Lonscale Fell, Great Calva and the Glenderaterra valley

Lonscale Fell, Great Calva and the Glenderaterra valley, 8.35am

 Date completed: 16th January 2012.

Weather conditions:  Just as dry and sunny as on the other two walks this weekend, but considerably windier, particularly on the top of Bakestall.

Fells climbed: Great Calva (2265 feet above sea level, no. 156), Bakestall (2189’, no. 157).

Distance:  12.5 miles approximately. See note below.

Total ascent: 3000 feet approx.


Scene on the descent off Great Calva

Start and end points: I started at Doddick Farm on the A66 near Scales, but only because I was staying there. The logical place to start this walk is Threlkeld, served by the Keswick – Penrith buses. Finished at Bassenthwaite Chapel, served by X4 Cockermouth – Keswick buses (every 2 hours only).  NOTE: Mileage for this walk has been calculated from Doddick Farm – from there to Threlkeld is 1.25 miles, so it is easy to shorten the walk by this amount.

Pub at end:  None today. Bass Village does have a pub, the Sun Inn, but it doesn’t open until 4pm on weekdays and I passed through too early. No drinks until Preston railway station today. (But I was home by 5pm so it didn’t matter.)

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 50: Threlkeld to Bassenthwaite

Skiddaw from Great Calva

Skiddaw, viewed from the summit of Great Calva

Route: The walk from Threlkeld to Bassenthwaite goes through the heart of the Northern Fells at Skiddaw House. If there is no desire to bag the two fells on the way, it would become a pleasant ramble through lonely but beautiful territory, in utter solitude, on good paths throughout and without any steep gradients anywhere. I would highly recommend this as a trip – though not in the rain.

Unfortunately, bagging fells is what we’re about here, and to add Great Calva and Bakestall to the walk involves introducing two ascents and two descents which are of progressively greater steepness, sort of like hill training, but on a thousand-foot scale each time. Paths are OK, though not that clear, and, I would suspect, boggy for most of the year on top of Great Calva.  The ascent/descent of Bakestall also means you miss the best features of the Dash Valley. So the ‘fell-free’ version of this walk is worth some consideration.

Anyway; leave Threlkeld via Blease Road, which only a total idiot could miss (it’s got, not one, but two big green signs that scream ‘ Blease Road TO BLENCATHRA’ at you – in case you weren’t paying attention). Follow this until it reaches the entrance to the Blencathra Centre (built on the site of a former sanatorium) and then take the upper path, through the car park and heading in the general direction of Lonscale Fell. If you find yourself climbing steeply up or down at any point – you’re on the wrong path.

Blencathra, from the path to Skiddaw House

Blencathra, from the path to Skiddaw House.

The right path leads up the Glenderaterra Valley. Lonscale Fell dominates the first hour or so, and on a sunny winter’s morning like this one, will be impressively tinged red by the morning sun. Great Calva is the shapely and seemingly isolated pyramid on the skyline dead ahead.

As the crags of Lonscale Fell get nearer, the path switches from one side of the valley to the other, but don’t worry – it’s supposed to. Keep going up-valley and, shortly afterwards, the view opens up ahead – this is Skiddaw Forest, but don’t expect to see any trees, except those which surround the unexpected cottages of Skiddaw House (a youth hostel).

The route then leads along the supply road for the hostel. Just before the second beck crossed (Dead Beck), you will be at your nearest point to Great Calva’s summit up on the right, and will hopefully see the sketchy track heading up that way. Short wooden posts mark the first part of the route, through the thickest of the heather. The climb is not that difficult or long, though you will inevitably be fooled by Calva’s double summit.

Bakestall and the Dash Valley

Looking down the Dash Valley. Crags of Bakestall on left. (This is not far off the picture at the top of Wainwright’s page Bakestall 9.)

In theory it is then just a matter of following the fence all the way round to the left which, despite various changes of direction, leads unerringly down back to the supply road, across it, and up to the summit of Bakestall (and, beyond, Skiddaw). However, this is not as easy as it sounds. The first hazard will be bog, unless you go up on a cold winter’s day like I did. The descent off Little Calva back to the road is then awkward and steep, hampered by the fact that you are virtually sliding down the trench that seems to have been left by the builders, when the fence was erected (fairly recently – it looks brand new).

The ascent of Bakestall is then very steep; bear right at the top to visit the summit. (Wainwright suggests you keep further right, to see more of the crags.) The descent of same fell is then ridiculously steep; a few degrees further and it would have been impossible; as it is, it can be done, and quite safely if care is taken, but don’t rush it.

Once back on the road, follow it down to the public road near Peter House farm at grid reference NY249323. The path heading straight ahead should get you back to Bassenthwaite but I don’t know how easy the route is to follow. As I had only 30 minutes maximum to get back for a bus at this point, I took the road instead. Turning left, then right about 2/3 mile further on (signposted to Bassenthwaite), will get you back to the village; the bus stop at Bass Chapel is then another couple of minutes’ walk.

