Looking down from Holme Fell summit

Looking down from Holme Fell summit. The route of ascent comes past the pool and up the centre of the picture. And yes, it’s raining.

Date completed: 16th September 2011.

Weather conditions:  Grey and damp throughout. Drizzle beset me for much, though not all, of the way round the two fells, though it was not the vicious assault of the summit of Yewbarrow (see walk 43b); more an apologetic dampening. However, this changed on the final (and unnecessary) walk back to Ambleside during which the heavens opened and I became as wet as I ever have been without undressing first. ‘Torrential’ is the only way to describe it.

Fells climbed: Holme Fell (1040 feet above sea level, no. 140), Black Fell (1056’, no. 141).

Distance:  14 miles approximately. Had public transport behaved itself today it would have been about 5 miles shorter than this.

Total ascent: 2900 feet approx.

The bar of the Drunken Duck Inn.

The bar of the Drunken Duck Inn. The ‘soft-focus’ effect is due to condensation on the lens – have I mentioned yet that it was a wet day? – but I quite like it.

Start and end points: Started and finished at Ambleside bus station. In an ideal world one could catch a #516 bus from Ambleside to Skelwith Bridge to make the first 2.8 miles of walking unnecessary, and then from the end of the lane at point NY360019 a #505 Coniston-Windermere bus should have picked me up to make the last 2.2 miles redundant as well. But, of course, public transport does not function ideally. See the commentary.

Pub at what should have nearly been the end, but wasn’t: The Drunken Duck Inn, one of the few pubs specifically marked, by name, on the OS map (at NY351013). And very good it is too: smart and well-appointed inside, and with excellent beer which it brews on the premises. Long may it survive the current assault on the rural pub.

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 44: Holme Fell and Black Fell

Route: You will already have got the message that this walk should have been shorter. Discounting the unnecessary additions at both ends it becomes a hike of moderate length that visits two very low-altitude fells, and is more in the nature of a woodland ramble than a climb, although there are still a couple of awkward spots and there’s plenty of ascent (though again, this would be less if the buses had played ball). The route will be fiddly to describe but one characteristic of it is that it is very well signposted, almost all the way round. Anyone equipped with the right map should thus have no problem following the route.

Footbridge at Skelwith Bridge

Footbridge over the River Brathay, at Skelwith Bridge.

I went over the shoulder of Loughrigg Fell again to get from Ambleside to Skelwith Bridge, familiar from walk 8 and walk 29, a bit of extra effort made worthwhile by the views and by avoiding the main road.  As the path drops down to the valley again, head out onto the lane at Tarn Foot (instead of going round Loughrigg Tarn) and, when you come out onto the main road at Skelwith Bridge, cross straight over and then head right down the lane to the little stonemason’s yard then through it, in order to see Skelwith Force.

The river can be crossed by an attractive footbridge (see picture) and then follow the Cumbria Way round through the woods. When you reach the lane near Colwith Force, turn right along it for a few yards then left, taking the path up to Colwith Force, which is an attractive waterfall and more impressive than Skelwith Force just visited. Keep following the path round until you pass by the farm of High Park, on to Stang End then follow the sign for Hodge Close, keeping to the height of land.

Fairfield Horseshoe, from Miller Brow

Good view of the Fairfield Horseshoe, taken from Miller Brow near the start of the walk, before the light and views went entirely.

The next thing which you will notice is the unmissable, unexpected and hugely impressive hole of Hodge Close Quarry. For reasons which will be very obvious, take care here, and don’t let children or dogs get near it. But it is worth some time. The quarry is then rounded on the southern end, where you cross a stile to enter the woods at a National Trust sign (‘Holme Fell’, so you know you’re in the right place). Take the path bearing right and slightly uphill.

There are two routes from this path to Holme Fell summit – I went up one and down the other, but I doubt it makes much difference. The summit is visible ahead to help with routefinding.

On returning to the vicinity of the quarry, go round the other (eastern) side of the big hole, and come out on the path to High Oxen Fell, where turn right. The path becomes tarmac as it goes through the farm, then bear right at the junction where both signs point to the A593. Cross this main road (with care) and head up the lane signposted ‘High Arnside’.

From the map I was in doubt whether there were rights of way straight up onto Black Fell here so I bore round to the south, following the bridle path round to a point above Tarn Hows, then turning left through the gate signposted ‘Iron Keld’ then bearing right up to the summit after that path heads through a gate (unlike in Wainwright’s guide, there is a path up to Black Fell summit now). All that was easy enough but it does add a mile to the route that would not be needed if the path from High Arnside to the summit was open. It may well be possible.

Church near Clappersgate.

Church near Clappersgate, on the final walk back to Ambleside through the downpour.

At Black Fell summit I considered the time and the bus options and decided to take an unorthodox route down through what is marked on the map as Pullscar Plantation. This did involve tramping through bracken for ten minutes, down the wall that heads east from the summit trig point; it is not a particularly pleasant descent but it doesn’t last long and the path then emerges to deposit you at the lane which runs from the Drunken Duck to Skelwith, where turn right for the pub. Despite the initial difficulties of this descent it did only take me half an hour to get from the summit to the bar of the Duck.

A walk downhill for 10 minutes from the pub then leads to the junction on the B5286, where, in theory, a Coniston bus should come past to pick you up. I ended up walking back along the route of that bus all the way to Ambleside – a route that is not entirely safe for pedestrians so I don’t really recommend it. I should not have had to do it – but that’s Stagecoach for you.

