Ullswater and Sheffield Pike

Ullswater from Gowbarrow Fell. Sheffield Pike is prominent in the middle distance.

Date completed: 9th January 2019.

Weather conditions: Once again excellent; in fact, probably better than last Wednesday, as there was no noticeable cloud all day. A little frostier maybe but that just had the positive impact of letting me skip over what would normally be boggy ground (particularly on Hart Side).

Birkett Fell summit

The summit of Birkett Fell, a subsidiary of Hart Side. Pennines behind.

Summits bagged: Gowbarrow Fell (1579 feet above sea level, number 179 of my second round), Hart Side (2481’, no. 180), Stybarrow Dodd (2770’, no. 181).

All were previously bagged on different walks the first time round; Gowbarrow on walk 58, 2/7/12; Hart Side on walk 48, 13/1/12; Stybarrow Dodd on walk 47, 2/12/11.

Only when I put this page together did I realise that Gowbarrow Fell manages to become the first fell since Walla Crag (number 1 on each) to occupy the same position in each of my two rounds: fell number 179, both times.

Start and end points: Started at Park Brow Foot, which is the car park and visitor centre for Aira Force. Ended at the King’s Head in Thirlspot.

I started about 10:10 when the 09:20 #508 bus from Penrith arrived, and finished about five hours later more or less, at the King’s Head, in plenty of time to have a pint then catch the 15:45 #555 bus back to Windermere station — which arrived in time for the 16:48 train to Oxenholme.

Aira Force woods

Woods near Aira Force, at the start of the walk

I could have finished the walk slightly earlier, at Legburthwaite, where there is also a bus stop and a cafe, but there was not a Windermere bus due for 45 minutes when I arrived and the King’s Head is only about 10-12 minutes down the road. (Having said that, I arrived exactly as a bus left Legburthwaite for Keswick, so that offers additional options.)

Distance walked: 12.25 miles approximately. (Reduce this to about 11.6 miles if one does finish in Legburthwaite.)

Total ascent: 3250 feet approximately.

Pub at end: The King’s Head, Thirlspot. It is a good pub, with a bus stop right outside, fine beer and often seeming to have decent music on the stereo. But man, can its staff make themselves inconspicuous. Sometimes in a hurry.

Heughscar Hill from Gowbarrow

View over to Heughscar Hill and the lower reach of Ullswater, from Gowbarrow

Route: This is a fairly long walk but the gradients are mostly comfortable, and paths of good quality. The exception — to both — is the passage from the Brown Hills up to the summit of Hart Side, which is steep, pathless and tedious. Also, probably, boggy in normal conditions although I did it atop a crust of frost which kept my feet dry. The best reason to do the walk is the stupendous view of Ullswater, which is without doubt the most beautiful lake in the District, particularly on a sunny winter’s day. On the other hand, I would not attempt this walk in mist: the climb of Gowbarrow Fell would be safe (although somewhat pointless) in poor visibility, but not the rest of the walk.

The bus from Penrith drops you at the road junction. From here, go through the Aira Force car park and follow the path up into the first enclosure, with its labelled trees (the first two both being yews), but immediately look to drop down to the right and cross the beck at the first available footbridge. Then take the higher of the two paths offered and go through the gate out onto the open heath of Gowbarrow Fell.

Gowbarrow summit

Gowbarrow’s summit column, with walker

The path rises obviously and clearly up the fellside ahead, so just keep going, round the corner of the fell and along the terrace, the view changing from the upper to the lower reaches of Ullswater, but still remaining attractive. Ignore the path to the right (this goes to Watermillock and was used on walk 58), keep going ahead and you will be on top of Gowbarrow Fell about 15 minutes later. The gradients on this whole section are easy, and any reasonably fit person should be able to get from the bus stop to this summit non-stop: see if you can beat my time of 65 minutes.

From the trig point on the top of Gowbarrow, descend to the north then turn left, along the wall, which drops easily enough down towards the little village of Dockray. But you do not need to enter the village. Instead, turn left at the bottom of the hill, following the sign back to Aira Force. After a few hundred yards, turn right and cross Aira Beck by the footbridge, then head up the path to the car park.

Ullswater from the Brown Hills

Ullswater from the Brown Hills

Here, I went mildly astray. I assumed the gate just to the left of the car park marked the start of the path up to Hart Side through Glencoyne Park (see the diagram on Wainwright’s page Hart Side 5). But with hindsight that must have been further down the road. Consequently I had a mild battle with stumpy little crags and dead bracken for about 10 minutes before finding myself having to cross a substantial wall that was clearly the one lying between Glencoyne Park and Round How (the diagram makes this clear). Having done so it’s still easy enough to follow this path up to the Brown Hills but the views to the left aren’t quite as good as when I did the same ascent, but below said wall, on walk 48. But you can always poke your camera over the top.

