Rosthwaite Cam and Combe Head
Rosthwaite Cam in the middle distance, Combe Head behind.

Date: 11th January 2022.

Weather conditions: Once the sunshine had burnt off some wispy, high-level cloud, magnificent. My packing of microspikes and an ice axe “just in case” was laughable.

Summits bagged: Only one Wainwright today, that being Rosthwaite Fell. Wainwright defines the summit of this as being the tor of Bessyboot, at 1807’ above sea level. This becomes number 287 of my second round. I first bagged it on walk 19 in June 2010.

Bessyboot, with part of High Raise and then Helvellyn behind.

However, there are several additional Birketts bagged today, all higher than this: Thorneythwaite Fell (1883’, #244 on the list of Birketts by altitude), Dovenest Top (2073’, #198) and Rosthwaite Cam (2008’, #214). Either of the last two would make a more logical defined summit for the upland of Rosthwaite Fell than Bessyboot; see my observations on the fell page.

Start and end points: Started at Mountain View, and could have finished there too but walked on to Seatoller, a short distance away. Both these points are served by the #78 bus from Keswick, that runs all year. In summer you can also reach this on the #77, but the #78 service remains the preferable one.

The walk took me about 3¼ hours.

Distance walked: 6.5 miles approximately.

View from descent
View from the descent, with Grey Knotts behind. The route of ascent is visible.

Total ascent: 2000 feet approximately.

Pub at end: Last time I visited the Glaramara Outdoor Centre in Seatoller I was told that sometimes, the place is closed to non-residents. On approaching its drive today, however, there was a sign on display saying various unequivocal things like “all welcome”, “serving non-residents”, “open all day”. It would seem rather silly if the management of this place did ever decide to turn away passing walkers; it is currently the only place to get refreshment in one of the walking epicentres of the District. And the beer is good.

Route: This is a good hike of only moderate length and difficulty. The views are great, although there’s not a lot of diversity to them. However, it is not a walk for those addicted to paths. While navigation, in the broader sense, is straightforward (the walk is a circuit around the valley of Combe Gill, and the white-painted houses of Mountain View, the starting point, are visible virtually throughout), at the more immediate scale, wayfinding is something to which you need to pay attention. On a clear day it is an interesting puzzle to unravel, but it would be a nightmare in mist, and in those conditions should definitely be avoided.

Combe Head
Combe Head, and the two walkers who also took the wrong path at first.

Get off the bus at Mountain View, the stop immediately before Seatoller, and head down the lane to Thorneythwaite Farm a short way before turning left and following the signposted path to Glaramara. This is not as well-defined as you’d think it might be, and at points is easy to lose. You also need to watch out for the junction just past the second (and last) gate, where you need to bear right, up the hill, instead of straight on into the combe. The two walkers pictured, who were just ahead of me at this point, also missed it at first.

It is worth surveying the other side of the valley. The three tops (or four, seeing as Dovenest Top has two) of Rosthwaite Fell are all clearly identifiable. Look also for the two streams, Rottenstone Gill and Dry Gill, as it is between these that the descent takes place. Rottenstone Gill is the more distinct one, lying between Bessyboot (leftmost and lowest of the three) and Rosthwaite Cam; Dry Gill is the one on its left.

Dovenest Top
Looking over to the twin summits of Dovenest Top.

Exactly what counts as the Birkett top of Thorneythwaite Fell is not easy to establish but there are a couple of little rises which may as well suffice. Past them, bear left off the path — this is the last you’ll be seeing of any kind of track until near the end of the walk — and aim to skirt the lip of the valley, below the crags of Combe Head. Although there is a point where it looks like a cliff will get in the way, this can be done safely.

After crossing the infant Combe Gill at the valley head, climb up to Dovenest Top (marked as Dovenest Crag on Wainwright’s map): this has a double summit but the one on the left is clearly the superior. This is the highest point reached today, and where I had lunch.

From here, Rosthwaite Cam is obvious but so is the fact that a beeline to it would involve a considerable loss of height. Instead, it can be reached more easily (though not without an awkward descent or two) by looping round to the west, away from the valley rim for a time.

Rosthwaite Cam
Rosthwaite Cam, pondering why Wainwright cast it aside.

Rosthwaite Cam is an excellent summit and why Wainwright didn’t make it his defined top is beyond me. It looks difficult at first but, apart from one moment of doubt, I was able to surmount it fairly easily. From here, Bessyboot can be seen above the water of Tarn at Leaves. Head for the left (east) side of the tarn first, and from there, attaining the day’s only Wainwright summit is a short and simple climb.

