Causey Pike viewed from the back

Causey Pike viewed ‘from the back’, on the way to Scar Crags

Date completed: 10th November 2010

Weather conditions:  As the photos make obvious, superlative. The only problem was icy patches underfoot, both on the descent from Scar Crags and – more lethally – on the tarmac round Newlands.

Fells climbedCausey Pike (2090 feet above sea level, no. 89), Scar Crags (2205’, no. 90).

Geese in a field just outside Keswick

Geese in a field just outside Keswick

Distance:  11.5 miles approximately.

Total ascent:  2800 feet approx.

Start and end points:  Keswick bus station. Not hard to get to.

Pub at end:  I would have gone in the Swinside Inn (grid reference NY243218) but it didn’t open until 5pm. Worryingly, it was displaying a ‘pub business to let‘ sign anyway.

I tried to go in the Derwentwater Hotel at Portinscale, which looked like it was trying terribly hard to be posh, and generally failing, and got as far as taking my boots off to tiptoe across their clean-but-bland carpet to see a bar with no real ale – I asked for Guinness, the only other alternative, to be told it had ‘run out’. OK, well, that’s me out of there.

So in the end I patronised the Bank Tavern again, which is a decent pub and the nearest one to Keswick bus station, so it’s seen plenty of business from me.

Outerside with Skiddaw in distance

Looking down from Sail Pass: Outerside in middle distance, Skiddaw in background

Route card: Click here to download a route card which includes an elevation profile (how hilly the walk is), waypoints with grid references, and a summary map.   Walk 27: Causey Pike & Scar Crags

Route: This is never a complicated one, taking place on clear paths or roads throughout. The path to Portinscale leaves the main road just at the far end of Greta Bridge, and as long as you turn left in Portinscale after passing the (real-beer-free) Derwentwater Hotel you can’t get lost on the way to the foot of Catbells – there are clear signposts all the way. (Note that in the summer you could get a #77 bus to this point, though the walk is an easy and good one.)

Everyone else in the vicinity will probably be climbing Catbells, which I will do in due course, but today’s route lies to the right-hand side of that fell, along to Skelgill, through the gate and then down the road to Stair. Causey Pike is clearly visible throughout, but it may take a little while to work out how to get onto the fell from Stair: you have to pass Stair Mill then double back very slightly onto the Braithwaite road before looking for the path on the left. (If tempted to use the field between Stair Mill and the upper road to cut the corner, bear in mind there was a very large bull in it at the time I passed.)

Walkers in Fawe Park, south of Portinscale.

Walkers in Fawe Park, south of Portinscale.

The choices here are to take the direct route or climb Rowling End first. I did the latter, though not necessarily deliberately – the Rowling End path is clearer, and also has the advantage of splitting the climbing into two. Once embarked on this part of the climb it will be very hard to get lost, even in poor weather; the paths up to Causey Pike, then along to Scar Crags, down to Sail Pass and then down the mine road back to Stair are all very obvious.

Try to get off the mine road just after it departs company from the stream (Stoneycroft Gill) at about NY 231212, or you will have problems getting back onto the road.  Once I had done so I retraced my steps back to the Newlands adventure centre but then instead of heading back to Skelgill walked along the road, past the Swinside Inn, back to Portinscale and then to Keswick.

The valley of Sail Beck

Looking down the valley of Sail Beck, with the High Stile range in the background

Flexitime commentary: Yeah yeah yeah, I know I’m supposed to be at work today. Actually I’m supposed to be in the USA, specifically working all week at the University of Alabama. However, Angela, my research colleague, is ill and cancelled the trip. I’ve not exactly got a week kicking my heels but because I had the trip planned I didn’t have many of my usual obligations this week and decided if I got a good day I would do a walk.

Well, boy oh boy was today a good day. Aside from the 2nd March 2010 (walk 11), I don’t think I’ve had a better one. Clear skies like this work better in winter: no danger of heatstroke for one, but better still, the sun is shining so much lower in the sky and the light has a beautiful, crisp quality, with richer and clearer shadows than is possible in midsummer. And at some point in the last few days it’s snowed in the Lakes giving the higher fells a dusting of white. As you can see from the photographs today, the results are devastatingly beautiful. The route was quite busy with other fellwalkers and I suspect I wasn’t the only one who may have basically bunked off today. Well,what the hell, I worked all day last Sunday anyway. It’s flexitime, innit.

A colourful field near Stair

A colourful field near Stair – Skiddaw peeking over the trees in the background

I have been round this exact route before (albeit having driven to, and started from, Stair) – at least 27, 28 years ago, maybe more. I remember little about it but I doubt it could have been as beautiful as it was today. Causey Pike is a fine climb, but a stiff one, the hardest ascent since Scafell in fact. I was sweating like a pig by the time I reach the top, having brought far, far too much gear. The contents of my backpack included the crampons and ice axe that Clare bought me for my birthday, which I assume for most of the way round will be nothing but excess baggage (and baggage which makes me realise this rucksack I have really isn’t big or rugged enough for any serious winter walking any more), but on the way down from Sail Pass, on the slopes facing north where the sun has not penetrated, there is still some quite compacted ice and snow that makes the path rather treacherous for a good quarter-mile. OK, well, if I’m going to try these presents out it might as well be now, at least then I’ve justified bringing them, right?

Looking up Stoneycroft Gill

Looking up Stoneycroft Gill, from the climb up Rowling End

Only – memo to self – if intending to strap crampons onto boots while perched on an icy path nearly two thousand feet above sea level, one should have previously reviewed the technique of how they tie on. The right-hand one gave up the ghost almost immediately – I struggled manfully on with just the left-hand one, which did help negotiate the ice, but eventually came off itself after a few more minutes. The young couple descending the icy stretch alongside me tried not to make too obvious their mild contempt for this middle-aged chap with delusions of being an alpinist. But then again they fell over more than I did.

The Newlands Valley

The Newlands Valley. High Spy forms the skyline.

Despite the delays caused by this stretch of path I was back in Keswick with 20 minutes to spare for the bus back to Windermere, having found in the Derwentwater Hotel a rather posher but ultimately identical spiritual twin of the Castle Inn, but apart from that – oh yeah, and losing a glove somewhere on the mine road – having had a brilliant day. Work…. yeah, I’m aware of it. I’ll do some more tomorrow. Maybe work Sunday again, but this was worth every second. Brilliant day.

The northern Helvellyn range

Looking towards the northern Helvellyn range. From left to right: Stybarrow Dodd, Raise, White Side and (on edge of picture) Catstycam

Appendix: public transport rant
I put this in an appendix because it’s actually not fair to criticise the public transport today as despite a large number of connections, some of them tight, it did get me to and from Keswick all as scheduled. But it nearly didn’t. The 0638 left Hebden Bridge on time but then lost 10-15 minutes as we plodded to Blackburn, putting me in danger of missing the connection and thereby not arriving in Keswick until at least 11. But then it made up the time before Preston. It’s all this bloody leaf-fall in autumn you see. Except they don’t tell us this explicitly any more for fear of ridicule.

Look, here’s my suggestion. If you really can’t handle the leaf fall each winter – and I understand the problem, I really do, although it does cross my mind that you’ve had 170 years to try to work out a solution, but if it’s genuinely intractable, fair enough – then why not just run a different timetable October and November? People don’t mind if their journey takes a little longer, as long as it’s punctual, and they don’t have to stress about making connections which should be comfortable. Is it too much to ask? Really?

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