Devoke Water and Water Crag
Devoke Water, with Water Crag behind.

Date completed: 25th April 2021.

Weather conditions: There was a breeze that at times was chilly, but other than that, stupendous.

Summits bagged: Four of the summits from the Devoke Water circuit chapter of The Outlying Fells, namely: Water Crag (997 feet above sea level, no. 271 of my second round), White Pike (1450’, no. 272), Woodend Height (1597’, no. 273) and Yoadcastle (1621’, no. 274); then, The Knott, from the Stainton Pike chapter (1086’, no. 275).

Devoke Water boat house
The somewhat mysterious boat house on Devoke Water.

Water Crag was first bagged on walk 91, in early January 2015. The rest came on walk 101, September 2015.

Start and end point: Started and ended at the (informal) car park at the point where the lane to the Devoke Water boat house meets the Birker Fell road, at SD171976. This is where the walk described in Wainwright’s chapter begins (see pp. 148-9 of volume 8). As it’s been over a year since I basically gave up trying to do all these walks by public transport, you need a car to reach this point. The nearest that public transport gets is The Green station on the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway.

Crosby Snack Shed
The ‘Crosby snack shed’. I challenge anyone to not patronise this place on a sunny day.

I’m taking these walks at an increasingly leisurely pace as I age, and the weather was too nice today to rush it, so the hike took me four hours.

Distance walked: 8.25 miles approximately.

Total ascent: 1,450 feet approximately.

Pub, or in this case, café at end: There is nothing at the terminus, but five minutes’ drive away along the Birker Fell road in the direction of the Duddon Valley is Crosbythwaite Farm, which if you’re lucky, will have opened its ‘Crosby Snack Shed’ (pictured) when you do this walk. This might not be licensed but it’s a marvellous spot to have a cup of tea and/or some sandwiches on the way home.

View to Scafell
The view to Scafell, from the boat house lane below Seat How.

Route: In some ways — certainly with respect to the views — this is a magnificent walk. If you have walking acquaintances who may scorn the idea that the Outlying Fells can compete with the main 214, bring them here. White Pike and Yoadcastle, at least, are peaks as good as anything that you’ll find more centrally. Devoke Water has a stark but highly agreeable beauty to it, set off by its boat house, and the views of the sea are marvellous, Sellafield notwithstanding. On a glorious weekend day, I had total solitude almost all the way around, at least until returning to Devoke Water in the afternoon (by which time the parking space had filled up, so get there early if you can).

White Pike cairn and Sellafield
The summit cairn of White Pike; and some nuclear power station or other.

But — this is not a walk for those fixated on the idea that they must have paths to follow. I did it after a dry spell, and it will be boggy in normal conditions. Although the main massif (the middle three of the fells attained) will probably be OK, Water Crag and the descent off The Knott will be arduous during bracken season (June – October) and probably should be avoided. Routefinding is not a problem in clear weather but the lack of paths means this walk should probably not be done in mist.

Variations to my route are possible, as I didn’t need to rebag Seat How and Rough Crag (see walk 133) so stuck at first to the north shore of Devoke Water. This is pathless and boggy at first but as long as you’re not doing this in the summer (hence, can avoid the bracken) then it will be easy enough to ascend Water Crag. The summit cairn is set back a little from the rise above the lake.

Linbeck Gill
Crossing Linbeck Gill.

A path (don’t get used to it) leads down from here to the crossing of Linbeck Gill, which the book warns might be awkward after rain. From here, cross over the bridleway (you will be coming back this way later on) and head up the slope ahead to ascend White Pike. There is no path but as long as you bear generally to the right you will be fine, and the tall cairn on its summit is there to guide you at the end.

From here, a faint path leads round the edge of the massif to the adjacent tops of Woodend Height and Yoadcastle. These are the two Wainwrights that are closest to one another, so it doesn’t really matter what order you visit them. I did Woodend Height first, then measured precisely 484 steps between the two summit cairns, which my pedometer calculated as 0.18 miles, or just over 300 yards.

View to the sea
In order of distance: The Knott, the Ravenglass estuary (and viaduct), and, on the horizon, clouds attached to the Isle of Man.

The Knott is clearly visible below, with the Ravenglass estuary behind it. My route down to it from Yoadcastle was an improvisation; there are intermittent tracks, probably sheep-made, that head down a rocky valley and then I headed across a flattish grassy plain to come up to the fifth and last summit of the day.

