Days Like This, No 19: Pillar and the Rock

Pillar 1

HOT sun on the back of the legs. Dust inside socks. Warm breeze drifting from the Irish Sea and stirring dry grasses. The magnificence of Pillar rising from the green of Mosedale into a flawless sky. Days like this were made for climbing mountains . . .

This is a retro post for Because They’re There. It’s a letter from the past featuring a memorable walk and the contemporary events surrounding it . . .

Pillar is the eighth-highest mountain in the English Lake District and one of the most rewarding to climb. At 892m (2,927ft) it forms a wall of volcanic rock separating the head of Mosedale – an extension of Wasdale – from the southern flank of Ennerdale. The most invigorating route to the summit zigzags up the side of its most famous feature, the vast buttress which gives its name to the mountain – the Pillar Rock. And that’s the route I’m taking today.

I once broke my arm on Pillar. Stupid thing, really. I was running down a scree chute from Wind Gap into Mosedale and couldn’t stop. Hit a boulder, cart-wheeled over it, and landed on my arm in a stream. Luckily, I was wearing a Barrow AFC scarf and my mates rigged it into a sling – after they’d stopped laughing. Bloody hurt, mind. And the scarf was ruined.

This is three years later and I’ve learnt my lesson. No charging down scree chutes today. Instead, I face a steady and sweaty plod up a winding path to the crown of Black Sail Pass, then an airy tramp across Looking Stead ridge to a junction where the narrow track to Pillar Rock – the High Level Route – veers off the main path to the summit. It’s hot work. Don’t need a scarf in this heat.

Taking a breather on the High Level Route, with Ennerdale and High Stile in the background

Taking a breather on the High Level Route, with Ennerdale and High Stile in the background

Robinson’s Cairn, which was built to celebrate the life of mountaineer and local farmer John Wilson Robinson, who died in 1907

Robinson’s Cairn, which was built to celebrate the life of mountaineer and local farmer John Wilson Robinson, who died in 1907

pillar 12pillar 13If anyone’s interested, John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John are at Number One with You’re the One that I Want. Can’t stand it myself, but Olivia’s rather cute. Boney M’s at Number Two with Rivers of Babylon/Brown Girl in the Ring. At Number Three it’s Father Abraham and the Smurfs with the Smurf Song. It’s a relief to get away from all this tripe. I think I’d break my other arm and spend another wasted evening in North Lonsdale Hospital rather than switch on the radio and listen to that lot.

This is my first ascent of Pillar by the High Level Route. The route traverses Green Cove and Hind Cove to Robinson’s Cairn, and then crosses Pillar Cove to ascend the curiously-named Shamrock Traverse to the top of Pillar Rock. It’s a great path with spectacular views from rocky ledges down into the valley.

The path to the top of Pillar Rock follows the rib of bare stone rising to the left in the bottom-left corner of the picture, then reappears on the sunlit ledge rising diagonally in the top left. This is called the Shamrock Traverse

The path to the top of Pillar Rock follows the rib of bare stone rising to the left in the bottom-left corner of the picture, then reappears on the sunlit ledge rising diagonally in the top left. This is called the Shamrock Traverse

Once on the top of Pillar Rock I sit in the sun and listen to flies buzzing. Let’s tarry here and gaze into the heat haze, and allow Lakeland’s greatest poet, William Wordsworth, to illustrate the dangers of Pillar Rock in this short excerpt from his poem The Brothers:

PRIEST. One sweet May-morning,
(It will be twelve years since when Spring returns)
He had gone forth among the new-dropped lambs,
With two or three companions, whom their course
Of occupation led from height to height
Under a cloudless sun–till he, at length,
Through weariness, or, haply, to indulge
The humour of the moment, lagged behind.
You see yon precipice;–it wears the shape
Of a vast building made of many crags;
And in the midst is one particular rock
That rises like a column from the vale,
Whence by our shepherds it is called, THE PILLAR.
Upon its aery summit crowned with heath,
The loiterer, not unnoticed by his comrades,
Lay stretched at ease; but, passing by the place
On their return, they found that he was gone.
No ill was feared; till one of them by chance
Entering, when evening was far spent, the house
Which at that time was James’s home, there learned
That nobody had seen him all that day:
The morning came, and still he was unheard of:
The neighbours were alarmed, and to the brook
Some hastened; some ran to the lake: ere noon
They found him at the foot of that same rock
Dead, and with mangled limbs. The third day after
I buried him, poor Youth, and there he lies!

The moral is: don’t fall asleep on Pillar Rock, or fall you might. Instead, gaze along the deep defile of Ennerdale towards the coast, and across the crags to bare northern fells, and let your soul drift on uplifting breezes. Because this is a place to sit and reflect.

