Saturday 20th May 2017
Leaders: Keith and Kay Butterworth
Photos: Charlie Billington
AROUND AIRA FORCE, SATURDAY 20TH MAY 2017
An unusual title for an unusual day, and one which could easily have carried the subtitle 'for spontaneous walkers.' Starting life as 'Swirl How etc' and later becoming 'Mardale Head etc', it was finally presented on the day by leaders Keith and Kay Butterworth as 'Plan C Aira Force etc', as it was believed that conditions might have been unfavourable on the high summits. The clue to the forthcoming day was probably in the etcetera.
In changeable weather eight Burton Fellwalkers and three dogs set out from the car park and soon attained Aira Force, which, whilst not in full spate, was nevertheless impressive following recent rain. The view from the overbridge was superb and underlined the sheer power of cascading water. The group then moved on, omitting Gowbarrow Fell in favour of contouring northwards and north-eastwards around its base, arriving fairly quickly at Ulcat Row, where two rather ancient and beautifully-presented cottages were unexpectedly encountered. The backdrop was the lonely but striking Great Mell Fell, soon to be joined by Little Mell Fell straight ahead. A road walk was required to reach The Hause, where the group was given the option of ascending Little Mell Fell. The decision was unanimous and the direction was straight up, passing through a disused quarry. The views of Great Mell Fell and Ullswater from the OS triangulation column were excellent but it was at this stage that the weather threatened and waterproofs were quickly donned.
The descent was interesting in that Kay apparently decided that she would like to get to Thackthwaite or the A66, but perhaps she was simply testing the wakefulness of the party. In the event a Bounty-type mutiny and another contouring exercise returned the group to The Hause, and with a little more road-walking a path on the right was quickly reached. Passing below a sheltering escarpment afforded the opportunity for lunch near Priest's Crag and Rectory, where the gorse was beautifully yellow and particularly abundant.
The well-made path continued through Swinburn's Park, where the recent removal of the pine trees offered an excellent outlook over Ullswater, although Hallin Fell and Place Fell did look a little sorry for themselves against the overcast skies. As the south-eastern base of Gowbarrow Fell was being circumnavigated, Kay identified a path up it, and there followed an episode reminiscent of '12 Angry Men' (but without the 'angry') wherein the members made the decision one by one to acquit themselves with enthusiasm on another ascent. Gowbarrow Fell was in fact an easy climb, although there were a couple of tricky bits on the way down. The views from the top were good, but the distance was hazy and the summits of Catstycam and the Helvellyn range were shrouded in mist. Significantly however, the rain had by and large held off.
Aira Force was passed again on the return to the car park, where one member astutely persuaded the catering staff to furnish the party with drinks and snacks 'al fresco' despite the café having just closed. By now the sun had come out, and suitably relaxed and refreshed, all were able to reflect on the meaning of 'around' and 'etcetera', which in this case had signified a lovely circular walk heightened by a DIY, sort of 'off the cuff' approach to two unexpected but not particularly exacting Wainwrights. Stir into the mix the added bonus of Kay's practical demonstration on the significance of north and south and Keith and Kay's flexible leadership skills, and all the ingredients were there to provide what had been a humorous, good-natured, rewarding, and yes, largely spontaneous day.