We had had fine dry weather for the first four days of our Long Walk. The 5th day it became a bit wet as we entered the Lake District National Park. The 6th day it was definitely raining with low cloud. We had to get from Haweswater to Ambleside and had planned to go over High Street and Thornthwaite Crag. We decided to take a lower, though longer route and avoid the high fells in the wind, rain and poor visibility.
We walked beside Haweswater to the car park at the end and then set off up towards the Gatesgarth Pass. It’s one of those off road roads which are not that nice to walk on but we gained elevation steadily and soon left the valley behind. At 570m on the pass we were in thick cloud with horizontal rain being driven at us by the strong wind. This verified our decision to stay relatively low. The bad decision was to wear shorts – rather chilly!
We hastened on down into Longsleddale. At Sadgill we took the path over to Kentmere.
It was great to get off the ‘road’ and we took a footpath over the side of the fell down into Kentmere. The drought which the Lake District had been enjoying in early spring was now over and the fells were once more wet and soggy with water running everywhere.
Kentmere is a small village in the South of the Lake District. It has a population of 160 and is a popular place to start many walks as it is at the end of the tarmac road and gives good access onto the fells. Our onward route towards Ambleside took us over the Garburn Pass which is a restricted by-way. Another off road road but one that no longer allows motorised vehicles. The pass brought us down into Troutbeck and after a precipitous walk up to Townend we found that the Old Post Office cafe was still open. A very welcome break in front of their real fire.
The remaining 5km to Ambleside was along Robin Lane and then through Skelghyll Woods. This is a well constructed path which is a very popular, easy walk between Troutbeck and Ambleside. It was a pleasant end to a long day and it had stopped raining!
The next day was dry and bright so we were able to continue with the Long Walk as planned. The plan started with a ride on a bus to Grasmere where we once again picked up the Coast to Coast route up from Mill Bridge to Grisedale Tarn.
We walked round the West side of the tarn and up the pitched path to Dollywagon Pike. The path is mostly 10 – 15 years old now and receives heavy use. The hillside it sits on is unstable and needs constant maintenance to re-do and lengthen drains and repitch sections that have moved. It is a fine path to gain elevation and we were soon up to 850m. Another kilometre on the ridge brought us to Nethermost Pike. There was a keen wind blowing and I made use of a small stone shelter to change my clothes as conditions had quite suddenly become very cold. Fortunately, despite carrying as little as possible I had included enough warm clothes to be comfortable and safe on the mountains. We continued to Helvellyn.
After a quick photo shoot we continued to the North, leaving the crowds behind. We continued over Lower Man and up onto Raise.
We continued walking north crossing the Sticks Pass which connects Thirlmere with Ulswater. Then followed Stybarrow Dodd, Watsons Dodd and Great Dodd and continued to the Northerly end of the ridge at Clough Head.
It was then a simple matter of making a beeline for Threlkeld where we were staying for the night. I haven’t said much about our overnight billets and they were mostly very good. However, – do yourself a favour and NEVER stay at the Horse and Farrier at Threlkeld!
The next day was very wet. We had planned to go up Skiddaw but instead we walked directly to Keswick. Following the floods in December 2015 the Keswick to Threlkeld Railway path suffered serious damage. Two of the railway bridges that cross the River Greta and around 200 metres of the path surface were washed away and Rawsome Bridge was left in danger of collapse. The cost to repair the path is estimated at £5m and there is still extensive work to be done. In the mean time there is an alternative route and this is what we followed. We spent some time in Keswick with the attractions of shopping and cafes but these were quickly exhausted. Our next mode of transport was by motorised launch from Keswick to Hawes End.
The weather had not improved and we were soaked to the skin when we arrived at Littletown Farm for our overnight stay. This was a mere 2km walk along the valley from Hawes End. At one point I was lifted off my feet by the wind.
After a very comfortable night in the Newlands Valley at Littletown we woke to find the rain was still pouring and the wind was still blowing around 20mph in the valley. Once again we had to modify our plan. We had to get to Wasdale Head. The plan had been to go over the high fells at the head of the Newlands Valley, over the Honister Pass and visit Great Gable. It was still a long walk to get to Wasdale and our safest route was to cross over Maiden Moor and drop down into Borrowdale at Manesty. There had been so much rain that the roads were now flooded and all the streams were roaring.
We continued on the bridleway passing Castle Crag to Seatoller.
It was decision time.
The shortest way to Wasdale Head was over Sty Head Pass at 488m. In the present conditions we were heading directly into a very strong wind – steady at 25mph – gusting over 30mph with driving rain. We were already soaked to the skin despite being clothed top to toe in gortex and poor Archie was also looking fairly bedraggled. The alternative was a very expensive taxi back to Keswick and on to Wasdale via Cockermouth, Whitehaven and Gosforth. We decided to have a go but were not sure if we would make it over the pass.
