To anyone who has completed the Fellsman Hike, or at least got as far as the Cray checkpoint, the hours spent crossing Fleet Moss, Oughtershaw Tarn and Middle Fell (Yockenthwaite Moor) stand out in the memory. For all the wrong reasons. This 8-mile stretch of the 61-mile route is mostly covered in groughs, hags, perilous bogs and deep, saturated mosses. And to top all that, it’s usually undertaken during the hours of darkness by us mortals who are not superhuman fell-runners!
I last did this in 2009 and vowed “Never Again”. So here I am, fully signed-up (along with the Witch) and ready to celebrate the 50th running of the event. We never learn.
I decided to go out and recce this stretch to see if I could find some better lines of approach. Moreover, due to Landowner-related issues, the Middle Fell checkpoint had had to be moved last year 800m to the South. It has just been announced that the same location is to be used this year, and so the Witch and I, accompanied by the Whelk, drove up early one Saturday to get to grips with this region.
Sitting in the car, at the point where the Fleet Moss checkpoint tent will be, and looking out over said moss is a dispiriting experience; a sea of peat groughs and bogs stretching for a mile. It looked very wet and uninviting – and it had just started to rain.
On the day of the event there is usually a stile placed over the fence to guide walkers safely into the gloop (remember it’s usually pitch black, with just your head-torch to light the way). However, most years I’ve used the drier route of following the southern wall round the moss to Jeffrey Pot (accompanied by my Groupees, of course – the people I ended up being “grouped” with)
It’s always difficult starting off, finding the right spot to leave the road. We left a touch too soon, around the 560 contour, and next time I’ll go closer to the 540 line.
The southern wall route is easy underfoot with easy navigation. Seeing Jeffrey Pot in daylight was fascinating – one usually just senses the huge void to your left.
The route then descends steeply to the plateau holding Oughtershaw Tarn, and at the top of the descent all you see is water and bog for around 800m. At first the going is not too bad, following the fence line and jumping the ooze-filled gaps. Then we found we were in a kind of grassy groove, with a faint path that very gradually moved away from the fence, northwards.
After a while I felt worried about leaving the fence and so headed back, but it was false comfort as the bog hindered easy movement until the steep climb away from the plateau was reached.
Following the wall around to Deepdale Haw, and looking back over the tarn area we could see that maybe that groove should have been adhered to, for we could see a junction of faint paths, one of which now reached up to us at the Haw, radiating from the end of the groove. Another thing to be checked on our next visit.
By now we could see across to Yockenthwaite Moor to our East and the suspected location of the new checkpoint. It struck us immediately that by following the edge of the groughs we could miss the worst of the terrain and be roughly in line with the target. We crossed the wall at 901817 and headed roughly SE to cross the upper reaches of Deepdale Gill. We then came across a faint track which we’d just spotted a couple of runners using. This crossed the Gill and then headed SSE; infact it was waymarked as an official path but it is not on any map I’ve seen. The path forked; we kept left. It seemed to be heading directly for the checkpoint when, close to a flattened cairn, it head more sharply left. We took a bearing on the checkpoint and crossed easy tufts of grass to reach an area of rocks and bare earth where the GPS told us the checkpoint would be.
We then took a bearing on the wall junction at 924808 and without any undue problems with terrain, arrived at Gilbert Lane 200m South of Grey Horse. A much better experience than in the past, and one that filled me with more confidence for the upcoming event.
After a quick drink at the White Lion Inn, Cray, we headed back along Langstrothdale, via the picturesque settlements of Hubberholme, Yockenthwaite and Deepdale to arrive back at Trebor just as darkness fell.
A short while later the black sky was filled with myriad stars, and the bright moon lit up the moors in ghostly fashion. We looked out through the misty windscreen over Fleet Moss – “We’ll be back”.