The Lakeland Round 1995

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 2 - Ambleside to Coniston

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Start of the Walk

Day 1 - Saturday 20th May - Ambleside to Grasmere via Fairfield Horseshoe

Distance: 12 miles, Ascent: 3350 ft

Accommodation: Butterlip How Y.H.A. - 14.70 Dinner B&B

I had quite a reasonable night's sleep although I tend to wake up around dawn at this time of year. The weather didn't look as good as promised: there had been rain overnight and there was still a lot of thick cloud about, particularly on the fells. I didn't want to rush to get away as I did not have such a long walk and I hoped that the weather might improve later. I had breakfast and spent some time sorting out my things and deciding what to take and what to leave in the car - I decided to take my walking trousers, cap and gloves, and leave behind my second pair of shorts.

Just as I was about to set off I found that my wallet was missing. I knew it had been in my back pocket at breakfast but I had since changed into shorts, so I searched through all the things I had packed, looked in the dining room, asked at reception and checked in and around the car, but it was nowhere to be found. I started wondering what I could do, as I still had a chequebook but no credit cards, a few pounds in change and my YHA membership card. I could possibly cash a cheque either at the hostel or a bank but would still need to report the missing credit cards. I went back to the dormitory, had one further look and, to my great relief, found the wallet under my bed.

I set off at 9.30 a.m. leaving my own details and those of my car with reception, in case there were any problems. I was a little surprised that they were happy to let me park the car there for 12 days when the car park had been quite full the previous night and the following weekend was Spring Bank Holiday. The reason was that there were a number of school parties booked in over the holiday weekend so there would not be so much pressure on parking space.

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Sykeside and High Street from Hart Crag (Fairfield)
Sykeside and High Street
Rydal Valley and Lake Windermere from Fairfield
Windermere from Fairfield
Helvellyn and Striding Edge from Fairfield
Helvellyn & Striding Edge

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Central Lakeland Fells from Fairfield
Central Fells from Fairfield
Wetherlam, Swirl How and Crinkle Crags from Fairfield
Wetherlam & Crinkle Crags
Dollywagon Pike, Helvellyn and Grisedale Tarn from Great Rigg
Helvellyn from Great Rigg

The start of the walk meant following the same route as last night into Ambleside before finding my way up the road which turned into a lane and then a path to Fairfield. It was spotting with rain but not bad enough to need waterproofs and it was a lot milder than of late. On the climb up the ridge, there were a few brighter spells but then it started to rain enough to require my waterproofs. I never like having to put them on when climbing upwards as the perspiration makes everything damp underneath. However, it brightened up again nearer the summit so I was able to take them off again for the rest of the day. The view out to High Street and the east was marvellously clear but the west still had a lot of heavy cloud as I stopped for lunch. At the summit, the cloud had cleared from nearly everywhere giving some breathtakingly clear views in all directions. As Fairfield is rather flat topped, it is best to wander around the edge to get the best view in each direction. From the various viewpoints it was possible to see as far as Cross Fell, Ingleborough, Morecambe Bay, the Solway Firth and the Southern Uplands of Scotland, as well as a whole panorama of Lakeland Fells in the nearer distance. Eventually, the only fells still to have some cloud were the Scafell Pikes and Great Gable. I spent a good while wandering around admiring the views and taking photographs as I had plenty of time to spare.

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Rydal Water and Lake Windermere from Nab Scar
Rydal Water & Windermere
Butterlip How Youth Hostel, Grasmere and Stone Arthur
Butterlip How Youth Hostel

Eventually I started the long, steady descent at 3.10 p.m. and was still treated to splendid views all of the way down. By Rydal Hall the path followed the hillside overlooking Rydal Water, before eventually coming out by Dove Cottage of Wordsworth fame.

