Dales and Lakeland Walk 2008

Author: George Tod

This walk is illustrated with photographs. Click on small photo to enlarge in situ, or click caption to enlarge into new window.
Part 5 - Windermere to Derwent Water

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Day 6 - Sunday 22nd June - GPS 14.6 miles - 2,850 ft ascent

Windermere to Patterdale (YHA) via Trout Beck Valley and Thornthwaite Crag

Breakfast started at 08.15, so I got myself ready for then. The things I had washed last night were reasonably dry after hanging on the radiator and my boots, which had been in the boiler room, were also quite dry. Unfortunately, the forecast was for gale force winds and rain, so everything was likely to get wet again before very long. Another chap who had stayed last night was walking the Dales Way, using the Sherpa van service to book his accommodation and to transport his luggage. They had arranged for a taxi here from Burneside last night, and another to take him back again this morning to complete the last section of about ten miles back to Bowness, though with the state of the weather, he wasn't sure whether he was going to bother.

After another good breakfast, I set off at 09.15, calling at the shops, near the pub I went to last night, to get some things for lunch before making my way up a road towards Orrest Head. I passed a signpost erected by Windermere and Bowness Civic Society saying:

Footpath to Orrest Head - 784 feet above sea level - Unrivalled views of the Lake District fells, Lake Windermere, Morecambe Bay and the Pennines - 20 minutes walk to the top

My reasons for going to the top, which was slightly off my route, were firstly that it would enable to see what the state of the cloud and weather was on the higher fells, and secondly because it might be one of the only views I was likely to get today. The road became a track and then a path to the summit, which did offer a good view over Windermere, but as far as the fells were concerned, it was difficult to tell, as there was so much low cloud and mist. Also, whether the views were ‘unrivalled’, was open to question, as there are many places with spectacular views in the Lake District.

Wansfell Pike was just about clear of cloud, so the base must have been at about 1,500 ft, making it pointless taking the route that I had planned, along the ridge over Yoke, Ill Bell and Froswick, on the way to Thornthwaite Crag. With rain and very strong winds forecast, it was far more sensible to stay low down for as much of the walk as I could. There is a track running along the eastern side of Trout Beck, all the way along the valley and climbing up to Thornthwaite Crag right at the end, so this looked like the best option in the circumstances. I could have taken the Kirkstone Pass road route to avoid having to avoid the exposed heights of Thornthwaite Crag, but I didn't fancy mile after mile of road walking. Once over Thornthwaite Crag, I could drop straight down the other side to get more shelter, rather than going over Stony Cove Pike, as I had planned.

It was already quite windy with some rain, though not quite as cold as it might have been. One benefit was that the wind was behind me, so my rucksack gave me some protection and helped to prevent me from getting too cold. There were some stretches of walking through long, wet grass, so I stopped to put on my over-trousers to try to keep my socks dry, more so than to protect me from the rain, which was still quite light. As I progressed along the valley, the rain got heavier and could be seen drifting across in waves all along the fell sides. The wind was also gathering in strength, but I only really noticed it when I turned around and felt it head on.

Progress was quick and easy along the valley, the only problem being finding somewhere to have a rest. I knew there was no chance higher up, where the conditions would get worse and worse, and it was rather a long way over to the other side. The best option I could find was a farm trailer, with a small overhang on the downwind end, that could shelter me from both the wind and the rain, so I managed to have a snack and a drink, with about five miles already covered. One problem that occurred further along was that the streams coming down the sides of the fells were getting more and more swollen with the rain, so, where they crossed the path, it was sometimes difficult to cross, and I had to look upstream to find a narrower part that I could jump across. I just managed to keep my feet from getting wet, except for one place where I did get just a splash of water into one boot.

