Watch Hill ridge

The Watch Hill ridge, from below. Setmurthy Common is the bald beige hump about a quarter of the way in from the right hand side.

Date completed: 1st August 2019.

Weather conditions: Warm and sunny. Remarkably good, considering how wet the last few days have been, with their frequent thunderstorms. Although there was a bit of rain during my journey home. But by then, I didn’t care.

Summits bagged: Clints Crags (804 feet above sea level, number 208 of my second round), Setmurthy Common (833’, no. 209), Watch Hill (770’, no. 210).

If even Binsey looks grand and majestic….

All three of these fells were previously bagged on walk 92, in January 2015.

Start and end points: Started at Blindcrake, or more precisely, where the northern lane out of that hamlet meets the A595, at NY151360. Speak nicely to the bus driver on the #600 Carlisle – Cockermouth service, and s/he will drop you here (at around 10.30am in my case, this being the 09.40 service out of Carlisle).

Finished at the bus stop just outside Cockermouth School, at more or less NY131311. X4 or X5 services pick up here for Keswick (half-hourly) and Penrith (hourly). I arrived at this point at about 13.45 and a bus was there to meet me, although it was running late and I actually expected to miss this service. Not that it would have made any difference to my journey home if I had, thanks to the times of trains out of Penrith.

Carlisle castle

Carlisle Castle. Just to prove I made it up north today.

The location of refreshments at the end of the walk is a factor in choosing its terminus, as well. Embleton would have made a suitable finishing point, but as far as I can ascertain the Wheatsheaf pub there has finally closed: put it this way, all signs of it having an online presence (a web site, Google Maps pin etc) have disappeared. It didn’t really look 100% open the last time I was there about a year ago (walk 151). Had I missed the bus at the school I would have just walked on into Cockermouth itself which would add about another half a mile to the distance. UPDATE (summer 2020): Apparently the Wheatsheaf has reopened.

Distance walked: 8 miles approximately.

Total ascent: 1100 feet approximately.

Pub at end: Bearing the aforementioned in mind, none; but in the end I got off the first bus in Keswick, and patronised the very agreeable Bank Tavern for a while before moving on. The Bank is the nearest pub to the bus station, has a great selection of real ales, and a patio out the back with a fine view of the famus Moot Hall (and its one-handed clock). What more can you ask for?


The non-Wainwright of Harrot, looking south from Setmurthy Common

I ended up going home via Windermere station, and recently opened nearby is a new craft ale pub, appallingly named The Crafty Baa, yet despite this terrible name it is a great place if you like your beer, though maybe it could try a bit less hard to show off its ultra-hipsterness.

Route: This is basically walk 92 shortened and done in reverse, with some variation between the summit of Clints Crags and the Isel bridge over the Derwent. Using the #600 bus to start it at Blindcrake omits the worst part of that earlier walk, namely the part between that village and Cockermouth. All three of these differences — reversing it, the variation, and starting in Blindcrake — make it a significantly better walk than walk 92. These three fells are never going to be major players in the canon, but the views are decent, it is bracken-free (a significant consideration for low-altitude summer walks) and there is only one ten-minute passage that could even remotely be called ‘effortful’. So if you just want a grief-free ramble on a warm sunny day, consider it. But not if you have a phobia about sheep.

Clints Crags

The final summit dome of Clints Crags. This is what you get…

Thank the bus driver for dropping you at Blindcrake lane end. A nice thing about starting it here is that you can basically see the whole walk straight away: what amounts to Clints Crags’ summit is rising straight ahead, so there’s no doubt here where you are going; and the Setmurthy Common/Watch Hill complex is the low ridge rising to the right, with its patchwork of plantations. Head down the road, but though it looks correct, don’t take the first lane on the left, at the point where the road takes a swing right. This is not a right of way and there is barbed wire to deter progress further up. (Trust me.) Instead, carry on down the tarmac until reaching the lane heading up from Allison House farm, as described in volume 8. But bear in mind, this will be wet.

You will be on the top, at most, half an hour after disembarking the bus. After such a trivial expenditure of effort, and on the nice sunny day I have recommended you do this walk, Clints Crags can be forgiven its shortcomings. These include the inaccessibility of its true summit, which is on the dome above the quarry; this is as obvious as the barbed wire which encloses it. As I discovered on walk 92, the effort of getting over this wire (twice) is not really worthwhile: there is nothing up there that you are not getting already (including the view), and the map on page 205 of volume 8 makes it quite clear that Wainwright’s suggested walk does not actually visit the summit. Therefore, consider Clints Crags bagged at the corner of the wire.

Thackray Cottage

Thackray Cottage

Continuing to follow the route described in the book took me below the fence, where there is the picturesque ruin of Thackray Cottage, definitely one for those who get grandiose ideas about reconstruction and ‘going back to basics’ when they let their guard down. Keep above all this and just follow the path down through several gates and fields to the hamlet of Sunderland — which is assuredly not the city on Wearside of the same name. Turn left when you come out onto the first lane at the signpost, then almost immediately right and follow the tarmac for a little while.

When this lane comes to an end at a T-junction, go straight on through a couple more fields. On the map it appears that this path just heads straight on until it comes out at the church, but on the ground, this assumption is challenged by a signpost that does not include the latter option. But if you go straight on anyway then turn immediately right through the field, that’s the way you want.

