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 6 - Derwent Water to Wast Water

[Index of Walks] [Previous] [Top] [Next]

[Index of Walks] [Previous] [Top] [Next]

Day 8 - Tuesday 24th June - GPS 15.4 miles - 3,450 ft ascent

Derwent Water to Elter Water (YHA) via High Seat, Ulscarf, High Raise and Stickle Tarn

Breakfast started at 07.30, so I got up at 07.00 to enable me to get most things ready before eating. The weather was not so bright, with an unbroken layer of high cloud. Again, because of the school parties, the four of us who were having breakfast were served in the self-catering kitchen. The standard breakfast was bacon, scrambled egg and beans, plus a cold buffet. There was a big breakfast available for an extra pound, giving a sausage and hash browns as well, but I had booked mine over the Internet, so hadn't been given the option, though I am sure that I could have upgraded had I so wished. It was quite peaceful at the start, as the kids weren't down until 08.00, so we were able to get our breakfast before they started milling around everywhere. Two other walkers were heading for Grasmere, and so was a cyclist, whilst another chap was leaving for home.

Click to Reduce

Cat Bells from near Derwentwater Youth Hostel
Cat Bells across Derwent Water
Skiddaw from near Derwentwater Youth Hostel
Skiddaw across Derwent Water

I managed to get an early start, leaving the hostel at 08.30, not that I had a particularly long day today, but it would allow me to take my time if I so wished. I set off back up the road towards Ashness Bridge and noticed on the way that I had missed a gate into the hostel grounds, which would have given me a short cut both last night and this morning, avoiding some road walking. The path up towards High Seat from Ashness Bridge was very steep at first, leading over some crags, and I was sweating quite a bit, as there was not a breath of wind lower down. The views were not so good this morning, lacking the sunshine of yesterday, but there was still quite good visibility and the cloud level was above the fells. After many short breathers, I got past the craggy ridge, where I found that there was a very fresh easterly wind blowing, now that I had lost the shelter of the crags. I had been feeling a few twinges of backache both last night and this morning. I have sometimes suffered from backache after completing a long distance walk but not during the walk itself, so I would just have to hope that it didn't get worse.

Click to Reduce

Skiddaw from Ashness Bridge
Skiddaw from Ashness Bridge
Derwent Water, Bassenthwaite Lake and Skiddaw
Derwent Water and Skiddaw

The rest of the way over to High Seat was easier going apart from the last short climb to the summit itself. There was a good panorama from here, extending to Blencathra and Helvellyn to the east, with a small part of Thirlmere visible, as well as all the other fells that I had been able to see yesterday on the route past Watendlath. It was now very cool on the exposed summit, so I put on my waterproof jacket to keep out the wind, and only stayed for fifteen minutes. Along this flat-topped ridge, the views were a bit more limited, but the ground was not quite as boggy as I had expected. There was a moderately trodden path following the boundary fence, with a number of places where I had to find my way around standing water, but, in general, the walking was not too difficult. The path climbed up and down over a few minor peaks, but there was not much of a climb to any of them, and I managed to avoid getting water over the tops of my boots, even in the boggiest parts. The going was a bit slow because of all the meandering about, but it didn't matter, as I had plenty of time. However, it did prove that I made the right decision by not coming this way yesterday afternoon. The walking reminded me more of the peaty moors of the Peak District rather than the Lake District, but with only about a tenth of the amount of peat, though, of course, the views here of the distant mountains made it quite different from the point of view of the scenery.

At 11.30, I reached the point where I crossed the fence yesterday, which meant that I had taken three hours from the hostel including my stop on High Seat. It wouldn't have taken quite as long the other way, because it would have been largely downhill, but would still have taken been longer than the route I took. Although the ridge was far less exhilarating than many Lake District ridges, in a long distance walk there is a need for variety, so there was nothing wrong with it. As I walked further along, there was one very prominent mountain to the southwest, and I couldn't quite work out which one it was, but when I checked the map it was Great Gable - I just hadn't realised that it was so close, which is why I had dismissed the idea initially.