Eventually I came to the end of the valley and the ascent up the side of Park Fell, on the way to Thornthwaite Crag. This was quite steep and I had to keep stopping for breathers at regular intervals. Soon I was up into the mist, with the wind strengthening all the time, and the rain steadily pouring down. There was nothing to see to mark my progress, so I passed the time looking at the altitude reading on my GPS instead. After a long, steep climb, the gradient got less and, with the very powerful wind behind, I was given a boost to take some of the effort out of climbing. The slope levelled out even more and soon the shape of a beacon loomed out of the mist ahead, marking the summit of Thornthwaite Crag. Even though there was some shelter there, I had no intention of stopping in the atrocious weather conditions.

My objective was to descend from the summit as quickly as possible, hoping that I would then get some shelter from the wind. However, I was in for a nasty surprise. The wind, which I guessed was gusting to about 60 mph at the summit, was now being funnelled up the valley and over the steep side of the ridge at about 70 or 80 mph, making it very difficult to progress safely. It was made worse by the fact that it was now hitting me sideways on, rather than from behind, and this continued for about a quarter of a mile, though it seemed a lot further at the time. The wind was lashing rain into my face making it difficult to see clearly, and the noise, as it flapped my waterproofs violently, was quite tremendous. Once I reached the ridge between Thornthwaite Crag and Stony Cove Pike, I was able to start dropping down to the north, obtaining much more shelter in the process. My relief was enormous now that I was no longer being battered and buffeted by gusts of wind that had threatened to sweep me off my feet, making it possible to descend the steep path with relative ease.

Soon, I dropped down below the level of the cloud, and the view that opened up was of a mass of small becks and streams all the way around the valley sides, swollen into white water torrents and all merging together into Pasture Beck below. These caused a few problems in places, as I had to cross quite a number of them on the way, though I generally managed to find suitable crossing points without having to detour very far. The other problem was that, for much of the way, the path was acting as a stream itself, making it very difficult to save my boots from getting saturated, though they were doing a good job keeping out the bulk of the water, which meant that, though my feet were wet, they weren't quite squelching.

At last I reached the road and was able to have a short stop, sheltered by the wall of a building, so I was able to have the rest of my packed lunch. However, I had to do this standing up, so my feet didn't get much of a rest. I had been unable to turn my map over inside my map case in all the rain, so was now able to do so and was pleasantly surprised that I only had about two more miles to walk to Patterdale. A track runs parallel to the road, so I set off along there at a fast pace, partly to warm myself up, and partly so that I could get there quickly to the warmth and dryness of the youth hostel, which I reached at 15.45. Although reception didn't open until 17.00, I was able to get a shower, get changed and wash out all of my saturated walking clothes.

I made myself a coffee in the self-catering kitchen and had a chat with a couple who had arrived at the same time, walking the Coast-to-Coast. The drying room was very well heated, so there was every prospect of getting my things dry by the morning. Every year, things keep changing at the YHA. At Patterdale, the meals were now ordered à la carte and served at staggered times to allow the kitchen staff to cope with all the different meal options. Once reception had opened, I ordered grilled trout followed by cheesecake for 18.15. There were more people wanting meals than they expected, so the warden at reception was a little concerned about what response she would get from the kitchen when she kept taking more and more orders through. She kept saying, “They are going to kill me” as each new order came along, presumably because there were very few staff on. As usual, there was no reception on my mobile phone, but I was able to use the payphone in the hostel.

Another change that the YHA has made this year is the introduction of flexible pricing of beds according to demand. There was a whole table of differing charges for Patterdale hostel for different weeks of the year and days of the week. They ranged from £9.95 to £18.95 and I had been fortunate enough to land on an off-peak day at the lowest rate, which was less than I would have normally expected to pay. However, I am sure that, on balance, there would be an overall gain for the YHA as a result of this move. I am not sure whether this was the same for other hostels or just a few selected ones, but was told that all telephone bookings were now being routed via the central booking service to ensure that the correct prices were being quoted. I had booked online, so the appropriate rate had already been charged.

