View from Flat Fell summit

View west from Flat Fell summit. The rise ahead is Blakely Raise, with Grike peeking up to the left.

Date completed: 17th April 2017. Easter Monday: the second year in a row I have walked on this particular holiday, after walk 108 last year.

Weather conditions: Cloudy and a bit muggy in the morning, but it did improve, and the final stages were done in quite sunny, springlike weather.

Summits bagged: Dent (1131 feet above sea level, number 97 of my second round), Grike (1601’, no. 98), Flat Fell (871’, no. 99).

Spring is here…

Grike was previously done on walk 28, 20/11/10, and the other two were the last fells bagged in my first round on walk 103, almost exactly five years later on 21/11/15.

Start and end points: Started at St. Bees rail station, on the Cumbrian coast rail line. Finished in Wath Brow, on where most days (but not Sundays or public holidays), a bus can be caught back to Whitehaven rail station. The walk took me just over five hours: I got off the train at St Bees at 10:27 and was back on the 16:21 out of Whitehaven.

Distance walked: 12.75 miles approximately.

Total ascent: 2900 feet approximately.

Pub at end: My second trip to the Little Arms (a.k.a the Top House) in Wath Brow, on the edge of Cleator Moor. Despite the lack of real ale, a decent pub, with helpful staff, and expect to be engaged in conversation with the locals about where you have walked. Knowledge of rugby league would not be an unhelpful asset either.

River Ehen at Wath Bridge

The River Ehen at Wath Bridge, crossed near the end of the walk

Route: This is not an exciting walk but it’s decent exercise on, mostly, paths that are in good condition and easy to follow. You won’t see much of the Lake District but there are fine vistas of the west Cumbrian coast and the Irish Sea.

Starting at St. Bees station was something of an experiment. It would be possible to get the train on to Whitehaven, and get a bus back out to either Bigrigg or Cleator Moor, both of which would shorten the walk in terms of distance, but not save a great deal in terms of time on the day. I decided to try the walk in from St. Bees, which for the first time on my walks was an area outside that covered by the four Ordnance Survey Explorer maps (OL4-7) which had covered everything else up to this point. For the first section, then, the larger-scale, 1:50,000 sheet 89 (West Cumbria) was also needed.

Getting out of St Bees was not quite as straightforward as hoped, either.  You need to cross to the east side of the rail line, then turn left by the hotel, but though the ‘public footpath’ signs start here they lead you literally through a couple of back yards and into a small housing estate before revealing the path ahead, heading up the slope in the direction of the farm of Loughrigg. This path, while remaining adequately signposted, is then choked by gorse at a couple of points and not an altogether uplifting start to the walk.

Cleator

Cleator, main street

Still, it does eventually bring one out at the rather forlorn-looking and farm of Loughrigg, where go straight on and follow this lane through the strangely-named hamlet of Pallaflat and onto the main road at Bigrigg. Turn right, stay on the side you are on (as there is no pavement on the other side), but then take care crossing the road, as you need to take the lane on the left, to Cleator. Once on the main road in Cleator, turn left, go up into the village and, just about where this picture was taken, look for the ‘Coast to Coast’ sign pointing to the right. Take this lane, turn first right, go over the bridge then take the path to the left, which goes round the (again, rather sad-looking) farm buildings of Black How and, across the lane, starts the climb of Dent and the walk proper. It took me about an hour and a quarter to reach this point from St. Bees.

Ascend the forest road to the T-junction at the top, turn left, and the path will then take you up to the summit of Dent soon after — but remember, the large cairn you reach at the top of the slope is not the actual summit of the fell, a fact that goes unmentioned in Wainwright. (Since I last visited 18 months ago this cairn has been joined by a large second one that appears to be a memorial to a recently-deceased local rugby league player.) The true summit of Dent lies about 200 yards further on; watch for a bog in the depression, the only substantial one encountered on the walk.

Walker above Nannycatch

Walker above Nannycatch. The slope to the right is Flatfell Screes (showing why the fell is misnamed).

From the true summit, go straight on, cross straight over the forest road then — if your nerves will handle it — surmount the very tall ladder stile (see the picture on the walk 103 page). Then descend this path into the valley Nannycatch: it’s safe, but steep, so take care. Turn left along the path at the bottom of the valley.

