Whit Fell

Whit Fell, on the approach from Burn Moor

Date completed: 23rd February 2019

Weather conditions: Sunny in the morning, but windy: the breeze kept the temperature down, and the fleece was required wear despite the blue skies. After 1pm, a switch: the wind stopped, but clouds came over and in the last passages of the day, there was some mild drizzle. All in all though a good day for February.

Summits bagged: Five summits featured on the walk, drawn from three different chapters in The Outlying Fells:

Snowdrops

Intimations of spring…

  • Burn Moor (1780 feet above sea level, number 186 of my second round) and Whit Fell (1881’, no. 187); two of the four summits in the Whit Fell chapter;
  • Stainton Pike (1632’, no. 188), one of two summits in the chapter of that name;
  • The two summits in the Hesk Fell chapter: Hesk Fell itself (1566’, no. 189) and The Pike (1214’, no. 190).

The first three summits were first bagged on walk 85, August 2014. The last two were first bagged on walk 91, early January 2015.

Start and end points: Started at Bootle station, finished at Foxfield station. Both are on the Barrow-Whitehaven section of the Cumbrian coast line. I started the walk just after the train dropped me at Bootle at 09:50 or so — to catch this I needed to be leaving Lancaster at 07:36 (changing at Barrow-in-Furness). I got to Foxfield exactly as did the 16:53 service, which returned me to Lancaster at 18:25 (a direct train).

Burn Moor and Kinmont Buck Barrow

Burn Moor (left) and Kinmont Buck Barrow, seen on the way in from Bootle station

Note a couple of things. First, Bootle station is a good 1.5 miles from Bootle village (which is not actually passed through on this walk). Terminating the walk in Broughton-in-Furness would save the same distance at the other end, but the bus that served that village up until a couple of years ago has gone, another victim of Tory misrule.

Finally note the walk would be equally possible in the other direction. I did give some thought to which would have been the better way around, and in fell walking terms per se came to no conclusion either way: I note only that there is a pub at Foxfield station but no refreshments at all at Bootle, and as far as I’m concerned that’s as good a reason as any to do it west-to-east.

Distance walked: 17 miles approximately. This becomes the fourth-longest walk of all the ones I have done (see ‘Records, lists and oddities’).

Total ascent: 2650 feet approximately.

Pub at end: The pub at the very end is the Prince of Wales, outside Foxfield station. I know from past experience (walk 91) that this is a decent and interesting pub, although closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Green Crag from Hesk Fell

View over to Green Crag, from Hesk Fell

However, I did not have time to patronise it today, arriving at the station literally as a train was pulling in. Partly this was because I had spent ten minutes having a pint at the Black Cock Inn back in Broughton. This pub — named, of course, after the coal-black cockerel depicted on the inn sign — lined up its ‘choice’ of four real ales, the darkest of which was a kind of beige, and I paled out of interest.

Route: No one is going to drop dead of excitement on this hike but it is a decent introduction to the lonely lands between Black Combe and Devoke Water. The best reason to do it is some very fine views of the Duddon Estuary, the Cumbrian coastal plain and the southern edges of the Lake District proper, including the Scafells and Coniston fells. The walking is very easy, with no steep gradients at all, and it’s relatively dry (probably drier than expected).

However — this is a very LONG walk, particularly in its latter stages. From The Pike’s summit, the last of the day, to Foxfield station is over six miles, thus well over a third of the distance, and the last three of these miles are done on tarmac. By this point all the charm has gone from the day. It’s a shame because the Duddon valley is otherwise very beautiful, and while there’s a great deal of lonely moorland tramping to be done today, that itself is valuable if only for the solitude (I passed only two other walkers, on The Pike, and we seemed as surprised as each other about this). But a final warning: don’t do this walk on a cloudy or wet day. Really.

Burn Moor summit

Burn Moor summit cairn

The first few miles replicate walk 111 (indeed, once that walk was done the logistics of today, as a future expedition, were more or less already worked out). From Bootle station, cross through the level crossing when you’re permitted to and follow the lane for ten to fifteen minutes, whereupon take the first available turning left, past the prominent farm of Hedge Close. Keep going as this lane becomes a quiet tarmac road (SP Corney), and then look for the footpath sign on the right; it’s at the top of the first slope you come to, but before you start work on a second hill.

This path goes through the woods then past the farm of Low Kinmont: look to cross the beck a second time, and head for Kinmont Buck Barrow ahead, which is more prominent than Burn Moor, to its left. Once over the Fell Road — which has lost its ‘Passing Place’ sign in the three years since I was last here (not to mention the kettle which sat atop it) — keep going straight up the path, diverging finally from the route of walk 111, by keeping on the left side of the gill as you look at it. Without difficulty, but also without excitement, this route leads to the summit of Burn Moor.

Make a rough right-hand turn at this point and head across the moor. Soon, the dome-shaped top of Whit Fell pokes over the land ahead. Attain the summit and have lunch in the capacious wind-shelter: I was here at just after noon.

Whit Fell summit

Whit Fell summit

From here it is obvious that Stainton Pike is the next easily attainable summit on the vague ridge heading north, sitting behind the little Holehouse Tarn. It’s a little further than it looks at first, and past the tarn there is an awkward barbed-wire fence to be crossed before Stainton Pike’s summit is reached — and then you have to come back over the barbed wire, too (see Wainwright’s lament on page 155 of volume 8). This point is about 7.5 miles from Bootle station and I reached it around 12.40pm.

From here it is clear the easiest next summits will be those of the Devoke Water circuit chapter, that is, Yoadcastle and, just behind it, Woodend Height. But sitting over there to the east (right) is the gently swelling dome of Hesk Fell. It’s up to you — what do you need to bag?

