Haycock, viewed from Red Pike

Haycock, viewed from Red Pike, with the Irish Sea in the background (and, just visible, Sellafield)

Date completed: 1st  September 2011. First anniversary of walk 24, over the Fellbarrow range.

Weather conditions:  Last year’s 1st September walk was done in probably the best weather of the year. Today wasn’t bad, cloudy at first, it then brightened up into a sunny, but breezy, afternoon.

Fells climbed: Caw Fell (2288 feet above sea level, no. 134), Haycock (2618’, no. 135), Steeple (2687’, no. 136), Scoat Fell (2760’, no. 137), Red Pike (Wasdale) (2707’, no. 138).

The north face of Scoat Fell

The north face of Scoat Fell, viewed from Steeple

Distance:  14.5 miles approximately. The fifth-longest walk so far, and I did another one the following day.

Total ascent: 3950 feet approx.

Start and end points: Started at Cleator Moor, the Wath Brow road junction at grid reference NY028145 — this was the terminus of walk 28. This is served by half-hourly buses from Whitehaven rail station. Finished at the Wasdale Head Inn. There is no public transport here (beyond taxis), so this had to be the first day of a two-day hike.

Pub at end: The Wasdale Head Inn felt more welcoming than on my last visit, in July 2010 (walks 20a and 20b), and the food was better. I had a good night’s sleep and this time the shower was working properly in the morning. I would stay here again – indeed, I probably need to for any further hikes in this area as there aren’t many other options around.

Looking down Ennerdale Water, to Pillar

Looking down Ennerdale Water, to Pillar

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. Route card for walk 43a: The Ennerdale Ridge

Route: This is an excellent walk through varied and dramatic scenery, but it is also long and tiring, and not to be underestimated. It’s been made longer by the recent axing of the #217 bus service, which until the right-wing coup that followed the inconclusive 2010 UK election, was allowed to serve Ennerdale Bridge: this village would make a far more logical starting point. The first 3 miles now involve trudging along the tarmac road from Cleator Moor to Ennerdale Bridge, and there is little to commend it bar, in early autumn, a profusion of wild blackberries to graze upon.

Scene near Woundell Beck

Scene near Woundell Beck, in the woods of Ennerdale

As the elevation profile makes obvious, it remains flat for the next 4½ miles as well, as you pass the Bleach Green car park and then take the path round the south shore of Ennerdale Water. But the views down the lake towards Pillar are now much better (see picture above). The path is easy and level apart from one little pull up and over the butt end of Anglers’ Crag.

Once you reach the head of the lake, continue on the obvious path across the field and then, when it goes through the gate, turn right into the woods and then right again at the junction. This path then starts to climb slightly beside Woundell Beck below, a pleasant spot (see the picture). The key to the whole ascent of Caw Fell then comes with the two footbridges in close proximity to one another just as the beck splits. Cross the first footbridge you come to, but not the second, instead taking the path up the hill.

Middle Fell

Middle Fell, viewed from Haycock

After that, there shouldn’t be any routefinding problems. The path climbs (rather monotonously, after a while) through the heather towards the ridge, with Caw Fell the flat rise to the right, and Haycock, Scoat Fell and Steeple all visible on the left. Once up on the ridge, the long wall, that runs the whole southern side of Ennerdale, acts as your guide all the way to Scoat Fell, so further advice on this section seems superfluous except to say that Little Gowder Crag (between Caw Fell and Haycock) can be rounded on the right, you don’t need to climb up over it.

Once past Haycock, stick to the left of the wall to get the best views of Scoat Fell’s crags and of the super-cute pinnacle of Steeple. The latter is not hard to get to, or back off, despite appearances.

Red Pike (Wasdale), from Scoat Fell

Red Pike, from Scoat Fell. The dramatic shape of the fell is apparent.

After Scoat Fell, leave the wall behind and head south for Red Pike, which looks amazing from this angle: should you be up here in misty weather, I advise great caution for reasons that are obvious when you see it. Continue over the Pike and down to Dore Head, looking, as I did, with disbelief, first at the cliffs of Yewbarrow ahead (a story to be taken up by my description of walk 43b) and, eventually, at the descent which faces you from Dore Head down to Mosedale.

Unfortunately, without going all the way round Yewbarrow to come out on the shore of Wast Water and thus adding several miles to what has already been a tiring journey, there seems no choice but to half-climb and half-slide down the scree run that issues from Dore Head. Memory-Map claims you can get to the Inn in 25 minutes from the top but it took me twice that, at least. It’s a shame because otherwise this was a stupendous walk, without any awkward patches caused by rock or bog. But that last descent is a bugger.

