Skiddaw Forest
Skiddaw Forest.

Date: 21st September 2022.

Weather conditions: Up to about 1pm, not bad at all, but, befitting the official First Day of Autumn, a definite deterioration from then on, ending rather grey and chilly.

Summits bagged: Knott (2329 feet above sea level, number 298 of my second round) and Great Calva (2265’, no. 299). Knott was first bagged on walk 59 in July 2012, and Great Calva on walk 50, in January 2012.

These were the two most northerly Wainwrights I still had to rebag, and having done so, I have now completed volume 5, The Northern Fells, for a second time. It was the last book I completed on my first round of the 214 (with Latrigg), but the first one of the second round.

Coomb Height summit
The summit cairn of Coomb Height. The Pennines are just visible in the far distance.

I also attained the Birkett summit of Coomb Height (2057’, #203 on that list by altitude). There are other Birketts quite close to the route: Little Calva, which I have already bagged, and Burn Tod and Frozen Fell, which I have not. I considered adding these last two but in the end the walk was already long enough.

Start and end point: Started and finished in Threlkeld. This is served by X4/X5 buses between Penrith and Keswick (although see the commentary). The walk took me six hours, roughly.

Distance walked: 16.6 miles approximately. This is the longest walk I have done anywhere, including for the County Tops, since walk 159 in February 2019 and it makes it into the longest 5 of all 201 Lakeland walks so far, tying with walk 87 (see the Records, Lists and Oddities page).

Great Calva
Great Calva, seen from Skiddaw House.

Total ascent: 3,150 feet approximately.

Pub at end: The Horse and Farrier, in Threlkeld, is a reasonable pub, and fairly comfortable — certainly cosier than the Salutation Inn just down the road. But it’s expensive, even by Lake District standards.

Route: This is an easy walk throughout, in terms of terrain and ground: surprisingly so, in fact. There are no particularly steep slopes, no disappearing paths (except for one brief passage), no rocks to negotiate, no bracken (hurrah!) and, at least on the day I did it, no particularly boggy bits — although I suspect I caught it in a dry mood. Some of the views are magnificent, and even when you don’t have an extensive panorama, you are deep within the solitude and remoteness of Skiddaw Forest, a place worth experiencing. It’s probably safe in mist, as the paths are clear enough.

Looking down St John’s Vale to Helvellyn, from the opening stages of the walk.

However, it is a LONG walk, and I had to push the pace somewhat to get the miles done in the time available. While alternative start and end points do exist (namely Bassenthwaite, Keswick and Mungrisdale), none of these are going to shorten it particularly, at least, not if doing it by public transport. Car drivers could lop off around three miles, and an hour of walking, by parking at the Blencathra Centre. Or, consider overnighting at the Skiddaw House, which is a youth hostel — at 1,550 feet, the highest one in Britain.

If you don’t yet know how to get to Skiddaw Forest from Threlkeld, via the Glenderaterra valley, you really should. Head up Blease Road, which you will ascend to the accompaniment of marvellous views of the Vale of St John to the south (see picture above). Past the Blencathra Centre just carry on along the bridleway signposted to Skiddaw House.

The Glenderaterra
Looking up the Glenderaterra to the volcano ahead.

As you turn into the valley, Great Calva is rising, unmistakably, ahead. No other fell in Lakeland looks quite as much like the stereotypical image of a volcano. Even Catstycam and The Nab, the other two aspirants, don’t offer the impression of a summit caldera that Calva achieves. It’s an illusion, as you will see later, but is further enhanced by its uniform covering of heather, which really does make it look like one of those brown/black piles of clinker that dot the landscape of Iceland. Lonscale Fell is also an impressive object, its east face towering above.

At the path junction just past Skiddaw House, which I reached in about 90 minutes from Threlkeld, turn right. This way remains agreeable, descending slightly into the valley of the upper Caldew, a magnificently lonely landscape, dotted by the circular sheepfolds that Wainwright eulogises in the Knott chapter. The one pictured here, beside Wiley Gill, is particularly fine. Pass this, and carry on round the shoulder of Snab until crossing the next stream, Burdell Gill, after which immediately turn up the path to the left.

Wiley Gill sheepfold
The remarkable sheepfold of Wiley Gill.

This track is marked clearly on the OS maps, though Wainwright doesn’t deign to record it (even in the revised edition): however, it was key to my choice of route up Knott, and turned out to be a fairly easy ascent. It peters out just before reaching the top of Coomb Height but never mind. This Birkett is marked by a small cairn and has a good view of Mosedale and then the Pennines beyond.