The River Derwent

The River Derwent, at Isel Bridge. Skiddaw in the background.

When you hit the road again, turn left then cross the Derwent via Isel Bridge. Go up the first remotely steep gradient of the day (one of only two) on tarmac, turn right at the top, then take the obvious lane on the left up into the woods. Bear left at the first, equally obvious, junction, and follow this forest road up into the plantations. [NOTE: if you do want to finish this walk at Embleton (see notes above), it is probably best to go straight on here: bag Watch Hill first, then after Setmurthy Common, descend through the plantations to the east. This is obvious from the OS map.]

When the forest road swings round a fairly sharp bend and reaches a junction, turn left then immediately right up a path that slopes steeply up to the right — gradient number two, and last, of the day. This one is quite a stiff climb, but it doesn’t last long. At the top, the stubby rise immediately beyond the stile, as the path comes out from the woods into the open air, is the summit of Setmurthy Common, and the highest point you reach today.

In Setmurthy plantation

In Setmurthy plantation

A compelling explanation for why reversing the original walk improves it now follows: finish it with the walk along the Watch Hill ridge, which is easy and has impressive views to the south, over the North-Western and Western fells, and a bird’s-eye view of Cockermouth. And the descent off the summit of Watch Hill is done on turf that many a golf course would covet. (Then again, with all the sheep on it, I’m not surprised.) At the bottom, turn right along the lane and the bus stop by the school is a few hundred yards further along the road. Or, if you’ve missed the bus and/or really need the pub, carry on along this road for about another half a mile into Cockermouth.

Watch Hill summit

The summit of Watch Hill — Skiddaw behind

Peripheral Commentary: I had to get on with some Outlying fells. OK, I’d done 64 before today but that still meant that more than 40% of my remaining summits must be drawn from volume 8. The moorland wastes of the Shap Fells needed keen logistical planning in the first round, not to mention some days with positive — and reliable — weather forecasts, and the same is still true;. Unlike other areas of the District, which get more frequent services in the summer holidays, Shap’s travesty of a bus service becomes even worse when Kendal College is closed. And the risk of storms was higher than usual and believe me, the Shap Fells are not a place to be in a storm. Can I keep putting off the far east? No, and I don’t intend to. But today was not the day for it. I’ll try to get there in September.

Dominant lifeform

The dominant lifeform of today’s walk

Having promised, to myself at least, two walks per month during 2019 I managed none at all in July. OK, today was only just past the deadline for a July walk but there were various reasons why I haven’t been out in the Lakes since coming down off Steel Fell nearly five weeks ago. One important one is that actually I did do a quite substantial walk in the intervening period, namely Ben Nevis on 20th July: a walk planned for some time, and the second of my County Tops round (of which more shortly). That took out a few days of time which could have otherwise offered a window. And since then the weather has been dubious. First, quite fierce heat which, regardless of its undesirable impact on a walk, was apparently melting rails and overhead power lines with impunity and making rail travel an undesirable lottery. Following that, several days of wet and stormy weather. With August came relief, however: 1/8/19 was largely a very pleasant day.

Sign to Sunderland

Sign to a different Sunderland

I can see my County Tops plan being a distraction for all that I did commit to concentrating on the Wainwrights until the second round was done. Well… let’s see how it goes. Ben Nevis did usurp the 10th anniversary of my starting on this project, with walk 1 up Walla Crag done (with Clare) on 19th July 2009. I was on the last stages of my ascent of Kilimanjaro four years ago today, as well, reaching the summit on 2nd August 2015. About today’s walk, let’s just say that Clints Crags and Watch Hill are not quite in that sphere. But I do feel better about the former summit, at least, than I did in January 2015 after walk 92.

One small thing I am going to moan about though — just a little thing, but I will say it. Why is there such a relative paucity of services that stop at Penrith and why so very few — almost none, in fact — that stop at both Oxenhome and Penrith? Why are both Virgin and (to a slightly lesser extent) TransPennine Express allowed to charge such extortionate fares to ‘walk-up’ travellers who cannot buy tickets days in advance? Why are off-peak fares not offered between stations on the West Coast Mainline?

Clints Crags quarry

The quarry near the top of Clints Crags

Virgin basically shaft what they see as ‘short-haul’ travellers because they see their market on this line as those who want to be whisked all the way up to Scotland and back; but when the plebs who just want to go from Preston to Carlisle, or Penrith to Lancaster, or whatever, turn up — screw ‘em. Let’s fleece the bastards for every penny as well as offering them irregular connections. It’s often cheaper — sometimes considerably so — to buy an advance ticket through from Preston to Glasgow (compelling you to travel on a certain train) than it is to buy a more flexible ticket on the day from Preston to Penrith or Oxenholme. This is ridiculous, particularly when there are no real alternative services (TPE’s services are a bit cheaper usually, but no less helpful when it comes to how regularly they serve certain stations). These irritants and the fact that I will be home, again, at least an hour later than I should be tonight (and, arguably, two hours) thanks to come kind of transport cock-up are another factor pushing me to explore territories other than Cumbria.

Anyway, this is not to say I will be holding myself away from here. Next walk mid-August.

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