Andy Merrills, Alfred Wainwright - Slightly Foxed Issue 30

A Personal Landscape

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There are two footpaths in the Lake District that join the village of Patterdale to the long ridge above it called St Sunday Crag. One of these is marked very prominently on the Ordnance Survey ‘Explorer’ map of the north-eastern lakes: it runs up past Thornhow End and through the scattered boulders of Harrison Crag, and on up to the smaller summit of Birks. From there it’s a pleasant stroll along the ridge to St Sunday Crag proper, then across Deepdale Hause, looking down into Deepdale Beck, and on to the heights of Fairfield.

I’m looking at the map as I write this, and I can’t help stealing glances at the bold green paths which radiate temptingly out across those closely packed orange contours. I peer down at Hart Crag and Great Rigg, both short but exhilarating skirts across the summit from Fairfield, and then up to Helvellyn and Stybarrow Dodd, and to Caudale Moor and the High Street Range just across the valley. And as I look at them and the paths between them, or gaze at those magical letters ‘PH’, which indicate that villages along the way might well be worth a stop-off, I remember the days I’ve spent on the fells, alone or with friends, and think of the trips yet to come.

There’s a second path up to St Sunday Crag from Patterdale which isn’t quite so well marked. It starts off like the first, but just as the dotted green line on the Ordnance Survey stomps purposefully up to the summit of Birks, a second track skirts along to the right, following the contours on the northern side of the St Sunday ridge, through a grassy landscape of boulders, until it finally joins its cousin at the top.

This path is little more than a faint grey dotted line on the published walkers’ maps but is the clearer of the two on the ground. On a fine day, as it was when I was first up in that neighbourhood, navigation is never much of a problem on a proud fell like St Sunday, and so I followed the path more travelled (it seemed) with little worry that I would get lost. After about half an hour’s climb out of Patterdale, when the gradual settling of a hastily consumed full English breakfast was starting to slow the proud pace of the early morning, I turned, sat and surveyed where I’d come from. Ullswater lay immediately before me, Fairfield behind. To my right was the top of Birks, and to my left the great peaks of the Helvellyn chain that divide the whole Lake District in two. Even as I regretted that third rasher of bacon, I knew t

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About the contributor

Andy Merrills teaches ancient history at the University of Leicester. He has written extensively on the history and archaeology of North Africa, but he escapes to the fells whenever he can.

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