Thornthwaite Crag summit

The summit of Thornthwaite Crag, and its rather large cairn

Date completed: 5th August 2016.

Weather conditions: First walk with proper sunshine since early March. It wasn’t continuous, but it was mostly there. Warmest walk for some time as well, though there was a brisk breeze in the afternoon on the tops.

Froswick and Ill Bell

Froswick (left) and Ill Bell, approaching from the north

Summits bagged: The Knott (2423 feet above sea level, number 55 of my second round), High Street (2718’,  no. 56), Mardale Ill Bell (2496’, no. 57), Thornthwaite Crag (2569’, no. 58), Froswick (2359’, no. 59), Ill Bell (2484’, no. 60), Yoke (2316’, no. 61).

These were previously bagged on three different walks: the first two on walk 14 back in May 2010, Mardale Ill Bell on walk 35 (April 2011) and the last four on walk 12 (April 2010).

Start and end points: Started in Hartsop, and finished at Windermere station. Hartsop, or more precisely, the bus stop at its lane end on the A592, is served by #508 buses from Windermere station (and also Penrith station); so what you basically do here is get a bus out, then walk back. Services on this route run in the school summer holidays, and weekends from Easter to the end of October.

High Street summit

Walkers approaching the summit of High Street.

I started the walk at about 10.15am, when the 09.25 departure from Windermere station dropped me at Hartsop lane end, and returned to my point of origin exactly six hours later.

Distance walked: 15.25 miles.

Total ascent: 3950 feet approximately. These two figures come from adding up the various numbers given in the different Wainwright chapters covered today: both feel right to me.

Pub at end: When waiting for trains in Windermere I go down the hill past the first pub (the Elleray, which is tolerable but no more, and doesn’t have outside seating) to the Queens, which has a small but sunny patio outside and reasonable beer. Leave at least five minutes to get back from here for your train.


Hayeswater. The slopes of High Street behind.

Route: This is a very good walk, one of the Lake District classics, certainly in its middle part. The Ill Bell ridge is the best bit of the territory covered in Wainwright’s Far Eastern Fells volume — I imagine few people would dispute this. There is some steep climbing to be done in parts, but not much of it, and nothing is difficult or requires actual scrambling. It is well worth a full day’s effort.

The only fault the walk has is there’s a long coda to it, with a third of the walking still to come after Yoke, the last summit of the day. It could be terminated a couple of miles earlier, in Troutbeck, but bus/train times from here were such that I would in fact have got home an hour later than I did, hence my pushing on to Windermere.

Note finally that the Far Eastern Fells knit together in such a complex fashion that there are several other summits which could be added to this walk, whether at one end or other, or in the middle (Rampsgill Head, Rest Dodd [pictured below], Orrest Head — and that’s just a selection). On the other hand, Mardale Ill Bell requires a detour and could be omitted. So what follows is just one possible itinerary. However, once you’re on the Ill Bell ridge, bear in mind you’re staying on it.

Rest Dodd

Rest Dodd, from The Knott

Hartsop’s status as one of the Lakes’ most idyllic villages is currently being disrupted by building operations at the Hayeswater reservoir — these are very noticeable, although not offensively so.  They have also slightly disrupted the start of the walk, as once through Hartsop and its car park, you are then directed to the right bank (left side as you see it) of Hayeswater Gill; it is worth taking this detour as the road is in a bit of a mess. The climb to Hayeswater — the chief water supply for Penrith — is steeper than expected.

From Hayeswater there are two or three alternative paths heading up to the ridge above, it does not matter which you end up on. Once up there, The Knott is a very easy climb, particularly if you do not head for the summit at the first opportunity but stay on the main path for a bit longer until the summit is on your right. It can then be reached in, literally, about thirty seconds. It’s a nice, clearly bounded summit though, with good views, and a good place to take a first proper rest.

