Seat How and Devoke Water

Seat How and Devoke Water, viewed from Rough Crag. The pyramid in the background is Caw.

Date completed: 2nd January 2015.

Weather conditions: Relatively mild temperatures and dry conditions, both in the air and underfoot, were the good news. High winds were the bad news: this was the windiest walk for some time (though forecast, so I made my decision). It was mostly done under cloud, but there were some brief bursts of sunlight.

Trees in the Duddon Valley

Trees in the Duddon Valley, below The Pike

Summits bagged: Five today, namely: Water Crag (997 feet above sea level), Rough Crag (1049’), Seat How (1020’), Hesk Fell (1566’) and The Pike (1214’).

The first three summits are in the Devoke Water chapter of volume 8. The last two are in the Hesk Fell chapter. They become numbers 282-286 of the full round of 330.

Start and end points: Started at The Green (a.k.a. Eskdale Green) station, on the Ravenglass and Eskdale railway. Ended at Foxfield station, which is on the Cumbrian Coast line (see also walk 82). The walk fitted, reasonably comfortably, into the gap between the c. 1100 arrival at The Green, and the 1723 train out of Foxfield, which goes all the way back to Preston (arriving 1932).

Ravenglass station

Scene at Ravenglass station this morning — La’al Ratty, the R&ER

The 1100 arrival (time is approximate) is the 1025 R & ER departure from Ravenglass.  This runs for a good portion of the year though the R&ER is closed weekdays during the winter.  You can catch this service if you make the 0736 TransPennine Express departure out of Lancaster, then change at Barrow-in-Furness. However, that journey depended on staying at the in-laws’ last night, in Morecambe. I could not have made this one from Hebden Bridge.

Distance walked:  14.7 miles.

Total ascent: 3160 feet.

Pub at end: By the time I reached the High Cross Inn, which stands at the junction of the A595 and the A593 a few hundred yards west of Broughton-in-Furness, I had realised I was not going to make the 1634 departure out of Foxfield. So I stopped for a beer there, and it was very tasty, and the barman was friendly and helpful.

The Pike and Duddon Estuary

The Pike, with the Duddon estuary behind, seen from Hesk Fell.

Unlike on my last visit (walk 82), the Prince of Wales, right beside Foxfield station, was open today, and I had time for one in there as well.  Despite looking kind of shabby on the outside this is a surprisingly big and busy place, and also served an excellent pint. Both establishments are therefore recommended.

Route:  Without ever threatening to become a classic, the first two-thirds of this walk is very good.  As far as the summit of The Pike there are plenty of good views, the walk is drier and easier underfoot than I expected, and the five summits are all worth a visit for one reason or another — Seat How particularly. (Hesk Fell is a dull climb but its summit has a very fine view.) Routefinding is easy in good weather and for once, and this has been rare in the Outlying Fells, I did not have to constantly have the map to hand.

Unfortunately, after The Pike, the fifth and last summit of the day, things do deteriorate. This was probably the result of my choice of route, which I will explain below, but just bear this in mind if planning to follow my path precisely. I would also avoid this walk during bracken season (June – September): you have been warned.

View from the peat road

Looking back from the ascent of the peat road, out of Eskdale

La’al Ratty (the Ravenglass and Eskdale railway) will deposit you at The Green station some 30 minutes after leaving Ravenglass, and, facing the direction of travel, you need turn right after you have come out on the road. Follow this way past the King George IV pub and over the river, then take the first tarmac lane on the right, which is signposted “Birkby Road”.

As you go down this way, the path you need to take up the slope ahead is clearly visible behind the farm (now a B & B) of Brantrake, but there is no right of way through that property.  Consequently, you have to carry on down the road until it starts to run right by the river and then look for the inconspicuous bridle-way sign on the left. Taking this leads you onto a path which doubles back above the B & B and then climbs the slope. This path becomes one of the Eskdale ‘peat roads’ which Wainwright discusses on his page Green Crag 3 (volume 4, The Southern Fells). The route is hundreds of years old, obviously engineered as it zig-zags up the fell, and in excellent condition, providing a very agreeable start to your day’s exertions.