Hart Side summit view

The artificial ditch on Hart Side’s summit, with Stybarrow Dodd behind

Things remain pleasant and easy until you drift away from the wall to the right (boggy ground here) and then cross through the same wall, at which point the summit of Hart Side looks fairly easily attainable up to the right. Unfortunately this is deceptive. The ground inbetween is steep and pathless, the views are left behind and frankly I found this whole section something of a drag. Little choice but to haul yourself up through the grass though, and eventually the cairn will appear ahead, somewhat to the left of Blencathra (which looks striking from this angle, almost like a cathedral with its various buttresses lined up).

Once on top of Hart Side the next portion of the journey can be easily surveyed. The two big lumps on the horizon to the west are Great Dodd and then Stybarrow Dodd to its left. The path around the head of Deepdale makes an obvious course for the latter. It took me about 35 minutes to attain the summit of Stybarrow Dodd from Hart Side. There are at least three candidates for the actual summit but no one’s going to get too picky about it.

Sticks Pass summit

The cairn on the summit of Sticks Pass

From here on it’s all easy. Descend to the south, and the summit of Sticks Pass: at 2420’ above sea level, this is the highest named pass in the Lakes. Turn right and just keep going down; although it steepens a bit later, on the whole this is one of the more agreeable major descents in the District. Only at the very bottom does the route seem to get unnecessarily confusing; my advice is to cross the water race at the first opportunity then bear to the right, above the farm buildings below.

You come out onto the side road through St John’s Vale. At this point the Lodge in the Vale cafe is to your right. This is a reasonable place to end the walk if a bus is fairly imminent, but I would not want to wait three-quarters of an hour here with the cosier King’s Head only about 10-12 minutes’ walk down the road to your left. The walk along the main road is safe, but you do have to cross from one side to the other at one point, where the verge peters out.

View on the descent to Thirlmere

View on the descent to Thirlmere.

More sunshine commentary: What I said last week about the weather, but with bells on. Today didn’t even have the vague high-level cloud of last Wednesday, nor the north-facing slopes (e.g., from Skiddaw down to Bakestall) which were never going to see any illumination. Today was full-on sunshine, from stepping off the train at Penrith at 9am, all the way to sunset seen from Windermere station at 4.45 or so.

Picking up my second walk of the month was therefore a no-brainer, particularly as today was one of my best real chances until early February. I did take a work book to read on the trains and buses: if you’re interested, I got through to chapter 8. So my paymasters can rest assured there are no gaps in their bean-counting. Well, you know. In some ways.

Hart Side

Looking back to Hart Side, from the walk to Stybarrow Dodd

Hart Side becomes one of only a few fells to be attained on both rounds in superlative weather: but unlike the scattering of other candidates (Whitbarrow definitely: Wansfell I guess — they probably are the only other two real ones), both ascents were done in January, which is kind of impressive. Calendar wise, only four days separated walk 48 on 13th January 2012, which had much the same conditions, and today. I almost replicated the picture which graces the head of that walk page, captured from the Brown Hills. Certainly Hart Side gets a big score on ‘Conditions’ on the Drew’s Lakeland Top Trumps game I might market some day. But otherwise it doesn’t have much going for it; that final haul up the slope bored me seven years ago and did much the same again today. It’s a shame, as otherwise this is a walk of good quality, easy gradients and superb views.

Ripples on Ullswater

Ripples on Ullswater

I’m trying to keep a reasonable balance between the volumes but I might as well reproduce here the little table I have been compiling for some time:

Overall: 181/330 = 54.8%
Eastern: 21/35 = 60.0%
Far Eastern: 21/36 = 58.3%
Central: 17/27 = 63.0%
Southern: 20/30 = 66.7%
Northern: 15/24 = 62.5%
N/western: 17/29 = 58.6%
Western: 15/33 = 45.4%
Outlying: 55/116 = 47.4%

So there you have it. The Western Fells just ain’t gonna get picked up until the summer bus services arrive at Easter (which is later this year, thus giving Stagecoach an excuse not to pay for the extra drivers for a few more weeks), unless I start hanging out overnight in West Cumbria. It might happen, if some nice days are forecast in March. It’s also time to catch up on some outliers. Either way it won’t happen until February. I said I’d do two walks a month, and there you go, two done in January. I have to get some work done though. Give me a few weeks.

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