Emergency reserve commentary: Since the morning of the 2nd September, as I came out of the Wasdale Head Inn and was then assaulted by horizontal hail on Yewbarrow before the morning was a couple of hours old, the weather has basically been terrible: totally knocking back my theory that Britain always has its best days at this time of year. Yesterday (Sept 15th), however, bucked the trend, by being a beautiful late summer’s day in every respect. Today was the only day on which I could do a walk between now and well into October, and I’d worked last Sunday to leave it free, so I was committed to it, and had plans to head up to the Northwestern fells and bag Grasmoor, or possibly Dale Head – I was keeping my options open.

Hodge Close Quarry.

Hodge Close Quarry. I tried taking pictures that captured the depth and size of this place but none really captured it. This one was an attempt at a different perspective.

This was one of those days, however, where very little went according to plan. That I came out of it still feeling fulfilled, and like I’d seen some memorable things – particularly the massive hole of Hodge Close Quarry – is a comment on the intrinsic beauty of the district, and the basic appeal of walking out in the fresh air. It was certainly not attributable to the weather or the public transport today.

You’ve heard enough about the annoyances of public transport before, if you’ve been following this blog regularly. One reason I was, as I said, ‘keeping my options open’ was because of the tension that Enragecoach have designed into their bus timetables for little other reason than it keeps us punters on our toes – that there is no guarantee of being able to catch the Buttermere bus in Keswick if one has come in (as soon as one can) on the bus up from Windermere on any given day.

Black Fell summit

Black Fell (or Black Crag) summit.

But none of that mattered today because today it was Virgin Trains’ turn to cock things up, running their 0753 from Preston late. That shouldn’t really matter either, except their accomplices (or are they considered competitors?), Trans-Pennine Express, who run the Windermere branch, will not hold their connection in Oxenholme even for just a few minutes, despite the fact that this is a classic branch line, and there is very little reason for mainline trains to stop at Oxenholme anyway except to deposit passengers onto the Windermere train. So what’s the point in not holding the connection for 4 more minutes? That’s how much me (and everyone else who got off there) missed it by today.

Graveyard in Ambleside

Graveyard in Ambleside, passed through at the very start of the walk.

Once that was done, there was little point trying to get to Keswick. Anyway, it was already obvious that the second random factor was kicking in – the weather. Cloud covered everything above about 1,500 feet and I just didn’t fancy a walk up into it, not after last time. So while waiting another 40 minutes for a train to reappear to take me to Windermere, I reviewed my options and decided to pull one of my ‘emergency reserve’ walks out of the bag: walks that are easy to get to and don’t involve any major logistical plans, which I’ve been saving as long as I can – for just such an occasion.

View from Oxen Fell

Looking south at the point where the A593 is crossed, near Oxen Fell. Holme Fell is the right-most summit.

Grey and damp throughout, the first outbreak of serious drizzle comes in the hour that I go up and down Holme Fell from Hodge Close. It’s not unpleasant, and I quite like Holme Fell, which has a cute array of little pools dotted around it and a neat little summit – no view of Coniston Water today, however. I take my lunch while sitting under the roots of a fallen tree, which provides an excellent dry shelter in the rain. And somewhere between there and Black Fell, though it stays grey and misty, the rain does stop falling. Coming down off the second summit of the day, the bracken soaks my legs, but I consider that a price worth paying because I’m glad I headed for the Drunken Duck Inn as my chosen pub: a smart, friendly place with its own microbrewery. Should you be in the vicinity I highly recommend the ‘Red Bull Terrier’ as an excellent pint.

But to get home from here I have to once again put myself in the hands of companies who, and let’s be honest here, cannot be fully trusted to have the welfare of their customers at hand. I walk down the hill to what should be a place where I can get a #505 bus to stop – though even that is not completely certain – and one is due at about 1525. Come the appointed time, one does go past – but in the opposite direction. Then, no more than three minutes later – so does another one. Again, in the wrong direction. Now call this a hunch but something tells me that they are not, shall we say, running in line with the timetable. And it’s started raining again. Do I want just to wait at this point, where there is no shelter, no seat even, until Triagecoach decide to send one past?

Skelwith Force

Skelwith Force.

I do not. I start walking. It starts raining, hard. Oh, I get back to Ambleside OK – very, very wet but feeling a sense of achievement because – and think about this, Mr Brian Souter – I got to my destination more quickly on foot than your bus managed. If there were any sense of personal service in what it was that you did, you would feel highly embarrassed about this. But you don’t, do you? If this were run like any other business – and I include the train companies in this (TPE and Northern did get me home on time, without trouble, but that doesn’t excuse TPE & Virgin’s inability to coordinate the earlier journey) – anyone like me, who spends a couple of hundred pounds a month on these services, would be treated like a valued customer, probably given some kind of loyalty bonus and able to have problems genuinely addressed and not just treated as an inconvenience. And there are people who spend much more than me on trains and buses; yet no one gets any such acknowledgement.

Fairfield Horseshoe

Another decent view of the Fairfield Horseshoe.

The trouble is, no one gives a toss, because there’s always this assumption that if you don’t like it, you can just get in your car. But when, supposedly, several million pounds is about to be invested in public transport in this region – we must ask ourselves, for whose benefit? For the users? Or for the shareholders of companies like TPE and Stagecoach, most of them (as with every other plc) anonymous corporate holdings or pensions schemes, most of whom probably don’t use the buses or trains from which they siphon the profits, and for whom, therefore, the quality of what is actually being provided is irrelevant as long as the money flows?

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