I’ve avoided Skiddaw (or ‘Skidda’ as the locals call it) for many years. My first brush with the mountain as a teenager ended in a dismal retreat in a rainstorm, and I didn’t go back for almost twenty years. On that second visit I was a mountain rescue dog handler on an early morning search for a missing walker, which ended sadly with the man’s body being found. My third visit was so unmemorable that I don’t even remember it!
Chris and I had a couple of days in the Lake District, and my attention turned back to Skiddaw – it’s not that it’s a particularly dull mountain, more a case of a mountain surrounded by much more interesting options. I mean, who would bother driving miles to go up Skiddaw when the magnificent Blencathra is just next door!
We had parked the camper in the car park for Latrigg, giving us a head start – the weekend was set to be fine, and there was little doubt that the mountains would be crowded as the day went on. The path soon starts to gain height, giving great views back to Latrigg, Keswick and Derwent Water on one side, and the wilderness known as the Back o’ Skidda on the other.
We declined the option of a detour up Little Man, partly through lazy-itis and partly due to the couple of large groups going that way. Beyond Little Man the path made one last gain in height before levelling out on the approach to the summit – then that was it, the top! There were a few more ‘early birds’ milling about, but by Lakes standards it was fairly quiet.
I had picked a longer return route, mainly for the interest. We turned off the main track and headed for Sale How, then on to the lonely Youth Hostel at Skiddaw House. The views were all into the Back o’ Skidda, an area little known to most mountain walkers – you have to look a long way to find anything like a wilderness in the Lake District, but this comes pretty close, and if solitude is your thing it’s a good place to head for.
Over to our left was the lonely outpost of Great Calva – in my younger days I used to run the fells, and I once went out to Great Calva on a recce for the Bob Graham round*. There were fewer fell runners back then, and Calva was pretty well untracked – I remember it as a bumpy, heathery, tussocky hell, though with the increased popularity of the Bob Graham there are probably paths like the M6 now.
The track down to Skiddaw House was the wettest bit of our day, but things improved as we reached the Cumbria Way running past the hostel. Skiddaw House has had a chequered history, starting out as a game-keepers then a shepherds house, before becoming derelict in the late 20th Century. It was due for demolition in 2003 but was saved for use as a hostel, despite several disputes with planners – it is now independently run under the banner of the YHA. Despite being three miles from the nearest road, the hostel (elevation 1550 ft/472metres) is a popular venue for those who value peace and quiet.
The last part of the route took us on the path clinging to the side of Lonscale Fell – the rain that was threatening never quite arrived, and the autumn colours of the bracken brought a splash of colour to the day. The last bit of the walk was spent trying to keep Border Collie ‘Mist’ clean and out of the mud – one last wash in the stream did the trick, and we were soon back at the camper with a wet but clean dog.
* The Bob Graham round is one of the great mountain running challenges of the UK. It takes in 42 summits (including Great Calva!) over 66 miles with 27000 ft (8300 metres) of height gain, to be done in 24 hours.
Text and images © Paul Shorrock