Sale Fell and Wythop

Looking across the Wythop valley to Sale Fell, from Broom Fell

Date completed: 21st August 2018.

Weather conditions: Rather dull and grey. Certainly not a good day for photography. Tolerable for walking however. Low clouds draped themselves over some fells, but not the ones I was frequenting.

The main weather-related hassle of the day was the sodden vegetation that swamped the whole valley floor of Aiken Beck. See the route notes and commentary below.

Low Fell in the clouds

Looking across the west end of the Whinlatter Pass road, to Low Fell. If even that’s in the clouds…

Summits bagged: Broom Fell (1670’ above sea level, number 160 of my second round), Graystones (1476’, no. 161).

Both fells were previously bagged on walk 52, 1/3/12.

Start and end points: Started at the Spout Force car park, which is on the Whinlatter Pass road, west of the visitor centre. Bus number 77 from Keswick will stop here, although this only runs in the summer months (Easter – late October).

Ended at the Wheatsheaf pub in Embleton, which has a bus stop right outside it, on the routes of the X4 and X5 buses that connect Workington, Cockermouth, Keswick and (though not every service) Penrith.

I started the walk at about 10:50, which is when the 10:30 bus from Keswick dropped me at the car park. I was at the Wheatsheaf exactly three and a half hours later, in good time to have a pint and then catch the 14:45 bus back to Penrith.

Hopegill Head

Hopegill Head, above the clouds

Distance walked: 8 miles approximately.

Note that there is a 1-mile, half-hour ‘prologue’ to the walk involving the visit to Spout Force (see the route notes). This could be omitted to make it a 7-mile walk.

Total ascent: 1700 feet approximately.

If Spout Force is not visited, this saves, at a guess, about 250 feet of climbing.

Pub at end: Obvious from above. The Wheatsheaf was last seen at the end of walk 17, way back in June 2010, when Clare and I sought to patronise it but it appeared then to be closed on a semi-permanent basis. Whether we were correct in that assessment or not, it was at least open today — although didn’t look it on arrival. Nevertheless it served a very good pint of Jennings’ Bitter (its only real ale though), and cannot be beaten when it comes to convenience for the bus stop; though make sure you stand in a position where you can be seen by the driver as it approaches, otherwise the bus may well just drive straight past.

Broom Fell and bracken

Broom Fell rises above the rampant bracken of the Aiken Beck valley.

Route: This is not a particularly exciting walk and no one is going to claim it shows off the best of the Lake District — in fact I don’t think you see a lake all day, not even Bassenthwaite or Crummock Water, which both might be expected to show themselves. (Wainwright claims you can see Bass Lake from the top of Broom Fell, but that was not the case on the 21st August 2018.) It is an easy one in terms of the terrain and effort required, although in high summer (like late August), bracken will be an irritant, particularly when it’s damp.

From the starting point at Spout Force car park, you could just head straight for Broom Fell, but Spout Force itself is worth a visit for Wainwright completists, seeing as AW obviously went to so much trouble to give the waterfall a page to itself in the Graystones chapter. The difficulties of access that he recorded in the original edition have been somewhat resolved by the clearing of the path alongside Aiken Beck, but there’s still plenty of tangled, fecund vegetation to deal with, which encroaches on the route at many points.

Spout Force

As much as you get to see of Spout Force, really

Whether the falls themselves are actually worth the bother is a question each visitor will resolve for themselves; the picture shows how much of them you do see through the trees. Should you wish also to see this sight, turn left at the signpost — beware the stinging nettles — and drop down through a field and then more vegetation to Aiken Beck at the bottom. Turn right,  upstream, and after a brief climb, the path ends at the viewing platform. Obviously, from here, there is no alternative but to retrace one’s steps back up to the car park, and then commence on the walk proper.

That heads up the lane, past the farm of Darling How and up the semi-afforested Aiken valley. Note the advice in the ascent guide in the Broom Fell chapter regarding where to look for the path that drops down to the beck off the forest road; the ‘six larches’ mentioned in the book seem by now to number twenty or so. Either way, just before reaching this line of tall trees, the path drops down to the left. Two becks need to be crossed, the first one caused no problems, but on the second I nearly got a soaking. You might want to look for a part of the bank that was more stable underfoot than the one I tried.

Broom Fell summit

Broom Fell’s impressive summit cairn. Grisedale Pike holding off the cloud in the background.

