Starling Dodd summit

The summit of Starling Dodd and its unusual ‘cairn’. Mellbreak and the Grasmoor range behind.

Date completed: 7th July 2018. 

Weather conditions: Warm and sunny, as it has been for most of the last two months. Some cloud in the morning which alleviated the sweat somewhat, but after lunch the sun shone out of a pristine blue sky and the temperature was well into the 20sºC. 

Summits bagged: Hen Comb (1670 feet above sea level, number 152 of my second round), Starling Dodd (2077’, no. 153), Great Borne (2019’, no. 154). 

Ennerdale Water and Great Borne

Ennerdale Water and Great Borne, from Starling Dodd

Hen Comb was last bagged on walk 67 in October 2012, the other two on walk 60a, July 2012. 

Start and end point: Started and finished at Lanthwaite Green. This is served, in the summer anyway, by #77 buses from Keswick. The buses go round a circuit, Keswick – Whinlatter – Buttermere – Honister – Keswick, in both directions: it is much quicker to go round via Whinlatter. 

I fitted the walk between the 11:05 approx. drop off at Lanthwaite Green (left Keswick 10:30) and the 17:03 pick up, which went the other way around, so did not get me back to Keswick until 18:15. However I did then get straight on another bus that allowed me to catch the 19:07 train back south from Penrith. It could be noted that this goes all the way back to London, arriving 22:42; not a bad run considering you were still in the Buttermere valley at 5pm. 

Crummock Water

Having fun on Crummock Water

Distance walked: 12 miles approximately. 

Total ascent: 3200 feet approximately. 

Pub at end: Another chance to note how very fine is the Kirkstile Inn at Loweswater, and also to lament that it is not on the bus route: it is half an hour’s walk (minimum) back to Lanthwaite Green. 

Route:  Wainwright’s comments on page 3 of the Hen Comb chapter may as well be applied to the walk as a whole: “Not an exciting walk, but pleasant enough on a sunny day for anybody who doesn’t want to get too excited.” This seems to sum up this whole walk for me. I did do it on a sunny day and it was, indeed, pleasant enough without being particularly memorable. 

Walker on Floutern Cop

Walker on Floutern Cop

The main plus factor is that it provides the chance to explore some more out-of-the-way fells. Once actually embarked on the ascent proper I saw only three other walkers all day, two on the summit of Hen Comb and the other (the guy pictured here) was at a distance: this on a sunny Saturday in July.  There will be some boggy sections in normal conditions, and while Hen Comb would be safe in mist I wouldn’t push on and do the other two fells should the cloud come down while you’re part way round. 

The bus will drop you at the car park at Lanthwaite Green. The path to take is then to the right-hand side of the farm as you look at it from the road.  Signposts lead you into the woods, then once you reach a prominent forest road going off to the left, lower down, take this and you will be led to the shore of Crummock Water and its irresistible photo opportunities (see above).

Hen Comb

Hen Comb, from the ridge

Follow the shore round to the right until reaching the octagonal ‘Pump House’, where leave the shore and head straight on through the fields (ignore the gate on the right). You come out at Park Bridge, but don’t cross this. Instead go through the yard of the farm of Low Park and take the path bearing left through a gate. 

This seems to be heading down the wrong side of Mellbreak but a sharp bend puts you back on the right track, going round the butt of this fell (which towers quite impressively above) and eventually merging with another wide track, where double back a few yards to attain the path seen ascending through the bracken, on the other side of Mosedale Beck. This you have to cross: easy enough in dry weather but Wainwright warns about the access problems in the rain. 

From there, just follow the path up the ridge. Hen Comb’s summit dome is a stiffer ascent than expected but at the top there are plenty of little rocks to sit on and enjoy your lunch and what is a really very good view of Buttermere, backed by Robinson and Fleetwith Pike. 