There was a faint glimmer of sunshine, but otherwise the layer of high cloud remained firmly in place. As I made my way over to Ulscarf, the path got less boggy, with the exception of a few short stretches, and, after the initial steep climb up Standing Crag, the way got easier. I stopped for a rest on Standing Crag and had some lunch with a good view back over the way I had just come, and some shelter from the wind. A sheep and her lamb came along as I was sitting there, gradually coming closer and closer. In tourist areas, where people often give them food, they can become a nuisance, getting quite aggressive in their quest for a snack, so I gave them no encouragement and just sat looking at them. Although they had stopped nibbling the grass, the ewe just kept on chewing constantly, but I put this down to the fact that she had a blade of grass stuck between her front teeth, so the chewing was just an automatic reaction. Eventually, once they realised that there was nothing on offer, they wandered off to content themselves with more grass.

As I continued my way over towards Ulscarf, I was quite surprised how many people were coming over the other way. Being rather flat-topped, I never considered this to be a particularly interesting or popular mountain, but what it lacks in steep craggy sides, it makes up for in the fine panorama of mountains all around, as it is quite central. Several of the walkers were teenagers carrying large packs, which either meant that they were doing it as part of the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, or as some other outward bound course, but there were also quite a number of other walkers.

I continued on towards High Raise, passing Greenup Edge, to where I would be returning a few days later. The route was roughly marked by the old fence, whose rusty metal posts could be seen here and there. Most had either fallen down and were still visible, half-trodden into the ground, or had disappeared completely, but there were enough still upright to guide the way, not that this was a problem, as the path was quite clear anyway. The ascent of High Raise consisted of one fairly steep climb up to what looked like the top, then another more gentle ascent to what again looked like the top, and finally an almost level walk to what was definitely the summit, as it sported a trig point. Again, there were a number of people about as I stopped for the rest of my lunch at 14.00, using the summit shelter to keep off the wind. The weather was looking greyer and greyer, with a few spots of rain starting to fall and a decidedly chilly wind blowing. From here, there is a better view of the Southern and Western Fells, with Coniston Old Man, Crinkle Crags, Bow Fell, Scafell Pike and Great Gable, to name just a few.

An easy, grassy footpath led over to Sergeant Man, which offered a good view of Harrison Stickle, with Stickle Tarn down below, though there were better views of the tarn from the path further down. The path down was rather indistinct in places where people had taken different routes, but it didn't matter, as the main path by the tarn was always in view and easily accessible, even by walking down the grassy slopes. The main path comes down the very steep side of Harrison Stickle, and there were several people making their way down from there. Beside Stickle Ghyll, which drains the tarn, there are two paths down, the main one being a continuation of the one down from Harrison Stickle on the other side of the stream. The one I came to first, however, was a smaller one on my side of the stream. It suddenly started raining quite heavily, so I stopped to put on my over-trousers and to pack away my camera, which had not had much use today. The path down had been laid with stones, but instead of laying them level, or, even better, with a slightly backward slope, they had just laid them at the same angle as the slope. It would have been bad enough in the dry, but in the wet it was treacherous, and I had to take great care with every step to avoid having an accident that was just waiting to happen.

Click to Reduce

Stickle Tarn, Pike of Stickle and Harrison Stickle
Stickle Tarn

Eventually, the path improved where it joined another one, and the rest of the way to the New Dungeon Ghyll Hotel was much easier and safer. The rain had already stopped when I reached the bottom, and, sheltered from the wind by the steep mountains, I suddenly started to feel hot and sticky. This called for the removal of my rainwear at last. I had been wearing my jacket for most of the day because of the cold wind, so it was a pleasure to remove it and feel the fresh air without being too cold. For the last leg of the walk to Elterwater Youth Hostel, I joined the Cumbria Way, which avoids the road for most of the way by climbing a little way up the valley side for a while, giving good views back to the Langdale Pikes. It then drops back down beside Great Langdale Beck, the banks of which have been built up considerably to prevent flooding, and it was possible to see from the flattened vegetation the level that the recent heavy rain had reached. It had come a considerable way up the embankments, but nowhere near danger level.

