The graceful summit cairn that adorns the top of Brock Barrow. Coniston Water below.

Date completed: 2nd November 2022. Four years ago today I was walking up the Troutbeck Valley on walk 154. I calculate that as meaning 48 walks have been done since, thus an average of exactly one per month: although the pace has definitely dropped recently.

Weather conditions: I did this one in the face of a weather forecast that predicted storms, but not until after lunch, and got away with it. It stayed dry, but was cool and grey, and it became very windy on the tops, even at just 750’ above sea level. The journey home was done in dreadful weather, so the forecast was correct.

Summits bagged: Four Wainwrights today, the ones in the Top o’Selside chapter of the Outlying Fells: Top o’Selside itself (1099 feet above sea level, and number 300 of my second round), High Light Haw (860’, no. 301), Low Light Haw (810’, no. 302) and Brock Barrow (748’, no. 303).

Top o’Selside, seen from the route of ascent.

I previously bagged these fells on walk 98 in July 2015. Having done them a second time, I have now rebagged 115 of the 116 Outlying Fells — the only one I have left is Irton Pike.

The walk also attains two Birketts, namely Arnsbarrow Hill (1056’, #522 on that list by altitude) and Stang Hill (1037’, #530).

Start and end point: Started and finished in the village of High Nibthwaite, located at the foot of Coniston Water. This is not served by public transport, so this became the latest walk for which I have needed the car. The guidance notes on page 96 of The Outlying Fells say there is no place to park in High Nibthwaite, but I improvised something, and this didn’t seem to actively annoy anyone.

The X12 Ulverston – Coniston bus service is, as far as I know, still running, so it would be possible to get as near as Water Yeat on the A5084 and come in from there: or, in the summer, the ferries on Coniston Water could drop you at the nearby marina, or possibly Brantwood to the north.

High Nibthwaite, where I doubt much ever happens.

Distance walked: 5 miles approximately. Wainwright suggests (on p. 92) a time of four hours for the walk to the four Top o’Selside summits alone, but this would be a real snail’s pace: I took 2¼ hours for the lot.

Total ascent: 1,250 feet approximately.

Pub at end: Nothing today: there are no refreshments available in High Nibthwaite, though possibly the marina might do something, I honestly don’t know. On the drive back out, one passes the Red Lion at Lowick Bridge then the Farmers’ Arms a bit further on, but I didn’t stop today.

Allan Tarn: or, apparently, ‘Octopus Lagoon’.

Route: This is a short walk and not as difficult underfoot as Wainwright implies in the guidebook, although paths on the tops are not particularly obvious, and there were various points at which my route was an improvisation. My descent off Brock Barrow was awkward, and needs care. Bracken is a factor, but last time I was here (walk 98) I did the walk in July, peak season for this weed, and don’t remember it being a major impediment. It’s also a rather damp walk in parts.

High Nibthwaite is in the midst of “Swallows and Amazons” country, as apparently it was where Arthur Ransome used to spend his summer holidays. Various locations in the vicinity (e.g. Peel Island out in the lake, and the pool of Allan Tarn, pictured above) appear in the books. (Which I have never read, I admit.)

On the ascent path.

Leave the village by the lane that branches off the road beside the telephone box. Go through the gate and take the left-hand route, signposted to Low Parkamoor. This lane ascends steadily for about a mile and a half. Coniston Water is well seen below, and you should also get a good view of the Old Man and its satellites, if you do the walk on a day when these are not draped in cloud, as was the case for me. (See the picture on the walk 98 page, however.)

Carry on until this track tops out and there is a small post on the right indicating a footpath heading up to the top o’ Top o’ Selside, the highest point reached today. From here, the lake is unseen, but the view is good in other directions.

Whether you are Birkett-bagging or not, Arnsbarrow Hill is an obvious next destination, and the route to it can be discerned looping round to the north of the little lake (or large puddle) of Arnsbarrow Tarn. The path is not clear for the whole way but there is no particular difficulty to be faced.

Arnsbarrow Hill. The highest point is to the left: Stang Hill is in the centre of the picture.