After my experience of it last time (see walk 19) I had no desire to descend via Big Stanger Gill to Stonethwaite and AW advises against it anyway. His suggested way down can be found by remembering the lay of the land that you saw from the other side of the valley, and heading back towards the Cam a short way. A remnant path leads over a small lip of land above Tarn at Leaves where a cairn (pictured) indicates the way down. In fact, this is the ideal cairn — it is placed exactly where it needs to be, and becomes visible just at the very moment one needs reassurance about the route.

Descent route cairn
The very useful cairn that indicates the descent route. Fleetwith Pike (left) and Dale Head behind.

From here the descent has an awkward bit in the middle but is otherwise easy, and fairly rapid. Stay between the two streams identified earlier, there is no need to cross either one. Once back down to Combe Gill, in the valley, you come across a path traversing the hillside, and according to the map this will lead back to Mountain View, but I crossed back over the main gill to reattain the path that was used in the morning, and ended the walk that way.

Connection Commentary: On my last walk in December I am sure that I registered the reappearance of the very useful 8:03 Preston to Penrith train. But on compiling my journey for today there was once again no sign of it. Either I imagined its reappearance all along (though was pretty sure I didn’t) or it has proven too inconvenient for Transpennine Express to run thanks to the Phi-Beta-Kappa-Boris-Johnson’s-Comedy-Trousers Variant — or more accurately, thanks to a basic lack of interest on behalf of the train company.

View from the ridge
A view from the first ridge (a.k.a. Thorneythwaite Fell)

In the absence of this service, then, here is how to do Hebden Bridge to Seatoller in four hours, and the only possible way to do it before 11am:

  • 06:41 train from Hebden Bridge to Preston, arrives 07:45
  • 07:53 train from Preston, arrives Oxenholme 08:21
  • 08:27 train from Oxenholme, arrives Windermere 08:46
  • 09:09 bus from Windermere, arrives Keswick 10:14
  • 10:20 bus from Keswick, arrives Seatoller 10:45.
Base Brown
Base Brown, from the Glaramara centre. There are reasons people want to come here…

As you can see, with the exception of the one at Windermere, all these connections are very tight. The worst one of all is the (for me, now infamous) Oxenholme Connection. The change of service provider a few years ago, from Virgin to ‘Avanti West Coast’, seems to have made no difference at all to the fact that this service regularly trundles into Preston five or six minutes late and never makes this time up on the way, meaning two dozen people face the regular lottery of whether the driver and guard of the branch line service will have held it back. (Today they did, thankfully — our arrival time at Oxenholme being 08:30.)

None of this is even mentioning the two-minute connection on the way back home, between the arrival of the Seatoller bus back in Keswick (scheduled to be at 18 minutes past the hour, every hour) and the departure of the Penrith service (20 minutes past the hour, every hour). I am rarely the only one virtually hanging out of the door as the #78 swings round the corner by Booths and facing the quick dash over to the waiting #X4 whose drivers often have a look on them like Olympic athletes just before the start of the 100m final.

Tarn at Leaves
Tarn at Leaves, with the unmistakeable Pike o’Stickle behind.

I’ve given up thinking that these kinds of thing will ever be sorted out. My love affair with Lakeland has been going regularly since 2009 and I am certainly not getting tired of it as a place; but negotiating all these transport awkwardnesses is a skill that I’ve had to learn.

Hence, even my back-up plans had back-ups today. Wetherlam; Red Screes; and the Helm CragCalf Crag walk are the ones waiting if the Oxenholme Connection ever screws up. Had I missed the Seatoller bus in Keswick I was going to walk up Newlands and rebag Ard Crags. In the end, none of these were necessary, but I’m not going to deliberately set out to walk any of these until they are needed; I don’t want to deplete this reserve.

Formal sheep portrait
Today’s Formal Sheep Portrait. Thanks, ladies.

With 43 Wainwrights to go I could complete the second round in 2022 purely based on the amount of walking remaining, but I’m not suspending the County Tops round to add time, and the logistics of some fells (particularly Scafell) remain awkward. Probably I won’t complete it this year. However I did give some thought today as to where I should finish, some time in 2023. I don’t want to end with some anticlimax. Helm Crag would be a good final fell, both for its scenic qualities and the fact that it’s not then very far to the pub, but I might end up having to bag it earlier thanks to the aforementioned transport problems. Place Fell would be a good one too, I think. Let’s keep those two aside for now.

All I will add about today is — what a magnificent day of weather. Proof once again that where December is always grey and gloomy, when January gets it right, it really scores. I’ve plenty of flexibility at the moment and if there are any more forecasts like today’s, will be eyeing up those public transport timetables once more before the end of the month.

Combe Gill
Combe Gill.
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