I arrived at the hostel at 17.10, only to find that I couldn't even get in through the door for the queue at reception. I had obviously hit a bad time, just ten minutes after opening time, whereas I am often later than that and don't have any problems. The queue gradually diminished, and I was able to check in at about 17.30, ordering my dinner of beef cobbler plus my breakfast and packed lunch. The food was very good, with freshly and lightly cooked vegetables, always the sign of a good chef. There were five people having the hostel meal, but many more self-catering. The rain became heavier again, so I didn't bother going to the pub, instead reading in the lounge for a while before retiring for an early night. I find on most walks, when I have been sweating a lot during the day, I am desperate for a few pints of beer in the evening, as it seems to be the only way to quench my thirst and replace my body fluids. On this walk, however, I have spent so little time feeling warm, that I have often been content with the odd bottle of beer to drink with my evening meal.

[Index of Walks] [Previous] [Top] [Next]

Day 9 - Wednesday 25th June - GPS 18.5 miles - 2,300 ft ascent

Elter Water to Wast Water (YHA) via Angle Tarn, Sty Head Tarn and Wasdale Head

It was wet outside when I got up at 07.30, and the forecast was for poor weather in the morning but brightening up in the afternoon. Breakfast was at 08.00 and the warden was doing it on his own, so was a bit slow getting going, but nobody was in a particular hurry to get off into the drizzle outside. The few things that I had washed out last night were all dry, as were my boots, though it didn't look as if they would stay that way for very long, especially as the rain had started to get heavier. I packed away everything as well as I could to try and keep them dry, and put on my waterproofs before venturing outside at 09.10. As I was setting off, it stopped raining, but by the time I had gone fifty yards down the road it started again with a fairly heavy shower.

I needed to retrace my route of yesterday along the Cumbria Way for about three miles to the New Dungeon Ghyll Hotel, then follow it to the head of Great Langdale before it headed towards Borrowdale over the Sticks Pass, whilst I headed near Esk Hause on the way to Wasdale. I was pleased to find that my backache was almost gone today, which was one less thing to worry about. Going past the quarry I had encountered yesterday, I must have taken a wrong turning, ending up further up the hillside near to some woods. This was a route that I had wondered about taking last night, so decided to continue that way for a change of scenery.

The rain continued to come down steadily, with the cloud at about 1,500 to 2,000 ft, covering the tops of all the higher fells. Once in a while, the vague grey shape of one of the Langdale Pikes would loom out of the gloom before being swallowed up again by the cloud. I regained the Cumbria Way after a while and then continued past the Dungeon Ghyll Hotels, both new and old to follow Mickleden Beck along Great Langdale. It was surprising how many people were out walking considering the foul state of the weather, but people seem determined to get out regardless. At the head of the valley, most people forked off to the right up the Sticks Pass, whilst I decided to take a rest and a bite to eat before climbing up over Rosset Crag towards Angle Tarn (another one of the same name, not the one on the Coast-to-Coast). I suspected that the weather could be a lot worse higher up, so it was better to stop here, where there was at least some shelter by a wall, rather than take my chances on the promised weather improvement later on.

The wind, which had been quite strong, was not very strong here, sheltered by steep fells on three sides, but the rain still kept on coming and going in waves. The ascent towards Angle Tarn is quite long and steep, and the path zigzags its way up the craggy hillside. I was following a couple who were not very well dressed for the weather conditions, neither of them having waterproof trousers and the woman wearing jeans, which are very bad in the wet. As they reached the top of the ridge and stopped, I caught up with them, and they asked me where we were on the map. We had already entered the cloud, so visibility was down to about fifty yards, and it was getting colder with the wind strengthening and the rain still coming down. They were heading for Scafell Pike, which was still some way off, and were already in doubt as to their whereabouts, so I didn't think that it would be very wise for them to go ahead. I pointed out our position on the map and where they needed to turn for Scafell Pike, but also warned them that the wind was likely to be far worse on the exposed mountaintops, making it very cold, wet and unpleasant.

I went on ahead towards Angle Tarn, but when I looked back, there was no sign of the couple - they must have thought better of it and decided to turn back. The route over Scafell Pike was one of my options and, had the weather started to improve, I would probably have taken it, but there was no sign of this happening at the moment, so it was best to stay with the easier option past Sty Head Tarn, avoiding the exposed, high peaks. The wind was now starting to blow in violent gusts: it would be quite calm for a while until a sudden gust of about 50 to 60 mph would take me by surprise, nearly knocking me off balance, before it dropped again just as suddenly as it had started. Half a mile or so past Angle Tarn is a shelter in the shape of a cross, which enabled me to finish off my packed lunch. The bottom compartment had about half a pint of water sloshing around in it, so it was just as well that I only had my sandwich container in there: even that had managed to get some wet inside. It was not a place to stay for long so, after a quick drink and a bite to eat, I set off on my way again, but first of all tipped the water out of my rucksack.

