Leven estuary

View of the Leven estuary, from Bigland Heights

Date completed: 2nd October 2018.

Weather conditions: A fine day in early autumn. The only mild negative was that it was a bit breezy. Other than that, excellent weather for walking.

Summits bagged: Bigland Barrow (630 feet above sea level, number 167 of my second round), Finsthwaite Heights (570’, no. 168).

Sands of Morecambe Bay

The sands of Morecambe Bay, as seen from Grange station

Bigland Barrow was last bagged on walk 86 in August 2014, Finsthwaite Heights on walk 75, late October 2013.

Start and end points: Started at Cark & Cartmel railway station. This is on the very beautiful Cumbrian Coast line, and is served by trains that run, roughly, hourly from Lancaster.

Finished in Newby Bridge. From here I caught an #X6 bus to Grange-over-Sands station, which is on the same rail line. Note that you can also catch buses from Newby Bridge to Windermere railway station.

The walk took me almost exactly 4 hours. I left Cark station at 9am and arrived in time to get the 13:07 bus at Newby Bridge. It should be noted that the connections between buses and trains at Grange station are another example of heroically bad transport planning on the part of Stagecoach, Northern Rail and Cumbria County Council. I had a 55-minute wait in Grange before getting the 14:21 service back to Lancaster. There is a 13:02 service from Newby Bridge to Windermere station for which I was also in time and which provides further travel options.

Baby fly agaric

Baby fly agaric, on Finsthwaite Heights. Tell me you’re not getting a ‘Fantasia’ flashback.

Distance walked: 9.4 miles approximately.

Total ascent: As a very rough estimate, 1,200 feet.

Pub at end: There are two large hotels in Newby Bridge and I still have not been in either of them. With only a few minutes to spare there, and knowing that I would have a much longer wait in Grange (see above), I instead waited to have a beer until I had got on the bus and arrived at the coast. I then patronised Grange’s Commodore Inn, which is the licensed premise nearest to its station (though there are several cafés just outside). Turn left outside the station and it’s five minutes’ walk. Or, use the embankment on the seaward side of the railway and go under the first available subway. This is a decent pub, with friendly staff and locals, although it can get very busy in the summer.

Cumbrian Coast line

View from the Cumbrian Coast line

Route: This walk stands in total contrast to my last one (walk 152b). It never gets any higher than Bigland Barrow’s 630’ above sea level — and with nearby Hampsfell being 727’, even walk 72 and walk 122 reached a higher altitude than that. That means this was my lowest walk of all the 153 so far (though see the commentary below).

Nevertheless I still highly recommend it, particularly on a fine day in autumn. The paths are all easy to follow and in good condition, there are no oceans of bracken to wade through (a particular worry in advance, I must admit), it is well signposted and there are some excellent views of the Leven estuary (though don’t expect to see very much of the Lake District itself). What more can you ask for?

I have called it “Above the Leven” to indicate that, more or less, it follows a ridge above the Leven estuary, which is crossed by a viaduct on the Cumbrian Coast rail line between Cark and Ulverston, then traverses along the side of that river’s valley near to its source, as the outlet for Windermere. The Leven is not a long river, but it is a voluminous one.

How Barrow

How Barrow, from the north

When coming out of Cark & Cartmel station, turn right and go through Cark village, ignoring all junctions until you are past the first entrance to Holker Hall. There are, mostly, pavements beside the road, though a few passages where they peter out so be careful here. When opposite the second entrance, turn right, and go up the lane until it passes a prominent gate on the left. Go through this, and stick to this path, following the ‘Cumbrian Coastal Way’ signs.

This lane becomes a path heading over rocky sheep pasture, with the low summit of How Barrow on the left at first. This section is easy to follow if you just note that you never have to cross or go through the straight wall on your left. Keep going until there is a gate ahead but a footpath sign to the right and another path going to the left. See the map at this point — the quickest way is straight ahead. This leads over the slopes of ‘Stribers Allotment’ and through more colourful and gently rocky terrain until descending to a narrow tarmac road at the farm of Grassgarth.

Hoad Hill

The Hoad Hill monument, above Ulverston

Keep following the Cumbria Coastal Way signs at this point and you will be led through a patch of woodland and then out onto the open common of Bigland Heights, which has the best of all of today’s views of the Leven estuary, and the town of Ulverston beyond, topped by the lighthouse-style monument on Hoad Hill (pictured). You then drop down to the pretty Bigland Tarn, and its substantial colony of pheasants, at which point you leave the Cumbria Coastal Way behind and bear right, sticking to the shore of the tarn.

Bigland Barrow summit

The summit of Bigland Barrow, with observation post

Follow this path until it crosses another narrow road and take the path past the waterworks, at which point Bigland Barrow finally appears in view, unmistakable thanks to its old wartime observation post built on the summit, which when first seen looks like nothing so much as a giant beige armchair. Pass a small tarn, bear left through the gate and you will be up to this minutes later. Bigland Barrow’s summit is about five and a half miles from Cark and Cartmel station, but the paths are of enough quality that I did the walk in two hours and twenty minutes.

