Irish Sea and Sellafield
The Irish Sea, and Sellafield

Date completed: 15th September 2015.

Weather conditions: Pretty decent for most of the way round though I got caught in drizzle when coming down Blengdale in the afternoon, some of which was heavy. That made it the first even slightly wet Lakes walk since walk 92 in January.

View south to Kinmont Buck Barrow
Looking south from Cold Fell. Kinmont Buck Barrow is the excrescence on the horizon.

Summits bagged: Cold Fell (961’ above sea level) and Ponsonby Fell (1033’). Each has its own chapter in volume 8. Neither bagged before, so these are numbers 315 and 316 of the full round of 330 Wainwrights.

Start and end points: Started at Egremont, specifically the roundabout to the south of town on the A595, served by #30 buses which run every half hour from Whitehaven train station. I just managed to catch the 10.50ish bus from Whitehaven which got me walking from about 11.15.

Ended in Gosforth, In theory there are buses from here back to Egremont/Whitehaven, and also to Seascale train station. However, at the moment, the last scheduled service on a weekday appears to be about 2.35pm. The walk took me about 5:30, so to make this service you need to be leaving Egremont by 9am. I stayed over in the area tonight so it didn’t matter, but anyone wanting to do this on a day trip by public transport needs to already live in West Cumbria. [Postscript: Buses to Gosforth have now disappeared entirely.]

Distance walked: Can’t do more than a rough approximation for this one, but I’m going with about 13 miles.

Seascale beach
Seascale beach at sunset. A benefit of staying over.

Total ascent: Again an approximation, but let’s say about 1600 feet.

Pub at end: In the first instance, the Gosforth Hall Inn, on the western edge of the village.  A whole complex of buildings, with various accommodation barns, and probably does a roaring trade with weddings once a week: however, on my visit it seemed quiet. Decent beer.

I stayed in Seascale tonight so also patronised La Vista brasserie at the Calder House Hotel. This was a rather weird place that clearly subsists entirely on putting up Sellafield contractors and visitors. No complaints about the beer but my meal was vastly overpriced for what was, in the end, a bunch of stuff taken out of the freezer. Great sunset views, though. (See picture.)

Haycock from Cold Fell
Caw Fell (left) and Haycock from Cold Fell.

Route:  Although unexciting, and with one or two tedious stretches, this walk was in many ways better than I thought it would be from a perusal of these fells’ chapters in volume 8.  The section of road walking between Cold Fell and Stakes Bridge is a drag but closer inspection of the map reveals a right of way between Beckcote Farm and the bridge that I missed on my walk and which may improve matters.

Other than that, it is worth doing for the fine views — though those who care about these things should realise this is the nearest of all my walks to Sellafield, of which you do get something of an eyeful most of the way round (though it’s by no means wholly ugly, and certainly is better to look at than that quarry in Elterwater which defaced walk 104A the other week). I also saw a lot of wildlife today, including a deer (in Blengdale), hares and birds of prey. The final reason to do it is utter solitude.

The Farmery
The picturesque ruin of ‘The Farmery’. Ponsonby Fell behind.

Get the bus driver to drop you at the roundabout on the A595 which is to the south of Egremont town centre, head up the road past Florence Mine (now an arts centre), signposted Wilton, at least, it will be if they have fixed the sign properly — and just stay on that road for the next 3.5 miles. This is the same beginning as walk 28, and leads on quiet roads, with plenty of blackberries in season, to Coldfell Gate.

Here, cross both cattle grids then take the path bearing left. I stuck with this for a couple of hundred yards until it went through a gate, at which point I struck out for the summit to the right, but I don’t think it makes a great deal of difference — Cold Fell is simply a gently rising grassland with no hazards. It does have a good view, of the western hinterland of the Lakes (Lank Rigg round to Haycock and Seatallan) and south to Black Combe, but the summit is flat and a bit boggy, so if you want to sit down and enjoy it, go over and sit on the nearby wall. This is the nearest of all the Wainwright summits to Sellafield.

Coldfell Gate
Sheep at Coldfell Gate

A possible route for the walk here is to head back north then bear right through the valley of Worm Gill and round to Scalderskew (see below). This would be a wilder and more remote route but I don’t know whether the gill can be forded where indicated on the map. [Postscript: as I discovered on walk 197, the gill can just about be forded safely — but you’ll get your feet wet.] So I took the coward’s way out and descended back to the unfenced Coldfell road by heading straight for the power station and then bearing a little to the right. This then descended down, on tarmac, to a staggered junction near the ruins of Calder Abbey, which are nothing to particularly write home about; here turn left up a road signed as a cul-de-sac. (See also the note above about a potential, non-road alternative to this stretch.)