The summit of Pillar is but a short, gravelly step above the Rock. From the summit I drop down through broken stones and shingle to Wind Gap – which, as the name suggests, is a draughty defile between crags. The next summit is Scoat Fell (802m, 2,631ft), a pleasant peak which has the added attraction of a crystal-clear tarn on its southern flank. It’s a hot day – a baking hot day – so off come the dusty old clothes and in I go. Scoat Tarn is a perfect place for a dip.

Pillar 5Pillar 4From here I wander refreshed to Door Head, where a dilemma awaits. Do I continue my walk over Yewbarrow and face a weary slog along hot roads back to my tent in the paddock at Wasdale Head? Or do I risk the precipitous Doorhead Screes and the prospect of another broken arm – but hopefully a quick return and an early pint in the Wasdale Head Inn? First, let’s take some pictures.

Click . . . the mighty Scafell, second-highest mountain in England

Click . . . the mighty Scafell, second-highest mountain in England

Click . . . Illgill Head and Wastwater, England's deepest lake

Click . . . Illgill Head and Wastwater, England’s deepest lake

Click . . . Kirk Fell and Great Gable

Click . . . Kirk Fell and Great Gable

Finally, it’s decision time. Down the screes I go – but this time at a slower pace and without the cartwheels. It’s amazing what a bloke will do for a cool beer on a hot day.

Stirrup Crag and Doorhead Screes (the pale, narrow line to the right). As quick descents go, it's the next best thing to shouting Geronimo and jumping off

Stirrup Crag and Doorhead Screes (the pale, narrow line to the right). As quick descents go, it’s the next best thing to shouting Geronimo and jumping off

Passing over Pillar, one fine day in June 1978

FOOTIE NOTE:
HERE’S a satisfactory ending. Barrow AFC beat Lowestoft 3-2 last weekend (April 25, 2015) and were promoted to the Conference Premier. Where’s that scarf?

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About McFadzean

Alen McFadzean, journalist, formerly of the Northern Echo, in Darlington, and the North-West Evening Mail, Barrow. Former shipyard electrician. Former quarryman and tunneller. Climbs mountains and runs long distances to make life harder. Gravitates to the left in politics just to make life harder still. Now lives in Orgiva, Spain.
This entry was posted in Camping, Climbing, Footpaths, Hiking, Mountains, Music, Poetry, Tarns, Walking, Weather, William Wordsworth and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

35 Responses to Days Like This, No 19: Pillar and the Rock

  1. Ash says:

    Great read Alen & now you’re quoting poetry! It’s that point in your life! A time for reflection over a long beer. Cheers!

    Like

  2. Hanna says:

    You can not be too careful when you climb those mountains or dive into ice cold mountain lakes. Especially when you are alone though: ”All good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity.”* …and that’s what walking alone is able to do for your soul.
    Great you had company when you thought you could fly 😀
    I’ve heard of an accident in the Swedish mountains. A girl a musician. She played violin at a guest house for walkers. She was very much appreciated a lovely person. They found her dead one morning in a place where she had walked so often. Sometimes in an unattended moment –
    I like this: I WANDERED LONELY AS A CLOUD by William Wordsworth. The joy that comes from walking in nature.
    All the best,
    Hanna
    *William Wordsworth

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    • McEff says:

      Hej Hanna. I would say, based on my extensive knowledge of English poets and their works (winky eye thing), that I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud is probably William Wordsworth’s most appreciated poem, and influenced by a visit to Ullswater where he spotted the immortal daffodils. I rather like it myself.
      Yes, so much for flying lessons. The other side of the coin is that if my friends hadn’t been there, I might not have been showing off in the first place and so not come to any harm. But they patched me up and drove me home (in my car – and the radiator boiled over), so all ended well.
      A tragic story indeed about the young musician. One can never be too careful.
      All the best, Alen

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Of all the fells I haven’t walked Pillar is the big one I want to see. There’s something about the name and its position and that Shamrock Traverse I know I’ll never cross because of a serious case of acrophobia that makes me reluctant to climb a ladder. But I’ll do it before I pop me clogs and I’ll do it mumbling John Travolta’s lines in You’re The One that I Want. (Always enjoyed Arthur Mullard and Hylda Bakers’ version: ‘If you’re filled with infection…’)

    Is there a better horseshoe walk in the Lake District than the Mosedale Round? Kirk Fell, Pillar, Steeple, Scoat Fell, Red Pike and Yewbarrow. Has to be on every walker’s bucket list.

    Chris

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    • McEff says:

      Hi Chris. Big day that, the Mosedale Round. Kirk Fell’s a killer to climb from the front, and just as hard coming down. Hard on the knees, anyway.
      I’ve found that as I mature I’m becoming less and less tolerant of heights, in particular those in exposed situations, to the point I have been known to get extremely anxious, bordering on panicky. However, I don’t recall there being anything dodgy about the Shamrock Traverse, and I’d have no worries about doing it again. From what I recall, it’s just a good path up some steepish ground.
      I’d forgotten about the Arthur Mullard and Hylda Baker version of You’re the One that I Want. That was much better than the original.
      All the best, Alen

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  4. I thought Brown Girl in the Ring was an okay listen – but watching it was pretty hilarious – what a funny-looking guy!