My meal was at one of the earlier times and the trout was nicely cooked and served with freshly cooked vegetables and boiled potatoes. It was not all that filling after a day's walk, but I don't particularly blame the hostel for that, as most people who order trout are looking for a lighter option. There were other, more substantial meals on offer. After dinner, I sat chatting to some of the Coast-to-Coast walkers whilst trying to decide whether to brave the elements and go to the pub. It was still wet outside, but the rain wasn't as bad as it looked at first. The pub was only a 5-minutes walk away, so I took a chance and went, having some of the Tirril Brewery bitter, which was, once again, very good. In there, I met a chap with whom I had eaten my dinner, as well as a lady who was walking the Coast-to-Coast, her friend being across the road having a long conversation on the payphone. The chap had been doing part of the Coast-to-Coast with his 14-year old son. As it was not possible to get a full two weeks off work at one time, he had split the walk into two parts, planning to return a few weeks later to do the remainder. His son had been finding the going rather tough, so stayed back at the hostel resting in bed.

We returned to the hostel together at 22.30 in the drizzly rain. I checked the drying room when we got back and found that most of my things were already dry. My boots were still damp, but they would be much better by the morning. If only other drying rooms were as good as this one!

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Day 7 - Monday 23rd June - GPS 15.9 miles - 2,500 ft ascent

Patterdale to Derwent Water (YHA) via St Sunday Crag, Dunmail Raise, Harrop Tarn and Watendlath

I had a reasonable night's sleep without much snoring despite the dormitory being full with ten people. It was wonderful to see some sunshine this morning. There were still some clouds about, but it was certainly looking much better than the past two days. The chap with his son had to get a taxi to take them to Windermere for their train back home. He had worked out that the bus would get him there in time, but then found that it only ran at weekends at this time of year, so a taxi was the only way to get there.

Breakfast started at 07.45, but I didn't get off until 09.00, as I spent quite a bit of time sorting out various items that had been drying and then finding things in my rucksack that I hadn't realised were damp. Even my boots had dried overnight, so I treated them to a good coating of wax to help protect them against any more walking through the wet.

As I set off down the road towards Patterdale, I met up with two chaps from my dormitory. They were out for the day over St Sunday Crag and then returning to the hostel. One of the options on my planned route was via St Sunday Crag and, as the weather looked promising, I headed the same way with them. We had only just started out along the path when we saw a young deer not far away amongst the trees, and it stood there for a while before running off. I didn't take much notice of my map, as the other two seemed to know the way. However, we missed the path and ended up dropping back down to a minor road. Not much was lost, though, as we were able to join the path again a little further along, where it started the steep climb up the end of the crag.

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Ullswater from above Glamara Park
Ullswater from above Glamara Park

The weather was quite bright with some sunny spells and the cloud was well above the mountaintops, so it promised to be a good day for walking. The other two stopped to take off some of their clothing, as it was quite warm, being sheltered from the wind by the end of the fell, so I set off ahead of them. For the first time on the walk, I was actually sweating quite a bit, even wearing just my shorts and polo shirt. The views over the head of Ullswater from above Glamara Park are lovely, and it was just a bit of a pity that there wasn't more sunshine to bring out the best of the scene. I kept up a steady plod, stopping at regular intervals for breathers and to look across at the view, whilst I made my way up the steep path. After a while, the incline started to become gentler, once the path took an angle along the fell side. At this point, the shelter offered by the end of the fell was lost and it suddenly felt very cool in the wind.

A couple of other chaps, travelling light and wearing trainers, were coming up behind and they soon passed me, breaking into a run as the path levelled out. Before long, they were way ahead, looking like specks in the distance, whilst the other two also looked like specks way behind. All the way along, there were good views back over Ullswater and Place Fell, as well as views across to the Helvellyn range. After a stretch of gentle ascent along the ridge, came a steeper one towards the summit of St Sunday Crag, until the ridge rounded off nearer to the summit itself. By now the views of Ullswater were almost gone, but there was a fine panorama of mountains from the High Street range behind, where Angle Tarn could also be seen, to the Western Fells in the distance, past Seat Sandal, with Fairfield looming up ahead.

