Wall heading up to Little Yalrside

The wall heading up from Wasdale Mouth to Little Yarlside.

Date completed: 11th March 2014.

Weather conditions: Utterly perfect, as good as I’ve had on any walk. Ranks up there with the all-time greats, like walk 11 and walk 71.  Clear blue skies and a perfect temperature for walking.


Crookdale, with High House Bank behind, from Little Yarlside

Summits bagged: The four summits in the Wasdale Horseshoe chapter: Wasdale Pike (1852’), Great Yarlside (1986’), Little Yarlside (1691’) and Whatshaw Common (1593’). These become numbers 242-245 of the 330.

Start and end points: The walk as described in Wainwright cannot be done by public transport. So I started where the lane from Wet Sleddale meets the A6, at NY567128 (what’s this?), the same starting point as walk 65, and ended where the lane from the back of the Shap Wells hotel meets the B6261, NY586103. Remote as these are, both are currently served by the #106 Kendal – Shap – Penrith bus, which runs every couple of hours, and daily. However, this service is currently under serious threat of termination. See below.

The walk fitted comfortably in the gap between about 9.35am, when the 8.45 departure from Kendal dropped me off at Wet Sleddale road end, and 2.45pm, when I was picked up (arriving back in Kendal about 3.25pm).

Distance walked: 10 miles approx.

Shap Wells Hotel

The hefty Shap Wells Hotel — with the west coast main train line behind.

Total ascent: 1,600 feet approx.

Pub at end: The Shap Wells Hotel (pictured) is not only the only place to drink, but is the only serious building for some distance around. I knew this walk would have to end there (or being more precise, at the road that is about 10 minutes’ walk up its back drive), and as it was another Best Western hotel, I was hoping that it would be rather more welcoming than its BW stablemate, the Castle Inn — terminus of the previous walk, walk 79.

So I’m glad to report that the Shap Wells had: helpful staff (and again, see below); good beer; a comfortable space to sit in the sun; and a very pleasant and quiet setting. And in the end — what more can one ask. So come on Best Western, if you can do it there, why not in Bassenthwaite?

I also had an hour to kill in Kendal before my train so drank in the Duke of Cumberland pub just up the road from the station, under the bridge. Also decent beer but you have to put up with very loud horse racing.

Wet Sleddale dam

The Wet Sleddale dam, near the start of the walk.

Route card: Can’t do one for this walk, sorry. (If a walk goes outside the National Park boundary, right now I can’t do a card.)

Route:  It needs pointing out straight away that this is not in any way an exciting walk and there are many better things to do within a few miles of here. The only real reasons to do it are to get decent exercise — time to oneself — and to bag 4 of the Outlying Fells. It definitely has to be saved for a clear, sunny day, as I cannot believe that it is a remotely amenable experience in rain or mist.  I had a good day out walking, this has to be said, but bear in mind I did it on a day of spectacularly good weather, and a real ‘first day of spring’ moment. It may not stand up to harsher conditions, that’s all I’m saying.

View north from Wasdale Pike.

View north from Wasdale Pike.

Although you attain a respectable altitude (at 1986 feet above sea level, Great Yarlside is the second highest of all the OFs), there is no strenuous climbing. The worst thing about this walk is its bogginess, particularly in the mile or more between the Lunch House and Wasdale Pike summit, which is really unpleasant and tedious. There are a couple of other swampy bits, but that is the worst. The only positive to take from the experience is that it will not last through the whole walk. There are some decent views, but not of the Lake District, rather of the Howgills and, behind them, the Pennines. But you will also encounter dual carriageways, quarries and pylons. This is the semi-industrial periphery of Lakeland, and (on a sunny day) it is not necessarily worse for it, but just don’t expect The Lion and the Lamb or anything.

If none of that has put you off…. Once the bus has dropped you off (the lane end is just after the turn onto the A6), start by walking down the lane towards Wet Sleddale, but instead of bearing to the right-hand side of the reservoir as I did on walk 65, stay on the same road and end up in the car park beside the dam about 25 minutes after disembarking the bus. Here, start to head up the slope immediately, don’t get tempted into staying by the reservoir shore. There is a decent track there, ascending to the Lunch House, but you do need to hunt for it a bit.

