Sunday, June 03, 2007

Lake District Holiday III: Hallin Fell

In 1930, a young accountant from Blackburn, Lancashire, strolled up Orrest Head, near Windermere in the southern Lake District, and fell in love. He was in an unhappy marriage, and worked weeklong at a desk job—to young Alfred Wainwright, the fells of the Lake District represented freedom and fulfilment and happiness and a little glimpse of heaven. He called his stroll up Orrest Head “our awakening to beauty.” For the next fifty years, Wainwright devoted his life to the Lakeland fells, publishing eight popular hand-printed and illustrated guides to the fells.

One of the smaller fells in the books, at 1271 feet, is Hallin Fell. Despite its diminutive size, Hallin Fell commands spectacular views over Ullswater and beyond. Helvellyn (3115 feet) and Dove Crag (2603 feet) rise impressively to the southwest. “The rich rewards its summit offers,” says Wainwright, “are out of all proportion to the slight effort of ascent.”

Clara and Will on the Ullswater Steamer ferry, with Hallin Fell in the background.

To start the walk, the Ullswater Steamers ferry took us (me, Clara, Will and my sister Clara) from Pooley Bridge to Howtown, the small hamlet at the foot of Hallin Fell. Howtown always reminds me of e.e. cummings, but actually “how” is an old word for “cairn” (a pile of stones marking the summit of a hill or mountain). The word “how” is derived from the Old Norse, as are several other important words in the Cumbrian dialect, notably “fell” (“mountain or hill”) and “pike” (summit or peak).* On our first walk of the holiday (see “Lake District Holiday I,” below), we climbed Barton Fell, which incorporates several crags hanging out over the lake (Long Crag, Whinny Crag, Raven Crag) and a pike (Arthur’s Pike).

The Hallin Fell cairn, looking northeast toward Pooley Bridge.

From Howtown, we had an easy walk up to the cairn at the summit, where we took in the famous views. The descent was the hard part. On the descent from Barton Fell, I hurt my left knee, and the short descent from Hallin Fell was agonizing. Before we tackled Helvellyn (3115 feet) on Friday, I would get hold of a knee brace to see me through the descent (2500 feet of descent in two miles).

*The local Cumbrian dialect is rich in words for hills; others include “dodd” (a round hill, or shoulder of a higher hill, from the Middle English) and “crag” (a steep ciff, from the Celtic). A rocky ravine is a “gill” (from the Old Norse) and a “beck” is a brook or stream (also from the Old Norse).

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