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Ascent of St Sunday Crag with Dollywaggon Pike ahead
Ascent of St Sunday Crag
Dollywaggon Pike from St Sunday Crag
Dollywaggon Pike
Fairfield from St Sunday Crag
Fairfield from St Sunday Crag

I reached the summit at 10.55 and stayed for about half an hour. The wind was quite cool, but, with some warmth from patches of sunshine, and some shelter from the summit cairn, it was quite pleasant. A lady came by whilst I was resting, complaining about the cold wind and, as I left the shelter of the cairn; I was met with an icy blast to illustrate her point. As I left the summit, there was still no sign of the two chaps I had started off with, so they were obviously in no hurry. My route then dropped down towards Grisedale Tarn, as I thought that I would have enough climbing to do today without the additional ascent of Fairfield, and the icy gusts of wind continued until I dropped some way down, obtaining a little more shelter there.

Most of the way, there was little evidence of yesterday's heavy rain. Water is very quick to drain down the steep fell sides, so, once the rain stops, it is not very long before all the white water cascades are reduced back to a steady flow, or even a trickle in some cases. The larger watercourses further down the valleys stay swollen for a little longer, though, whilst the last of the rainfall finds its way down. Whilst walking along most of the way, it didn't look as if there had been much more than a few showers. However, Grisedale Tarn had obviously accumulated a considerable amount of extra water, as I could see some Coast-to-Coast walkers having problems crossing Grisedale Beck, where it emerged from the tarn. They eventually managed to cross, though I couldn’t quite see if they avoided getting their feet wet. Yesterday, some of the hostellers had had to wade through to get across.

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Grisedale Tarn, Seat Sandal and Western Fells
Grisedale Tarn
Grisedale Tarn with St Sunday Crag to right
Grisedale Tarn
Waterfalls on Raise Beck
Raise Beck

I made my way along a narrow path on the hillside above Grisedale Tarn to avoid having to lose height that I would have to regain further on, then picking up the path towards Dunmail Raise, which followed Raise Beck down to the A591 road. At 12.35, I stopped for a lunch break in a lovely, sheltered spot by some waterfalls just below the path, and saw a few other walkers pass by from time to time. Further down, I crossed the road to pick up a path on the other side, running more or less parallel with the road northwards towards Thirlmere. Being higher than the road, the path gave much better views over the reservoir, with the scenery enhanced by the gradually improving weather.

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Helm Crag from Dunmail Raise
Helm Crag from Dunmail Raise
Thirlmere from Steel End
Thirlmere from Steel End
Harrop Tarn to west of Thirlmere
Harrop Tarn

Shortly after reaching the minor road that runs round the eastern shore of Thirlmere, I took a footpath leading up the steep, rugged slopes of Birk Crag, and thence to Harrop Tarn, which is set in a small forest. I started to go the wrong way around the tarn until I checked my map, but then decided it was far better to retrace my steps for five minutes than risk having some difficulty getting round the opposite side. Fortunately, there was a newly erected footbridge over Dob Gill, where it came out of the tarn, as I might have found it rather tricky keeping my feet dry over the old crossing, with the present water level. A bridleway signposted to Watendlath then took me up above the forest and over by Blea Tarn, one of the many Lakeland tarns bearing the same name.

On the way, I stopped for a short rest and a drink, with a fine view looking back towards St Sunday Crag and the rest of the mountain range. With the ground around here not sloping as steeply as it did around the higher fells, the water was slower to drain away, and there were quite a number of boggy stretches along the path. My original plan had been to follow the rather flat-topped ridge northwards to High Seat, before dropping down towards Derwent Water, but I couldn't see much of a path leading over that way, and didn't have a lot of spare time for extra walking, having already taken the detour via St Sunday Crag, so decided to take the more direct, and probably easier, route via Watendlath.

