Hopegill Head and Gasgale Gll

Hopegill Head rises above Gasgale Gill

Date completed: 15th August 2016.

Weather conditions: Still, dry, quite warm, some sun, basically a pleasant day.

Summits bagged: Hopegill Head (2525 feet above sea level, no. 62 of my second round), Whiteside (2317’, no, 63).

Both fells were previously bagged on walk 15. The first mile of today’s walk was done (in the opposite direction) as part of walk 18.

The approach to Whiteside

The approach to Whiteside

Start and end points: Started in Thornthwaite, finished at Lanthwaite Green.

Thornthwaite is served by #X4 buses which link Penrith, Keswick and Cockermouth and which run all year.  Lanthwaite Green is served by #77 buses during the summer (Easter – late October). I fitted the walk in-between the 10:20ish arrival at Thornthwaite (left Penrith station at 9:21) and the 14:34 pick-up at Lanthwaite Green.

There are other options to start and finish this walk. Change buses in Keswick to the number 77 and one can start at the Whinlatter pass road, where the walk on Wainwright’s page Hopegill Head 9 begins. The forestry issues (see below) suggest it might be worth staying on the bus further still, to High Lorton, and ascending from there. I also considered extending the end of the walk to the pub at Low Lorton, but in the end did not have time.

Distance walked: 7.75 miles approx

Ascent of Whiteside

Walkers ascending Whiteside (while I came down). Loweswater behind.

Total ascent: 2740 feet approx

Pub at end: There are no refreshments in Lanthwaite Green, unfortunately. No chance for a beer today until the Agricultural Hotel outside Penrith station.

Route: The second half of this walk, from Ladyside Pike on, is very good. The first half, after a good start, becomes a bit frustrating and dull, to be honest. I would consider a different start to the walk, as noted above; coming up from Lorton looks as if it would be a better option. However, once up to Ladyside Pike it is all worth doing. The descent of Whiteside is a bit awkward in places but has great views to compensate. If it had a pub at the end it’d be even better.

Starting at Thornthwaite and walking up to Whinlatter Pass might seem a bit pointless when one can do it by bus, but it is a good opening, a straightforward and easy ascent through very beautiful woodland.  As far as the forest centre, it’s definitely worth the effort.  Follow the blue ‘Comb Beck Trail’ signs and you should make it to the centre without difficulty.

Whinlatter from the pass

Looking up to Whinlatter from the pass road; a stretch of tarmac I became quite familiar with.

The next couple of miles or so, however, are much less edifying. This is mainly because of forestry operations, which at present are either disrupting the walk by closing paths, or just making an unsightly mess of things. My aim was to follow the #71 long-distance cycle route (marked clearly on the OS map) from the forest centre, or actually from the Revelin Moss car park just nearby, and which runs to the south of the Whinlatter Pass road. However, this was closed due to tree felling, so I had to struggle back onto the main road and trudge down that for a mile until reaching the next car park westward; this is the point at which the ascent diagram begins on page Hopegill Head 9.

However, even then it was not completely clear that the route over Hobcarton Bridge and through Swinside plantation (clearly described on page Hopegill Head 9) was supposed to be open to walkers either. ‘EuroForest’ (the contractors, according to signage) have made a right mess of the forest road in places, and on the far side of the gate leading out onto the open fell, there was an ‘access prohibited’ sign — one that has clearly been ignored by those who have dropped off the tops at this point, and that is understandable.

Ladyside Pike summit

The summit of Ladyside Pike, and the view ahead to Hopegill Head

The final bit of the walk that could have been better was the subsequent very steep and rather tedious climb up by the side of the fence to attain the ridge; 15-20 minutes of absolute treadmill.

