View south from Watch Hill

Part of the view south from Watch Hill.

Date completed: 24th January 2015.

Weather conditions: Good for the time of year, and particularly good considering how wintry it was in Yorkshire last week and — going on the amount of snow visible on the High Street range from the train — around the Lakes too. But there was surprisingly little snow on the high fells to the west, and the weather today was quite sunny and mild, although I did get caught in a brief rain shower around 2pm.

Derwent at Isel Bridge

The River Derwent, at (and from) Isel Bridge.

Summits bagged: Watch Hill (770 feet above sea level), Setmurthy Common (833’) and Clints Crags (804’). The first two are in Wainwright’s Watch Hill chapter, the last has a chapter on its own. These become numbers 287-289 of the full round of 330 fells.

Start and end points: Cockermouth. This is connected by X4 and X5 buses every 30 minutes to Keswick and Workington, and hourly buses to Penrith.

If coming from Penrith/Keswick to do this walk, there is no need to go all the way into the town centre on the bus, as you will only have to walk back out again. Get off at the stop outside the large Cockermouth School right on the edge of town instead.

The walk fitted into the gap between the 10:40 arrival of the bus at the school (left Penrith station at 09:21) and the 15:38 departure from the town centre back to Penrith (arriving back at the station at 17:03).

Jennnings brewery

The Jennings brewery, in Cockermouth. It stands right above the point where the Cocker (right) flows into the Derwent. Hence, Cocker-mouth.

Distance walked: I am becoming a bit lax with measuring these properly, sorry. But I reckon about 11.5 miles today.

Total ascent: Around 1400 feet seems reasonable.

Pub at end:  There were three pubs lined up in a row on Cockermouth’s main street, opposite the bus stop: I chose The Wordsworth, which turned out to be more of a town pub, lots of TV screens but no real ale (which for a town that is host to the beautiful Jennings’ brewery — see picture — is a bit of an indictment). It was OK I suppose.

Route: Like most of the walks in the Outlying Fells this is a countryside ramble rather than a fell walk. The countryside is pleasant, but not exciting, and though the views compensate at times they are not visible throughout. The climb of Watch Hill is good, and worth doing if you are in Cockermouth, but to be really honest, Clints Crags will add nothing to anyone’s life except a lot of walking, most of it on tarmac.

Get off the bus at the large school on the edge of Cockermouth, as noted above, start walking back the way you have come, take the signposted path on the left and from there it is no more than 25 minutes to the top of Watch Hill, which is clearly visible.

Watch Hill from the east

Watch Hill from the east

The summit has no cairn (in fact you won’t see a single cairn all day). Admire the view, then head straight on along a fairly clear path, keeping the wall and plantation to your left and, after an unexpected hollow in the ridge, bear left to where the walls meet at a corner and there is a gate into the woods — the slight rise here is the summit of Setmurthy Common. Easy so far then — two Wainwrights bagged in less than an hour. And you could easily call it a day at this point and still feel like you’d had a good walk and some fresh air.

However, if you feel obliged for whatever reason; head through the gate into the woods and then drop down the steepest gradient that you will encounter all day until landing on the forest road, where turn left, then at the next junction, right. This leads through the plantation, curves round to the right when it meets the bridleway (you were using this earlier to climb Watch Hill), then drops in a straight line to the road. Go along this for a short stretch then take the road to the left, signposted to Blindcrake and Sunderland, and cross the River Derwent at Isel Bridge (see picture above).

In Setmurthy Plantation

In Setmurthy Plantation

At this point there is a choice of route that you might like to consider. As will become obvious I didn’t find the climb of Clints Crags from Blindcrake, then back the same way, particularly edifying, and the walk from Blindcrake back to Cockermouth was something of a drag. I did consider heading north-east at this point, to the village of Sunderland, so as to do a traverse of the third fell instead;  this could be an option here. Or you might aim to return that way and come back to this point later, returning to Cockermouth back through the woods. These are worth considering.

My route, however, took me left at the junction at the end of Isel Bridge, then past Isel church and Isel Hall (the tower of which is unexpectedly pink) before ascending as it comes into Blindcrake. Keep going north, then look for the lane on the right, at the north end of the village, signposted to Sunderland. This is very wet — in its lower stretch it’s virtually a stream — but will take you up to the open land of Clints Crags. Once onto the fell, bear left, ascending the slope and bringing into sight the best view of the day, of the Skiddaw range above Bassenthwaite Lake (see picture).

Dodd and Bass Lake

View of Bassenthwaite Lake from Clints Crags (though not from the summit). Dodd is the prominent peak. Ullock Pike will be the one just to its left in the cloud, with Skiddaw somewhere further above on a clear day.

Close perusal of the map on page 205 of volume 8 suggests that Wainwright’s route does not even trouble to visit the summit of Clints Crags. The reasons why are much more obvious on the ground than from reading the book. The topmost 40 feet or so is a neat dome, and though I’ve no expertise in geology it may be that it is a cap of a different rock than makes up the rest of the fell, which is clearly limestone (hence its name). Whatever that rock is, it was once considered valuable enough to be quarried, and this has resulted in Clints Crags having the nearest thing in the Lakes to a volcanic caldera on its top.  The quarry takes a considerable bite out of the summit dome, and is surrounded by a fence that seems to be continuous — I didn’t trouble to walk all the way round but there is no logical reason to expect a break on the other side. So to get to the summit proper, the fence needs crossing. I managed it at one corner only. And one more thing to point out — the good view of Bass Lake is not in fact visible from the summit, being obscured by the trees on the escarpment to the south. So all in all, up to you. One might reasonably consider the fell to have been bagged without actually making the summit in this case.

