Becks, Gills and Tarns



Grasmere to Patterdale – Greenbank Farm
9:10 AM – 2.48 PM
15.2 km
Saturday, May 28, 2016

We had three choices of trail today, but the choices really only started after the first 5.69 km. In those first 5.69 kilometres we climbed 528 metres in 2 hours and 2 minutes. We both rolled up our pants part way up the ascent and only wore a t-shirt from the start. I think the high for today was supposed to be 16C. Sweat was running down my face and neck before 10:30 AM. We caught up with two couples who were either Canadian or American. We did not ask which but their accents gave them away. They were studying their maps and book and were not sure which gill to follow Little Tongue or Tongue Gill. We assured them that Tongue Gill had less ascent. They hesitated to believe us especially as there appeared to be nothing low about our route as we climbed away from them. After much discussion and gesticulating, they followed but never appeared as more than specks in the distance as we clambered over fourteen becks.

A side note here on the English language. I studied Old English in my first year of University more than forty years ago. It was not a course of my choosing but a requirement while my focus was French and Russian. I do not remember learning about becks and gills, tarns and waters but maybe if I had paid more attention I might have done. I will give you what my thoughts are on this vocabulary then I will rely on my British friends or my brother, Jim, to correct me.

A beck is a small stream sliding or racing down from the fells, which are big hills. Sometimes the fells are extra steep then that side would be called a crag as in yesterday’s Lining Crag or today’s St Sunday Crag, unless it is called an edge as in Striding Edge. I do not have an opinion on pikes as we did not climb to Dollywaggon Pike or Nethermost Pike today. Perhaps if we had done the Hellvellyn route today, I would know more about those moonscapes. I did walk on the Pike of Carrs yesterday. From this brief experience I might say the pike is the short flat bit when you are not going up or down. Mostly pikes are a figment of the imagination in the Lake District.

I do know that I am glad we did not descend on scree as I believe this to be a short form for ‘scream’ as I would be screaming all the way down the loose stone scree from the high pike and may not have any breath left to draw by the time I tumbled to the bottom.

I think a gill is bigger than a beck, at least it looked wider and faster but may be made from many becks. The gills may even make rivers although I think we only crossed one river, that being Liza. We crossed Liza three times and I would say she was wider and deeper than any gill but just as clear.

A tarn is a very small lake, possibly only identified as such if it it is high on a fell, whereas a water such as Ennerdale Water is a bigger lake. Even though we are in the Lake District, I have not seen any lakes, only tarns and waters.

I do not know about hows except that I have probably seen one on every other map, as in Low Cock How, Black How, Low Spying How or High Spying How.

Quite possibly I should have worn a hat more today as I think the sun may have addled my brain, even though I thought we had sufficient cloud to not need a hat. I needed to let all that excess steam escape.
All this to say that today we followed the Grisedale Valley route, presumably the easier of three possibilities. We think we made a good choice as we were more than a little fatigued from yesterday’s high route and Brian’s knees were warning that level ground was needed. We did not get level ground but our descent was perhaps more gradual than either of the other routes.

We have a long day ahead of us tomorrow: 25 kilometres, supposedly relatively easy after the first eight kilometres to Kidsty Pike at 2500 feet then a 2000 foot drop in 1 kilometre. Your prayers, positive energy and good vibrations all accepted as we hike our final day before leaving the Lake District.

Time to relax on the sheep farm where we will dine at 7 PM. Two other guests are also here. We had to walk the extra kilometre from Patterdale and need to return there in the morning to rejoin the Coast to Coast. Bev and Peter are delightful hosts. They have three thousand acres with 3000 sheep, mostly Cheviots.



  1. I’ve just ‘accompanied’ you on your first week of hiking, from the sunshine through the fog & wind seeking those loose cairns and on to more beautiful pastoral scenes tucked between steep ups & downs. You ‘paint’ great pictures with your words. Happy you passed the test at Pearson. Keep on the high road!

  2. I could not possibly correct your Old English, Rona Lynn – becks, gills, tarns and such are way beyond my ken!

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