It was very noisy. The wind was roaring and everywhere water was thundering down off the fells. We crossed Grains Gill at Stockley Bridge.
This is a library picture. The conditions were too wild to get any pictures of our own. We then had to cross several small streams – cascading down the hill. I was worried Archie would get washed away but he had no problems. We made our way to the banks of Styhead Gill which we then followed upwards. We met 2 parties of walkers who had abandoned their attempts to get any further due to the strength of the wind! Ian was starting to flag – he hates the wind – and it was all starting to get a bit sketchy. Archie was game though and he stoically continued to make forwards progress.
Thankfully there is a footbridge across Styhead Gill. The rain stopped for about 10 minutes and this brief respite enabled us to get across the bridge and soon after Sty Head Tarn came into view. Ian commented that the sea state on the tarn was suitable for BCU 4* sea assessment! We only had about another 500m and we would be at the pass. It wasn’t until we got to this point that I began to believe we would make it. Once we were at the pass we could immediately begin to descend into Wasdale.
The path from Wasdale was an old packhorse trail. At the highest point is the confluence of paths from Wasdale, Eskdale, Borrowdale and Great Langdale. We were coming up from Borrowdale.
Sty Head forms an important navigational and safety point between Great Gable and Scafell Pike, and there is a Mountain Rescue Stretch Box at the pass. We briefly cowered in the shelter of the stretcher box and checked the map and GPS to make absolutely certain that we were dropping down into Wasdale. A mistake at this point would have been bad. Archie led the way doing his mountain goat impersonation down the steep sections of the path. The wind affected him much less as he is so low to the ground. For a 10 year old little terrier he was very impressive. The conditions were really harsh and Archie just got on with it. This is a dog who can ‘man up’.
After what seemed like too long we caught a glimpse through the cloud of Wasdale opening up ahead of us. We were saved! It was all going to work out well. The amount of water thundering off the hill was really impressive and very noisy. As we lost height the world became a better place and we made our walk thankfully to the Hotel where we had a room booked. It was that £30 deposit we had paid that drove the day!
It was worth it though. The staff made a great fuss of Archie: towelled him down and gave him biscuits. We were shown our room with a hot radiator and a hot shower and an adjacent drying room. Our room quickly resembled a sauna and we had to prop the sash window open with the Good News Bible!
There was beer and food in the Ritsons bar. There was even a dry calm weather forecast for the following day.
What a difference a day makes. The following morning we walked back up to the stretcher box at Sty Head. It was dry with a gentle breeze! Sty Head looked very calm.
We walked along the bridleway passing Sprinkling Tarn to Esk Hause. At this point most folk go up to Scafell Pike but we continued onto Esk Pike down to Ire Gap and then onto Bowfell. The path then drops steeply down to Three Tarns and then up onto Crinkle Crags. Crinkle Crags is much too good to be missed. It is a rough rocky mile of craggy slopes with many ins and outs as well as ups and downs. The ridge is a delight with the scenery constantly changing. Our first top was the Shelter Crags and after that there are five tops of Crinkles all above 750m. Wainwright describes it as Lakeland’s best ridge-mile. Archie agreed and he very obviously enjoyed our traverse of Crinkle Crags.
We dropped of the crags and walked down to the pass near Red Tarn. We were having a really good day so we decided that an ascent of Pike o Blisco as an extra peak was in order. We had great views of the Langdales from the top and enjoyed the long descent down to the Blea Tarn Road. From there we had planned to go over Lingmoor Fell to get to our overnight stop at Elterwater. It now looked enormous so we backed out and walked along Greater Langdale instead. This was an easy if rather long winded alternative!
The Britannia Inn had food, beer and a comfortable room. Our last day dawned dry and bright so we decided to do our ‘half-day’ walk as planned. Little Langdale is much more picturesque than Great Langdale. We continued past Little Langdale Tarn and walked up a long grassy ride towards Swirl Howe. On the walk to Swirl Howe at Great Carrs the path passes a memorial.
This is the site of a wartime air crash and bears the sad remains of a Royal Canadian Air Force Handley Page Halifax bomber.
The undercarriage, together with a wooden cross and memorial cairn lies on the top of the ridge with the rest of the wreckage spread down Broad Slack.
It looked like a very long way from Swirl Howe to the summit of The Old Man of Coniston but it is less than 3km with outstanding views all around. We had seen nobody on our walk thus far but as we approached the Old Man of Coniston we could see crowds of people at the summit. This is a very popular fell. Many people who would not consider themselves regular hill walkers walk up there from Coniston. It was a lovely day and it was good to see so many inappropriately dressed people enjoying the fells.
For us all that remained was to wander down the well-worn path into Coniston. There was time for a celebratory ice cream while we waited for the bus back to reality.
The gpx file for this section can be found here.