As I went through Grasmere village, I looked for a shop to buy a few things for next day's lunch, but all the shops that were open were tourist shops, the little bakery being closed. I wasn't too worried as I had enough things left to manage with. I telephoned home and then made my way to Butterlip How hostel which is far closer to the village than Thorny How where I had stayed twice before. Butterlip How is a lovely big country house in extensive grounds that were well kept by YHA standards. Too often, the grounds of such hostels are left to become overgrown which is a great shame. Being close to the village, it is also much handier for popping to the pub in the evening.

I booked in and had dinner of tomato soup, chicken and vegetable pie and apple crumble. There were only seven having dinner - three of them were going to do a challenge walk the next day for charity. The walk is a figure of eight loop starting at Patterdale, going onto Helvellyn, Fairfield, round the Fairfield Horseshoe in the opposite direction, from Fairfield onto St. Sunday Crag and then down to Patterdale. There were supposed to be 700 people doing the walk, so I was heartily glad that I would not be on Fairfield at the same time. Because of the numbers doing the walk, the hostels nearer to the start were fully booked so the three of them would have to be off early to drive around to the registration point.

Two young women at dinner were doing the Lakeland Round like me, but had started from Coniston and were coming up to their last day. They were quite surprised to find someone who had not only heard of the walk, but who was actually doing it as well. They were doing the walk in the 10 stages laid out in the book but had actually missed out some of the high level sections because of bad weather and had missed out the Fairfield Horseshoe because they had done it before. Instead they had taken a taxi from Ambleside Youth Hostel to Troutbeck to walk over Wansfell Pike and had taken a taxi the previous day from Troutbeck to Ambleside. What they didn't realise was that they could have stayed at the hostel in Troutbeck but, because it is called Windermere Youth Hostel, they didn't know it was actually in Troutbeck. With some of the northern sections, they had stayed for three nights in Keswick Youth Hostel. The husband of one of them had visited by car enabling them to have lifts to and from the various start and finish points as well as enabling them to walk carrying only day packs for a couple of days.

The other person at dinner was a girl with a French accent who was complaining that wherever she had walked she kept coming across roads. She had expected to find large areas of wilderness which, if she had taken the trouble to consult a map, she could have done, but there again, without a map, it was perhaps better that she didn't find them or she may have got herself lost.

After dinner I went for a stroll round Grasmere Lake. Half of the way it is necessary to walk along the road but the western side is National Trust land with a public footpath. It was a beautiful evening with the sun still lighting up the hillsides until it eventually set behind the fells. This was a very good time of year for colour; many of the large houses around have beautiful rhododendrons and other shrubs and bushes with blazes of different colours. Woods and fields are carpeted in bluebells and there is wild garlic growing by the wayside.

Later I called back into the village again for a couple of pints in a pub that I had visited on previous occasions and is favoured by many of the walkers. The place got quite lively at one stage as a hen party moved in with the bride-to-be in fancy dress with balloons etc. tied onto her.

I returned to the hostel and slept quite well until the 'challenge walk' chaps got up at 6 a.m. with some grumbles about the kitchen being locked when the warden had promised to leave it open. I don't know how they managed - whether they woke up the warden or managed without.

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Day 2 - Sunday 21st May: Grasmere to Coniston

Distance: 12.1 miles, Ascent: 2750 ft (+ 4 miles and 1200 ft to Coppermines)

Accommodation: Coniston (Holly How) Y.H.A. - 13.90 Dinner B&B

There were a few more there for breakfast than had been at dinner. There was a party of five from France, two chaps who had been in my dormitory and three girls including the one who had been at dinner. There were also a couple of elderly women and the two 'Lakeland Round' girls.

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Rydal Water and Wetherlam from Loughrigg Fell
Rydal Water & Wetherlam
Loughrigg Tarn from Loughrigg Fell
Loughrigg Tarn

The weather was quite pleasant with an overall covering of light cloud and a bit of haze as I set out at 9 a.m. heading up the hillside to Silver Howe, which gives a splendid view over Grasmere Lake and Rydal Water. Unfortunately, the hazy conditions were not so good for photographs, but the view was still quite good. There was still some cloud on the higher fells but it did appear to be lifting gradually. I met the two girls from the hostel at Silver Howe and then a group of middle aged women who were doing the Westmorland Way. After a while I made my way over to Loughrigg Fell, which was the latter of the two moderately high hills of this day's walk. Despite the fact that this part of the route does not go very high, there are still a few steep ascents and descents over these lower fells so this is not entirely an easy day. At times, the sun attempted to break out and it was then quite pleasantly warm, but for the most part, it was overcast with a cool breeze.

