View over Watendlath Tarn
View over Watendlath Tarn. Great Crag is the dark peak left of centre.

Date completed: 15th October 2020. This is the second Lakeland walk I’ve done on this date, after walk 88 on 15/10/14. That means that in the subsequent 6 years I’ve sustained a rate of more-or-less 16 walks a year.

Weather conditions: Very good. A pleasant autumn day, with great colours.

Summits bagged: Armboth Fell (1570 feet above sea level, number 262 of my second round) and Great Crag (1500’ [ish], no. 263).

Ether Knott and Skiddaw
Ether Knott, which is part of Grange Fell, with Skiddaw (and its Little Man) behind. Note the walker just visible.

Armboth Fell was first bagged on walk 11, with its spectacular weather, in March 2010. Great Crag, on walk 45 in October 2011.

The summits of High Tove and Grange Fell both lie within a mile of the route and so could be added to the walk. In fact it makes more sense to include High Tove than to exclude it — see the route notes below.

Start and end points: Started where the road round the western side of Thirlmere meets the main A591, north of Dunmail Raise, near Wythburn. The #555 bus (Windermere, Ambleside, Grasmere, Keswick) has a stop at this point. Finished at Stonethwaite lane end in Borrowdale, from where the #78 bus runs to Keswick.

Steel Fell
Steel Fell, from the walk’s starting point, Armboth lane end.

I started walking at 10am, when the 9.09 service from Windermere station dropped me off. I arrived at Stonethwaite in time to be picked up by the 14.53.

Distance walked: 9.25 miles approximately.

Total ascent: 2,100 feet approx.

Pub at end: The Langstrath Country Inn, in Stonethwaite. A pleasant little pub with a pleasant little beer garden and pleasant, albeit expensive, beer. It is closed on Mondays, which may or may not include Bank Holiday Mondays.

Armboth Fell summit
The summit of Armboth Fell (with a walker on it, amazingly).

Route: I am unsure about recommending this one. A walk between the termini could be done pretty straightforwardly without visiting either summit, and the day would probably be better for it. Both tops — particularly Armboth Fell — are tricky to access and diminish what would otherwise be a reasonably decent hike in attractive surroundings. There are highlights, including passing three good tarns (Harrop, Watendlath and Dock) and another, the lonely Blea Tarn, is seen from reasonably close. But you had better make sure your boots are watertight. Bog, beck, swamp and mud, on this walk you get the lot. And you need a clear day, too: do not do this walk in mist.

Signpost to Watendlath, in the plantations above Thirlmere.

From the bus stop follow the sign to Armboth, even if that place that has not existed for well over a century and a half. Pass the distinctive ‘Binka Stone’ and then turn off the road, by the path that heads up the side of Dob Gill. This crosses a ladder stile, skirts Harrop Tarn and then becomes a wide forest road for a while.

Follow then the signpost pointing to Watendlath (pictured) and continue uphill, coming out of the plantations and eventually attaining the crest of the ridge at a gate through a fence. Though ‘crest’ is a somewhat ambitious term for the boggy moor on which you are now standing. Don’t go through the gate, instead, turn right down the sketchy path alongside the fence and do your best to avoid the most unpleasant parts of the swamp by always remembering — the paler the grass, the drier the ground.

View to Helvellyn range
View of the Helvellyn range, from the ascent.

The top of Armboth Fell is the vague brown moor rising to the right of the ridge — annoyingly far on the right, in fact. There is no point looking for a path. I decided to go for it after passing the knoll of Shivery Knott: I doubt my actual route was any better or worse than anyone else’s is going to be from that point. There are a few rocky tors poking up through the bog around the felltop, with the highest point lying on the distinctive light grey one. It’s actually not a bad summit, all things considered, but one’s enjoyment of it must be tempered by the inevitability of then having to retread the same mires to reattain the ridge.

With hindsight, from here I’d ascend to the summit of High Tove, to the right. I went straight on but there turned out to be no short-cut down to the Watendlath valley and I ended up having to clamber over some difficult streams above the intake wall. The path down to Watendlath from High Tove summit is where you end up descending anyway, and will be the easiest route.

Great Crag, on the ascent from Watendlath. The summit is centre right.

Watendlath is not only a beautiful green oasis but has a tea room and public conveniences. I challenge anyone to not stop and have their lunch there. Once you have sufficiently chilled out, cross the beck by the footbridge and follow the footpath signposted Dock Tarn. It is worth taking account of the view ahead (see this picture), because the peak you see here is the summit of Great Crag — and as that fell has one of the most confusing tops of all, any information you can glean about its configuration on the way up is worth noting. It was only through doing so that I knew when I should turn off the Dock Tarn path to the right to reach the summit, a point which came at the top of a slope. Just after this I also nearly lost not only my boot, but my whole leg to one of the most outrageous patches of mud I have ever encountered in the Lakes, so watch out.

Dock Tarn.
Dock Tarn.

I mean what I say about the disorienting nature of Great Crag. The dotted line route marked on the Wainwright maps for the early part of the descent to Stonethwaite seems arbitrary when one is on the ground, among the labyrinth of rocky outcrops, carpeted in very thick heather. My advice is to head for Dock Tarn, which is visible from the top and offers a valuable point of orientation. The path along the side of the water is clear, although terribly muddy, and then a cairn at the southern end of the tarn comes as a great relief as it marks the point at which to turn right, away from the water, and begin the descent.

View towards Langstrath, from the descent.