I remember reading a very amusing book by Barry Pilton entitled ‘One Man and His Bog’, in which he recounted his walk of the Pennine Way. In a glossary of terms at the end, he had the following entries, if I can remember them correctly:

Reservoir: A large container for collecting rainwater.
Rucksack: A small container for collecting rainwater.

This now seemed very apt, and made me wonder, as I said before, why drain holes are not a standard feature in the bottom of rucksacks.

Setting off from the shelter, I had a bit of difficulty finding the right path. The one I wanted was straight ahead, but there were only paths going off left or right. I tried each one for a short way, but neither seemed to be going in the right direction, the one heading for Scafell Pike and the other going too far north. After wandering back and forth in the mist for a while, I then found that the one going northwards had a fork to the left a little way further on, and that was the path I was looking for, but this was not shown very clearly on the map. This is just one of the problems in the mist, when it is impossible to see where paths are going some way ahead, nor to get a feeling for the lie of the land. Another problem came when I started to find swollen streams that were difficult to cross. I came to one and spent some time figuring out the best place to cross, only to find that I shouldn't have crossed it anyhow, as the path I should have taken stayed on the same side of the stream, so I had to cross back over again.

My route dropped down towards Sprinkling Tarn, which was just about clear of mist, revealing a lovely view of craggy hills behind this very attractive tarn. The next landmark was Sty Head Tarn, a little way off to the right from the path. There were several tents pitched nearby - a lovely spot to camp in fine weather, but I was not sure about now. Below Sty Head, the path was a little vague, the main path being the one leading down from Great Gable, a little further over. However, I followed a small path down the hillside and all was well until it led me to the confluence of two very swollen streams. The one to my left was far too wide and, in any case, I needed to cross the smaller one to join up with the main path to the right. Where the path was intended to cross was far too difficult, so I kept on going up the hillside examining all sorts of possibilities, none of which looked very promising.

Click to Reduce

Waterfalls below Sty Head where I was caught between the two converging streams
Waterfalls below Sty Head
Towards Sty Head from head of Wasdale
Sty Head from Wasdale
Wasdale Head Inn with Black Sail Pass to right, behind
Wasdale Head Inn

The problem was that, although there were stones and rocks in varying places looking as if they would act as stepping stones, many were covered in lichens, making them extremely slippery when wet. This would be difficult enough if they could be taken in small steps, but if they required a leap then the chances of ending up head first in the raging torrent of water were quite considerable, especially when carrying the destabilising weight of a rucksack. Further upstream, the stream split into two smaller ones, one of which was relatively easy to cross, but the other was still proving difficult, even though it was now a little narrower. Eventually, I found one place where the streambed was fairly flat and not too deep. The water would come over the tops of my boots but I could get across with a couple of steps in the water and, at least, there was much less chance of slipping, which was my major concern. This seemed the best option without going higher and higher up the hillside and possibly right back up to the top to find somewhere better.

One good thing about over-trousers is that, in situations like this, the water pressure tends to clamp the bottom of their legs around the boots, helping to create a seal. If everything is done quickly, it is possible to step into fairly deep water without very much of it entering the boots. With this accomplished, it was just a matter of following the main path down to Wasdale Head, though there was still a lot of surface water to contend with in places. The wind was a lot less strong down here and the rain had more or less stopped. Although it had been very wet and windy earlier, it was nowhere near as bad as on Sunday over Thornthwaite Crag. The other saving grace was that the wind was coming from behind for most of the time, so I didn't notice it so much. It was only on odd occasions when it changed direction for a while, or when I turned round to face into it, that I realised how bad it was.

Looking at the hillsides, there were far fewer of the white water torrents tumbling down than on Sunday and, judging by the huge amount of rock and boulder debris in and around the streambed further down, the volume of water flowing now was but a tiny fraction of what it has been sometimes in the past.

