Sheep in buttercup

Scene near Dockray, towards the end of the walk.

Date completed: 2nd July 2012. The second anniversary of walk 20a, which saw me walking along the top of Wastwater Screes. Following that walk, and including today, I have done 116 fells in those two years. It’s also, incidentally, my 13th wedding anniversary.

Weather conditions:  Oh, don‘t talk about the bloody weather, and anyone who has been in England for the last five weeks knows exactly why I say that. I suppose I had tolerable conditions, it didn’t chuck it down anyway (except for a few minutes of squally drizzle on Little Mell Fell), but it was very wet underfoot. It’s July, for heaven’s sake, and I’m walking around in conditions no better than I had on those two (damp, misty) walks in March. See the commentary.

Looking toward Blencathra

Blencathra swathed in cloud, viewed from the Troutbeck Hotel

Fells climbedGreat Mell Fell (1760 feet above sea level, no. 180), Little Mell Fell (1657’, no. 181), Gowbarrow Fell (1579’, no, 182).

Distance:  8 miles approximately.

Total ascent: 2700 feet approx.

Start and end points: Started at the Troutbeck Hotel: which is nowhere near the Troutbeck at which I finished the previous walk (walk 57). This one is at the junction of the A66 and A5091, to the east of Blencathra, and served by all Penrith – Keswick buses. Finished at Dockray, which has a bus service this summer for the first time in several years: the #208 Patterdale – Pooley Bridge – Keswick service. More on this below.

Looking towards Ullswater

Looking towards Ullswater, from the terrace path near Watermillock church

Pub at end:  There were two. The first was the Royal Hotel, Dockray, which was fine, though a little drab. There were a lot of middle-aged people in there taking Wimbledon terribly seriously. The bus stop was right outside.

I then had to change buses at the Troutbeck Hotel, the place where I had started the walk. This opened just as I got there (4pm, on weekdays), but it was a very odd place. Quiet as the grave, naff tartan carpets, and beer of dubious quality. Hard to recommend this one.

Route: This is not a bad walk by any means, but no one is going to drop dead of excitement on it. There is virtually no rock at all, except for a few feeble crags around the summit of Gowbarrow Fell. The best reason to do it (as is often the case) is the variety of views, particularly of Blencathra, Ullswater and the Pennines. The woods are OK too.

It’s a rather artificial walk; none of the three fells bagged are connected by ridges so you have to keep making up the height. Therefore, even though the three fells are of low altitude, there’s quite a lot of climbing on this walk.

Building on the old rifle range

Building on the old rifle range, north of Great Mell Fell

Once off the bus, head down the A5091 for a few hundred yards – be careful of traffic. At the first available opportunity, bear left off the road, heading over a stile and through the long enclosure, aiming for the taller-than-expected slope of Great Mell Fell straight ahead: the path is clear enough. This used to be a rifle range, but you wouldn’t know it now, except that it does help explain the curiously embedded building at the far end (see picture).

The subsequent haul up the slope of Great Mell Fell is the steepest climb of the day by some way. It took me 18 minutes from the aforementioned building to the small summit cairn, if you fancy trying to beat my time. It’s straight up, no messing, and very steep, but at least there are no other complications.

From the summit cairn, head down the right-hand path, which skirts and then briefly enters the attractive lower woods of Great Mell Fell before coming out onto a gravelly lane heading towards the road at grid reference NY407247. Turn right and then second left, that lane going through the gate of Brownrigg Farm and signposted ‘Greenrow’. This is marked on the map as a right of way, and there are signs and stiles, but it’s also the most irritating part of the walk and the only place where routefinding is a real problem. I ended up trudging through some pretty wet and boggy ground, and then climbing a gate to get out onto the lane at Greenrow: you may have better luck than me, but the route is not a clear one.

July field of buttercups

A July field of buttercups. Let’s at least pretend it’s summer.

From Greenrow, follow the lane round to the right, skirting the southern slopes of Little Mell Fell, until a path branches off to the left, just past the isolated B & B of Lowthwaite. This path leads up and over The Hause, a miniature pass between Little Mell Fell and Gowbarrow Fell; at the summit, look to head up at any point on the left, once past the bracken and gorse a reasonable path goes up to the top of Little Mell Fell. Coming back down, a decent path goes all the way down to the Hause: you could look for this on the way up, of course, but I don’t think I lost any time by not doing so.