Crag Fell, viewed from Ennerdale Bridge

Crag Fell, viewed from Ennerdale Bridge

Off-into-the-wilds-again commentary: For my birthday last week I received a copy of Black’s Guide to the English Lakes, published in 1905. I found it very interesting for several reasons. The first is just how much of it would still serve as a very useful guide to the present day, 106 years later. A sign that not much changes, or probably ever will, on the fells – unless of course the present government get their way and sell off large chunks of it to the highest bidder (they still want to, because that’s what this lot have put themselves in power to do – and they will ensure they and their friends are those bidders). Another sign that not much changes comes when – in 1905 remember – the guide can still moan about the despoilation of the Lakes by tourism, when compared to some notional Golden Age, a couple of generations past. This from pages 104-105, talking about Grasmere:

  • “The vale is somewhat changed, since, in the middle of the last century, the poet Gray descended by the road from Keswick on ‘one of the sweetest landscapes that Art ever attempted to imitate’. The ‘white village’ has greatly increased, the margin of the lake has suffered by the construction of a carriage-road…. Although where, so lately as 1850, two modest inns sufficiently met the wants of pilgrims to this shrine, now an elaborate array of hostelries is sometimes barely adequate; yet within a few paces of the road, thronged perhaps by crowded vehicles, nooks of quiet beauty can be found, peaceful almost as when paced by the secluded poet more than two generations ago. The hills do not change.”
Stirrup Crag, from Dore Head

Stirrup Crag, the northern end of Yewbarrow, viewed from Dore Head. Would you climb up this? Or down it? Me neither.

Walking routes are described in Black’s as suitable for ponies or not, as if such accessories were as ubiquitous to hikers then as rucksacks and OS maps are now. The last fifth of the book is full of advertisements, mostly for hotels (a good proportion of them being Temperance establishments, that is, they did not serve or permit alcohol), located all round the country, not just in the Lakes; and it’s interesting to see at the back a London Underground map that is not the famous piece of graphic design we’re all used to but shows all the lines the same colour and the stations in their correct geographical position – and thus becomes almost impossible to use.

Steeple, from Scoat Fell

Steeple (and its own shadow, below), from Scoat Fell. The back of the High Stile range is in the background.

The final point of interest I’ll mention here is that in 1905 there were plans to build a road from Wasdale to Borrowdale over Sty Head. Even the wildest outbreaks of private ‘enterprise’ in the 21st century would probably balk at that plan, but it did seem serious at the time. Had it been built, Wasdale would now be a very different place, much easier of access (this being, presumably, the point of the road plan). There may have been buses now, and I would not need to take two days out of my life each time I want to bag any of the fells around Wasdale Head. I had to do it last year, for the Screes and Scafell (walk 20), and here is this year’s version.

The disadvantage of having to book accommodation is that it reduces my flexibility, although not entirely. Originally I was down to do this on the 2nd & 3rd September, but the forecast for both days is poor, whereas for Thursday 1st it is quite good. Luckily, my work, family and the Wasdale Head itself are all flexible enough to accommodate me bringing the walk forward a day so I head off on the Thursday instead. (Should you be wondering about how I earn my salary, let me observe that I worked both Sunday and Monday [a public holiday] this week just gone, so I’ve already done my 4 days this week.)

The Scafell range, at sunset.

The Scafell range, at sunset. Left to right – Great End, Lingmell, Scafell Pike (in distance), Scafell.

This was a good move. The weather is good, better than expected even. As I come down into Wasdale at the end, the sun is catching the tips of the Scafell range and highlighting them in deep red: this view being the only benefit of the uncomfortable and unwelcome slide down the Dore Head scree run which ends the walk. Prior to that the walk had been an excellent one, with many good things to see, at least once I reached Ennerdale Water (Black’s p. 195: “…less visited than it might be, in consequence of its difficulty of access and the want of houses of entertainment in the valley”). The principal highlight was Steeple, the kind of mountain you’d like to wrap up and take home in a box; it looks somehow both fearsome and terribly sweet at the same time, and is easy to get on and off (once you’ve spent hours getting to the top of Scoat Fell, anyway, which kind of wraps its arms around Steeple as if it’s jealously keeping it to itself). Red Pike was also very impressive and its summit cairn not a place for those with vertigo.

Seatallan, from Haycock.

Seatallan, viewed from Haycock. This fell and its satellites (Buckbarrow, Middle Fell) will get me into Wasdale again yet.

I staggered into the Wasdale Head Inn at 7pm, having left Cleator Moor at 11.30am (and left home at 6.30 am); this was not the longest walk I’ve done but it certainly felt like one of the hardest. I did enjoy it, but part of me wishes that a hundred years ago that road had indeed been built and I could just get a bus back to Keswick from here. But the feeling passes.

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