This road crosses the river at Stakes Bridge, after which look for the road on the right at Dancing Gate (a cottage), signposted as a public footpath. This becomes a grassy lane, a bit overgrown at times but generally passable; if you lose it (and I found it easy to do so), bear right through the fields down to the shallow valley and it will be recovered. Ponsonby Fell is visible ahead (see the picture) to give guidance. At what is marked on the map as “Farmery” — a picturesque ruin — head down to the stream, follow it uphill a short way and a gate then gives access to Ponsonby Fell’s enclosure, at which point just head up the slope.

Ponsonby Fell
Ponsonby Fell pictured on the ascent

From the summit, head in the direction of Haycock, a direction which angles you down to the access road for the farm of Scalderskew, surely one of England’s most remote dwellings. This is a rather tedious and boggy descent but it is just about tolerable as long as you check your footing in some of the lusher grass. Once on the access road just turn right and follow the curve round into Blengdale forest.

Scalderskew
Scalderskew. Not exactly in the centre of things.

The road stays straight for quite a while then, at its first sharp left turn, you should bear right, dropping down to the River Bleng then crossing it at a footbridge before rejoining the forest road and simply following it down through the woods. Wainwright might have a downer on Ponsonby Fell but he likes the Blengdale forests and I agree, they make a nice end to the day and feel more like a Scottish glen than an English dale.

It would be nice if they were a couple of miles closer to Gosforth though — as the last half-hour or so of the walk does outstay its welcome. But eventually you arrive at the straggly village, passing its old church (look for the 14’ high runic cross in the graveyard) and then the Gosforth Hall Inn is on your right. If you think you might still make the bus, these leave — last time I got one anyway — from the stop near the main square, where there are three more pubs.

Blengdale
The River Bleng

Nuclear-powered commentary: I have — or had, as of this morning — sixteen Wainwrights remaining. Eight of these are over in the east of the district, made rather inaccessible by the cull of the Shap bus: it sort-of still exists but day trips are now awkward and the Crookdale horseshoe walk so remote anyway that I’ve been looking at that one as a two-day walk with a stopover in Mosedale Cottage.

But while, thanks to my expedition to Kilimanjaro, I have all the necessary gear to crash in that bothy, I just didn’t feel like it today. And for work reasons I couldn’t really be out of touch for 36 hours. But Goddammit — I’ve been waiting to do WALK 100 for two months… so let’s do it! This week was my last chance to really get a proper walk in until at least November, and I mean a two-day gap of time. With Thursday forecast to be wet, it was today and tomorrow that were the days to go.

Black Combe range
View south to the Black Combe range

So today I looked to the other outcrop of ‘red pins’ (unbagged fells) on the Lakeland map, which lie in the far west.  These are logistically difficult too, thanks to the sheer amount of time it takes to trundle round the Cumbrian coast line, not to mention the usual problem of crap connections. And I’ve basically decided that Dent is going to be the last fell of all, partly because it’s accessible and one suitable for the family to join me, putting it (and its neighbour Flat Fell) out of the picture until the end. Nor did I want to just go bagging second-round fells and not progressing with the first because, like I said, it really was time to get walk 100 done.

Lank Rigg in sunlight
Looking north from Cold Fell. Lank Rigg lit up.

Hence this walk. I didn’t think it’d be up to much, going on Wainwright’s less-than-effusive descriptions, particularly of Ponsonby Fell. But while that did have a tedious descent it really wasn’t that bad. The highlights of the day were (as is often the case) the views, with the mixture of sunshine and shadows a vast improvement over the rather bland light which graced my two recent ‘placeholder’ walks round Grasmere and Rydal Water. This western fringe of the Lakes feels completely different, the diversity one reason I love this part of the world so much. Unlike the busyness of the centre, today I did not see another walker at all, nor did I honestly expect to see one. The terrain is wilder and more remote, and the Irish Sea bounds it all and gives an extra vastness to the landscapes, making Grasmere all look a bit twee to be honest. I like it out here (when I can get here); even allowing for the towers and domes of Sellafield.

Seatallan from Ponsonby Fell
Seatallan from Ponsonby Fell.

That place dominates the whole Gosforth/Seascale region, it is obvious. In both the pubs I went in tonight I got the feeling I was quite definitely the only person in there who did not directly or indirectly earn their living from the power station. It feels like the British state is sort of present in West Cumbria, but in a skewed way — not integrated into the land it likes to declare it controls,  but sort of sat on top of it.  Still, if it wasn’t there I doubt the West Cumbrian coast rail line would be, maybe not even the hotel in which I am seeing out tonight in lieu of a shepherd’s bothy, so I kind of need it. Whether the world does remains to be seen.

Another walk tomorrow… let’s hope the weather holds out.

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