View from Straits of Riggindale

The view from the Straits of Riggindale

The path south to High Street is obvious, though I agree with Wainwright’s recommendation, that once you are past the Straits of Riggindale (the narrowest part of the ridge — great view east here, to Kidsty Pike and the head of Haweswater), you stick to the edge of the escarpment for the best views. Either way, no one is going to get lost on the way up to the OS column atop High Street, the highest point on the walk and in Wainwright’s volume 2.

I added Mardale Ill Bell to the day for bagging reasons; it could easily be omitted, although reaching its summit requires, really, very little extra effort and probably only another 20 minutes of time. In poor visibility I would omit it however, there is a sketchy path heading that way from High Street’s summit but the start of it is not very clear.  Whether you bag it or not, the next destination, Thornthwaite Crag, is very obvious thanks to its gigantic cairn, probably the tallest in the whole Lake District (see picture at top).

Summit of The Knott

Summit of The Knott

If you’re starting to feel like it’s already been a long day at this point, you could always descend to Troutbeck (or back to Hartsop) from here, but south rises the dramatic Ill Bell ridge and I struggle to believe a true walker could resist it on a nice day. Bear in mind that this is not as difficult a proposition as it might initially appear. The final haul up to Ill Bell’s summit is the hardest bit, but it is worth it. This really is a very fine ridge as far as the summit of Yoke.

After that, as I said above, bear in mind you still have six miles and a couple of hours to go, so don’t put your feet up yet.  Descend to the Garburn Pass road and turn right. You can stay on this road all the way if you like (check the map), but I dropped down to the right a little further on, then left onto ‘Longmire Lane’ (a narrow track).

Troutbeck Valley

View of the Troutbeck valley, from the Garburn Road

This came out onto a tarmac road, where I turned right, then almost immediately left (signposted ‘Far Orrest’). Having reached that farm I then followed further signs to ‘Crosses Farm’. It helps to keep the map handy at this point and note that footpath signs are there, though tend to point only north, the opposite direction to yours.

At Crosses Farm you come out onto a road again and can, by turning right then, when you come out on the main road, turn left and follow this back to Windermere. But if you don’t mind a tad more climbing at this point, you can instead take the public footpath that is signposted to Orrest Head, and goes round the back of the Windermere prep school (hence all the ‘Private Grounds’ notices) before, if you follow the right signs, coming out at the station.

Pink sheep

Sheep at Hartsop. Why this colour? Why not?

Seven-up commentary: Hey! Sunshine! It’s not forecast to last much past Saturday night, which explains, in the end, why we did not follow through with plans to go camping in the Lakes around this time (I’m really not the world’s greatest camper anyway). But the forecast today was a good one, and I’m still not back at work, so doing a walk was an obvious way of spending the day.

I kept changing my mind about this one. It started life as a 7-mile circuit of the valley of Threshthwaite, but as I arrived in Windermere I decided I was feeling more energetic than that. Even on the way round, however, I kept adapting things. I’d considered dropping off Mardale Ill Bell and heading all the way down Kentmere to Staveley, but once up there, the Ill Bell ridge just looked too tempting.

Ill Bell summit

Ill Bell summit. Windermere in background.

I had bagged these fells before, of course: on this occasion back in April 2010. But that was one of my few disappointing walks, having taken place in low cloud that did not lift until well into the afternoon, and thus denied me the full experience of Ill Bell and its neighbours.  With the basically good weather and excellent visibility that I had today it would have been silly not to go along it, once I was in position to. Glad I did, and I was fully justified in placing Ill Bell on the ‘fells I should return to in better weather’ list.  Its ridge is definitely the best thing in the Lakes east of the Kirkstone road. Highly recommended, a fine way to spend a day — and as seven fells were bagged, a productive one too.

I am in the holiday cocoon, unaware of much of what is going on outside, and that’s fine by me, so there will be no political ranting down here today. If the stormy weather comes, may it pass uneventfully, and allow me to do another one of these next week before I go back to work.

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