    I’d never descend Dore Head screes – they just look ‘orrid! But I’ve always been tempted with the other scree chute where you broke your arm – it looks tempting somehow – not sure whether it would be worse going up or doing down though…

    I haven’t tried the high level route yet – we had a look for it once from above in mist but couldn’t find anything continuous and it wasn’t an area to muck about really so we went back up to the ridge. I’ve seen the 2 starts from Looking Stead though and keep meaning to have a go… I suppose if I really hated the Shamrock Traverse, I might be able to escape up the corrie wall of Hind Cove…
    Carol.

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  5. Oh yes, and I meant to say – if you walk Pillar via the ridge-line routes, I think it’s a total waste as you don’t get to see that spectacular North Face! I always think the North Face of Pillar is the most spectacular scene in the Lakes!

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    • McEff says:

      The North Face and Pillar Rock are spectacular when viewed from Ennerdale. I did a circuit of the Ennerdale fells one hot day about ten years ago. Unfortunately, it was during my camera-less period. That was a cracking walk and the views of Pillar were superb.

      Like

  6. JonJo says:

    Hi Alen
    I remember Third Division Barrow visiting the Victoria Pleasure Grounds to play Goole Town of the Northern Premier League in the F.A. Cup in 1968. It was a big deal for Goole with almost every man & boy from the town going to the game. Barrow won 3 – 1. Were you there?

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    • McEff says:

      Hi Jonjo. I started going to matches with my mates at about that time but only to home games. A trip to Goole would have been the equivalent of going off on an exotic adventure holiday.
      Barrow got knocked out by Leicester City at Holker Street in 1968, and I saw that game with my granddad. That just about coincided with the start of their long and steady decline. Good to see them winning again.
      All the best, Alen

      Like

  7. Jo Woolf says:

    Alen, you are kidding me! You went DOWN THERE??? It looks lethal. Brilliant photos, though, and that’s a very evocative poem. I had never even heard of the Pillar (I know, it’s shameful). I can almost feel the heat from those photos. Great post, once again – always enjoyable! 🙂

    Like

  8. beatingthebounds says:

    I walked (it’s a walk) the Shamrock Traverse not so long ago, it’s very fine and easy too, although you probably need some degree of confidence with exposure. But: It doesn’t take you to the top of Pillar Rock, you’d have to climb over Pisgah and up out of Pisgah Notch for that – which has always been way out of my league.
    Lovely words and photos Alen, as ever!

    Like

    • McEff says:

      Hi Mark. Thanks for that. Yes, the traverse takes you to the edge of the notch (seen clearly in the picture), beyond which is the actual top of the rock a few feet away. The rock itself is out of my league, too.
      Cheers, Alen

      Like

  9. Karl says:

    A very timely post Alen as I was up on Pillar last week. Usually (I’m ashamed to say) Pilar was just a mountain that needed crossing on the way to somewhere else but I was staying at Black Sail hut and given that a load of snow had fallen overnight the shortish climb was the sole object of the day and I finally appreciated why it’s a lot of peoples favourite Lakeland fell and after a wonderful climb in the snow I now think that it’s possibly one of mine as well.
    I have come down the wind gap scree once but never again ( and I didn’t even break my arm, which was a good job as it was a boiling hot day and I didn’t have a footie scarf with me)

    Like

    • McEff says:

      Hi Karl. Pillar in snow sounds magical, especially from the Black Sail hut side because it’s a much less-frequented route. I camped outside the hut once but I’ve never slept in it. It’s a fantastic area.
      Glad you didn’t break your arm. Once is enough, I think, for that scree chute. I won’t be doing it again, that’s for sure.
      All the best, Alen

      Like

  10. Don’t especially like the look of those screes myself, I have to say….
    Your retro posts always make me realise just how old I am though. I was at Uni then, and the Ballroom Dancing society was the biggest club ever (really!) and we were all dancing like John Travolta.
    And Brown Girl In The Ring always drove me up the wall 😀
    Touching the Void is an excellent film. I’ve even shown selected excerpts to my Year 6s at school when we’ve been doing a topic on mountains. Kept them quiet.

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    • McEff says:

      Hi Chrissie. The Ballroom Dancing Society sounds like really good fun. Looking back, if I’d have done more of that sort of stuff rather than spending weekends alone in the mountains I would have been a much more rounded and sociable person.
      Yes, Touching the Void made a big impression on me. A marvelous and thought-provoking film.
      Cheers, Alen

      Like

  11. Steve Bibby says:

    Terrifying screes there, Alen. I wouldn’t even look over the edge. I’m windmilling in my armchair.

    Thanks for the tale.

    Like

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