Eagle Crag, from Stonethwaite

Eagle Crag, from Stonethwaite. The route up the face will be easy enough to trace on this photo to anyone who owns Wainwright’s volume 3.

Date completed: 10th November 2012.

Weather conditions:  *sigh*. Gorgeous morning, coming up on the bus by Grasmere and Thirlmere, but once up on the tops, more rain, falling as hail on Sergeant’s Crag. At least it wasn’t particularly cold. Terribly wet underfoot, particularly in Far Easdale – a condition I now suspect affects the whole District, and will for some months.

View up the Greenup valley

A view up the Greenup valley, as the sun gives the day a final burst before giving up altogether.

Fells climbedEagle Crag (1650’, no. 208), Sergeant’s Crag (1873’, no. 209). Note that higher ground is reached on the walk, above Long Crag on High Raise, at approx. 2065’. Also, if I were repeating this walk for the enjoyment, I would add three more fells to it on the way down: see the ‘Route’ notes below.

Distance:  8.1 miles.

Total ascent:  2249 feet

Start and end points: Started at the Stonethwaite road end, NY257142 (what’s this?) where the #78 (and, in summer, the #77) bus will drop you. Finished in Grasmere village, which has hourly  buses to Keswick one way and Ambleside/Windermere the other (in summer, the A/W buses are much more frequent).

Pub at end: No time to drink in Grasmere. Had a couple at the Elleray, a reasonable pub down the hill from Windermere station.

Herdwick sheep

Herdwick sheep in Stonethwaite, near the start of the walk

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 68: Stonethwaite to Grasmere

Route: A couple of important points first. I highly recommend this route as far as the summit of Sergeant’s Crag. After that it deteriorates rather. Simply returning to Stonethwaite after Sergeant’s Crag has been bagged is definitely an option, and would be a shorter walk (three hours would be ample for it).

I extended the walk to Grasmere largely because of public transportation schedules (see the commentary), but the descent of Far Easdale felt like a trudge and the path is currently in an awful state. A better way to finish would have been to turn left at the head of that valley and come down over Calf Crag, Gibson Knott and Helm Crag.  I think this would make it all a great walk. A trip that began with Eagle Crag and ended with Helm Crag would be a real fellwalking experience at any time of year: though you’ll still have some boggy sections to deal with.

Far Easdale

Far Easdale: in the rain, and with a steamed-up camera

The second important point is that this walk should not be done in mist, which would make the two fells dangerous, and then lead to the likelihood of getting lost round Long Crag and Greenup.

From the bus stop take the lane to Stonethwaite but don’t go through the whole village: instead, turn left at the old red telephone box, go over the bridge, and then turn right.

Eagle Crag rockface

Eagle Crag’s vertical drop

Follow the path until the watersmeet below Eagle Crag, cross the footbridge over Greenup Gill, and then almost immediately turn left. Stick close to the beck for a while, which avoids the worst of the bracken, and gets you over the first wall with the help of a stile. The path then continues through the second enclosure before slanting up to take you through a rocky break in the next wall.  From there it’s all steeply uphill for a while as you begin the ascent of Eagle Crag proper.

It is worth looking at the advice on Wainwright’s pages Eagle Crag 3 and 4, but I think the ascent is probably safe without having done so, because the path is pretty clear throughout: I am surprised, in fact, that certain stretches of it are still marked with ‘no path’ route symbols in the revised edition. Despite appearances, this route is perfectly safe if the path is followed throughout – don’t be tempted to improvise diversions.

The path begins with a pretty steep haul up by the wall you’ve just come through, but interest quickens as it reaches then crosses a fence with an (awkward) stile, then leads you up through the ‘short gully’ mentioned by AW – this is the first of only two sections where you need to scramble.

At the top of this gully it’s worth taking the short detour to the left, which ends at a platform, from where there is a dramatic view of the vertical crag after which the fell is named (see picture above). You can have a rest here, though you might be pleased to know most of the hard work is done. You need to retrace your steps afterwards, remember.

