The Head of Ullswater, from the Brown Hills

The Head of Ullswater, from the Brown Hills

Date completed: 13th January 2012.

Weather conditions:  This was the first walk to take place on a Friday 13th, but was I unlucky with the weather? Was I hell. This may well have been the nicest 13th January in the Lake District since the invention of calendars.

Yacht on Ullswater

Yacht on Ullswater. (Though heaven knows where it was going, as there was no wind today.)

Fells climbed: Hart Side (2481 feet above sea level, no. 151), Sheffield Pike (2232’, no. 152), Glenridding Dodd (1425’, no. 153).

Distance:  6.75 miles approximately.

Total ascent: 2500 feet approx.

Start and end points: Started at Park Brow Foot, where the A592 meets the A5091; this is the car park for Aira Force. Finished at Glenridding. Both are served by the #108 Penrith-Patterdale bus.

Pub at end:  The Travellers’ Rest in Glenridding – this is quite a way up the village, thus, a few minutes’ walk from the bus stop. It is bigger, and less unprepossessing, than it looks from the outside. Reasonable beer, and some pretty tolerable music on the stereo too.

As we were staying in the Lakes tonight I also got the chance to patronise the Horse & Farrier in Threlkeld for dinner, and while it was not (at all) cheap, dinner was excellent, and in general the pub was friendly.

Tree stump 'creature'

Tree stump, spotted near Aira Force. Not quite sure what it looks like – but it’s something beyond a tree stump, dontcha think?

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 48: Around Glencoyne

Route: The bus drops you just outside the entrance to the Park Brow Foot car park and no one is going to get lost from there to Aira Force. Stick to the left bank as you see it (actually the right bank, as these things are officially reckoned – that is, according to the direction of the river’s flow). Decide for yourself whether or not to go down the 80 or so steps to the base of the falls; because you’re only going to have to come back up them afterwards: the view of the falls from the bottom is probably worth it (see the picture below). Either way, the escape to the road is through the gate at the top of those steps, to the left.

Gowbarrow Fell at sunset

Gowbarrow Fell at sunset

Once out at the car park on the A5091 cross straight over the main road and follow the ‘Public Footpath’ sign. This track is not as clear as it could be for the first few hundred yards, but it does resolve itself into a reasonable path, albeit a muddy one. Compensation is found in the views of Ullswater, which are spectacular: this is about the only place from which you can see the whole lake.

The path rises gradually until it meets a wall at a low stile, at which point it joins another (from Dockray), and turns left to follow the wall. This way looks as if it will take you up to the top of Hart Side but in fact, after the path crosses another (actually, the same) wall at right angles a bit further on, you need to leave it and bear up the hill on your right. This is the final ascent of Hart Side but it’s much longer and more tedious than expected. There is no obvious path – just keep going uphill in the general direction of Blencathra. If in doubt as to whether you have reached Hart Side’s summit, look for its distinctive, man-made ditch, as described by Wainwright on page Hart Side 6.

From the summit, head pretty much due south, skirting the head of the Glencoyne valley. Even up-to-date OS maps don’t record a path on this section but there is one, though the bifurcation off the main Stybarrow Dodd path could easily be missed.  All directions are obvious in clear weather, however. The descent to Nick Head is steeper than it looks as if it’s going to be.

Aira Force

Aira Force

The ascent of Sheffield Pike from Nick Head is pretty short and easy, but don’t count your chickens yet, particularly if you’ve a bus to catch. The descent of Sheffield Pike is not an easy one.

Coming off the summit I followed what looked like a path but it led me to the left of the rocky tor of Heron Pike instead of, as Wainwright recommends, the right of it. This led me to a steep and awkward descent straight down the east face of the Pike.

I had to carefully and laboriously pick a path downward through rocks and, for the first few hundred feet, thick heather (though this foliage does eventually peter out, which makes things easier). It’s not a dangerous descent if care is taken, but it is awkward. However, having seen the south-east ridge (the recommended route of descent to the col which separates Sheffield Pike and Glenridding Dodd), that looks no easier, either from the side or from below. I therefore think the descent of Sheffield Pike in this direction would be rough whichever route was selected.