Here is where the one routefinding difficulty of the day came up. On reaching the dell where the gap between Flat Fell and Dent goes off to the left, you need to be heading right (west). The map shows a right of way up the slope ahead but this does not seem to correspond to any path in particular, including the farm track which slants up the slope. I ended up battling up a bracken-clad and very steep bank to reach the top, then crossing fields on what appeared to be a signposted path until reaching the farm of Sillathwaite, where take the lane out to the open fell road.

From here the rest of the walk is simply navigated. Turn left along the road for a few hundred yards then take the path on the right, signposted ‘Red Beck 3 miles’, this turns into the broad track which has, in its time, served a mine, the forest and now walkers — since I was last here in 2010 (and since the publication of the second edition) the forest has been completely felled, and reasonably tidily for a change, so this is certainly no longer the ‘jungle safari’ described in Wainwright. All around is moorland, with Lank Rigg immediately to the right, and Caw Fell ahead. Blake Fell of the Loweswater range is prominent to the left. Between them, Grike is clearly seen (see the picture), and with the trees gone so is the path leading up to it. So once you get there, use it to attain the summit — be careful of the second stile, which is loose and not overly safe.

Grike

Grike, from the old mine road

From the summit, with its relatively cosy wind-shelter, I just retraced my steps back to the fell road. There turn right, then left down a lane that zigzags down into the steep Nannycatch valley again. At the bottom, a track seen going up the corner of Flat Fell looks promising but peters out at the top, meaning that you may as well follow the more substantial path along to the right, and then just strike out for the summit when that reaches its crest.

From this point you can follow the map on pages 200-1 of volume 8. The descent of Flat Fell is one of the easiest there is, thanks to its wonderful turf and gentle gradient. Head straight down for the lane and the car park at the end of the tarmac. Take the road back down, turn left at the junction, cross over the Ehen and ascend to Wath Brow. The Little Arms is at the top of the hill — for the bus stop, turn right then immediately left and it is just down there.

We’re on our way commentary; No day that sees one’s football team (the mighty Brighton and Hove Albion) promoted to the Premier League can be a bad day. This has nothing to do with walking, but I just thought I would mention it. The good news came on the journey home, and celebrations certainly did ensue.

Morecambe Bay

Cumbrian Coast line shot 1 — Morecambe Bay, near Grange

No day spent with time on the Cumbrian Coast rail line is likely to be a truly bad day either: I guess if you’re using it every day, it would be easy to get blasé about it, but my usage probably amounts to two or three times per year over the last few years and I’m still not tired of it. I managed the whole circuit today (save one small section), starting in Carnforth station at 07:42 and ending the first portion at St Bees just under three hours later. That is full of interest, with four great estuary crossings: the Kent at Arnside; the Crake/Leven just before Ulverston; the Duddon (not crossed as such but you go up one side and down the other between Barrow and Millom); and the triple Esk/Irt/Mite one at Ravenglass.

Turbines in the Solway Firth

Cumbrian Coast line view 2: the Solway Firth

At the end of the day I then took the train from Whitehaven to Carlisle and that hugs the coast all the way to Maryport, with great views across the Solway Firth, wind farms notwithstanding (see the picture). Only after Maryport does the line turn inland and things get a little more pedestrian. But really, this is a hell of a rail line, and more picturesque than the walk I actually did do today.

I had planned a more substantial walk, still starting with Dent but then doing Lank Rigg and heading back to Egremont, but the public holiday had put a dent (ha ha) in the bus service so the time I had to do the walk was not as much as I had hoped, despite staying in Morecambe last night. But bagging Grike and Flat Fell still got me three summits and it was about time I ticked another one off from the Western Fells — on this second round there have been only four bagged, last Easter (walk 108) and I’ve set myself priorities over this summer to get a few more in.

View towards Blake Fell

View towards Blake Fell, from the mine road

As I said above, it wasn’t the most dramatic walk, but it was good exercise, and straightforward enough walking to get nearly 13 miles done in under five hours, which is an indication of either the terrain or my own fitness. But I’d normally reckon two miles an hour is a decent speed on rough fell, so this is a sign that one can stretch out a bit more here. Only the climb out of Nannycatch was a difficulty today. And I still think Flat Fell is very misleadingly named.

Spring seems to be here, though one never can tell of course — it snowed in late April last year — so let’s pick up the pace a bit. Next walk in two weekends’ time. By which time I confidently predict Brighton will not only (still) be promoted, but have won the Championship title as well. Football-wise, at least, it’s definitely a good year.

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