Top of Knipe Scar

Limestone pavement on top of Knipe Scar, looking south to the Howgills

Date completed: 15th October 2014.

Weather conditions: The first properly autumnal walk of the year.  Cloudy, rather breezy and chilly, although dry..

Summits bagged: Just one — Knipescar Common (1118’), which becomes 273 of the 330. This is the longest walk I have done so far on which just one summit was bagged.

Tree in Lowther Park

Tree in Lowther Park

Start and end points: Started at Penrith railway station. Finished in Shap, from where I caught a bus back to Kendal railway station, and so home.

I left Penrith station at just before 9am and was in Shap for about 2.15pm, thus completing the walk in about 5:15.  This allowed me to catch the 2.36 bus from Shap to Kendal. However, this was a reasonably long hike and I had few rests. Others may take longer.

All the same, this exact timing is irrelevant at the moment anyway, because the Shap buses are about to be severely cut back. See ‘commentary’ below.

Distance walked: I admit I’m taking a best guess here but I reckon this was around the 14-mile mark.

Total ascent: Cannot measure precisely but I doubt it was much more than 1000 feet. This was a very flat walk, basically.

Cows lined up

I’ve clearly done something to offend the bovine community, or at least make them take note when I pass….

Pub at end:  My second visit to the Crown Inn in Shap, after walk 65. It’s welcoming enough, but it only has one real ale, and it’s a bit Royston Vasey, albeit in an inoffensive way.

Route: A few things to say about this first. There is only one aspect of this walk which prevents it being one for the whole family, and that’s its length.  Since I started on the Outlying Fells and was thus obliged to reclassify walk 40 as a two-summit bag (seeing as it got me Great Worm Crag as well as Green Crag), this is easily the longest walk on which I’ve only bagged one fell.

However, it’s also an extremely easy walk, definitely the flattest so far, beating even walk 72 in that respect. This is not a ‘fellwalk’, but a ramble up a valley: you follow around 80% of the Lowther’s course (the whole course being from the Wet Sleddale reservoir until it debouches into the Eden just downstream from Eamont Bridge). There’s not a gradient in it steeper than 1:6. Also, every path is clear and easy to follow, with most signposted too (hurrah!), there are no muddy bits (hallelujah!), and the only hazards whatsoever came at a couple of points when I had to inconspicuously cross fields occupied by considerable numbers of bovines, some of whom looked as if they might be of the bullish persuasion. (See picture.)

Autumn colours

Autumn colours on ‘Earl Harry’s Drive’.

For reasons which, from the photos, should be very obvious, the walk should be saved for late October or early November. There are some decent views, particularly of the Mardale district and also Loadpot Hill, which is in view for most of the second two-thirds of the walk and though a big grassy mound, impresses because of its sheer bulk if nothing else. But those who are purist about their rural tranquility need to know that one can hear the M6 pretty much all the way round, and on Knipe Scar the quarrying operations at Shapbeck Quarries are also very audible.

The first task is to get to Eamont Bridge from Penrith. You need to turn left out of the station, then right at the roundabout. Once down in the town centre you can stick on the main A6 road, though Castle Hill Road offers a quieter route — see the map on the board at the Cornmarket. If you take this road you need to turn left down the lane once you get past the sports fields. This brings you out onto the A6.

Under the viaduct

Under the viaduct that takes the railway line over the Lowther.

The Lowther is a tributary of the Eamont, which flows out of Ullswater — this is in turn a tributary of the Eden. The first bridge you cross at Eamont Bridge — as its name indicates — is therefore not the Lowther. In fact you don’t cross that river for some miles yet. After crossing the Eamont bridge, follow the A6 south past ‘King Arthur’s Round Table’, a prehistoric earthwork (and rather boring); then turn right through the gates of ‘Lowther Park’. You follow this road for at least a mile and a half, under the M6 and railway line (see picture) and into the campsite.  Most likely is that someone at the campsite gate will at least look quizzically at you, which gives you the opportunity to get them to point you in the right direction for the through path, which is down the straight avenue ahead.

Past the caravans and chalets, go through the gate at the end of this road and just stick on this drive — marked on the map as ‘Earl Harry’s Drive’ until it takes you across the Lowther at a double bridge, then up to the walls of Lowther Castle, which may have once been impressive but when I passed it was clearly undergoing the mother of all renovations. Probably it’ll be on Grand Designs at some point in the next couple of years. Bear right, around the walls and clear paths lead you through the woods and back to the Lowther, where bear left (one of the few unsignposted junctions on this walk) to come out to the strangely-named hamlet of Whale. Follow the path around the farm then double back to head up to where a path leaves the tarmac to the right, heading through Hill Plantation. All this is very straightforward if you follow the OS map.

Barn at Scarside farm

Barn at Scarside farm

Signposts continue as the path heads across fields to the vicinity of High Knipe, where bear left up the path to the low limestone cliffs of Knipe Scar which is now clearly visible on the horizon. There is some minor doubt here as to right-of-way, and the gate which finally allows admission to the Scar is collapsed and only crossable after strategic use of the bottom, but one can live with this due to the fine views opening up to the right, as mentioned above (Loadpot Hill and the Mardale district). Bear right to reach the summit of Knipescar Common, which is marked by a rare ‘ring’ OS trigonometric point, instead of the more usual column (but rings seem to be more common on the eastern edge of the district — see Branstree and Great Yarlside, for example).