Sergeant's Crag and Langstrath

Sergeant’s Crag and Langstrath, from Eagle Crag

Returning to the head of the short gully, continue up the obvious path ahead, which sharply zig-zags up a series of delightful terraces. There are more of these than it looks from the Wainwright diagram of ascent, and each ends with a spectacular view of Sergeant’s Crag plummeting into Langstrath below, backed by the Bowfell/Scafell group (see picture, though the high mountains were in the clouds on the day I ascended). This will all be perfectly safe if you stick to the path, but there is one point where the hop up to the next terrace is not obvious – a bit more scrambling is required there. Just remember that you never need to put yourself in a dangerous situation. If the route is not obvious, retrace your steps and look around again.

Once at the top of the terraces the summit of Eagle Crag is there in front of you, and the route to Sergeant’s Crag also obvious. The step down by the wall needs care, but the walk between the two is otherwise without difficulty – again, just follow the path.

View from the bus at Grasmere

View from the bus at the Swan Hotel, near Grasmere

At the top of Sergeant’s Crag, as I said above, you might consider returning to Stonethwaite, and if you wish to, just slant down the easy slopes to Greenup Gill and return that way (don’t try going back down the way you came). If you want to head for Grasmere, the landmark to look for is Long Crag, which is on the slopes of High Raise ahead, looking rather like the teeth of a comb poking out of the grassy fellside. The route you want lies along the rim of the top of those crags. Either way, you need to get over the stile in the wall below, and then paths will disappear for a while – another reason you don’t want to do this walk in mist.

The ground between Sergeant’s Crag and Long Crag is boggy and there’s no getting away from it, but it doesn’t last long. Head for the top of the crag – the highest point on the walk, by the way – and then go along it until you see Greenup ahead, this being the shallow pass between High Raise on your right and Ullscarf on your left. Go straight over it, at the cairn, and then head down the path ahead.

This is a confusing area – I’ve been here three times now and never found it easy to negotiate. The assurance of the Ordnance Survey that a continuous path exists through this boggy region should be taken with a pinch of salt. Don’t be tempted down the valley below – this is Wythburn, not Far Easdale – but skirt its rim as best you can, heading for an old fence post (still with attachments for a long-vanished gate) that is visible on the lip of the land ahead. This is the head of Far Easdale, at point NY296102.

Great Crag

Great Crag, from Eagle Crag – Skiddaw Little Man is the sunlit peak in the distance. Somewhere on this photo will be the spot from where I took the picture of Sergeant’s Crag that is the banner image of every page on this site.

Here is where, with hindsight, I should have ditched my purism and gone up Calf Crag, descending to Grasmere via the ridge connecting that fell with Gibson Knott and Helm Crag. This would have made a far more satisfying end to the walk.  Far Easdale is quite an attractive valley, but right now the path is terribly wet – almost flooded in places – and it’s also quite stony.

Either way you will struggle to get lost from this point: the path should lead you all the way down to the hotel/restaurant of Lancrigg and from there just follow the tarmac back into Grasmere, arriving at the end of Easdale Road, where you will find the bus stops (that side for Keswick, other side of the road for Ambleside).

Morning mist and Silver How

Morning mist and Silver How: another indication of how beautiful things were on the bus this morning, and a shame it didn’t extend into the walking hours

‘No Connection Home’ Commentary: Having been in Norway for work this week and sat through nine hours in Bergen airport yesterday, as my original flight home was cancelled, any public transport problems today would have just flowed over me – and in the end there were none. In fact, this whole autumn season has passed without any significant problems, including on my work commute – are they the ‘right kind of leaves’ falling this year or something? Well, whatever – credit where credit’s due, at least for that.

But what continues to annoy are the schedules, particularly now we are back in the winter season. I said a while back that I thought connections in Keswick bus station have improved. This is true, as long as you are coming into Keswick. A perusal of the winter timetable prior to commencing this walk showed, however, that nothing has been done to sort them out for those of us who want to head back home.

The Borrowdale bus, the #78, runs hourly (although see the note to come); arriving back in Keswick bus station at 23 minutes past each hour. This is three minutes after each hourly #X50 bus leaves to Penrith; and though it comes in two minutes before the departure of each #555 bus down to Grasmere and Windermere, this is not a guaranteed connection, and on several occasions I have witnessed this bus literally pulling out as the Borrowdale bus comes in.

