Friday, 10 February 2017

St Sunday Crag

Somewhere in an old guide-book, published more than fifty years ago, I remember reading: "St. Sunday Crag IS the Ullswater mountain," and, when you come to think about it, it's not a bad description. For St. Sunday Crag dominates the western reach of Ullswater far more dramatically than Helvellyn and, in a sense, commands the whole length of the lake better than any other mountain. And yet its summit is disappointing and the mountain not especially popular. Not many people bother with the ascent for its own sake, but are more likely to use the mountain as a pleasant route off Fairfield.

Which is very strange, for St. Sunday Crag is a massive, soaring fell, one of the steepest in Lakeland, with a fine shape when seen from any angle. Who St. Sunday was I've little idea. W. G. Collingwood suggested the name might be derived from St. Sanctum, but this doesn't help a great deal. I have also been told the name is thought to be derived from St. Dominic--the Saint of the Lord's Day—which suggests there might be some tradition of a religious house of this order in the district, but I have no facts to substantiate this. There is a St. Sunday's Beck to the south-east of Kendal, but no apparent connection between the two, and the old books named the mountain St Sunday's Crag. But perhaps the name doesn't matter very much and it trips readily off the tongue, although it is really surprising how few people know the mountain. I was there one October, climbing some of new routes on the crag but when I happened to mention this few days later to a friend who has been walking the fells for years, he confessed he had never been on the mountain and had never even noticed the crag.

And yet the Grisedale face of the mountain, which drops nearly 2000‘ in half a mile is one of the most dramatic fellsides in the country and the crags below the summit are nearly a mile long. But my friend is by no means alone in not knowing about this long line of crag, as big as several Napes Ridges crowded together, for rock climbers had missed it for years and only started making climbs there 12 years ago.

Seen from the valley the crags look almost insignificant because of the length and steepness of the fellsides below them, and it is only when you get among them that you realise what you have been missing. The crag is not among the best in Lakeland, but at least there is a lot of it, the rock is good, and some of the climbs, particularly on the Great Nose and The Pillar, are quite impressive. So far about 20 routes have been made and there is scope for more climbing there, although the approach to the crag-for the climber- can be rather long and tedious.

But there’s much more to St Sunday Crag than this rather restricted appeal to the rock climber. For the mountain is not only a shapely impressive fell but a magnificent viewpoint. the summit itself,as I have indicated, is rather dull, but from a point a little to the north, and indeed, from any point on the NE ridge, there are wonderful views of Ullswater. Perhaps the best views of the lake from any of the surrounding fells.

The classic scramble-Pinnacle Ridge
And the descent from the ridge,across the shoulder of Birks and through the steeply wooded slopes of Glemara Park, is among the joys of Patterdale. This is a track for walking down rather than up, for the view is below you all the way. The lake curving around the side of Place Fell,with its tiny islands, riding like yachts at anchor, and the scene slowly changing from crag and woods to the pastoral beauty of the eastern end.

The hard way up St Sunday Crag is to plough up the rather dreary zig-zags from Elmhow is Grisedale, and this is the way the climber goes, but there is an interesting route from Deepdale by way of the East Ridge, or better still, the mountain can be approached from Fairfield. I suppose I must have come off Fairfield this way a dozen times, over Cofa Pike, down to Deepdale Hause and then pleasantly and easily over the top of St Sunday Crag and down to Patterdale for food and drink. Alternatively, the walker can get his peak the long easy way by walking up Grisedale to the tarn, and then working his may up the to Deepdale Hause and on to the summit with the run  down to Patterdale as dessert. Before the rock-climbers found the crag, the Grisedale face of the mountain used to be an interesting place for wild flowers, perhaps because hardly anybody ever went there. I hope and believe it will continue so, for the climbs are not likely to attract crowds of Great Gable proportions, and you can still have them to yourself and watch the processions moving over Striding Edge across the valley.

Perhaps we've been on the crag a dozen times, but we've never seen anybody else there. Although the actual summit of St. Sunday Crag is not an especially interesting place and only a moderate viewpoint, the neighbouring top of Gavel Pike, across a little saddle,  is a pleasant, airy peak well worth a visit. One rewarding view from the main summit-perhaps its main feature-is the splendid peeps into the coves below the summit of Helvellyn, but the bulk of this mountain, and of Fairfield, too, prevents many distant views. The sweeps down into Grisedale and Deepdale, however, maintain St. Sunday Crag's dominance, and the views to north-east, once the descent is begun, will always justify the climb to the top.

The last time we came down from St. Sunday Crag, the lake looked like a silver scimitar curving around the shoulder of Place Fell and the air was so still we could see the Scots pines reflected in the waters of Lanty Tarn in the little col on the edge, overlooking Glenridding. The dogs were barking down at Grassthwaite How but the Grisedale Beck was silent and we could see no movement, except for the clouds, over the whole countryside. Down in the woods the leaves were turning to gold and the smoke from the cottages in Patterdale rose straight and slowly in the evening air. 

AH Griffin: The Roof of England-1968