Cockermouth

Cockermouth shows its Alpine face. The slopes behind will be those of Whiteside and/or Grasmoor. The castle belonged to the Percy family. (As in ‘Lord Percy Percy’ from Blackadder 2.)

Nor did I continue the walk as described in Wainwright’s chapter, but with hindsight, next time (and there will be at least one, because I’m going to do the 330 twice), I would carry on over to Sunderland then return to Cockermouth via Isel Bridge again. However, on this walk I retraced my steps to Blindcrake, thinking that the marking on the OS map of a waymarked ‘National Trail’ — the ‘Allerdale Ramble’ — implied a well signposted and easy-to-follow final leg back to Cockermouth.

On the contrary. The Allerdale Ramble, at this point anyway, turned out to be, first, a trug down the lane to Redmain. Then I had to hunt in that village for the path’s next stage — eventually finding it down the lane to ‘Redmain Lodge’ which looks like a private drive but isn’t. After an interlude through some fields — some OK views ahead here — it then deposited me on the verge of the A595 for half a mile or so. This is the main road of north Cumbria, Workington-Carlisle, was extremely busy and noisy and the verge was strewn with a really offensive amount of litter. Add to these facts the observation that this was the point in my day at which it rained and you will rightly conclude that this was one of the worse 10 minutes of walking in my project. To be avoided if at all possible — hence my suggestion that it might be worth working out a different end to this walk. (It might be noted that though no buses go to Blindcrake itself, Cockermouth – Carlisle buses do run along the A595.)

Sheep on Watch Hill

Sheep on Watch Hill. There have been a lot of sheep in volume 8…

After mercifully leaving the road the path still never becomes very clear, but it is at least better signposted. A decent view of Cockermouth develops, backed by the Grasmoor range (see picture above) — it looks almost Alpine, like it should be in Liechtenstein or somewhere. Head straight for the walls of the castle, then once you hit the Derwent, bear right (there’s no bridge left for miles), cross the footbridge into town, and you will be on the main street two minutes later, with its pubs, shops and bus stops.

Where did all the snow go commentary: On Wednesday last week it snowed all day in Hebden Bridge and we ended up with a good four inches’ fall, on top of quite a bit still left over from the last couple of weeks, at least, on higher ground. Reports, via the BBC and Lake District Weatherline site, suggested much the same conditions had occurred in Cumbria. Although I had decided a while back that this Cockermouth round, with its three low-altitude summits, would be the target of today’s expedition, I was still alert to the possibility that I would be walking in the white stuff. I even packed the ice axe, just in case — getting stuck at the top of a hard-packed, icy snow slope is just as much of an irritant (and potential danger) at 500 feet up as it is 2,500.

Sunbeams near Redmain

Sunbeams light up the sky near Redmain, on the way back to Cockermouth.

Rarely, however, have my weather expectations proved so comprehensively wrong. The north-west Lake District was mild and quite sunny this morning. The view from the train to Penrith, looking over to Kidsty Pike and High Raise, showed them to be still blanketed in white, but to the west, most of the snow was gone (if it had ever been there) — clouds covered the very tops but below 2,000 feet there was none.

This was one of those pure bagging walks, done because I needed to get the fells, rather than because it was the best walk I could think of for today. It would have been nice to get up somewhere higher and, who knows, actually find a reason to use the ice axe for only the second time ever (the descent of Clough Head having seen its only previous employment). Watch Hill and Setmurthy Common were worth doing: a simple but agreeable climb with good views. Although one should note, if climbing for photography purposes, that any view southward is going to be a trickier one to capture than in other directions thanks to the sun. But it would make a very good evening excursion from Cockermouth, I bet.

Road sign near Isel Hall

The road near Isel Hall. Red squirrels live here. (Not that I saw any.)

Couldn’t raise much enthusiasm for Clints Crags however. The point of that chapter seems to be to describe a walk, not the fell, and had I done that walk I might feel better about it. It added several miles to the day, but nothing more. And that trudge alongside the A595 is not an experience I wish to repeat in a hurry. Anyway, it’s done now. Until the next time.

Just one more thing. I am getting very tired of having to explain to Stagecoach bus drivers that the Lakes Day Ranger ticket is valid on their services. The driver at Penrith this morning went so far as to call his office to check — and they didn’t know either. But they magnanimously agreed to let me on the bus. How kind of them to let me on with a valid ticket… I’m not making it up, check this page. Stagecoach, sort it out. It’s a good and useful ticket, the Lakes Day Ranger — which is why it doesn’t seem to get advertised very much. But it saves a chunk of money and makes it far easier to start a walk at one train station (and/or its connecting bus services) and return from another. For now, it exists — and don’t let any bus driver tell you it’s invalid. Next time I’m printing out the web page and taking a copy with me.

2 Responses to “Walk 92: A Cockermouth round”

  1. […] unless you’re bagging, I’d consider giving Clints Crags a miss. Read the details on the walk 92 page, view the photos, […]

  2. […] and public transport sorted out properly this time which made it a significantly better walk than walk 92, which got the same three fells but was rather a drag at times. Walk 166 is the better version by […]

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