Turn round and look west, where the topmost parts of Knott are visible and can be reached from here in about 20 minutes. The view from the summit, the highest point reached today, is very good, though not quite as extensive as from High Pike nearby. The path from Knott to Great Calva is clear, and if you’re feeling more energetic than I was, the two nearby Birketts (Burn Tod and Frozen Fell) could be nabbed on the way — but remember, there’s still a lot of walking to do yet, whichever way you’re heading down.

Great Calva from rear
Rear view of Great Calva, with Blencathra behind, as seen from Knott.

Great Calva’s flat backside will surprise those who have only seen it from the front, and the plateau certainly holds water. It gets boggy up by the fence, and after wetter weather I suspect there will be a couple of swamps which will cause problems. The final slope to the summit is the steepest climb of the whole day, but very short. Calva’s summit is also the only part of the walk with rocks that need to be negotiated.

Skiddaw House is clearly visible from here and the route of descent goes straight over the subsidiary summit and down. A choice of paths is apparent from above, but I totally missed any junction on the ground; it didn’t matter, as I was deflected the right way (meaning both ‘correct’ and ‘right-hand’). This path just about stays negotiable through the heather.

Skiddaw House
Skiddaw House, with its namesake Skiddaw Little Man behind.

When you come out onto the road, turn left and return to Skiddaw House. As it’s a bit more downhill than on the way up, see if you can beat your outgoing time between there and Threlkeld (which I did, by about 10 minutes): just remember to turn left at the junction below Lonscale Fell. Or, carry straight on and walk back to Keswick instead, via the back of Latrigg.

Day off in lieu commentary: It seems impossible to come to the Lakes recently without experiencing some kind of transport cock-up. All had been punctual and fine up to 5.30pm this afternoon. Picture me waiting in the bus shelter at the east end of Threlkeld. The road through that village is currently closed to through traffic because of works, which is why the bus that dropped me off in the morning came off the A66 and turned around at that first stop, visiting none of the others in the village. I checked with the driver whether this same arrangement would apply for the return journey, and he assured me that it would. There was a sign on the stop next to the pubs saying that it was temporarily closed, and not in use: fair enough. There was no such sign on the other stop.

Lonscale Fell
Walkers below the east face of Lonscale Fell.

Seeing as all these seemed credible sources, it was a fair conclusion to expect the 1731 Penrith bus to come off the bypass, pick up and drop off at that stop, turning around just as the 1048 had done in the morning. Yet down the bypass the double-decker sailed, heedless of responsibility, Drew-free.

Luckily I am not skint and could afford to then stump up £40 for a taxi — which had become the only option, if I was to have got home before midnight. As it was I didn’t get back until 9.40pm, an hour later than it should have been. The sad thing is, I’m not even sure I can be bothered to complain, or even to let Enragecoach know that one of their drivers cocked up (one or the other of them did). I know I should. But I’m just feeling so ground down by it all, feeling it’s a waste of time. This is not to even mention the dreadful state that Trans Pennine Express is currently in, I genuinely believe now that company is being run with a ‘business model’ based around the active discouragement of everyone from actually using these trains.

River Caldew
The River Caldew, with the valley of Blackhazel Beck behind.

At least the cockups came after I’d done my 16.6 miles. It’s nice to have the affirmation that I can still do such distances; the issue these days is more whether I can do it before things start hurting, aching, or chafing too much. Today, I could.

That’s the first of the eight Wainwright volumes I’ve completed for a second time. Volume 5, The Northern Fells, falls first partly because there are, simply, fewer chapters in it (24: this is a full one-third less than the Far Eastern Fells, which has 36); also because, despite the length of today’s walk, the X4/X5 bus service and its proximity to Penrith does make it a relatively accessible area.

High Pike from Knott
High Pike, as seen from Knott’s summit.

It’s definitely not the most dramatic part of Lakeland, though certainly has its highlights, most of which are on Blencathra, though the Ullock Pike/Long Side ridge must also be mentioned in dispatches. But every part of it has gloriously vast views, in all directions, and of a quality unmatched elsewhere. These panoramas give even the duller hills, e.g. Brae Fell, Souther Fell and, most of all, High Pike (pictured), distinction, and a reason to visit. Even Mungrisdale Common managed to endear itself to me on the second round.

Technically I can consign volume 5 to the shelf now, and never look at it again. But it would be a great shame if I never returned to this part of the world. That’s the beauty of adding the Birketts however. Not just the two I avoided today, but The Tongue, Sale How, Cockup (pictured), Scales Fell on Blencathra — all require my future attentions. Back o’ Skidda’ hasn’t seen the last of me yet.

View over Bass Lake
View to Bassenthwaite Lake. The prominent lump is Cockup — a Birkett I still have to do.
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