When you live in Cumbria even a trip to the shops can be an adventure. From my home in Grange-over-Sands I have a few options available when it comes to nipping out for a pint of milk; option 1 is the car (boring), option 2 is a stroll along the prom (a popular and oft used option), while option 3 involves a short hike up and over Hampsfell which is pretty much irresistible on warm sunny afternoons, especially in late spring.
The journey begins with a steady climb through Eggerslack wood which, at this time of year, is full of bluebells and wild garlic. In some places the myriad of bluebells makes me wonder if this is where Hendrix got his inspiration for Purple Haze. Perhaps not. In other places they’re mixed in with the white flowers of wild garlic and the aroma, whilst intoxicating and ever-so slightly exotic, can also induce hunger pangs if lunch is fast approaching.
The route is well marked and trodden and winds up through the woods to a drystone wall stile where the woods abruptly stop and the open fell begins. Climbing up the path which leads directly away from the stile and towards the limestone crags the views around you open up with each step. The first set of crags give you the perfect excuse to pause, catch your breath and take in the views down across Morecambe Bay. Blackpool Tower is easy to spot on a clear day away to the south and in the west Ingleborough looms large and iconically flat in the distance.
Just a short hike up and over another stile and a few more gentle crags and you’ll find yourself approaching the Hospice. Now, when I first heard about this I thought it was an unusual place for a care facility, however this isn’t a hospice in the way we usually understand it, this is a good sized stone building erected by the Victorians to provide shelter at the summit and, to be honest, I think every summit should have one. The low chain fence around the outside gives the impression you’re not meant to enter but that is simply there to keep the sheep away.
To fully appreciate the views you need to take your life in your hands and climb the rickety stone steps up the side of the hospice and onto the roof; there you will find an ingenious device for identifying all the visible fells and landmarks. It’s quite a blustery spot so if it’s a windy day to begin with you’ll need to hang on tight. From here you can see the pretty village of Cartmel tucked away to the east and beyond that the Hoad in Ulverston; you can also see your route down leading away from the Hospice towards the bay and I’m reminded of the real reason for my journey and reluctantly continue my journey towards the Co-op.
As the route down doesn’t involve any woods the views are spectacular the whole way; Humphrey Head, Walney Island, Piel Island, the list goes on and as you make your way along the tracks it’s a tough cookie indeed that doesn’t stop to coo at the newborn lambs bouncing around the fields in the spring sunshine (even if you do then have a pang of guilt as you recall your wild garlic fuelled lunch thoughts earlier on.)
Once the fields give way to the houses you have a wide choice of options available to you to reach the village and I’ve intentionally never taken the same route twice; there are little alley ways, tiny winding roads and hidden away footpaths that snake downwards towards the shops, just so long as you keep heading downwards then you’ll be fine. Of course, once I’m laden down with milk (and the dozen or so other things that weren’t on my list but which I bought anyway) I want an easier route home, so, will it be the prom, the orchard or the picnic spot with the amazing views of the bay? Decisions, decisions…