From this point routefinding is no longer a problem, and the descent to Stonethwaite has great views of Sergeant’s Crag and Langstrath. But it is very steep and must not be rushed. At the bottom, turn right along the valley path then left over the bridge to reach the hamlet. The pub is on the left (except on Mondays), the bus stop a few more minutes along the road to the right.

Still trying to be alive commentary: Armboth Fell was definitely on the ‘only because I have to’ revisit list. I did enjoy my first trip there on walk 11, but that was largely due to a superb day’s weather, one of the best I have ever had, and enough frost on the ground to diminish the impact of the local swamps. Indeed, so good was that day that I think it was the point at which I determined, yes, I am going to keep coming back to the Lakes once a month for the rest of my life. And ten and a half years later, that remains the case.

Harrop Tarn
Harrop Tarn.

Then again, Wainwright does say, ‘There are very few fells not really worth climbing: Armboth Fell is one of the few.’ I could have added it to my romp down the central ridge on walk 147, during the drought of 2018, but I didn’t. And it didn’t help my second visit that the route I took today was more roundabout than it needed to be. With hindsight I should have gone up the way I came down last time, Fisher Gill. Great Crag isn’t a playground either, with its luxuriant heather and labyrinthine layout making for a tough test of one’s navigation skills. But they are both done a second time, and I never have to visit either again. The walk was worth it for Watendlath, anyway, which is an idyllic spot, and one I can still return to, to rebag Grange Fell.

Watendlath
Watendlath.

Anyone not wanting to hear my political opinions can end their reading here. See you some time in November, I hope.

Looking around at the bigger picture I feel a sense of despair. Today was an earlier than expected return to the Lakes. I had a trip to Snowdonia all planned out, to bag one of my County Tops, Carnedd Llywellyn, the second-highest mountain in Wales (250 feet higher than anything the Lake District can muster). But on checking the news I saw that the same troubling, fascist restrictions on travel between counties of the principality have been reimposed.

We seem to be prepared to swallow up vast incursions into our lives and freedoms right now. You may think it is entirely justified, you may even think I am foolish or actively subversive for travelling to Cumbria to go on a frivolous hike. (Though if you did you probably would have stopped reading my blogs back in April.)

Brund Fell
The rocky top of Brund Fell, the highest part of Grange Fell.

I look around, though, and see selective targeting of a few high-profile but politically-unimportant sectors of the economy. Passing through Preston station — yes, I travelled by public transport today, for the first time on a Lakes walk since March 16th — almost all the cafes were shut, even where it would have been quite possible to have enacted social distancing measures around them to keep them open. These were staffed largely by workers from the EU.

Do you imagine that at the end of all this, when it peters out, vaccine or no vaccine (for eventually we will realise we have all been exposed to it already, and built up resistance), our glorious government will say — OK chaps, here’s the financial aid you will need to rebuild your local high streets, your pubs and restaurants? Like hell. Rapacious disaster capitalism will rule. Wetherspoons will ride it out, they were the first to propose sacking their entire staff back in March, before the first furlough scheme was shamed out of the Tories. They can afford it.

Langstrath, and plane
Enjoying the freedom of Langstrath.

Meanwhile, though the professional associations of the licensed trade are rightly pointing out that there is no evidence that hospitality is any more implicated in the spread of the virus than, say, schools, or Amazon warehouses (which were permitted to stay open in the spring even when the rest of us were put under house arrest — there’s a joke, Amazon getting its robotised employees defined as ‘key workers’), fear means we suck up these arbitrary impositions without protest. And as for foreign travel, and its mind-expanding capabilities — forget it. What do we want the world to look like in 2022? And at what point do we say — enough of this shit?

4 Responses to “Walk 185: Armboth and Watendlath”

  1. I did Armboth Fell back in August. Absolute swamp. Views were pretty good though.

    Nice to see the Autumn colours. Had hoped to get to the Lakes this month but since the powers that be have decided to bung my London borough (which is actually in Kent) into tier 2 it won’t be happening. Utterly fed up of all this and agree that at some point we will have to just get on with things.

  2. Truefreeomseekers said

    I really like this post. I have to say that when I saw that you’d done a blog on Armboth I was curious. This was a Wainwright we had climbed a few years back and it was one that we didn’t overly enjoy due to the sheer amount of bog most of the journey to the top.

    So to see that you just like us aren’t a fan of this Wainwright, along with Alfred Wainwright himself is a welcome relief. I thought maybe we was missing something that made it feel a little more special and enjoyable. But it seems as though there are many with the same opinion.

    It’s nice to see you’re able to still get out and about walking too and shall check out more blogs from you. It’s good work and certainly good reading too. But Armboth is definitely a Fell that we won’t be visiting again any time soon either. There are plenty more Wainwrights out there that hold our attention for climbing and summiting. 😀

    • Drew Whitworth said

      As my second round has unfolded I have realised there are several I am really looking forward to revisiting, but others that I am not, because I know what’s coming…. Lank Rigg is one I still have to do a second time that I know I can do without. Or Yewbarrow, for different reasons. But I’ve given myself no choice 🙂 At least I know to ensure that I go up something like Armboth only on a fine day.
      Thanks for your comment 🙂

  3. John Fletcher said

    Crossed armboth fell mid September when there had been no rain for weeks and thirlmere water level was 10mtr below where it normally is for the time of year and it was still boggy.
    The walk to high tove is definitely worth it for the views and watenlath is a must from here.
    We too used public transport getting the 555 from Keswick to the top of thirlmere at dam road and walking to Rosthwaite returning to Keswick on the 78 after a nice pint in the scafell Hotel

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