There were quite a lot of people about, particularly on Loughrigg Fell and by Loughrigg Tarn, but then it was a Sunday. One chap I met said that Wordsworth wouldn't have "wandered lonely as a cloud" now! I just saw the two girls leaving Loughrigg Fell as I reached there - they had been in more of a hurry to make progress than I was and had gone on ahead of me.

At Skelwith Bridge I went along the path by the river to Skelwith Force and had lunch on the rocks there. Considerable numbers of people visited there from the other side of the river but none from my side. This section of the walk follows the Cumbria Way, making its way along to Tarn Hows, one of the many areas owned by the National Trust. The route, although not very high, gave good panoramic views of many of the fells, the visibility having improved considerably and the cloud having cleared from the tops. Coniston Old Man, Crinkle Crags, Bow Fell, the Langdale Pikes and Fairfield were all clearly in sight. I kept trying to see the Scafell Pikes but then realised that they are hidden by Crinkle Crags and Bow Fell unless you are high enough up to see over them.

On the way to Tarn Hows I again met the two girls who had stopped off in Skelwith Bridge to indulge in some sticky buns. Tarn Hows itself I didn't find particularly inspiring - if it were in some other area where the general scenery were not so good then I could appreciate it more. It is a pleasant place for a gentle stroll, which many people were doing, but I wouldn't go out of my way to see the place when there is so much more to see nearby. However, others may find the combination of tarns and woods more to their liking, whereas I tend to dislike woodland in areas like this because it blocks off the views of the mountains.

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Skelwith Force
Skelwith Force
Coniston Coppermines and Swirl How
Coniston Coppermines

Despite having had quite a leisurely walk, I arrived in Coniston at 4 p.m. and bought a few lunch things before dropping off my pack at the youth hostel. As it was still quite early, I decided to take a stroll up to the copper mines, as I would not have time to go that way the next day. Like many of these places, the area is being preserved as part of our industrial heritage. There is another youth hostel in one of the copper mine buildings and lots of old workings can be seen all around the hillsides, some of them in very steep and high places where tramways had to be built to get the ore down the hillside. As it was still early, I decided to go further up to Levers Water past a rather spectacular series of waterfalls. I remember coming up via this route over 30 years ago with a friend on our motorbikes. We were able to ride up the old mining road to, if my memory serves me correctly, just below the waterfalls, where there was an old lorry and other machinery rusting away in some ruined buildings. None of this was in evidence now, as there has been a certain amount of tidying up in recent times. The ascent was so much easier without a pack and I didn't realise that I had actually climbed to over half the height of Coniston Old Man and, by the time I had returned to the hostel, I had walked four miles. I got back to Coniston at 6 p.m., telephoned home from a public call box which tends to give better value than the payphones in hostels, and then returned to the hostel to book in, have a shower and get changed.

There were not many people staying that night, most having returned home at the end of the weekend. There were two couples at dinner; one elderly couple from Sheffield who were walking around hostels in one area then moving their car to another base and doing the same thing again. The other couple were from Newcastle and were touring by car, which would not have been permitted in the old youth hostelling days. The chap from Sheffield bore a remarkable similarity to Prince Charles, although he was about 20 years older and it was quite unnerving at first, wondering whether I should be addressing him as "Your Highness". Dinner was leek soup, pork with vegetables, and treacle sponge.

After dinner I washed out a few things, had a rest and then went into town for a pint and to post a card home. I spent ages searching the streets for a post box only to find that I had passed the Post Office on the opposite side of the road without noticing it. When I eventually got to the pub there was only time for one pint as I had forgotten that it was half past ten closing on Sunday.

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