Great Mell Fell and Blencathra

Great Mell Fell and Blencathra, from Little Mell Fell

Date completed: 6th February 2017.

Weather conditions:  Quite pleasant in the morning. But it was forecast to deteriorate, and so it did, with much cloudier and cooler conditions brewing up after about 11.30am.  By the time I got home it was raining steadily.  There were reasons I did a walk today that I could start and finish early.

Steel Knotts

View over to Steel Knotts, with The Nab and Rest Dodd behind

Summits baggedDunmallet (775 feet above sea level,  number 88 of my second round), Little Mell Fell (1657’, no, 89). Great Mell Fell (1760’, no. 90).

Dunmallet was last bagged on walk 84, 28/6/14, and the other two on walk 58, 2/7/12.

Start and end points:  Started at Pooley Bridge. This can be reached by #508 buses from Penrith rail station. Finished at Troutbeck, where the A5091 meets the A66.  A X4 or X5 bus can be caught here back to Keswick, though it is not entirely clear where there is a bus stop: as long as you give the driver plenty of time to see you, the bus should stop here.

I fitted the walk, with about 10 minutes to spare, between the 9:50 drop off at Pooley Bridge (left Penrith station 9:20) and the 13:40ish pick up at Troutbeck.

Distance walked:  8 miles approximately.

Seat above Ullswater

Seat overlooking Ullswater, below Dunmallet

Total ascent:  2750 feet approximately.

Pub at end: It could have been the Troutbeck Inn, but this was closed when I passed.  Can’t say I enjoyed it enormously on my last visit (walk 58), so perhaps this was trying to tell me something. If in desperate need of a beer when ending the walk, you could walk east along the A66 to the Sportsmans’ Inn, but this is also not open all afternoon. The best bet may to just be to get the bus and slake one’s thirst in Penrith or further afield.

Route:  Beyond a few muddy sections, this is a pretty straightforward walk with some very good views. Each of the three fells bagged has to be ascended separately — there are no connecting ridges — so the total amount of climbing is more than might be expected.  There are no rocks to handle at all, but care is needed on the descent of Great Mell Fell.

Dunmallet and the Pennines

Looking back to Dunmallet, with the Pennines behnd

Get off the bus outside the Pooley Bridge hotel, and cross the bridge over the river — still, at the time of writing, a temporary construction, built to replace the bridge that collapsed during the floods of 4th – 5th December 2015, when the level of Ullswater (that’s the whole lake) rose by about 15 feet.  A billboard at the west end of the bridge gives some information on the disaster and indicates the point of entry to the woods of Dunmallet.

Turn right inside the gate (contrary to what the sign suggests) and climb up through the woods until reaching another gate at the north side of the fell, then head up the slope.  Dunmallet is the most wooded of all the Wainwrights, with total tree cover, so don’t expect some kind of clearing up there, but by keeping going up the slope you will reach what appears to be the summit in short order. 20 minutes, maximum, from Pooley Bridge is ample time.

Coming down, head back in the direction of Ullswater below, bearing more to the right (west) to descend to the corner of the Dunmallet enclosure that is furthest from Pooley Bridge, where a path leads above the roadway. Take this to the junction then cross the road before taking the path signposted Waterfoot.


View south to Martindale

This leads up to and round the hotel, keep following it, now signposted Bennethead, and head westward. This is a clear path, though muddy, but recompense is found in the view south to the Martindale district, which is spectacular.

Once you come out onto the road, turn left and keep following the signs for Matterdale, this leads up and over the little pass of The Hause  At the summit of the road, go through the gate on the right and head straight up to the top of Little Mell Fell — not an exciting climb but at least a good view awaits you at the top.

Although the guidance in the book suggests descent is best achieved by retracing one’s steps to The Hause, a path does lead west from the summit of Little Mell Fell in the general direction of its bigger sister, and though this is not marked on the Wainwright map nor, until its end, the OS one, it does go through a couple of gates and then becomes a drove road zigzagging down until it meets tarmac.  Here, turn right then, a hundred yards further on,  drop down left through a gate signposted “Great Mell Fell and Brownrigg”.

View over to Helvellyn range

View over to the Helvellyn range, from the ascent of Great Mell Fell

This could do with more signposting as you need to bear left in the centre of this field, to cross over a couple of streams by two footbridges. Then, bear left and round the farm of Brownrigg to come out onto another lane, where turn right and then left up to the woods of Great Mell Fell. But don’t go through the first gate, tempting though it looks — this path does not lead to the summit. Take the second gate on the right instead, and this becomes a clear path leading all the way up to the top.

The shortest way down Great Mell Fell is palpably straight over it in the direction of the old rifle range, clearly visible below, but the descent is a very steep one. It’s safe, but take care — anyone rushing this is asking for a nasty accident. The rifle range itself is not a very edifying end to the walk, with no clear path through it and plenty of muddy and awkward bits. When coming to the end, bear in mind you exit to the road on the left side of the wall. Then just walk up to the Troutbeck Inn, have a pint if it happens to be open, and await the bus on the A66 at the top, finding a suitable place to fling oneself in front of it.

Walker on lane to Bennethead

Walker on the lane to Bennethead

Commentary: Didn’t necessarily mean to leave five weeks’ gap since the last walk, but when opportunities have opened up in that time either the weather or my general health have been too poor to make me feel like getting out. I still can’t say I feel 100%, so as with some other walks done at this time of year — i give you walk 106 last year, walk 79 to name but a couple — though I’m keen to get out I certainly don’t have any intention to get adventurous above the snow line. Plus, the forecast is definitely for a deterioration later in the day. So, I just want a decent walk with minimum hassle, one that starts and finishes early.

Woods of Dunmallet

The woods of Dunmallet

Hence this walk, which skips over the north-eastern rim of the District, three easy summits, though with a healthy amount of up and down, as all three involve separate ascents.  I last did each in the summer, not that the weather was great when previously bagging the Mell Fells in that lost summer of 2012. Returning to Little Mell Fell in good visibility at least allowed that summit to do itself justice: as Wainwright says, ‘there is good in all’ but it took this second visit to show that in this case. A good argument for doing this second round, anyway. Great views here, both over to the Pennines and south to the Martindale district, which looked stunning today.

View south from Bennethead path

Another view south from the early part of the walk

I don’t mention it particularly above, but the transport home was a pain in the butt today, and didn’t have to be — if only connections were better. I can get into the District easily these days but getting home almost always seems to take longer and be less convenient — and a signal failure somewhere up near Carlisle made me miss connections and get home way later than I should have this evening. I took a Zen attitude to the whole thing and didn’t really care that much, but it was just unnecessary.

Little more to add. Since I last walked, an insane, racist buffoon has become the most powerful man in the world, but for now we are all still here. My schedule for finishing the 330 a second time takes me up to 2021, the end of Trump’s term in office: who has any idea what the world is going to look like then, but let’s assume the fells will remain.

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