Brandreth summit cairn

Brandreth summit cairn, with Great Gable in cloud behind.

Date completed: 28th March 2016 (Easter Monday).

Weather conditions: Not great. The cloudiest walk I’ve done for a while, with a chilly, stiff wind on the tops and some hail. At the same time, the clouds did generally stay above me and there were some decent views. Could have been worse then, I suppose. And if one will go walking in England’s rainiest place (which Seathwaite is), it should be expected.

Sour Milk Gill

Sour Milk Gill: the highest cascade.

Summits bagged: Base Brown (2120’ above sea level), Green Gable (2628’), Brandreth (2344’) and Grey Knotts (2277’). These become numbers 29-32 of my second round. The first two were previously bagged on walk 60b back in July 2012, the second two on walk 13, April 2010.

Start and end points: The walk both started and finished at the cottages of Mountain View (grid reference NY251137), where a public bridleway to Seathwaite joins the main B5289 Borrowdale road. There is a bus stop here served by the #78 Seatoller – Keswick bus and, in summer, the #77 as well.  That latter bus also provides the option of finishing at Honister pass.

The intention was to finish the walk in Seatoller a few hundred yards up the road, for the reason why this did not happen, see the commentary. It does not make a great deal of difference. The walk took me four hours.

Distance walked: 8.25 miles approximately.

Cars parked at Seathwaite.

The Seathwaite parking lot. Is this really necessary?

Total ascent: 2770 feet approximately (both figures calculated by adding up the mileage and ascent given for the various sections of the walk in Wainwright’s The Western Fells).

Pub at end: With it not even deigning to be open today, a Bank Holiday Monday, I think we can definitively state that the licensed cafe in Seatoller is permanently closed. No pub until Keswick today then (the Bank Tavern).

Route: This walk is deep in the heart of the District and it would be pretty difficult to get a bad walk round here. The best thing about it are the superb views from the latter stages, particularly west to the Buttermere and Ennerdale valleys, and of the crags of Great Gable. Many might think that the walk should include that latter summit, and I did consider it, but I’m saving it for a day of decent weather and a day when I can spend time exploring it, neither of which were true today.

View from Brandreth

The spectacular view west from Brandreth. Ennerdale to left, Buttermere and Crummock Water to right, the High Stile range and Haystacks (in front) splitting them.

When starting a walk in Seathwaite and travelling by public transport, don’t get the bus all the way into Seatoller as then you’ll have to walk down the lane and dodge the vast number of cars, driven by people for whom ‘other road users’ are just a theoretical concept and who really don’t care that they turn the sylvan hamlet of Seathwaite into a parking lot (see picture above). Instead, get off at Mountain View and take the footpath signposted to Thornythwaite Farm, which goes on to Seathwaite and is a much nicer way to start off the day’s walking (although it is quite wet in places).

Don’t go wrong in Seathwaite, either: when you come out to the farm, don’t turn left straight away (this is the Sty Head path), instead, turn right and then left through the arch of the farm buildings, signposted ‘Camp Site’.  This takes you over the beck and then climbs up the side of Sour Milk Gill.

This is a steep climb, but not a difficult one except where you need to ascend Seathwaite Slabs. This rock outcrop is awkward and rather slimy. As Chris Jesty notes in the revised volume 7, in each chapter where the climb appears, the easiest way up is to the right, between a birch tree and an oak.

View into Borrowdale

View into upper Borrowdale from the ‘Fallen Stone’ on Base Brown

At the top of the climb the path levels out into the hanging valley of Gillercomb. When it does you need to be bearing left for the climb of Base Brown. This is not as tricky as it looks, in fact it is quite straightforward (certainly there is nothing as awkward as the Slabs to negotiate). First, head for the huge fallen boulder that Wainwright depicts at the bottom of his page Base Brown 4 — the drawing cannot evoke its size, it is truly colossal. The whole crag above must have fractured in half at some point in the past, and that may well be what left the Hanging Stone perched in place: this is much smaller, although still quite impressive. Go between the fallen boulder and the crag, then a path emerges and takes you more or less all the way to the summit.

The climb on to Green Gable is then unproblematic. It is worth noting the point at which the path you are on joins another coming up from the right, this is the way down to Honister, which you are going to be using shortly, after having visited the summit of Green Gable.  Thus, after doing so — come back to this point and bear left.

Sheep at Seathwaite

Sheep near Seathwaite, musing on the fact they have ended up living in England’s rainiest place

Do bear in mind that this track bears around the summit of Brandreth instead of visiting it, so if you want to bag that summit, ensure you climb up to it on the right, following the occasional old fence post. Grey Knotts is barely 20 minutes further on in the same direction.

Last time I descended from Grey Knotts I tried to stick to the fence but this proved to be a battle so I didn’t try this time. Instead, bear left; if there is a path I didn’t find it at first, but the broad path connecting Honister and Haystacks is very obvious from above and if you head in that general direction there should be no difficulties. Once on the path — the old quarry tramway — head right and you will be at the Honister slate mine/car park in 15 minutes or so. You can either catch a bus here, or walk down the road to Seatoller.

View over to Helvellyn

View over to the Helvellyn range

Easter bunny commentary: I have only done a couple of walks on Bank Holiday Mondays. One time I did, back on walk 16 (Pillar), I experienced the most heroically late buses not just of this project, but possibly of my entire life, with one turning up over two hours late. So I headed out on this one trying to keep a casual attitude towards timing and crowds.

As it turned out, the latter issue was not really significant — Keswick was busier than usual, sure, but the fells did not seem particularly busy. Poor weather (worse than forecast) was perhaps a contributing factor to this. On the way round I was worried that I was going to attain the summit of Green Gable in exactly the same crud that I experienced first time round (walk 60b), but it just about redeemed itself when the clouds came and went on the summit and allowed sight of Gable Crag then, for the remainder of the walk, that superb view west, with the Buttermere and Ennerdale valleys, split by the High Stile range, heading out toward the Irish Sea.


The Honister mine (and car park)

The bus in Seatoller was 20 minutes late however, thanks to an accident blocking the road near Rosthwaite. Too many cars on roads not built for them, too many people who drive on them like they’re taking the family to the Ikea store down the dual carriageway. Buses run every half an hour down Borrowdale so why is Seathwaite a parking lot? The environment is totally unsuited to this. Would it be so radical to put a park-and-ride scheme in here?

Anyway, this was why I ended up walking from Seatoller to Mountain View — those of us waiting at the bus stop were told by a driver the road was blocked, and there was a point at which I thought I might be walking back to Keswick (I even toyed with the idea of heading over Greenup to Grasmere), but the bus did then come past after a few minutes’ walking: which took me neatly back to my starting point. No more walks finishing in Seatoller for a while, though — fed up with that cafe not being open (though the Glaramara outdoor centre just down the road can probably rustle up a cup of tea).

Green Gable and Great Gable

Green Gable (left) and Great Gable behind

The bus from Keswick to Penrith was also 20 minutes late, here for no immediately discernible reason. With connections being tight as it was these two delays meant I did not get home until 8.35pm, unlike last time, when I finished the walk in the same place at the same time and was back two hours earlier. Ah well. As I said — I was trying to keep it casual.

I do hope to get another walk in within the next few days, seeing as I’m off work this week. I put together a short list for this on the journey home — six good-looking ridge climbs — and then got the family to roll a die to make the choice, and the winner was Blencathra via Hall’s Fell, so that should be walk 109; though I might hold out for a day of better weather.

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