After that it is a matter of following up the wall, which ploughs through more bracken at first, then a brief passage of gorse, but finally comes out onto grass. This climb is a little tedious but does have the benefit of avoiding a ‘false summit’ moment. Though the tall cairn of Broom Fell remains out of sight until the last minute, it is right there as you come up to the skyline, so the climb does seem shorter than it might have been.

Turn left at the cairn and follow the path to Graystones, which goes along the edge of Darling How plantation. The trees which reached up the full height of the fell side here, from Aiken Beck below, have been felled at some point in the last two and a half years (they were still there when I took pictures of Graystones on walk 106 in February 2016). The summit cairn is a couple of minutes’ walk on the left from the point where the path leaves the fence.

Wythop Moss

The Skiddaw range rises behind Wythop Moss. Not a place to blunder into unknowing.

Getting off Graystones down to Wythop was an easy descent underfoot, though I started off heading down the right hand (east)  side of Tom Rudd Beck before realising this would plunge me into the morass of Wythop Moss. A better plan was to bear much more to the west and head for the gap to the left of the small unnamed hill at 294’ to the west of Ling Fell (see the OS map). The track marked on the map here is not altogether clear on the ground but it should not be too difficult to follow the beck down.

Graystones summit

Graystones summit cairn. Sale Fell in the background.

Although, if you are planning to do this walk not long after August 2018, I would swing well to the left at one point to avoid a too-close encounter with a freshly dead sheep. Most likely this was killed by a dog; if you do bring dogs out onto the fells please keep them under control when sheep are around.

This track debouches onto a rough, but tarmacked lane which leads to Highside Farm. Here turn right, follow the tarmac down the zigzags to the beck then up to the farm and then check the map; you want to be heading right, along the lane marked “Green Lonning” on the OS map, and eventually coming out at Wythop Mill. At the phone box take the road north (left) and then be careful when crossing the A66, which is genuinely the one dangerous thing you have to do all day. Go up the road a few more yards, turn left when reaching the road and the Wheatsheaf, and its bus stop, are just down there. (The pub sign on the OS map is misleading at this point.)

Foliage on Spout Force path

Another picture of the day’s rampant vegetation, this time on the Spout Force path.

Brackened-Out commentary: The last nine years have familiarised me with many aspects of walking in the Lakes, whether it is knowing how to work the various public transport connections, or which major paths are acceptable climbs and descents and which are pains in the butt.

And if there’s one thing that negotiating some 1,200 miles of Cumbria has done, it has been to put me off bracken completely. Nine years ago I would not have expressed feelings one way or the other for this plant. As I approach my fiftieth year on this planet I have grown to despise it. I know it’s indigenous — so at least not as invasive as Himalayan balsam, the Lakes appears free of that weed for now but it can only be a matter of time — but there are so many things about it that irritate. It chokes paths, conceals rocks. Routes that I know are fine at other times of year can be made impassable from July to October (like the Eskdale peat road I last encountered on walk 133). It holds water superbly; I think it is somewhere in volume 8 that Wainwright (who surely had plenty of opportunities to develop similar feelings about it) notes how “there is nothing better at soaking trousers than wet bracken”, and he’s right.

Graystones from Broom Fell

Looking along the ridge to Graystones, from Broom Fell

The valley of Aiken Beck proved to be a bracken farm of some fertility today; not to mention a range of other plants, including blackberries, which were welcome enough (everyone I know who looks out for these things recognises that 2018 has been about the best year ever for blackberries in Britain), but also including a variety of spiky, soggy or simply obstructive greenery that made the first 90 minutes of this walk slightly tiresome. I actually wish they’d mark this stuff more clearly on the OS map. Not every slope is affected; the descent from Graystones down into Wythop wasn’t so bad (apart from the dead sheep). It would help with late summer walk planning, that’s all.

Sheep and Ling Fell

Sheep posing for a picture in front of Ling Fell

I sound grouchy and don’t really mean to. Other than the vegetation issues today wasn’t a bad walk, though there’s nothing particularly thrilling about it. The low cloud that was affecting much of the District today did preclude me following through on my original plan to bag the High Stile range, but this one still needed the summer bus service (the #77 to be precise) so was worth doing instead, bracken notwithstanding.

When I first planned it I thought I might end by also bagging the two summits of Watch Hill (see walk 92) and ending in Cockermouth, but on arrival at the A66 the walk did seem to have come to a natural end, so those two can wait. Besides, I now think I have a plan to make sure that fell number 165 — the mid-point of this second round — can now, indeed, be Middle Fell. That’s the plan for early September, although many things have to fall into place before this does actually come through, so let’s see how it goes.

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