There is a path marked on the map, and quite clear on the ground, which heads off towards the summit of Gowbarrow Fell direct from the Hause: but it is clearly marked as private. Therefore, there is no choice here but to take the road down to the left, which loses you about 300 feet of altitude and adds at least two miles to the journey. So be it, however. It’s not an unpleasant walk. The path to the right, off the road, is clearly signposted, and leads you unerringly through the woods.

You need to turn right just after coming out of the woods at the old shooting lodge: but don’t expect to see an intact building, it’s just piles of stones now. The path is fairly clear, however. This heads uphill, becoming muddy but remaining obvious, all the way up to the summit of Gowbarrow Fell.

Place Fell and Gowbarrow Fell

Place Fell and Gowbarrow Fell (right)

At this point, there is a choice of descents, as the option of the Dockray bus might not be open to you and/or you might want to see more of Ullswater and Aira Force. I went down the path to Dockray, which heads for the obvious wall just below the summit then bears left. and is obvious all the way down to the village and its pub. However, to see more of the aforementioned natural wonders, either return to the shooting box and keep following the path you left, or head south, across Green Hill and follow the map or Wainwright’s guide.

Wanky weather commentary: When I wrote about walk 57, I made two observations. The first was that that day, May 20th, had been the first really nice day in six weeks. The second was that I hoped to do my next walk in mid-June. The week which followed that walk was, indeed, very pleasant. Then I went off to Norway for a few days, where the weather was decent enough, before returning to the UK on June 6th.



Since then it has been awful. I mean, really, really bad, and consistently so. The culmination of this, as far as the residents of Hebden Bridge were concerned, was Friday 22nd June, on which an average month’s rain fell in 24 hours, and the Hebden Water broke its banks and flooded the town centre. The water was not there for long, just overnight, but it did enough damage while there to put about half the town’s businesses and shops out of action for days, weeks or months. Although not as bad as what hit at the end of 2009, the Lakes has suffered too, with flooding in Kendal, and damage caused to the train lines north to Scotland.

On top of this I have been away in Moscow for a while and busy with end-of-year stuff at uni. The upshot of all of this is that I have had to postpone at least three, and possibly four, pretty firm dates for walks because I would either have been walking in a monsoon or just would not have felt confident about getting to Cumbria. I have just been feeling increasingly frustrated, as I am sure you can imagine. I have a firm finishing date for this project – I go to Australia for 5 months in January, and want to get it done before then – and the more opportunities I miss, the more awkward it becomes to meet that deadline. And I just hate the weather. I want to walk, to stick two fingers up at it and go anyway, but it’s hard to get any real enthusiasm up for a big fell when you know that you are going to be climbing half of it in low cloud. What to do?

Ruined barn near Lowthwaite

Ruined barn near Lowthwaite

Today I crack, and despite a forecast that is no better than anything else seen in the last four weeks, I go anyway. The three fells I bagged today needed to be done, obviously, but I must admit I was saving them for next winter, feeling that they were a good ‘reserve’, reachable at any time of year and almost regardless of the weather. What an indictment it is that I pulled the walk out of the diminishing bag today, July 2nd, as a ‘filler’ for a day of weather that was forecast too poor to do anything rockier or higher.

These three fells sit in the far north-eastern corner of the National Park, quite attractive if considered ‘tasters’ for the rest of the district, as you come in from Penrith (especially Great Mell Fell), but easily then dismissed by those who’ve seen the true heart of the place. But they’re OK, there are some good views, and the woods are pleasant, and even though there’s no rock to handle today was a reasonable walk. But we just want some sun. Please. Is it too much to ask? I have to do a 2-day walk round Ennerdale at the end of this month, then we’re in Eskdale for three days in August, and including these I have 12 days of walking remaining. Come on. Gimme some sun. Just a little bit.

Flowers growing on the old rifle range

One for the hippies amongst us: Flowers growing on the old rifle range

One nice development, however, is the emergence this summer of a Keswick – Ullswater bus service, the #208. How this has come about, when last we heard, services were being cut, I do not know, but I like it. Without it I could not have done this walk. The thing is, I was the only person on it for the 10 minutes it took to get me from Dockray to the Troutbeck Hotel.  I wish it could be different. If it’d get its timetable printed in Monopolycoach’s nice free booklet timetable, it’d be a start. In the absence of that, follow this link for the schedule.

I might do a walk this Saturday (7th), but it depends on the weather – at least now, after today, I feel like I’ve got going again rather than being stalled irrevocably. We’ll see.

One Response to “Walk 58: The Minor North-Eastern Fells”

  1. […] Man did I have to get out on a walk at some point or I was going to go mad. I made it, it wasn’t totally dry, but it will do. More details are on my other blog. […]

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