Debbie was taking a day off after we climbed The Old Man Of Coniston, which you can read about here, so I decided to turn one of the walks in the guide book into a tabbing session. Those of you who read my blog should know by now that I have got into ‘tabbing’ in a big way. Just to remind you, ‘tabbing’ is a military term (‘tactical advance to battle’) which essentially means moving quickly while carrying weight. Of course, I do not travel as quickly or with as much weight as the military, but the events I am currently drawn to are worked on this basis, and in January I am doing The Fan Dance back to back on the Saturday and the Sunday with Avalanche Endurance Events. I was going to be carrying all my kit from the Point To Point event I did with Avalanche Endurance Events (which you can read about here) in my bergen as practice for the Winter Fan Dance, and was going to be wearing my Ako Pilgrim tabbing boots. I was ‘only’ carrying my safety kit, which consisted of a spare compass, two headtorches, spare laces, paracord, gaffer tape and a couple of utility tools in one waterproof bag; spare wooly hat, ruff, and spare pair of gloves in another; mountain first aid kit, Fitzroy jacket, and a towel and talcum powder in their own bags; a hexamine stove with a Zippo lighter, spork, tea bags and bags of porridge inside a metal pot and cup, all bagged and secured so it would not rattle; a cut down rollmat, and in another waterproof bag my change of clothing, being a short sleeved zipped base layer, long sleeved base layer, two fleeces, a pair of hiking trousers, long johns and socks, and a knee brace, just in case, and once all that had been gathered together my bergen was weighing 35lbs. I also had 2 litres of water in a bladder, 1 litre in a thermos flask, and water purification tablets in case of the need for an emergency resupply from a stream, plus food. I was going out into the wilds of the Blawith Fells so everything I was carrying in my bergen was potentially essential. I was wearing long North Face hiking trousers, Paramo boxer shorts, Bridgedale socks, a Rab short-sleeved base layer and my Rab Vapour-rise Lite Alpine jacket on top. The weather was dry with a hint of probable rain, so I was also wearing a wooly hat and a pair of inner gloves, to at least keep me warm as I set off.
The guide book told me that Blawith Common is low-lying hillocks that punctuate a landscape of brackeny bogland, which made it sound perfect for tabbing. I started from the Brown Howe car park by the shores of Coniston Water, turning left along the road away from the direction of Coniston itself, then crossing the road and going past a road junction before taking a rough track which rose away from the road and headed towards a disused quarry. Just before the quarry entrance it bore left on a grassy path through the trees and bracken, and then came back down to the road. It had been nothing more than an interesting diversion to avoid going down a section of the main road. I now continued along the road until I had passed two parking areas on the left, and found a track on the right just as the road bent round to the left.
I followed the track as it rose steadily onto brackeny slopes, with the path very wet underfoot, and as I climbed the rain began to fall. I crossed a couple of streams of water which I suspect would not be there in the summer and after some steady pushing up the track got to overhead powerlines at the top, at which point I forked left and continued to climb. The path I was meant to follow crosses the shoulder of Slatestone Fell but by following what I thought looked like the track I dropped down too far south and went behind it instead of across it, between it and Bowder Knott before hitting a boundary line which I then followed round to the west. I was not too bothered to be off track because it was good training to be travelling off the track, would just add to the mileage and the elevation, and I had a pretty good idea of where I was on the map. I crossed a track heading north, which would have given me an easy option to get back to Statestone Fell, and decided to carry straight on to the next boundary and then head north to find my next objective on this route, Beacon Tarn. It was steady climbing through the bracken and it was keeping me warm in the falling rain. I heard water and pushed on, coming to a proper stone path and seeing what must have been Tarn Beck running beside it.
I could see the path on the map and walked a little way east along it, just to check I was where I thought I was, before turning around and following it back to the west until it brought me through the mist and out at Beacon Tarn, which really did remain hidden until the very last moment. But then what a site, with a distinctly spooky feel in the current weather conditions. I can only imagine how very different it must look in the summer, and as with Low Water on the way to the summit of The Old Man Of Coniston, I do want to come back to see the difference. Either way, it is not hard to imagine that Beacon Tarn must be Trout Tarn of Swallowdale from Swallows And Amazons by Arthur Ransome.
I turned left and kept to the edge of the tarn so far as I was able to. The mist had come down now and I could not see the far bank of the tarn, and my route was largely determined by the least wet tracks I could find. I was now on the Cumbrian Way and as I left the tarn behind me a grassy path rose through a gap, taking me up to the most wonderful views of the Coniston Fells ahead.
It remained tricky finding a decent path to follow as the ground and the rocks were so wet, but now I was beginning to descend past a very marshy area which the guide book suggests may well have contained another tarn in the past, and soon came to a rocky track which took me round to the left, then down, and, branching left, forward towards the distant green cone of Coats Hill.
I came out on to a minor road, turned right and followed it until it came back to the main road, pushing it along this much more even surface, reaching the main road and taking a left turn which brought me back to the Brown Howe car park, having covered 4.9 miles and 1217 feet of elevation in just under 2 hours. There was time for a quick look out at the majestic Coniston Water and then I set off home to get warm and dry, after having spent the best part of the previous 2 hours in the rain. I was feeling really good !
You can see more photographs from the tab here.