Hen Comb summit

Hen Comb summit, looking toward Buttermere

Starling Dodd is dead ahead and it’s worth comparing the view to the diagram on page Starling Dodd 4 and identifying Red Gill, which is key to the ascent of that fell. The path drops steeply down from Hen Comb to the old sheepfold, but here is where there will be problems with bog and the crossing of Mosedale Beck, which runs here through a sinuous little gorge that is a little awkward to climb down into and back out of. There is no path up Red Gill and I found it easiest to start off up a very little subsidiary channel to the left of the Gill as you look at it: it’s easy to see this from above. This climb is a little tedious, as is the expanse of moorland you then have to cross when you reach the top, but it doesn’t last long: just head for the dome of Starling Dodd when it comes into sight. A path, of sorts, does eventually emerge. 

Floutern Cop

Floutern Cop

Unless you’re feeling frisky and want to go on and do the High Stile range, reverse direction when on the summit of Starling Dodd (and its creative cairn design) and drop back down to the fence, but here bear left instead of retracing your earlier steps, keep the fence on your right and you will be on top of Great Borne in another half hour or so. 

Keep following the fence, which drops down the ridge of Steel Brow back to Floutern Pass, though not without some steep and awkward moments: take care here. (Did I really haul myself up this slope on walk 60a?) The valley of Whiteoak Beck (see the note in the commentary) is your next target, sitting behind the little tor of Floutern Cop.

Mosedale and Red Pike

Mosedale, with Red Pike behind. The famous holly tree is clearly visible.

The more prominent path, both on the ground and the map, goes down the left-hand (west) side of the valley, along the slopes of Gavel Fell (this ends up at Highnook Farm, becoming the last mile or so of walk 37 and walk 134, but there is no obvious link to it at the southern end. Led by the OS map, which promised a trail on the Hen Comb side of the valley, I let the sketchy paths lead me back towards that fell and though I had my doubts for a while, once over the angle of the fence at NY129177 a faint track does emerge. 

Keeping fairly level this leads round the summit dome of Hen Comb and eventually back onto the ridge path you climbed up this morning. Follow this back down, cross Mosedale Beck again (if you did it this morning, I’m sure you can do it now), and this time stick on the lower of the two broad lanes here as that will lead you straight to the Kirkstile Inn. 

Mellbreak from the Kirkstile Inn

The impressive view of Mellbreak, from the Kirkstile Inn

Hard as it will be to drag yourself away from this very fine pub and its beer garden after enjoying your much-needed refreshment, remember the bus stop at Lanthwaite Green remains a minimum of half an hour’s walk away (and I would leave a little longer to be sure). Take the road for a while but at the car park, turn right and you are back on the woodland path you used this morning. Take the second (not the first) prominent path on the left and return to Lanthwaite Green where await the bus. 

Into the West commentary: The good weather continues — two months now. We’re becoming almost blasé about it. Instead of being concerned with packing waterproofs and anxiously wondering whether those clouds are ever going to clear, luggage concerns at present rest more around whether the sunscreen and plenty of water are in the pack, and whether it will just be too hot to walk. Still, I’m not complaining. Really, I’m not. 

Head of Whiteoak Beck

Great Borne and Floutern Cop, at the head of the remote valley of Whiteoak Beck

After what feels like months of promising to do this I did finally get some more Western Fells ticked off from volume 7. The effort it takes to get round to this side does usually pay off: there’s some very fine walking territory round here. Its very remoteness keeps it quieter than some other areas, at least once on the tops (Crummock Water was heaving with people today). One reason I finished the walk down the valley of Whiteoak Beck was that this is possibly the most obscure valley in the whole area covered by the Pictorial Guide. Not a single one of Wainwright’s ascent routes uses it. Sheep looked at me curiously as I tried to establish whether the path marked on the right bank on the OS map (but not on Wainwright’s) did in fact exist. But it felt good to be able to pioneer virgin territory even 148 walks and nearly nine years into this project. 

Sheep and Starling Dodd

A sheep looks surprised to see someone embarked on an ascent of Starling Dodd

Hmmm. I seem to have few things to say at the end of this one. No complaints to make about the trains today. The buses were not as packed as I feared they might be — though the England v Sweden game in the afternoon may have kept some people at home (I arrived at the Kirkstile pretty much as Dele Alli scored the second, as indicated by the cheers from the kitchen). Yes, all in all, a good though unspectacular day out walking. Whether the good conditions sustain themselves or not, there’ll be one more walk in July at least. 

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