Gray Bull from Wasdale Pike

The stone cube of Gray Bull, looking north from Wasdale Pike

The Lunch House’s function and name are obvious once you see all the grouse-shooting butts (shelters) up on the heathery slopes above Wet Sleddale. The OS map is insistent that the decent track which leads to the Lunch House continues beyond it, but this is not matched by my experience on the ground.  What can I say. It’s poor. My only advice is remember the golden — or rather pale — rule for navigating marshes; the whiter the grass, the drier the ground. Anything lush green or red is to be avoided for the certainty that it will drown your boot in mush.

Distract yourself from the slime by spotting the rock cube of Gray Bull on the horizon, and also use this for a landmark because once you get near it, Wasdale Pike is the summit straight ahead. It is not so well-defined once up there, though there is a cairn, of sorts. After this, at least, the ground is much drier.

The fence straight ahead must have been erected since my OS map was produced. It confused me by being nearer Wasdale Pike’s summit than depicted on the map. It does look very new. I followed it to the right but had to cross another fence (the one that I think is on the map) to get to Great Yarlside’s summit, which is by the substantial wall ahead. The ‘ring’ OS triangulation station depicted by AW on page 250 of volume 8 is still there, over the wall — but note that for the purposes of the walk, there is actually no need to clamber over. The best route to take is on the side of the wall that you’re already on.

New fence on Wasdale Pike

The new fence that heads across the top of Wasdale Pike. You’ll become familiar with this structure.

Follow the wall down to the left, over the summits of Little Yarlside (which I barely noticed) and then Whatshaw Common. You have to negotiate the relatively substantial depression of Wasdale Mouth, which is the head of Wasdale but reaches right down to the altitude of Crookdale’s valley floor, but generally this is a good section, and faster progress can be made. There are also good views of Crookdale (see the second picture from the top, above).

Off Whatshaw Common — which is the easternmost of all the 330 Wainwrights — you catch sight both of the A6, your next objective, and, further, the M6, your final one. Bear left to head towards the A6 road summit and its old TV station, and you will then see the remains of the original A6, which becomes your path for some time. At first it is muddy, but once over the present A6 (take care crossing, though no need to be paranoid, as visibility is good enough), it becomes an excellent surface for walking, a total contrast to the sludge above the Lunch House earlier.

Shap summit

Shap summit, on the A6, and the first pylons to grace this project.

Follow this down until it crosses Wasdale Beck, then a little further, turn right, down a lane that has been built up for building operations on the pylon down there. This continues, a bit muddy at times but remaining clear, above the beck until reaching a felled plantation, at which point you can bear down onto the forest road. You can’t then miss the Shap Wells hotel ahead.

The final act is to take the access road that sneaks round the back of the hotel and follow this under the railway to the road junction, where the bus will pick you up.

Nearly the joys of spring commentary:  The first thing to say about today was, my God, what a stunning day of weather.  This is the thing about the British climate, it is quite capable of throwing almost anything at any time, and the dice have all landed six at the moment.  Yesterday and today have both had flawless blue skies, still air and a beautiful spring warmth about them. And I was not staying at home today.

M6 and moon

The M6 (and the moon), from the point where I caught the bus home

The last few chapters in the Outlying Fells, from page 220 on, are devoted to the fells in the far east of the Lake District, the Shap Fells. Wainwright gave us a little taster of them in the Grey Crag chapter of volume 2, saying something like (I’m paraphrasing, but not by much), “if an accident befalls you here while walking alone, bear in mind your bones will grace the scene undiscovered, until they rot and disintegrate”.

This pessimistic assessment of their popularity did not prevent AW returning to this area in his fieldwork for volume 8, and expanding those two pages in The Far Eastern Fells to twenty-two, distributed among three chapters — namely the Wasdale, Crookdale and Bannisdale Horseshoes (a horseshoe being a walk that goes up one ridge at the side of a valley, round the head of the valley, and down the other side to return to one’s starting point). The three named valleys are the ones which fan out from the central summit of Grey Crag.

Wet Sleddale

Wet Sleddale

The one I did today was the Wasdale Horseshoe. It’s as far from the ‘Other’ Wasdale — the one you’ve heard of — as can be imagined. I bet not one in a thousand, even ten thousand, Lakeland walkers know that there’s this namesake Wasdale out on the far east of the District. And if there’s one thing you take from a reading of these pages, it’s that these are remote, lonely regions. Wainwright, and in the revised editions, Chris Jesty, are almost apologetic about presenting these outposts of Lakeland in such detail. Don’t go alone, they say. Save it for a fine, clear day, they say.

