A walk on to Birks Fell from Arncliffe in Littondale via Old Cote Moor. After camping the night alongside Birks Tarn we descended to Litton before walking back along the valley to Arncliffe.
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Back in 2011 I bought a backpacking tent with the aim of doing some wild camping trips. After a couple of trips, one to Sprinkling Tarn in the Lake District, and another night on Swarth Fell above Mallerstang it had quickly fizzled out. My tent had been gathering dust for sometime, not because I didn’t want to use it, but because I didn’t really feel comfortable spending a night out on the hills on my own.
Earlier in the year I met up with Chris, a long time friend on Facebook, for a walk in the South Pennines. By happy chance he also enjoyed wild camping but didn’t get out as much as he’d like either. The seeds were thus planted for this trip. I’ve always liked the idea of camping by a tarn and of the ones I suggested, Chris picked Birks Tarn, high on the ridge dividing Wharfedale and Littondale. It turned out to be a good choice.
“As the sun set curlews and dunlins called to each other in the fading light. It was quite beautiful.”
Not wanting to reach our camping spot too early we didn’t meet at Arncliffe until 5pm in the afternoon. It was a lovely sunny day but not too hot. With a much heavier pack than usual I was certainly glad that the temperatures weren’t too high. From Arncliffe we followed the road up dale a short way before taking a steep grassy path that led us on to a track. This slanted up at an easier gradient on to Old Cote Moor. Behind us there was already a great view back to Arncliffe backed by the side valley of Cowside Beck. Closer to hand there was also some interesting flora and fauna including wild thyme and a few painted lady butterflies.
As we approached the top of the ridge we diverted off the main path to check out a shooting lodge. From there we climbed directly to the wall running across the ridge. Turning left it was then a steady climb on a thin path to the Firth Fell trig point. From there is was a straightforward walk to Birks Tarn.
Our initial attempts at pitching our tents were farcical. Chris couldn’t find his pegs and it had been so long since I’d pitched my tent I couldn’t remember how to do it. I eventually thought I’d figured it out only to realise I’d pitched it inside out! Thankfully Chris found his pegs and I finally got my act together. Once the tents were pitched we left them for a short walk up to the cairn marking the summit of Birks Fell.
By the time we returned to our tents it was late evening so we got our stoves out and sat by the tarn to cook ourselves some dinner. Indeed we spent the rest of the evening sat by the tarn. On my previous two wild camping trips I hadn’t had much luck with sunsets and sunrises. On this occasion we were treated to a lovely sunset over the waters of Birks Tarn. As the sun set curlews and dunlins called to each other in the fading light. It was quite beautiful.
After enjoying a sunset we were keen to see a sunrise. With it being only a couple of days after the summer solstice the nights were short so I set my alarm for 4.20am. For once I slept fairly well, largely thanks I think to the new camping pillow I’d bought myself. When my alarm went off I roused Chris and we got up to view a somewhat over cast dawn. A hint of light could be seen above Buckden Pike and Great Whernside but that was it.
Returning to our tents we dozed off again and got up about 8am for breakfast. After packing away our tents it was then time to return to Arncliffe. To do this we followed a thin path alongside the broken wall just east of the tarn. This led us to the Buckden to Litton bridleway. Turning right on this we passed over the top of the ridge and began our descent into Littondale.
The final section of the descent, as the track slanted down towards Litton was an absolute joy. There was an abundance of wildflowers and as Chris is a keen botanist he was able to tell me what they all were. Amongst others we saw wild thyme, heath bedstraw, bird’s foot trefoil, hawkbit and lots of beautiful yellow rock rose. The floral treats didn’t stop there. Once we’d walked down into Litton and crossed over to the other side of the River Skirfare the riverside path we followed to Arncliffe revealed even more flowers such as bush vetch, dog rose, red campion, wood avens and wood cranesbill.
This was a hugely successful and enjoyable trip. Just getting out using my tent was a result. The beautiful evening we’d spent chatting by Birks Tarn as the sun went down was one of the highlights of my year. All the wildflowers we saw the next morning were just the icing on the cake. Hopefully it won’t be quite so long until I get out with my tent again.