Gray Crag

Gray Crag viewed on the approach from Thornthwaite Crag; Ullswater just visible in distance

Date completed: 9th April 2010

Weather conditions: Not so great. While most of the rest of the country was apparently enjoying beautiful spring weather the Lakes were clamped under low clouds. It did eventually clear to a hazy sunshine but not until about 2pm. At least it stayed dry and mild.

Fells climbed: Orrest Head (763 feet above sea level, no. 38), Yoke (2309’, no. 39), Ill Bell (2476’, no. 40), Froswick (2359’, no. 41), Thornthwaite Crag (2569’, no. 42), Gray Crag (2286’, no. 43).

Ill Bell and Froswick

To give you an idea of what I missed on this walk – here is Ill Bell (left) and Froswick viewed from Kentmere, pictured on walk 35 (2/4/11)

Distance: 14.5 miles

Total ascent: 3675 feet

Start and end points: Started walking straight off the train at Windermere station, no buses required. Ended at the White Lion hotel, Patterdale.

Pub at end: The White Lion was distinguished by quite the best pint of beer I have had on these walks so far (White Lion Ale from – I think – the Tirrot brewery). This place does fairly cheap accommodation too (£36 pppn apparently) and is conveniently located near the bus terminus so looks worth a visit.

Troutbeck Tongue just under cloud level

Troutbeck Tongue, under 1200 feet, gives an accurate way of judging the height of the cloud cover

Route card: Click on the link to download a route card (2Mb, .doc format), showing summary information, a map, the elevation profile and waypoints with grid references. Route card for Walk 12: The Ill Bell Ridge

Route: Cross the main road outside Windermere station and follow the signs to Orrest Head. Note that almost immediately, you need to bear right: there is a signpost but it’s easily missed. After that, getting up to the summit, and its famous view, should be  straightforward but getting off it may be less so. On the way down I went wrong almost immediately by turning right at point SD 416993, following the sign saying ‘Permitted Path’ – but this would have looped me round back to the Windermere Hotel. Fortunately I realised my mistake after only a couple of hundred yards and went back to that junction and turned left.

This is never a clear path, but I eventually came out onto the road at NY417000. After that it was a matter of following the road round until the Dubbs Road junction – no signpost here but it can be identified by its ‘cul-de-sac’ sign.

From that point everything is obvious, all the way up over Yoke and onto the Ill Bell ridge, except perhaps for the junction at the top of Garburn Pass – turn off left at the cairn. Even in the very poor visibility I had (15 yards at most) the path cannot be lost. I did take a slightly roundabout route between Froswick and Thornthwaite Crag but that was just my indecision.

For Gray Crag, don’t follow the wall round, which leads down to Threshthwaite Mouth: bear right instead to stick to the top of the snakelike ridge. Coming off Gray Crag I followed AW’s advice to just head straight down but this starts to become VERY steep at about SD424126. There is a path bearing right at that point but I didn’t take it as it is not marked on a map and it is not clear whether it does loop round to the Hayeswater path visible below; Wainwright’s map on Gray Crag p. 2 suggests it does not. I made it down the steep, direct slope safely, but care is required (and it was very painful on the knees).

Hartsop Dodd viewed from Gray Crag

Hartsop Dodd viewed from Gray Crag: Helvellyn and Catstycam behind

Don’t walk back along the main road from Hartsop to Patterdale; it’s busy, noisy and dangerous and there is no point anyway as the ‘back lane’ is delightful, quick and easy to follow. Turn right past the white building just before the Hartsop by-road reaches the main A592. Follow it to the hamlet of Rooking, turn left and you will come out right by the White Lion. The bus terminus is about 30 yards further on.

I wandered lonely in the mist stuff: I start this one ¾ hour late because Virgin Trains cannot be bothered to run their 0753 Preston-Edinburgh service on time. That’s 8 trips I have made by a train service that is supposed to get me to Windermere by 0845 and two of them have so far been late (walk 8 was the other one). A 75% hit rate so far, then. Not great.

Fortunately this time it does not matter too much as I have no bus connection to make at Windermere. But as I leave for the short climb up Orrest Head (the place where, famously, Wainwright first saw Lakeland in 1930) the other problem with the day becomes apparent. The whole area is squatting under a blanket of cloud that clips the top of Troutbeck Tongue (see picture above) and is thus covering everything over about 1200 feet. From the Dubbs Road right through until Thornthwaite Crag three hours later I can see nothing further than about 15 yards away. Keep hoping it will burn or blow off but neither happens. At one point I get a call from a work colleague on the mobile and when I tell him where I am he says how nice it must be walking today in the great sunshine. None of that, I tell him. Well, they have beautiful sunshine in Manchester, he says. Yeah, thanks David. So what is, apparently, one of the district’s great ridge walks passes me by on the whole.

On Ill Bell

Mist and the remains of snow on the slopes of Ill Bell

I did have thoughts about fitting Mardale Ill Bell and High Street into this walk and coming off Froswick I did vaguely start to head in their direction but the mist made navigation difficult and the determination faded quickly, so I just looped back to Thornthwaite Crag’s summit. The tall cairn there appears to have lost its top, though it is still very tall. Finally, the clouds cleared  and on my way down Gray Crag I got the chance to wield the camera with some shots of the Hartsop and Hayeswater district. I took this final leg at a leisurely pace, partly because I had the time but also because my knees were feeling it, this was the longest walk I’ve done in (exactly) six months. But the final stretch from Hartsop to Patterdale was very pleasant and the beer at the end delicious. I finished feeling good, though not quite as exhilarated by the walk as the last three trips.

One thing though. I know that public transport timetables cannot be designed for my own personal benefit but the timing of bus/train connections at Penrith is exquisitely poor. If I want to get home from Patterdale at a reasonable hour – that is, before 10pm – I have to catch the bus at 2.10pm. There is not another bus out of Patterdale until 5.10pm. That, by 5 minutes, just misses a train that would get me home at 8pm. (This trip only works for me because I’m staying in Morecambe tonight instead of Hebden Bridge.) Nor is it any better on the way out. A train arrives at Penrith at 9.20 but the bus has gone at 9.10am and there’s not another one for two hours. SORT IT OUT!

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