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Dollywaggon Pike, St Sunday Crag and Fairfield from west
Dollywaggon Pike & Fairfield
Watendlath Tarn and Bassenthwaite Lake from Brimming Knott
Watendlath Tarn from Brimming Knott
Watendlath Tarn and Borrowdale Fells
Watendlath Tarn and Borrowdale Fells

On the way there were some lovely views of Watendlath Tarn with a backdrop of the mountains of Borrowdale, all bathed in sunshine. A steep path drops down to the tarn and village, where there were quite a few people, this being a very popular tourist spot. I stopped by the tarn for a five-minute rest before taking the path to the west of Watendlath Beck, with the road on the other side. There is a tendency to assume that, once down into a valley, that the going will be quick and easy, but this is often not the case. The area around here is rather rocky and craggy, and the path meanders in and out between rocks and boulders with quite a few ups and downs and uneven, rocky surfaces, so it wasn't quick at all, though preferable to walking along the road.

Eventually, the path ended and joined the road for the last mile or so. There is a viewing spot along the way, with a marvellous view overlooking Derwent Water, with Skiddaw beyond, and the weather was now perfect to enable it to be seen at its best. Further along is the much-photographed Ashness Bridge, with a view across Derwent Water to Skiddaw, though the sun was in the wrong direction to get a good photograph. I seem to remember more of the lake being visible from earlier photographs, but the trees are now far more and cut off some of the view, though Skiddaw is still very prominent. Derwentwater Youth Hostel was somewhere down below, and I thought that there might be a short cut down there but didn't see one, so I continued down to the lakeside road and doubled back to the hostel from there.

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Derwent Water, Bassenthwiate Lake and Skiddaw
Derwent Water
Flooding around head of Derwent Water
Head of Derwent Water
Derwentwater Youth Hostel (Barrow House)
Derwentwater Youth Hostel

The hostel is in a fine old mansion, Barrow House, with large grounds and access, just across the road, to Barrow Bay, which all makes it very popular for school parties, and there were two of them in tonight. However, being a large building, the warden was able to put the rest of us in dormitories at the opposite end of the building, where it would be more peaceful. The dining room was going to be heaving with children, so the warden set up a place for me, the only other one having a hostel meal, in the self-catering kitchen. I sat there by the window looking out across the lake on this lovely evening - what a contrast from the weather of yesterday.

When I had gone up to my dormitory, I had found a different arrangement of bedding than the usual sheet sleeping bag. There were brand new packs containing a white fitted bottom sheet, a dark blue duvet cover, and two light blue pillow cases along with a new duvet and two new pillows. I wasn't aware of it at the time, but this was to be the norm for all hostels from now on, which explains why the reception area at Patterdale was piled high with bags full of linen, presumably awaiting the official change over day. This was a great improvement on the old sheet sleeping bags, which I always found totally ineffective, as they only needed a couple of turns over in bed to become tangled up in a mess, leaving a hosteller effectively just sleeping between a sheet and duvet cover that had been used by many other hostellers without being washed. The new system is far more hygienic, though it did need a bit of practice in feeding the duvet into the duvet cover. The other thing that sprang to mind was that the laundry bills would be considerably higher, and this would certainly be passed on in future bed prices.

The warden told me that, up until about a week ago, the lake was at a very low level, there having been virtually no rain in northern England or Scotland for many weeks, leaving some of the Scottish islands suffering from drought. In the space of a week, the situation had been completely reversed, with the lakeside path now under a foot of water. It was, however, still possible to see patches of dried-out, dead grass on many of the fells.

After dinner, I sat out in front of the hostel on a bench for a while until the midges started to become a nuisance and the children started to make a lot of noise, playing nearby. I wandered down to the bay, where the midges had not yet invaded, and watched someone pulling a boat along, wading up to his knees where the footpath was underwater. With the loss of the path, there was nowhere else for a short walk, other than the road, and the midges had now found there way here as well, so I returned to the hostel to have another bottle of Jenning's Cumberland Ale, and to write a few postcards. The weather forecast from Sunday was still pinned up in the hostel and this had predicted winds gusting to 65 mph, with some gusts of 75 to 80 mph locally, presumably meaning around mountain tops, where the temperatures, with wind chill, would feel like -5 Celsius. I would agree that, for once, they got it right!

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