Keep following the path southwards, following along the high wall to your left, until a gate comes in from that side at which point turn right (not left through the gate), dropping down to the impossibly pretty farm of Scarside and along its lane to the road. Here, turn left. If pushed for time, note that this road goes all the way back to Shap, but it is better to drop to the right at a clear (but unsignposted) lane down to the hamlet of Rosgill — this makes for a more symbolic end to the walk as it reunites you with the Lowther river. So, in Rosgill, turn right down the road, then almost straight away left, down a path between two houses.

Shap Abbey

The tower that is all that really remains of Shap Abbey.

Here, keep bearing right until you are about to drop down to the river — but don’t do this — the river enters a gorge and the path along this side peters out in a dangerous cliff-walk. Stick instead to the height of land, walking along the top of this cliff with the Lowther below you, until Shap Abbey becomes visible ahead, at which point come out onto a concrete road. Left leads to Shap, but unless you’re really pushed for time, turn to the right first, and spend a quarter-hour investigating the ruins of the Abbey below.

Once done with that, go back up the concrete road and follow the signs (and map) back to Shap. Another Wainwright connection — this last bit follows the route of the Coast to Coast walk. Once you hit the A6 in Shap, turn right and about 5 minutes down the road is the Crown Inn and the bus stop.

View south from Knipe Scar

Another view south from Knipe Scar. Note the stubble fire.

There goes another one commentary:  In some ways autumn is the best time to walk in the Lakes. It’s the most stable season climatically, for a start. Yes, you obviously can still get bad weather — it’s northern Britain, it’ll do what it wants — but also if it starts off OK on a given day it’s also more likely to stay that way. More predictable in other words.  And as must be obvious from the photos I post, it’s aesthetically great at this time of year: Lakeland is a riot of colour.

These facts make it all the more frustrating that each year, the September – November period is my busiest time at work, and finding time to walk gets very difficult. This year the frustration has been compounded by a run of very mild and good weather all the way through from the middle of September — but no chance to use it.  This week I got slightly ahead of myself, however, and — with the proviso that I still needed to take my computer on my back so I could get marking done on the trains — I was able to use today, about the only day in the whole of October when a walk was possible.

Geese over the Naddle horseshoe

Geese on their way somewhere warmer. The fell straight ahead is part of the Naddle Horseshoe, as yet unbagged — looks quite good though. The Haweswater dam is just visible.

The day’s big news is that, as I have feared for some time now (see the commentary for walk 80), the Kendal – Shap – Penrith bus is about to lose its subsidy. The driver of the bus today was being called into a meeting that evening at which the exact impact of this was going to be presented, but his prediction was that it would go down to two buses a day in each direction, which, I would guess, will probably be the two school runs. Whether this will make the bus still usable by walkers remains to be seen — almost certainly the morning run will not be, though it does depend how they work the logistics. The current service will run until the end of October.

I’ve said my piece on this before. A newspaper headline this morning (in the Telegraph, which undoubtedly thinks this is a good thing) announced ‘Tories to cut inheritance tax before the next election’. I don’t even think the ConDems bother to go on about ‘cutting the national debt’ any more: ‘debt’ gives them far too good a rhetorical weapon to wield to justify their quite blatant theft from the public sector, and slaughter of services in those parts of the country that don’t vote for them anyway. Spending on transport in London, per capita, is something like a hundred times higher than in some other parts of the country, including Cumbria. A town like Shap could have its bus service protected, if the political will were there — come to think of it, it could have a railway station too. But the will is not there.

The river Lowther at Rosgill

The River Lowther, at Rosgill

It is more politically expedient to denigrate the poor, destroy their lives rather than try to help them, treat them as second-class citizens — and this applies to poor areas as well as poor people. I don’t want to patronise places like Shap and its people — I don’t know what it’s like to live there, all I’ve done is pass through a few times. But although not to the same extent as Silecroft (see walk 74), it definitely feels run down, just about holding on to a few rather sorry-looking shops, but only just. Could it be different? Why shouldn’t some resources be redistributed to help a community that, after all, pays its taxes and votes? The will is not there.

Autumn colours and caravans

More autumn colours at Lowther caravan park

OK, OK, I’ll talk about the walking, though there’s not much to add to what I’ve said above. Knipescar Common has a case to be the most isolated of all the Wainwright summits, I would say it’s certainly in the top three or four on such a list, and I’ve always looked at it as a summit that would be bagged on a walk of its own. Since I looked at a map the other day and worked out a route that would get it done without depending too much on The Oxenholme Connection, nor that would see me tramping right past one or more of the quarries that all too obviously scar the landscape here (and form the basis of Shap’s last vestiges of an economy), I knew that this would be my next walk: with all the woods I was going to have to walk through, clearly autumn was the time to do this. And for all I know at the moment, this walk’s going to become impossible next month, or at least, even less convenient.  Minor, outlying fell country this may be, but nevertheless, we will have lost something when that becomes, and probably stays, the case.


2 Responses to “Walk 88: The Lowther Valley”

  1. […] — 14 miles or so — but very flat, walk 88 saw me go from Penrith to Shap, via the summit of Knipescar Common, an outlying fell even amongst […]

  2. […] trip I made on the Shap to Kendal bus at the end of walk 88 might have been my last on it. As of the beginning of November, Shap, a village of over 1,000 […]

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