View down Coledale
Looking down Coledale. There have been worse views from my lunch break spot.

Date: 29th July 2022. Ten years to the day since walk 60b, from Black Sail up Great Gable — still the worst walking weather I have experienced across all 200 of these hikes.

Weather conditions: Much better than that. Quite warm and sunny for the most part although the Early Afternoon Clouds did put in an appearance.

Summits bagged: Eel Crag (2,749 feet above sea level, number 296 of my second round) and Grasmoor (2,791’, no. 297).

Grasmoor summit
The summit of Grasmoor.

Grasmoor was first bagged on walk 46, October 2011. Eel Crag was bagged on walk 3, in July 2009, and prior to today was the only fell of the 13 I surmounted on that holiday that remained to be revisited. Thus, it becomes the Wainwright with the longest gap between my first and second visits: though it will lose this accolade to Red Screes unless I rebag that before mid-September.

Eel Crag should probably be known as Crag Hill, which is the name given to it by the Ordnance Survey and also used in Birkett’s guide. Mr. Birkett instead gives the name ‘Eel Crag’ to the unprominent, but cairned point at 2,648 feet, a few hundred yards north-west of the summit. I bagged this as well today (number 50 on the list of Birketts by altitude).

Hopegll Head and Sand Hill
Looking up to Hopegill Head and Sand Hill, above Coledale Hause.

Start and end point: Braithwaite, which can be reached directly on the X5 bus from Penrith rail station (but not the X4, which goes up the other side of Bass Lake). #77 services also come through, if you fancy immersion in the morning scrum at Keswick bus station.

The walk took me around 4¾ hours.

Distance walked: 9.5 miles approximately.

Eel Crag summit.

Total ascent: 3,000 feet approximately.

Pub at end: The Coledale Inn, Braithwaite. The disadvantage of this place over the Royal Oak in the village centre is, simply, that to reach it requires more climbing (unless you return via the High Coledale alternative route — see the notes below). However, today I could not patronise the Royal Oak as it is temporarily closed, although according to an informant it should be reopening ‘soon’. It does not matter — the Coledale is a good pub with a nice beer garden. Leave about ten minutes to get to the bus stop from there.

Route: This hike bags the two highest fells in Wainwright’s volume 6, so is not an insignificant undertaking, and on a warm day I found some parts of it tiring. On the other hand, there’s nothing particularly difficult, despite appearances.

Force Crag.

Its main disadvantage is the need to tramp the same ground twice, up and down Coledale, and this feels a long way, particularly at the end of the day.

From the bus stop in Braithwaite, head out of the village along the road to Whinlatter Pass. Where this bends to the right, there is a path, signposted Coledale Hause, on the left. This track is rather overgrown, and has a steep drop-off on one side, but it’s a useful short-cut up onto the road which then leads, unloseably, to Force Crag mine, which is about two miles from Braithwaite.

The mine was the last working one in Lakeland, closing in 1991. You can inspect the exterior of the buildings, which are atmospheric, if not all that interesting. The reason the two big ponds are not marked on any but the newest OS maps is that they were dug in 2015 as part of an effort to clean up the water coming out of the mine.

The new mine ponds, with Outerside above.

The walk up the valley also gives you plenty of time to inspect Eel Crag rising ahead. I had decided I would attempt one of the two routes described on Wainwright’s pages Eel Crag 7-8, the Shelf Route or Tower Ridge, and anyone armed with a copy of the book can easily identify them on the photo shown below. As one gets nearer, the slopes ahead start to look more intimidating, particularly the Tower Ridge which I quickly decided I would not be attempting. But the Shelf proved to be no bother, and was quite an interesting way up in fact (though it’s not the Shamrock Traverse, note).

The main difficulty was to reach the bottom of the Shelf in the first place, which involved a pathless and tiring haul up a slope festooned with bilberries. A sketchy path then leads up the Shelf and the final little ramp at the top, whereupon the view opens up ahead and you get to look at something other than Coledale for the first time (not that that’s a bad view: see the picture at the top of the page, taken from the point on the upper reaches of the Shelf where I ate my lunch).

Eel Crag, seen on the walk up Coledale.

Turn uphill on reaching this point, and the summit of Eel Crag, or should we say Crag Hill, is about ten minutes away.

Grasmoor is obvious from this point, as is the path to it. It’s worth bearing left a little at first, though, for the view of Wandope across the deep gulf of Addacombe Hole. It wouldn’t take too much extra work to add that summit to the day (but I paid my dues by dragging myself up the ridiculous slope below on walk 136).