Well I ignored the first piece of advice. It was just me. But I took the second, and lucky me that I had such a glorious day to exploit. Though it was frosty in the morning, by the time I was making my way down Wet Sleddale at 9.40am it was becoming warm, and my fleece was discarded by 10, the rest of the walk done just in day clothes. The only clouds all day were contrails (aircraft exhausts — they may yet change the climate) and all in all I doubt the Lakes has had many more pleasant March 11ths in living memory.

Head of Crookdale

Head of Crookdale. Great Yarlside on the right, Grey Crag to the left.

All the same it was a hard walk to like, geographically. I remember another glorious early March day, four years ago now, March 2nd 2010 when I did walk 11 over the swampy ridge between Watendlath and Thirlmere, and there I said that the Lakes tossed the potential worst it had at me and still came up smiling. I guess the same was true today, perhaps even more so, because that trudge through the swamp up to the summit of Wasdale Pike was definitely not an experience I wish to repeat in a hurry (but unfortunately have to, because the same path is needed to complete the Wet Sleddale summits). The whole region is just so completely different from the heart of the District, the places where the crowds go, and where another version of me would probably have liked to have been, on such a spectacular day.

But you know, in the end I was satisfied where I was. I’ve committed to the project in the form it’s taking, and so be it. I might have had to put up with some bogs, not to mention electricity pylons, quarries and motorways today, but when the sun shines down so brilliantly, how can we really complain.

Shap quarries and Pennines

Looking towards the Shap Granite quarries, and beyond them, the Pennines, from Wasdale Mouth

POSTSCRIPT: There is one thing I am going to complain about however, and as it is nothing to do directly with the walk, I will present it in this PS. And I know what you’re thinking — but it’s not, at least directly, about today’s public transport providers, either. Actually they were all great, despite the engineering works which still interpose between Hebden Bridge and Burnley, getting me all the way to a fairly remote spot, Wet Sleddale, by 9.40 this morning with a run of generally punctual connections. (Yes, even Virgin.) Nor was the journey home any worse, though the connections were, let us say, a bit more leisurely.

What really pisses me off is that thanks to the ConDem’s policy, which has now lasted nearly 4 years, of deliberately and cynically starving local government of funding, the bus I depended on today is under serious threat of deletion. Without it, the walk I did today would be inaccessible. Not just inaccessible without a car, I mean inaccessible, because I did not start and finish at the same point, which is a requirement when you walk with a car.

Grouse moor

Grouse moor, near the Lunch House (note the shooting butt)

Yeah yeah, I guess it wouldn’t take much (in this case) to alter the walk but that’s not the point. The point is that the #106 bus is a vital lifeline for this side of the Lake District — but unfortunately not for enough people to really matter, politically. Although there were some different perspectives among the people that I talked to today, at the Shap Wells Hotel and on the bus itself, the basic consensus is that the #106 is not only living on borrowed time, it is just a matter of when the executioner pulls the rope.

And though this will make my project a damn sight harder to complete, I am not interested here in talking about me. Let me instead quote Paddy, who works the bar at the Shap Wells, and was not only good enough today to warn me (when I asked him about access to the stop) that the bus route was under threat of closure, but then spoke to me afterwards about how much he needed it to get to work.

Public transport used to mean, the profitable routes would subsidise the loss-making ones. That way the municipality can afford to provide a good service to all, and everyone is happy.

Wet Sleddale and Great Ladstones

Wet Sleddale again, with the summit of Great Ladstones behind

Nowadays it means, the profitable routes subsidise Brian Souter’s political campaigning, and the loss-making ones can go hang. And, well, around Shap Fells, not many people seem to be happy with this.

I lay the blame for this squarely at the doors of numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street, David Cameron and George Osborne. If you support what I am trying to do with this project, please write to them. Protest the starvation of local government services for ideological ends. Or, just tell the bastards you’re not going to vote for them again.

5 Responses to “Walk 80: The Wasdale Horseshoe”

  1. […] about it on the walk 80 and Wasdale Horseshoe pages, and enjoy the sunshine. If things go well and the weather pattern […]

  2. Steve Simpson said

    About bus service 106, our local concilor and Cumbria County Council’s Integrated Transport Team are currently working on ways to save some of the journies on service 106

  3. […] — I still say this is the best single set of weather conditions I’ve had (though walk 80 came close) — the mountains looked perfect, topped in snow; and the lakes were the most […]

  4. Steve Simpson said

    As of 4 November 2014 the only buses which serve this walk are the Penrith to Kendal and vv, Stagecoach service 506, which only runs on Kendal College days; outward from Penrith at 07.30, (07.55 at Shap) and from Kendal 17.14, (18.04 at Shap)

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