However… it does get better.  As soon as the good cairn on the summit of Ladyside Pike is attained, the view opens up ahead. Hopegill Head looks exciting, and not a little intimidating from here. Nothing about its ascent is dangerous, but scrambling is essential (something that is obvious from first sight). It is worth visiting ‘The Notch’ in the edge of the crags, then from there, following up a narrow but obvious crack in the rocks. The final few feet, which lead you directly to the tiny peaked summit, are superb, and I totally understand Wainwright’s comment about them (‘the sort of place where one turns back to do it again out of sheer delight’).

Heather on Whin Ben

Heather on Whin Ben

From here Whiteside is on your right (west). The mile-long ridge between the two summits is also excellent, one of the best in Lakeland in fact.

Various descents to the Lorton valley are available (see the book), but I needed to catch the bus, and Lanthwaite Green was the nearest option — though this still took me 50 minutes from summit to road.  There are some steep and awkward bits on the descent and it should not be rushed. Two things distracted however; first, the excellent view of the Crummock Water/Loweswater district, and second, an absolute riot of flowering heather, that below Whin Ben was an unbroken purple carpet (see picture). A good argument for saving this walk until August.

Final footbridge

The final footbridge, with Grasmoor behind

At the bottom, cross the footbridge and make for the road. Buses will stop by the entrance to the car park at Lanthwaite Green.

Anti-Forestry commentary:  Summer appears to have finally broken out in Northern England, it’s been very pleasant. Technically I am back at work, and I did lug with me today a book that I needed to read and which occupied me five or six hours of the train and bus journeys which got me round to the North-Western Fells. I also worked yesterday (Sunday). But the forecast was too good to spend sitting in an office today.

Loweswater fells and heather

More heather… A view of the Loweswater fells, from Whin Ben

Got to admit however that the passage between Whinlatter visitor centre and the open fell at Hobcarton was one of the least attractive sections of any walk I have done. I complained two walks ago about the mess on top of Claife Heights. South of Whinlatter at the moment there is not quite the same degree of damage — that other fell was defaced by many bare areas. the consequence of strip-felling techniques. If they returned to bare fellside that would be fine, but of course they don’t, they become covered in waste wood, twigs, stumps etc.  No, there is nothing round Whinlatter at the moment that is as sad-looking as portions of Claife Heights.

View over Whinlatter

View north: Whinlatter in the middle-distance, Broom Fell (left) and Lord’s Seat behind it

But there is a lot of mess, not just wood waster but roads and tracks which are churned up by heavy-treaded tyres. The noise of felling and woodchipping. And the inconvenience of paths being closed, the right thing to do for public safety I guess, but there is so much inconsistency in how one is advised of these closures. Today I could happily walk into Swinside plantation without any (obvious) signs warning me otherwise, head right past obvious and active felling, and then pass through a gate which had a ‘No Entry!’ sign on the other side.

I say above that this particular warning sign would probably be ignored by anyone coming in that direction anyway. Without an associated sign up on the fellside, no one has any forewarning that there might be issues with access to the forest below, and it is totally unrealistic to expect anyone to meekly re-ascend any slope as a result (let alone that terrible treadmill up by the fence to the ridge on Hopegill Head). And the earlier warning sign I passed was placed too late to avoid either a mile of trudging back along the road or — as I did — a more dangerous and (to the trees) more damaging push through the undergrowth to get a short-cut through to the road.

Ladyside Pike

View back to Ladyside Pike

So please, foresters… a little consideration, that’s all? If you’ve got to close a path then give notice in good enough time to organise a proper detour. And try to tidy up a bit more. That’s all we ask.

Today’s walk brought to an end a good run over July and August, but it was, more or less, the final act of my summer break and I’m now definitively Back At Work.  I might still squeeze some more in before the weather deteriorates, and who knows, maybe we will now have a long period of good weather. If so, bring it on, that’s fine by me. In the last eight weeks I’ve done five walks with nineteen Wainwrights bagged, and that’s a pretty good effort.  Hopegill Head is a damn fine summit and the ridge to Whiteside one of the best, so despite the travails in the forest, it was still worth the visit today.

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