Latrigg and Derwentwater

Latrigg, early morning

That solitary feeling commentary: We did do a walk yesterday (Sunday 15th), but bagged no fells on it. Instead we walked the few miles from our cottage to Keswick town centre, the last two-thirds of which follows a route along the old Keswick-Penrith railway. This was finally closed in 1972. ‘Inevitably so’, it says in an information board located in an old navvies’ hut along the way. That I dispute. When you look at all the freight and private cars which bomb along the A66 (which, when it comes down to it, replaced the railway) – when you consider the extra noise, light and fume pollution which comes from the road compared to the railway – when you think about the parking problems which afflict the whole district – I don’t think it was ‘inevitable’ at all. It was a political decision to favour one (highly taxable) form of transport over another, and the Lakes is living with the consequences.

Frozen marsh on Great Calva

Frozen marsh between Little and Great Calva

That railway will never reopen even as far as Keswick: largely because of the problems which would now be caused by a tunnel at that end, filled in to help build a huge bridge over the Greta to carry the Keswick bypass.  Yet it seems to me as if the A66 and the railway could now productively co-exist. To do this weekend away on public transport has not been inconvenient: whatever else I might say about public transport in the Lakes, the Penrith-Keswick-Workington service, along with the Keswick-Grasmere-Windermere service, are regular and usually punctual. Doddick Farm was a good choice of base, too (and a decent cottage, should you ever feel like staying here yourself). It can be done; but most people think it’ll be too difficult, so they don’t. A shame. You get to drink more beer.  I am sure that the more petrol prices rise, the more people will wish there were alternatives; the more there would be a market for rail travel to be reintroduced into this area. But I doubt it’ll happen. Beeching made sure the whole transport infrastructure of this country would be gutted, not just in the 1960s and 1970s, but forever after.

Clare & Joe went off on an early morning bus, but I wanted to make the most of the continuing good weather and also exploit the fact I could start walking without a three-hour journey beforehand. The plan was to leave the cottage early, though not too early, and get through Skiddaw Forest to Bassenthwaite in time to catch the 12.57 bus which would eventually see me home for 5pm. Along the way, bagging two fells that were bothering me, being tricky from a standard home day trip.

The Glenderaterra valley

Looking back down the Glenderaterra valley

I started walking at 7.35am, the earliest start yet. It was still mostly dark. Gradually, the sun came up behind Clough Head, but somehow it’s not as spectacular as it was on Saturday morning; Blencathra has a light covering of cloud that means there are no shots available of any red-tinged summit, and generally, the views south just have the angles and shadows wrong. The shot of Latrigg under the half-moon is the best I manage. But it’s very pleasant to be out walking, completely alone and gradually leaving civilisation behind as I climb the well-graded and easy path up the Glenderaterra valley. (I love that name by the way – Glenderaterra – ranks as highly as Innominate Tarn for how nicely it slips off the tongue.) I don’t expect to see anyone else walking today – and except for a couple of people in the far distance as I haul myself up Bakestall later, I don’t. That feeling of isolation was the best thing about the day.

Skiddaw House

Skiddaw House

I knew Skiddaw House was there, of course, but it’s still a surprise to come across a row of cottages, which look as if they could be in the streets of any town in Britain, sat 1,500 feet up on a moor and at least three miles from any other building. Their only accompaniment is a sad-looking stand of trees, planted as a windbreak, and all looking as if they drew the shortest possible straw in the global Tree Lottery which left them with one of the toughest commissions any tree could expect to fulfill. They all look tired, and battered, like they’ve gone ten rounds with some real heavyweight winds for the last forty years. I feel much better than they look. All is just fine up to this point. The views are not of dramatic crags or lakes, but there is a quiet, frosty beauty to these largely unseen vistas of Skiddaw and Blencathra, and round to Carrock Fell.

As I say in the route description above, it’s bagging the fells which turns this walk from a simple and pleasant ramble through Skiddaw Forest to a tougher proposition. Of course, I couldn’t omit them; though it would not have wasted the morning had I done so. But they did make the walk a lot more awkward, and in the end, doing Bakestall meant I missed any proper sight of the impressive Dash Valley, with its waterfalls and crags. Never mind. Maybe another time.

Great Calva from Skiddaw House

Great Calva from Skiddaw House

In the end, although I have to speed up a bit once back on tarmac below Bakestall (its descent one of the steepest half-miles yet – only just still safe), I do catch the 1257 bus, with about 10 minutes to spare. (That stop, which would then not have seen another bus for 2 hours, had two in four minutes – a 1253 from Carlisle to Keswick, and a 1257 from Workington to Keswick. WHY, WHY, WHY? Who works these things out?!?)  There have been three good walks this weekend, all with their own character, and we were so lucky with the weather – but you knew that.

I have reached the half-century in terms of the numbers of walks, and certainly fulfilled expectations over the last 4 days. I feel good, but tired. Time to get all this up on the blog – and get back to (paid) work.


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