From the south, it seems the case that the southern summit, which Birkett calls Stang Hill, is the highest point, and certainly it appears more prominent in that direction. But this photo (taken from Top o’Selside) shows the true configuration of Arnsbarrow, and suggests that the highest point (1056’) is indeed the one to the north. This is the only one of the six summits reached today that lacks a cairn. After reaching it, carry on in the same direction to attain the top of Stang Hill, which does have a cairn, and a good view south to Morecambe Bay.

The ridge that has the remaining three summits on it is apparent from here, lying between where you stand and Coniston Water below. A path that runs through the little valley, immediately below Stang Hill’s summit, seems to be heading in that direction. A more substantial valley, that of Caws Beck, which runs down into High Nibthwaite, starts to assert itself below the ridge, and I decided that this would best be crossed higher up than lower down. This is one of those sections where I was basically improvising, and there are some boggy patches to negotiate, although nothing too offensive. It should be the work of only around ten minutes to cross the valley and make it up to the crest of the ridge, whereupon turn left.

View east, across endless ridges, with the Pennines somewhere in the distance.

Bear in mind that all three of the summits remaining — High Light Haw, Low Light Haw and finally Brock Barrow — are cairned. I wouldn’t get too attached to the idea of a path here, and there is bracken to negotiate, but nor is it as arduous a walk as Wainwright implies on page 96 of volume 8. It may be that the graceful summit cairn that adorns Brock Barrow does not actually stand on the summit of that little fell, but it does mark an excellent viewpoint.

Getting off Brock Barrow was the day’s toughest proposition. Steep slopes must be faced on all sides except to the north. I found a way down to the eastern side — on the left, in terms of how I’d approached the summit — but while this is safe enough, it is very steep, and care is needed at points.

The not unsteep slopes of Brock Barrow, from below. (And lots of dead bracken.)

Once off the steepest slope it is a matter of battling through the bracken for a minute or two before reaching the path that goes down beside the wall, with Caws Beck below. This leads back to the gate into the village.

Before the rain came commentary: Since I started this project in 2009, 14 Octobers have passed. Although I came close in 2017, when I did not walk in the Lakes until the 31st of the month (and that was just for a couple of hours, on the two-day-but-didn’t-need-to-be walk 137), nevertheless there were no Lakeland-free Octobers in the series: until this year.

I just never got the chance to visit. We’ve had plenty of good weather, but each time there’s been a fine forecast I’ve had to work, or, two weekends ago, was away down south (getting a County Top for my troubles). On the other hand, whenever gaps opened up in my schedule, the forecast was for wind, rain, low cloud, or some other combination of the conditions that make a mountain walk just much less fun.

As much sunshine as I saw on 2nd Nov. 2022.

I didn’t want to leave it any longer, however. Quite apart from the ongoing train strikes, the line from home to Preston is closed at weekends over the next month or so, and I’ve no more free weekdays for some time. Today was my last chance for a while, hence my willingness to gamble on a rather dubious weather forecast. Consequently, I specifically headed for a low-altitude region: but there aren’t many of them left now, either. The Top o’Selside massif, and Irton Pike over to the west, were all I had to do from The Outlying Fells.

But a morning-only walk was called for, and turned out to be absolutely the right plan. Up on Brock Barrow it was becoming bitter (particularly as I’d left my woolly hat in the car), a storm definitely in the post. Back in the car by noon, I was having a cup of tea in Lancaster services on the M6 at about 1.15 when the heavens utterly opened. The rest of my drive home was done in teeming rain and strong winds.

View north from the route of ascent. Somewhere in the clouds are the Coniston fells.

So I feel I nicked this one — or these four — or even six, if you count the two Birketts (though why Wainwright didn’t trouble to include Arnsbarrow Hill in the canon I really do not know). Six summits in five miles make this one of the most efficient parts of the District for summit-bagging. It might not be the most exciting region but, as with most of the Outlying Fells, the views are excellent and as long as you don’t have too much of a phobia about bracken, it’s worth the time. Just a shame it’s not on the bus route, is all — but it’s been a while since I stopped letting that bother me. 27 to go.

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