Green Crag and Harter Fell

View from Rough Crag. Green Crag’s summit to the right, Harter Fell behind. The skyline on the left is the head of Eskdale, with Bowfell the most prominent peak.

Alas, it does not last past the cairn at the top of the slope; after this, you are on your own. Ahead of you will be the first two fells of the Devoke Water circuit, Rough Crag (on the left) and Water Crag in front of you, but a beeline to the latter looks undesirable due to the basin of Black Beck, ahead, clearly being very boggy. I therefore looped round to the left and did my best to keep the height of land around the basin, then visited the summit of Water Crag first before coming back to Rough Crag. They could be done the other way round but you don’t really gain anything on this particular walk by doing so. Incidentally, in high summer this route would probably be quite difficult due to bracken.

From Rough Crag, a path does head off in the general direction of Seat How (the tor of which is very obvious, sitting above Devoke Water as you can see in the picture at the head of this page), but the track veers too far to the left, so you do need to drop off it to the right and attain the lane below, which serves the Devoke Water boathouse. From here, Seat How looks a difficult climb, requiring scrambling for sure, but in fact, if you approach it from the back (that is, the side furthest from the tarn), it is very easy and no rock will have to be handled. It’s still a good summit though, one of the best in volume 8.

Coming down off The Pike

Coming down off The Pike

Drop back off Seat How the way you came up, return to the track that runs up to Devoke Water’s boat house, and turn left. Look carefully for the junction of the track which goes to Woodend, which looks a lot more obvious on the map than it is on the ground — I was forewarned thanks to my previous visit here (walk 40) — it would be easy to miss. Woodend is one of the lonelier farmsteads in England, that’s for sure, but once you reach its yard the route does at least offer the respite of walking on tarmac for 10 minutes or so.

View from Water Crag

View from the summit of Water Crag, towards the Irish Sea. The plateau down there is what I trudged across on walk 40, home to the prehistoric settlement of Barnscar.

As soon as you are through the gate at the end of this little agricultural oasis, however, turn right, and begin your trudge up Hesk Fell. Reading Wainwright (pp. 140-3) puts one in no doubt as to what awaits, and yes, it’s dull, but it doesn’t last too long (I did it in 30 minutes from the gate) and the view at the top is worth the bother, being really very good, worthy of a far better hill than Hesk Fell. Its summit has an excellent panorama round from Black Combe, the Devoke Water fells you’ve just left, upper Eskdale and the Scafells, Caw (looking impressively pyramidal) and then the Duddon Estuary below, your first sight of it today, So we’ll forgive Hesk Fell its inadequacies and move on.

Unhelpful stile

The rather unhelpful stile between Hesk Fell and The Pike. Repairs invited.

The Pike is clearly visible ahead and the route to it obvious.  Do note, though, that one of the stiles on the way there has largely collapsed in a rather unhelpful way (though probably better this way than trying to use it in the reverse direction). It can still be surmounted, but not that easily. I would try the gate instead. Otherwise, the walk from Hesk Fell to The Pike is unproblematic and graced by fine views.

As I said above, up to this point everything has gone swimmingly, but the route off The Pike is not at all obvious. Wainwright suggests retracing one’s steps and heading for the Birker Fell road near Woodend, but this was of no use for my planned walk; I needed to get south, down the Duddon Valley to Foxfield.

Road in Duddon Valley

The road through the Duddon Valley, with which I became very familiar today. The peaks in the background sit at one end of the Dunnerdale horseshoe.

If intending to head in that direction, immediately it’s not even clear that you are on the right side of the wall, for a start — and it’s a tough wall to cross. I decided to try going straight down, following the wall ahead, but regretted this. This direction led to a very steep descent across awkward ground, and once into Rainsbarrow Woods, things get worse rather than better. High fences and equally lofty walls need to be crossed and things are choked with bracken once more (which here, even dead, can conceal rocks and steps to a potentially dangerous extent), and I felt I wasted time and energy on this section. Eventually I got down to the obvious path leading southwest from Ulpha through Rainsbarrow Woods but there have to be easier ways to do it than I found.