The path leading north off the summit is not quite as good, but it’s still reasonably easy to follow as it drops down to the mildly boggy hollow below and then bears left. After crossing a wall, you are back in the woods and the day’s only real patch of bracken, but just follow the posts and you will end up on a decent track, where bear right, and just keep following this until it passes a small reservoir on the left then becomes a lane leading to the collection of expensive houses and hotels that passes for the village of Newby Bridge.

View from Bigland Barrow

Left to right: Finsthwaite Heights, Gummer’s How, Stavely Fell

You could, of course, end the walk here, have lunch and go home. But it took me less than an hour to get up to the top of Finsthwaite Heights and back from here, so if you’re up for another summit, let’s do that one too. Thus, at the end of the lane, turn left, and then face your one major danger of the day, which is to cross the A590 — a road that is perilous everywhere. Please use the traffic island — honestly. Once safely across, turn right over the bridge across the river Leven. Follow the road past the Swan Inn, sorry, the Swan Hotel & Spa, go over the railway (not down beside it), turn left immediately over this second bridge then follow the footpath sign on the right.

Finsthwaite Tower

Finsthwaite Tower: the Lakes’ biggest summit cairn

This goes up some steps, which constitute the steepest gradient of the day, and then takes a sharp right turn which is worth looking out for. Up here, if following the guidance in Wainwright, you might choose to seek out the viewpoint, but bear in mind all you really ‘view’ is the north summit of Newton Fell, and believe me that is nothing to write home about. Whether you take this rare chance or not, keep going up and Finsthwaite Tower — which gives Finsthwaite Heights the award of ‘most substantial edifice to crown the top of any Wainwright’ — will soon be very obvious on your right.

If you’re feeling really frisky you could continue the walk as described in the book and do three more miles before returning to Newby Bridge but to be honest, by this stage I’d decided enough was enough so I just retraced my steps back down to the ‘Swan Hotel & Spa’ and then back to the bus stop.

Bigland Tarn

Bigland Tarn

Maybe-I-should-be-at-work commentary: I admit that down the years, some walks have turned out to be less good than promised. Walk 40 was a definite case, for example. Or indeed walk 86, which also took place around today’s venue of Newby Bridge. They may have looked worth trying on the map, but usually when something doesn’t work out it’s because of some kind of unexpected crappiness in the terrain, whether bog or bracken (a real summer downer), or logistical issues like promised-but-unfindable paths.

Sheep on How Barrow

Sheep on How Barrow

On the other hand, sometimes walks turn out far better than expected, and this is, of course, the better way around. So it’s a great pleasure to be able to say that today was definitely in this latter category. I knew today that I wanted to be back in the Outlying Fells — I have fallen behind on them recently (only 42% of volume 8 bagged before today, the least of all, even behind the Western Fells). While the forecast was decent in terms of rain and cloud, high winds were predicted (and arrived), making a high-altitude walk less desirable. And it’s the early stages of Worktober. I couldn’t just scab a whole day off, I needed to take the computer out with me. This picks me up a couple more hours work on the way but it is also heavier, and makes higher fells less attractive. All in all then, volume 8 it was to be. A vast contrast with my preceding hike over the major peaks of Ennerdale (walk 152b).

At Grange-over-Sands

At Grange-over-Sands

But one of the very nice things about this project is how the Lake District can always pop up and surprise me. This was, I calculate, the lowest-altitude walk of all so far. Bigland Barrow was the highest point of the day and that was only 630’ above sea level. With Hampsfell definitely being higher, the only other ‘lowest-highest’ candidate was walk 75, which at first might seem to win, as the only summit bagged was Finsthwaite Heights. But that fell’s altitude as quoted in the book, 570’, definitely applies to Finsthwaite Tower (reached again today, of course) and not the other parts of the walk described, around High Dam. Check the walk 75 page: even if Joe and I did not actually reach this reservoir, we definitely crossed a 600’ contour on that walk and I am sure got over 630’.

North from How Barrow

Looking north from How Barrow

Even if we accept it’s a very close call, today’s terrain was way below the summits of Steeple, Scoat Fell and Pillar. But this is what I like about the Lakes, and indeed life generally: variety. Yes, I thoroughly enjoyed today’s walk, and feel all the better for having done it. And I worked Sunday this last weekend to justify it. In case you were wondering.

I hope the rest of the walking year will extend into similarly balmy climes as did this morning, but I’m sure that won’t actually happen. Nevertheless it would be good to have a year like 2016, in which the nice weather seemed to stretch indefinitely. Then again we might get 2015, in which it never stopped raining. Of course there is a metaphorical level to all this too. The UK government seems determined to plough itself into the most ridiculous corners right now, I think the last time any politician had any idea what to do about anything was 24th June 2016. And on that we may as well leave it.

Next walk? Before the end of October I hope, but let’s not push my luck — I did well to carve today out as an option. But it was a good day, even if it involved no ‘mountain climbing’ whatsoever. But that’s the good thing about Cumbria — its diversity. Today’s walk proved that, at least.

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