From the col, Glenridding Dodd looks as if it will be steep and difficult, but it is a very short climb: fifteen minutes up from the col and back down again is ample time. Nor is the descent from there down into Glenridding that difficult either. Stop at the Travellers’ Rest on the way down, but do remember to leave at least five minutes to get from the pub to the bus stop.

Arthur's Pike

Arthur’s Pike, viewed across Ullswater and Place Fell

Friday-the-Thirteenth Commentary:  For two weeks now, since returning there after our Christmas at the in-laws’, I have been waiting at home, having all the flexibility I need to be able to do a Wainwright walk almost at a day’s notice; but the weather has been wet and windy and on the one day the forecast opened up, January 5th, Virgin let me down again (despite having 90 minutes’ leeway to get me to Penrith: damage caused by high winds was the apparent problem).

This weekend, however, sees us staying for three nights in a holiday cottage near Scales, dates that were confirmed months ago.  And blow me down if it hasn’t turned into about the best weekend of weather you’re ever going to see in a British January.  Which just shows, you might as well take a chance on these things.

Hart Side summit

Hart Side summit, Blencathra behind

Therefore, Friday the 13th it may be, but there is no sense of ill luck in the proceedings at all. On the train up from Hebden this morning, scenes of placid winter beauty unfold on all sides, mist hugging the fields in the still air, as sunrise reveals cloudless blue skies. Continuing the general theme of miracles, Virgin run their first punctual service in my presence in six months. I am in Penrith very early (crap bus timetables are crap bus timetables, however remarkable the weather), but sitting in McDonalds for 90 minutes drinking tea doesn’t seem to bad, it gives me time to finish some work on the laptop, the sun is streaming through the windows and there’s even some decent music on the stereo. Yes, I am all primed for a good day and a good weekend too. So let’s have one.

Little Mell Fell and Eden Valley in mist

Little Mell Fell and, beyond, the Eden Valley covered in mist

Today’s first instalment sw me bag three relatively obscure fells which, even though it’s a fairly short and easy walk, I can nevertheless not reach on a convenient day trip from home thanks to the aforementioned crap bus timetables.  (At best I’d have a five-hour journey home and not get there until 10pm.) We’ve had this discussion before: let’s not go there again, it’s too sunny. But at least I don’t have to rush round today. I have plenty of leeway at Glenridding to catch the bus back to Penrith. The real limit on time today is not public transport, but the Earth’s axial tilt. It’s dark by 4.30 tonight and even by the time I get up Sheffield Pike, things are getting a bit gloomy: I get a little concerned but it turns out fine. Glenridding Dodd wins the award for ‘Summit So Far that was Nearest to a Pub’, and it takes me barely 20 minutes to get from the one to the other. I arrive at the Travellers’ Rest at about 4.15pm.

Sheffield Pike

Sheffield Pike from Glencoyne Head

The best element of the day is, once again, not the fells themselves but the views they offer. Hart Side, despite subsequently blowing its credit with a really tedious final climb, endears itself to me for some stunning views of Ullswater (surely the most beautiful of all the lakes). Aira Force is quite impressive too. Coming down, the Far Eastern Fells, particularly Place Fell, are all glowing in the sunset light.

Silver Crag and Ullswater

Silver Crag and Ullswater

When looking down Ullswater to the east, it’s been apparent that, from about noon, Penrith was clamped under a belt of mist, as was the whole Eden valley (between the Lakes and the Pennines). The bus takes me back there for about at 6pm, and the town is, indeed, a mist-shrouded, chilly place. Clare and Joe, who came up on the train after the latter finished school, don’t quite believe me when I tell them how beautiful things have been all day, no more than a few miles away. But thanks to the wonders of digital photography, I can easily prove it.  We catch another bus back to our cottage, which is literally on the slopes of Blencathra – tomorrow’s target. The pub in Threlkeld provides an excellent – though expensive – dinner.

A fine evening, and despite the lack of real highlights: a fine day. We’ve been so incredibly lucky with the weather, gambling on a long weekend in mid-January has paid off completely. This is a good time.

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