Even once one comes out on the tarmac road at about SD 190925 (what’s this?) then things are by no means finished.  From here it is at least 5.5 miles (approx 9km) to Foxfield station. I walked this entirely on tarmac, feeling pushed for time, running out of daylight hours and desirous of avoiding further routefinding hassles. There is a route that avoids all my roadwalking, going down the west (right) bank of the Duddon instead, through the woods, but because of all these factors I did not trouble to try to find it. Using the road is OK, but it’ll be busy in high summer.

View from Hesk Fell

Whit Fell and Buck Barrow, seen from Hesk Fell

Also the barman in the High Cross warned me off going down the main A595 from his establishment to Foxfield as it was unsafe for pedestrians. Instead, I walked into Broughton, then turned right down Foxfield Road, which by the time it joins the main road has a pavement. This will lead you back to Foxfield station, hopefully on a day on which the Prince of Wales is open.

Toughening-up commentary: Just as last year, 2014, ended in a walking sense with the latest walk I’ve done in any given year, so 2015 opens with the earliest. Two walks in a week, Monday and Friday,

Duddon Valley scene

Another Duddon Valley scene. At least these later winter finishes mean more walking in the ‘Golden Hour’…

Why? Because, with New Year spent with my in-laws in Morecambe, it was convenient to do them (particularly today, which I couldn’t have done from home); because I want to pick up the pace generally, feeling like I nowhere near made enough of the good weather which infused most of the second half of 2014; and because I also need to start to get fitter for this supposed walk up Kilimanjaro in July.

Many things could have screwed up this walk, not least the weather and (still on Christmas/New Year semi-break) public transport; but the thing (or rather, things) I was most worried about this morning, while on a perfectly punctual train round the south Cumbrian coast, were my knees.  I came off walk 90 feeling very shagged out and four days at the in-laws’, which included the New Year’s Eve festivities, have in no way helped. But in July — sorry to go on about this — I have to get up to 19,000 feet and walk for seven days solid, so it’s time to start getting the extensors toned up.

Hesk Fell summit

Hesk Fell summit

Besides, I’ve missed the Lakes a bit. As I said, I feel I’ve not really made the most of what 2014 offered, particularly from September on. We had a glorious Indian summer (and it’s still mild now), but my annual autumn work surge was particularly acute this year and the haul of two walks in 11 weeks was just not good enough to satisfy. It’s been nice to double up over Christmas. Obviously the weather is the most significant factor in whether it’s possible to do this, but the timing has been good — yesterday, 1st January, was awful in Morecambe, one of the wettest days for some time in fact, but today, though windy, was basically good and not even that damp underfoot, considering.

So I feel happy that things have worked out and that I’ve done two walks, with five hard-to-reach Wainwrights bagged today. A shame the final stages of this walk didn’t really work out but there were definite highlights, not just the views this time but the summit of Seat How — a real ‘castle’, not quite to the level of  Angletarn Pikes but still a good peak and worth the effort to reach and climb. I also really liked the ‘peat road’ out of Eskdale, and the views on the walk as a whole were very fine. And despite doing another 14+ miles, my appendages felt fine by the end, which was the main target of the day.

Next walk somewhere around 12-14 Jan I hope. It would be nice to complete the 330 before Kilimanjaro in late July, but we’ll see.


2 Responses to “Walk 91: Eskdale to the Duddon Valley”

  1. […] of this fact and a reasonable weather forecast to do another Lake District walk (written up in full on my other blog). The Duddon Valley slices through the south-west of the district. Walking in winter like this does […]

  2. […] on the heels of walk 90, done four days previously, comes walk 91 of my project, which saw me do another 14.7 miles (thus making nearly 30 for the week). The route […]

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