Stainton Pike and Holehouse Tarn

Stainton Pike, seen over Holehouse Tarn

One could pick up four or five more Wainwrights by heading north, then dropping down to Devoke Water and, at the end of the day, Eskdale. But you couldn’t do this and the two Hesk Fell summits in the remainder of the day. And the traverse over the moorland below you is actually not as bad as it might be. I promise. It’s a matter of making a beeline for it: there are worse moorlands in the Lakes (from my last twelve months on the fells I nominate Stockdale Moor on Caw Fell, for a start). Just keep heading down to the broad col, then up the slope ahead, and the summit of Hesk Fell will be reached in due course. The view should make it, just about, worth it.

For The Pike, just carry on straight over Hesk Fell and down to the wall. The stile that was here four years ago has now disappeared completely, to be replaced by a sort of step/pole contraption that it actually the riskiest bit of climbing you have to engage in all day. But once over, the summit of The Pike should be attained a few minutes later.

View from The Pike

View from the Pike. Caw and the Coniston fells behind the only other walkers seen all day.

There are two things you need to realise at this point: 1), there is no way to easily descend The Pike by going on straight ahead (believe me, I have tried it); and 2), there is no shortcut, and it’s six miles and at least two hours, probably more, to Foxfield station. So be it. To cope with point 1), retrace your steps back down the wall until passing a gate on your left, just as the slope heads upwards again. Through this, a lane eventually emerges. Follow it, dropping down over Holehouse Gill and then left at the two little junctions, past Old Hall farm (named for obvious reasons) and down some steep gradients (on tarmac) to two cottages on the left, and a path on the right signposted ‘Beckfoot 2 miles’.

Take this path, which leads through pleasant woodland before reaching the farm of Beckfoot itself (a major operation). It may be worth taking the path here to Beckfoot Bridge to save a little bit of road walking but in the end I doubt it makes much difference. Here, then, is the point at which you are funnelled onto busy roads from which there is little escape until the end.

Looking up to The Pike

Looking up to The Pike, from the Duddon valley below

This is particularly true thanks to the state of the path that looks, on the map, as if it will help you avoid the A595 past Duddon Bridge. You need to avoid being led down this way however; there is presently no way through an area of flooded ground. Unfortunately, therefore, you must stick to the main road, which is unsafe and befouled with litter, until you can escape past the High Cross Inn and down to Broughton, where there are other pubs, but still no public transport options. One must keep going down Foxfield Road and along the A595 again, which at least here has a pavement, for another 1.5 miles before Foxfield station is reached, with considerable relief.

Weekender commentary: Blimey, a walk on a Saturday. The last of these walks to be done on a Saturday was walk 149 on the 21st July. The reason is simple — that from 25th August until 9th February inclusive, there were no Northern rail train services worth the name out of Hebden Bridge, nor on other key Lakes lines like the Windermere and Cumbrian Coast lines, on Saturdays thanks to a strike called by the RMT over the plans to remove guards from all Northern trains and operate with a driver only.

Stainton Pike and Yoadcastle

Stainton Pike on the left, Yoadcastle far right

Despite the inconvenience caused by these, I did support the action: taking a guard off these services would just be another step in changing rail travel from being perceived as some kind of public service into a pure money-making machine where the ‘passenger’ does not deserve consideration as a person with needs, rights and, possibly, problems or queries. It does seem as if the prolonged action has succeeded, too. A couple of weeks ago it was announced that the strikes had been suspended, with Northern putting out public statements that sanctimoniously suggested they had never wanted to get rid of the guard in the first place. We’ll see if all this actually comes through into sustained commitments, however.

Lucky I have a job where I can be flexible, as otherwise I would have seen a six-month hiatus in walking — or the need to spend a lot of time in Morecambe and use buses, and even then much of the District would have remained inaccessible. Christ knows how it’s been for people of the town of Millom, for example, which lost its final bus service a couple of years ago — can you think of anything that the Tory party have really built since 2015? Not just taken away, removed, cut, deleted and killed?

Hesk Fell summit

Hesk Fell summit. Someone went to a lot of trouble to bring these stones here.

Anyway, the weather on the run up to this particular Saturday had been spectacular; Friday 22nd February in Hebden Bridge saw temperatures nudging 20ºC, and this is not exaggeration. The promise was for more of the same but down in the south-western corner of Cumbria a brisk wind meant that visions I had of a fleece-less February walk were not fulfilled, and by the afternoon things had returned to what might more normally be expected.

But I was not complaining. It was well worth using the decent conditions to bag these out-of-the-way fells again, particularly Hesk Fell, which, while by no means as much of a drag as some other Wainwrights — I’ll at least rank it above Staveley Fell, from last time, or some of the Shap Fells which I’m not looking forward much to returning to — is certainly one of those that suggest why I’m never doing a third round.

White Pike

White Pike (part of the Devoke Water circuit) from Stainton Pike

That walk back to Foxfield really is a drag though. And the flooding of the public footpath from Duddon Bridge to High Cross makes it actively dangerous. There clearly is an intention that this path be used to avoid walking on the A595, as a pavement descends down from the village beside the road, but then heads off through the fields. So if it does matter — why is it in such dreadful condition, and unusable? Surely I cannot be the only one who wants to walk into or out of the beautiful Duddon valley? Yet, perhaps I am, these days. Or at least, I’m the only one who cares.

I’ll still manage a couple of walks before the UK, Union Jack wrapped tightly around its eyes, plunges recklessly out of the EU in five weeks’ time and we’re all left to the mercy of Jacob Rees-Mogg and his cabal of 18th-century acolytes. Since Christmas I’ve picked up the pace, 16 summits bagged in two months — let’s try to sustain this before all collapses around our ears.

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