Either way, the climb up the back of Grasmoor is steep at first, and don’t imagine that the cairn at the top of this slope marks the summit — in fact, from the main col it’s barely halfway. But you get to the summit shelter in the end, and the view is good — as it should be, from what is the highest of all the Northwestern Fells.

The path descending from Coledale Hause.

It’s a long way back to Braithwaite from here, though. Head back in the same direction for a while but then bear left before height is lost, and skirt the rim of Dove Crags, which are quite impressive, as is Whiteside, seen over the valley below. A path drops you down to Coledale Hause, and there, make sure you don’t miss the top of the way down, which sticks quite closely to the slopes of Eel Crag.

From there I just returned to the mine and then retraced my steps to Braithwaite. A possible alternative does exist, though. Before the final descent to the mine, a path can be seen heading along the slopes of Outerside at mid-height. I assume this becomes the path marked on Wainwright’s page Outerside 5, which then leads to a farm road dropping down into the village past the Coledale Inn. I would have given this path a go at other times of year, but looking at it in high summer put me off, for one simple reason: bracken. From about November to May it would probably make for a decent alternative ending.

A rear view of Causey Pike.

Double century commentary: 200 Lakeland walks — my oh my. Only took me thirteen years (and ten days). Which means that for approximately one quarter of my life I have been perambulating around the Lake District.

Two hundred walks does not quite correspond to two hundred experiences of public transport, but even if one omits the visits when I was either staying in Lakeland or, in the last couple of years anyway, have used a car, that’s still getting on for about 150 attempts to get from West Yorkshire to Cumbria, and back, by train and bus. Let’s say 150 times 7 hours (a reasonable average figure for the time I would spend on both journeys in a day), which equals 1,050 hours, or some forty-four full days of my life over this period. And let’s not even speculate as to the total cost.

View over to the summit of Wandope.

I do wish Transpennine Express would make up their minds whether the 08:03 service from Preston to Penrith (and on to Glasgow) exists or not. When researching the tickets the night before I noticed it had magically reappeared. It’s so much easier than going in through Windermere, at least for anywhere in the north of the District or otherwise best reached through Keswick — so we’re talking easier for Borrowdale, Buttermere, Blencathra, Ullswater… These are not peripheral corners. But without that 08:03 one is either depending on the Oxenholme Connection (and rule one is never 100% depend on the OC), or not starting to walk until nearly noon. I’m glad it was available today but please, TPE — can you just decide to keep it? That train was full today: clearly there’s a market for the service.

We had a potential bus breakdown today — the vehicle just stopped at some random point outside of Penruddock and we sat there for a while, speculating, until the driver finally deigned to tell us that a warning light had appeared on the dashboard. After a phone call and a bit more sitting around he decided all was OK and on we went.

View over to the Scafells, from just below Eel Crag summit.

And then there was the train home at the end of the day, the 1703 from Penrith. There was the usual fun game of whether the X5 bus, due to leave Keswick at 1620 (and for me today, Braithwaite at 1601) will indeed arrive at the railway station at its scheduled 1659, thus allowing the fleet of foot the chance to make that train. Today it did: but it didn’t matter because the 1703 in fact did not leave Penrith until 1833, yes, that’s a ninety minute delay — so much, in fact, that not long after departure they decided that it was in fact a later service after all. The 1703 magically vanished into air.

I don’t know whether these things are better than they were 13 years and 200 walks ago; to be honest I think they’ve always been much the same. And I do sympathise with the rail unions, because I don’t want my days on public transport to be in the hands of people who are any more pissed off, demoralised, undersupported and underpaid than they already are.

The Force Crag mine buildings.

The tiny proportion of Britons — viz, the members of the Tory Party — who are the ones now responsible for electing our next leader veer between choices that are at least moderately sane, and utterly insane, and sadly it looks like the insane might win it. If anyone honestly thinks that Liz Truss gives the slightest shit about a) the North b) public transport c) the environment d) social justice e) working people then we can place a couple of bets if you like: I’ll be happy to be proven wrong. Johnson the Clown fucked up like he was always going to, and the Establishment ensure it won’t actually change anything, as it was never going to.

On I walk, though. It’s something to keep me busy. After Grasmoor I now have 10% of the Wainwrights to go.

The path up to Grasmoor.
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