Canoeist

A canoeist, near the confluence of Greenup Gill and Langstrath Beck, below Eagle Crag

Therefore, if one wants to finish a walk in Borrowdale, for the sake of a simple timetable adjustment (run them all 15 minutes earlier – not hard, surely), everyone is likely to have to hang around for an extra hour in Keswick. What is the point of this? Really, can someone tell me? I therefore decide that a better plan is to extend this walk over to Grasmere rather than return to Borrowdale. A longer walk, but a shorter day: with a quick run in Preston station to make a very tight connection I’m home by 6pm, in fact.

It shouldn’t have to be that way however. This was a great walk as far as the top of Sergeant’s Crag – I’d go so far to say, potentially one of the best. The ascent of Eagle Crag was excellent; a really enjoyable climb, looking tough from below,. and even more so when looking back at it from Sergeant’s Crag, but when there one can trust to the path and the route is fairly simple with only a couple of bits of scrambling. There is a real sense of drama to it and it’s a lot of fun, and I definitely want to bring Clare and Joe here so they can experience it. Sergeant’s Crag can’t quite measure up after this but it’s still a dramatic fell and worth the small extra effort.

Sergeant's Crag and High Raise

Another view of Sergeant’s Crag from Eagle Crag, with the weather coming in. High Raise is the fell in the background.

But the public transport thing gets in the way today. I left Stonethwaite road end at 10.50 and was on the top of Sergeant’s Crag at 12.30pm: had I just returned straight down to valley level I probably could have got the 2pm bus (from Rosthwaite) and though, because of the crap connections mentioned above, I would then have likely had to wait an hour in Keswick I’d have lived with that. The extra wrinkle I haven’t mentioned yet is that there isn’t actually a 2pm #78 bus, but an hour’s gap in the schedule. Almost certainly this is because Scrimpagecoach bother to pay only one driver to run the service in the winter so s/he needs a lunch break.

It’s not an option, anyway, so over to Grasmere I go. But I regret being so purist about filling in these last gaps that I don’t think about the ‘high-level’ option, of going back to Grasmere over the Helm Crag ridge, until it’s too late. That would have been a far better walk than the soaking trudge down Far Easdale with which I do end. Jesus, that was wet, near-flooded in places, and I return to Grasmere with soaking feet (and I have good boots, or did have, anyway).

Ullscarf, from Greenup

Ullscarf, from Greenup – with added moisture

And let’s not even mention the weather itself, which did not at all live up to the promise of some glorious conditions witnessed, through glass – it’s telling that several of the day’s best photographs were taken from the bus (see the examples above). This was also explained by the camera getting very moisture-laden after about Eagle Crag (which is where today’s precipitation really kicked in); most photos in the middle portion of the walk were unusable as a result, and even where I got away with it (like this picture of Ullscarf), you can still see the blurring. It’s OK now, but it annoyed me at the time.

Great Crag again

Another good view of Great Crag, from the ascent of Eagle Crag

However, I am not complaining in general. I conquered both the transport and the weather and came through with another walk done and now, only two to go, with five fells between them. The penultimate walk (three fells round the Thirlmere dam) will be done at some point between now and Christmas, and I’m scheduling the final one – Lonscale Fell and Latrigg – for the weekend of the 5th Jan 2013, with some leeway to each side if conditions demand it.

The end of the project is therefore in sight and at the same time I still feel as if I am discovering new things: despite the drudgeries of the day’s second half, the two fells bagged today were great, and fully recommended. It’s a stunning part of the world and though I’ve started to feel like it was time I explored other places too, I will keep coming back even after these last five fells are done. Eagle Crag and Sergeant’s Crag epitomise the beauty of the place.

One Response to “Walk 68: Stonethwaite to Grasmere”

  1. […] there a name for the one before the one before the last one? Pen-penultimate is it? Anyway, I did walk 68 yesterday (10/11/12) which I will call the pen-penultimate walk – there are now two more […]

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