oft, when on my couch I lie, In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye, Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils"


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