From here I followed Wainwright’s suggested route of descent to Barnscar: see the map on p. 155 of volume 8. This is steep in parts, will be bracken-choked in the summer and there is one patch which is becoming overgrown with gorse bushes (prickly!). But I fought my way through to attain the low rocky rise near Black Beck which may, or may not, be part of the prehistoric ‘city’ of Barnscar, although the OS map suggests that the majority of this site lies slightly further on to the north-west. But while there’s no evidence, to my untrained eye, of any former occupation it’s quite possible to imagine this as the site for an ancient village.

Water Crag, and contrail
Water Crag, and a distinctive contrail.

While the map promises a broad path heading up the shallow valley of Black Beck from this point, as my experience on walk 40 proved ten years ago, this promise is fulfilled only intermittently by the reality, despite one or two hefty cairns that are presumably there as route markers. No matter. Just head upstream, using Water Crag, visible ahead, as a guide.

You rise up a little, the path improves and then the basin of Devoke Water, backed attractively by Seat How and Green Crag, bursts into view ahead. Head back along the southern shore of the lake to the boat house, and from there — unless you need to bag Seat How, in which case follow the advice in the book — head back to the parking space on the road.

Devoke Water and Seat How
Devoke Water backed by Harter Fell (left) and Seat How.

In remembrance of times past: This was my fifth visit to Devoke Water. The first, in July 2011, came during walk 40 and followed an arduous battle, through bracken and bog, that I was obliged to fight to get along the public ‘footpath’ from the west. This remains possibly the worst passage of walking in all the 188 times, over nearly 12 years, that I’ve tramped around the Lakes, and gave me rather a downer on this place. Nor, on that visit, did I bag any of the six summits that Wainwright defines as the ‘Devoke Water circuit’, having been heading for Green Crag.

Muncaster Fell
Muncaster Fell (and Sellafield), from The Knott.

But my later decision to include the Outlying Fells in the project obliged me to return, more than once. And as I did so, first on walk 91 and then walk 101, with its glorious weather in September 2015, Devoke Water definitely began to grow on me, as, indeed, did the whole area of high land between Black Combe and Eskdale. There is a great deal to discover in these lonely moorlands, peppered by rocky and distinctive summits like the ones visited today, and others like Stainton Pike, which looked good throughout (see the picture). And the views cannot be faulted, except perhaps by the inclusion of Sellafield, but that’s another thing I have just learned to accept. Most of all, there is solitude and a powerful sense of remoteness. When my friend Dan Bailey asked me to write something last year about walks that would avoid ‘honeypots’ (and thus, promote ‘social distancing’), it was this area that I chose to describe on the page linked here.

Stainton Pike
Stainton Pike, with Burn Moor behind.

As I came back to Devoke Water at the end of my walk today, it struck me that I now had no reason to return. If you’ve been following my efforts on this blog, you’ll know that by now I have rejected the idea of embarking on a third round, and of the 55 Wainwrights I still have to do a second time, none of them lie between the Esk and the Duddon. From Black Combe all the way up, technically, to Crinkle Crags, they’re all redone. And this thought gave me a sudden sense of regret; not sadness exactly, but more like a sort of pre-nostalgia, a realisation that this might be the last time I would come to this bare but beautiful place, listen to the geese on the water and wonder whether that boat house is ever actually used.

Woodend Height
Woodend Height, above the boat house.

Of how many places around the Lakes will this now be true for me? Once Round Two is finished — some time next year, I hope — that does not mean I will never be returning to Cumbria. For a start, I have committed to going up Coniston Old Man and (groan) Scafell Pike a third time, as both are County Tops (Helvellyn is also one, but I haven’t yet rebagged that for this project, so will count that on both blogs when I do). And there are some summits I want to come back and reattain by classic routes that are yet untried, like doing Bowfell from Borrowdale, for example. But what if I never come to Devoke Water again? Or see the Shap Fells again, or Martindale up close, after 2022?

Well, I guess that’s up to me to rectify, isn’t it. My life is my own, or should be. So if in ten years’ time, assuming we haven’t all been locked permanently at home by then because of an outbreak of warts (or similar), you see a sexagenerian with long grey hair sitting on the shore of Devoke Water with a look of nostalgia on his face, maybe it’ll be me. I subtitle this walk ‘The Final Circuit?’ with the question mark being highly significant. Who knows what the future holds? But in the meantime, farewell to Devoke Water. We didn’t hit it off at first, but I shall miss it: until we meet again.

Couple by Devoke Water
The last picture of Devoke Water — for now.

2 Responses to “Walk 188: Devoke Water: the final circuit?”

  1. Dev)oke Water looks lovely. Apparently it is good for wild swimming (something I’ve taken up recently

It's always nice to hear what you think....

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