Wythop valley scene

Scene at the eastern end of the valley. The snowy slopes behind are the northern end of Skiddaw.

Date completed: 18th February 2016.

Weather conditions: Pretty good on the whole, a mixture of sun and cloud, cool but not too chilly. I did get caught in one unpleasant 15-minute shower in the afternoon.

Summits bagged: Ling Fell (1224’ above sea level) and Sale Fell (1178’). Numbers 25 and 26 of my second round of the 330 Wainwrights. These two fells were also visited, the other way round, on walk 17 in June 2010.

Ling Fell, from Sale Fell

Ling Fell, from Sale Fell

Start and end points: Started at the point where the lane to Thornthwaite meets the main A66, on the shore of Bassenthwaite Lake (SD278220). Finished at the Dubwath road junction, where the B5291 meets the A66, a bit further north.

X5 buses between Keswick and Workington serve both points reasonably regularly. Sometimes these go straight through to (or from) Penrith rail station, but sometimes you have to change in Keswick. Note also that X4 buses go down the other side of Bass Lake and don’t pass either stop — check your timetable carefully.

The walk fitted between the arrival of the 09:21 bus from Penrith station, which dropped me at the starting point about 10.30am (it was running 10 minutes late), and the 14.21 departure back to Keswick.

View from Sale Fell

View from Sale Fell summit. Dodd is the lump on the left, the Helvellyn range is the background.

Distance walked: 7 miles approximately.

Total ascent:  1800 feet approx.

Pub at end:  The Pheasant Inn, which is one of the few pubs actually named on OS maps: it’s just off the A66 as that road makes a sharp turn at the northern end of Bassenthwaite Lake. It is a few minutes’ walk from here to the bus stop at the Dubwath junction, so keep an eye on the time and don’t miss your bus. The last time I was here (when doing the earlier version of this walk, walk 17), I said it was pleasant but a bit expensive. Actually the beer is no more or less so than other pubs in the district, although the food is pricey. The best thing about it is the interior, which is very handsome.

Route: This is a fairly easy walk, though there are occasional steep bits both up and down. Almost all of it takes place on good paths and/or excellent turf, with very few muddy bits (the worst is at the very start) and no rocks to handle either. It’s ideal for a day, as I had to today, where one wants some fresh air and decent exercise but just doesn’t feel up for Great Gable.  If it has a fault, it’s that there’s not much variety of views, and you don’t see much of the Lake District, although Skiddaw is well seen.

Wythop woods

In Wythop Woods, near the start of the walk

The starting point is the obvious side road that is marked as route 71 on the National Cycle Network. Head up here but shortly afterwards take the path that is signposted ‘Wythop Hall’.

The first signpost gives hopes that the whole route will be so well marked, but it is not. I don’t think it particularly matters. Forest roads and paths intertwine as they zigzag up the slope and the OS map is not much help here — in fact, the most useful is Wainwright’s map of the forest roads on page Lord’s Seat 3. The road that I followed must have been the one that starts south of Beck Wythop Cottages and then comes out just below the middle one of the three number 1s marked on that map.

At the first significant junction reached in the road, turn left, then look for a greener path on the right, heading towards an odd concrete structure (I never worked out what it was) and crossing the beck. The path leads round the corner of a fenced off area and then becomes a farm track and, eventually, the tarmac road heading down the Wythop Valley. After this it is all much more straightforward route-finding.

Wythop Moss and Graystones

Looking across Wythop Moss from the climb of Ling Fell. Graystones is on the right, with Grasmoor and Grisedale Pike among the fells visible in the background.

I decided to climb Ling Fell first, and to do this, keep left where the road forks near the farm of Eskin and then go through the gate near the drive of Burthwaite (but not up that drive — it’s not the footpath). At that point you could go up Ling Fell however you like, really. Last time, Clare and I took the ‘Corpse Road’ and followed the route shown on Wainwright’s ascent diagram. This time I varied it by turning left instead and rounding the pudding-shaped Ling Fell to its southern side, where you get a good view of the desolate Wythop Moss. When the farm track comes to an end, just bear right and ascend the slope. It’s a bit steep, but a short and straightforward climb.

Ling Fell is utterly innocuous but still, take care descending — steep grassy paths will be slippery in almost any weather. Return one way or another to the same gate, near Eskin, and then take the other road at the junction and dip down to the valley floor. Turn right, then once through the gate and pass the trees, turn left up the path by the side of the wall.  The route up to Sale Fell’s summit is then obvious all the way, and towards the top is on a grassy path so good that you could probably drive a car up it.

Sale Fell summit

Approaching the summit of Sale Fell

The north side of Sale Fell is surprisingly steep so there are no direct descents to be made on that side. Instead, head over the summit in the rough direction of the newly felled plantation below, but once down to the gate, zigzag back down the track, following this down until it comes out near the small chapel, where go down to the road and follow this down to the Pheasant Inn.

To get to the bus stop from the Inn, turn right out of the front door to the end of the road a few yards away, then left. You must then cross the main road — please take care!! — and you will see the bus stop a short distance down the B5291. The Keswick stop is the one on the right as you look at it, Cockermouth and Workington buses stop on the left.

Clough Head in snow, as seen from the bus on the way to Keswick this morning.

Clough Head in snow, as seen from the bus on the way to Keswick this morning.

Under the weather commentary: I didn’t manage a walk last February at all, and this month was looking troublesome — it ended up that there were literally only two days I could walk (including weekends), namely the 6th, and today. After it rained heavily on the 6th, I was left with today.

The weather was decent, but it was me that was the problem today — I have come down with something of a cold, not a heavy one but enough to make me feel that doing anything particularly strenuous or difficult was not the kind of walk I was after today. I definitely didn’t feel like trudging through snowdrifts today (pace walk 105). Coming in on the bus it was clear that most of the hills above 2,000 feet were snowbound, though some more than others — neither Skiddaw nor Blencathra looked particularly covered, but further west, fells like Hindscarth (prominently visible above Catbells when one drops into Keswick), which I had considered as a target today, were all white above a certain point. That was a level I fully intended to stay below — hence the double meaning in the title of this commentary.

Wythop valley

The head of the Wythop valley. This is Wainwright’s “Great Illusion” — see page Sale Fell 3-4.

I had decided that this walk would take place in the North Western fells because that was one of only two volumes that I had not yet started on a second time — the one left now is the Western Fells, which is the last one I started on in the first round, too (on walk 13 — I had already done one Outlying Fell by that time, namely Orrest Head on walk 12). That reflects the access problems: I need the summer bus service.

It was good to return to this area, however, even if Sale and Ling Fells are not exactly representative.  One big advantage of it is that because of the underlying rock, and the steepness of the ground, it generally has dry walking. The Wythop valley is, even now, a rural oasis that feels largely cut off from the outside world, and although there aren’t really any hidden nooks and crannies to explore, it’s well worth a visit.

Lord's Seat

Looking up to Lord’s Seat

One more thing worth mentioning is the very obvious damage that is still evident from the flooding in December. Keswick, particularly, still has a lot of clearing up to do. Roads are closed and many diversions are in place. But this shouldn’t stop us coming to the Lakes — indeed, now is the time when visitors are needed all the more. There may be checks you have to do on travel and transport options, but there is no reason to avoid visiting. Come and enjoy it..

%d bloggers like this: