View on High Seat summit

Looking east from High Seat summit, to the tor called ‘Man’ (with a man on it) – Clough Head is the cloud-shrouded summit in background left.

Date completed: 24th November 2012.

Weather conditions:  A bit grey and dull but otherwise rather good for the time of year: still, mild and – most welcome of all – DRY. Certainly no complaints.

Ashness Gate landing stage

Ashness Gate landing stage – the end of the walk

Fells climbedHigh Rigg (1171’, no. 210), Raven Crag (1512’, no. 211), High Seat (1995’, no. 212).

Distance:  8.47 miles.

Total ascent:  2745 feet

Start and end points: Started at Causeway Foot on the A591, NY294218 (what’s this?) where there is a bus stop for the #555 service. Finished at Ashness Gate landing stage on Derwentwater, NY269204, (and pictured) where, rather unexpectedly, I caught a boat back to Keswick.

Pub at end: Had about an hour in Keswick so decided to try out a couple of new places, and ended up in the Lake Road Inn – cosy enough but the beer was a bit mediocre – and then the Oddfellows Arms, which was OK I suppose. Neither would tempt me away from the Bank Tavern or the George on another visit, however.

View south from High Rigg

View south from High Rigg, about halfway along the ridge. Helvellyn to top left, the small hill of Great How in the centre.

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 69: Above the Thirlmere Dam

Route:  As I say in the commentary below, I had some advance negative feelings about this walk but it turned out pretty well. There are no particularly difficult bits to it beyond some steep sections on the climb of Raven Crag, and that’s not as steep as it looks as if it could be. Nor is it as boggy a walk as I feared; Wainwright castigates High Seat for its ‘universal swampiness’ but – at least today – it could have been worse. Indeed, I’ve had considerably worse over the last two walks. There are excellent views in all directions and a good variety of terrain and scenery.

Dale Bottom

View from Dale Bottom, this morning. Great How (again) in the background.

The bus will drop you at Causeway Foot but frankly I would resist the temptation to head straight off down the path – it’s very muddy. Instead, stick on the tarmac round past Dale Bottom farm (a camping & caravan site) and follow the signs for St Johns in the Vale church.

You don’t actually need to go as far as the church (unless you want to); you can bear up to the right just before reaching its enclosure and ascend High Rigg on a clear path through the bracken. As Wainwright says on page High Rigg 3, anyone ‘full of the joys of spring’ should be able to do this climb in 15 minutes – I took 11 from road to summit cairn.

The best route off High Rigg is then to follow its ridge all the way south to its tip, where the A591 crosses St John’s Beck (the outlet for Thirlmere). This is a clear path all the way, though there are points when you may be tempted to try to bear right earlier on, to get back down to the road. Resist these; though the ridge takes its time to descend, and may breed a sense of impatience, I doubt  you’ll save any time by leaving the path and you will also miss the impressive and quite intimate view of the Castle Rock of Triermain towards the end.

Blencathra from High Rigg

Blencathra from High Rigg

Take care crossing the A591 – this is a busy road and cars will come along it quickly. Then take the road that leads over the Thirlmere Dam, turn right at the junction (your instinct will be to go left – resist it!) and then the path up to Raven Crag is on the left – though note that the signpost reads ‘Castle Crag’.

This path climbs steeply, but not awkwardly, through the woods, and then just before it reaches the forest road at the top, look left for the path up to Raven Crag summit. At the moment this is prefigured by a sign announcing its closure due to ‘fallen trees’ – see here.

No footpath!

Sign currently located at the entrance to Raven Crag.

Wrestle with your conscience if you want, but personally I think it should be up to us to decide what we consider safe and what not – and although it is a bit awkward climbing over some of the trees it is not difficult or dangerous. Do be careful on the summit of Raven Crag however – head too far in the direction of Thirlmere and you will be going straight over a vertical rockface. I would stick close to the cairn.

Return the way you came, back to the forest road, and turn left. A few hundred yards further on, as soon as the road meets the fence, use the stile to cross the fence then do your best to get across Shoulthwaite Gill – both crossings are a bit awkward but are manageable with care.

Pike o'Stickle and Sergeant's Crag

Pike o’Stickle (left), Sergeant’s Crag, and a bunch of clouds that never reached me

Then just head straight up the slope. The summit of High Seat rises fairly prominently above the moor and suffices to give direction to the walk (in poor visibility this might be a disorienting place, however). As I said above, it’s not as boggy as I feared, paling into insignificance compared to recent experiences in Mosedale and Far Easedale.

There are three tors on High Seat’s summit which all look more or less the same height but the one with the trig column on is the highest. The view from here is excellent; it is the first time on the whole walk you can see to the west and south.

Horse above Ashness Gill

Horse above Ashness Gill, on the way down from High Seat. Great Gable (I think) in the background.

The path down to Ashness Bridge can be clearly seen from the summit and gives direction to the descent. It starts off as an excellent, engineered way and if it was all like that you could be down again in 20 minutes, but it turns into a real curate’s egg of a path; still, despite the occasional slippy section it’s not a difficult descent.  The view of Derwent Water ahead is spectacular. Causey Pike also looks very striking from this angle.

Once on the road, turn right, over Ashness Bridge (used in the movie Brief Encounter, by the way), and follow the tarmac down to the junction at the lake shore, where the landing stage awaits.

Helvellyn from High Seat

Helvellyn, seen from High Seat

If you time it right – see here for the timetable – you can catch a boat back to Keswick. Or, head up the road a short way to a bus stop (#78 services will pass this way). Or, just walk all the way back along the lake shore – it’s about 2.5 more miles from the landing stage to Keswick town centre.

Defying authority commentary: This is the penultimate walk. Once it’s done I just have two fells and one walk to go. The end is clearly in sight.

I said a while back that ticking each walk off was not making me relax any more about the ones to come – and this one was no exception. Beyond just the usual worries – will I find a good day on which I’m not working, will the trains and buses deliver me on time (they did) – something else has been bugging me about this one and this has meant I have not at all taken its completion for granted.

Sheep near Thirlmere Dam

Sheep in an alternate reality, near the Thirlmere Dam. (Look closely.)

The fact is I’m not 100% sure I can actually get from Raven Crag to High Seat. It looks logical enough on the map but I know that between the two is going to be some kind of forest fence, and however closely I look at the paths or other tracks marked on one side or the other, they never seem to quite match up.  Even in the revised edition of Wainwright, page Raven Crag 3 sounds pessimistic about one’s chances of descending to Shoulthwaite Gill. Well, what the hell. I’m sure I can somehow bust my way through if need be. I’ve done 209 fells and about 700 miles to get this far, right?

Little did I know that wasn’t going to be the moment at which the whole Project flashed before my eyes. No, that came about an hour earlier and 900 feet lower down. Having spent about 90 minutes going up and long High Rigg, which was an enjoyable climb with some really good views, I crossed the Thirlmere Dam and then read on the gate into the woods a sign, which informed me that the top of Raven Crag was ‘closed due to fallen trees’.

High Tove and Ullscarf

High Tove and Ullscarf, from High Seat

Now, let’s put this in perspective. I’ve done the aforementioned 200+ fells and 700+ miles. I’m so late in the day, Project-wise, that there is no possibility of putting it off, say, six months and coming back next summer when they’ve repaired the damage. What would you do? Suddenly decide that there are only 213 Wainwrights after all? Shrug your shoulders and just resolve to come and do it some time in the future, months away?

No chance. In this case authority can go take a flying leap. I resolve to check it out at least. Wouldn’t you? Anyway, it turns out to be fine, a bit awkward in places but no worse than that. My feeling is they were just covering their backs; but it should be up to us to decide whether a path is safe or not. This one is. The fell gets bagged.

Bleaberry Fell and Skiddaw

Bleaberry Fell and Skiddaw, from High Seat

And once that’s done, I’ve had my scare, and the rest is easy, including the crossing of Shoulthwaite Gill that has been bugging me so. There’s a stile, the ensuing climb is fine, The Central Fells is done and I reach 212 out of 214. As if to show me that someone is looking out for me, a boat chugs into view almost the minute I reach the Ashness Gate landing stage (which I was just photographing, having no awareness that I could end the walk here), and I’m back in Keswick for 2.30, having started walking at 10am.

In fact I enjoyed the whole walk more than I expected to; perhaps it was the worries, and also this lingering sense of obligation, that recently I have not really been master of my own walks but am having to visit areas that I might otherwise not have. But actually there are some fine views to be had from this part of the world, the climbing is never that difficult, even up Raven Crag, and it’s nowhere near as boggy as it could have been.

Another view of High Rigg

Another view of High Rigg’s ridge

Most of all though I’m happy because it’s DRY. Excuse me getting obsessive just for a moment but the following is worth mentioning. Since the beginning of March – walk 52 – here’s how life has gone:
Walk 52 and walk 53: Hill fog
Walk 54: yes, that was OK
Walk 55 and walk 56: tolerable weather but still pretty chilly and cloudy, no sign of spring
Walk 57: OK
Walk 58: Rain, cloud
Walk 59: Adequate
Walk 60: Awful, for two days
Walk 61: OK in the end but it still rained at the beginning
Walk 62 and walk 63: Hill fog, cold
Walk 64: Awful
Walk 65: Rain in the second half
Walk 66: OK – that was good!
Walk 67: Crap
Walk 68: Crap

High Seat summit

High Seat summit. Helvellyn behind.

So there you go. That’s been 2012 for you. To get today’s done with dry feet and clothes was a bonus.

And so here we are. The Central Fells are completed – as is obvious from the Wainwright book, this area varies greatly in quality, but even where the fells were dull (and some of them were, particularly High Raise and Ullscarf), the views were excellent, as you’d expect from them being in the middle of it all. Six of the seven volumes are done. One walk left, two fells – Lonscale Fell and Latrigg. The plan is to do it on January 5th 2013. I can stop worrying about anything through December, and just focus on planning a single walk. You’ll hear more about it on the blog as preparations come together.

One Response to “Walk 69: Above the Thirlmere Dam”

  1. […] have only one walk remaining. This will happen in early January 2013. Read about the walk on the walk 69 page – which was, at least, blessed by decent weather, at least for the time of […]

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