All that remained now was to walk down the length of Wast Water Lake to the youth hostel by the far end. The shortest way would have been to follow the road, but I thought it would be more interesting to take the lakeside path at the bottom of the scree slopes. The first access to this was from just past Wasdale Head, but a sign warned that the path was prone to flooding, so I thought it wiser to bypass that bit and turn off the road by the campsite at the head of the lake.

The campsite brought back memories of over forty years ago when I used to come here with some of my friends on our motorbikes. At that time, the campsite was just a piece of rough scrubland beside the stream with no facilities, though I believe that there was a toilet at the farmhouse about half a mile away that we never used. We often camped there for free, as the farmer only came around once in a while to collect money from the campers. However, sometimes he did catch up with us, asking for a bob a person a night, a bob being a shilling, or five pence in today's money. One year we got a taste of inflation, though, as he came round asking a bob a person a night and a bob for th' tent. As I mentioned, we never really knew where the toilets were and used to ride several miles to Gosforth to use the public toilets there. Some years later the land was taken over by the National Trust, who started to operate an environmental policy by charging according to the colour of the tent. Any tent that was either green or brown and, therefore, blended in with the scenery, was either free or at a reduced rate, but any other coloured tent paid full price. Later, trees were planted to screen the tents from view, but that was after my days of motorbike trips there.

At first, the path was easy, and I was able to make more rapid progress than I expected, but then came rocky stretches, which were slower and more difficult to negotiate. Further along, where it came to crossing the scree, this again seemed easier than expected, as the stones were quite small. However, each scree I came to had larger stones than the previous one, making the going more and more difficult. The weather was now more settled, with blue sky showing in the distance near the coast, so I stopped to take off my waterproofs in order to get some air to my clothes and to try to dry them out a bit in the wind. The final scree had stones that were the size of rocks and boulders, which had to be clambered over, whilst going up and down the slope trying to find the easiest route. On one of these I tripped and fell, banging my knee on a rock, but then found it quite difficult to pick myself up again because of the weight of the pack on my back. It is bad enough trying to get up from even ground when carrying a heavy pack, but over a pile of stones and boulders it is even more difficult. However, after floundering around like a beached whale for a while, I managed to get my feet and hands into reasonable positions and levered myself up. I didn't seem to be much the worse for wear, so carried on until, at last, I reached the end of the final scree, where the going got much easier again towards the foot of the lake.

Click to Reduce

Yewbarrow from foot of Wast Water
Yewbarrow from foot of Wast Water
Wastwater Youth Hostel (Wasdale Hall)
Wastwater Youth Hostel

I could see Wastwater Youth Hostel, a fine looking old mansion, across the lake as I went past, but I had to go a little further on to cross the river by a footbridge before doubling back through woods to the hostel, and arriving at 18.10. There was a large group staying there and they were booked to eat at 18.30, so anyone else was scheduled for 19.30. After showering, changing and phoning home, I went outside beside the lake, where the weather had improved still further, with sunshine now highlighting the scree slopes across the lake, though it was still rather cool and breezy.

The hostel dining room was run like a bistro, with candlelit tables in the splendid dining room, with its wood panelled walls and ornate ceiling. I ordered a starter of goats' cheese and honey with redcurrant jelly, followed by a beef cobbler with butter potatoes and fresh vegetables, plus a couple of bottles of Cumberland Ale. It was all very nicely cooked and presented, and would not have been out of place in a high-class restaurant. There were two Geordie walkers in there, a Belgian who had ridden all the way on his 25-year old Lambretta scooter, and a group of five women who were also walkers. We chatted quite a bit about various things, including the lakeside walk, which the group of ladies had also walked today. The Belgian had ridden all over, including the west coast of Scotland, though he seemed to be a little confused about his geography, as he still thought he was in Scotland now.

The drying room in the hostel wasn't very good, with little heat in there, just a dehumidifier, so I doubted very much whether my things would get dry. The forecast was for more rain, so they would only get wet again anyway, so it didn't matter too much whether they got dry or not. It had been a tiring day, so I went to bed to get some rest. The knee that I had banged earlier had been alright whilst I was walking, but was now hurting as I went up and down the stairs. It wasn't too bad, but I would have to see what it was like in the morning.

[Index of Walks] [Previous] [Top] [Next]