Westmorland Heritage Walk 2004

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 7 - Days 11 & 12 - Elterwater to Staveley

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Day 11 - Tuesday 20th July - 5.8 miles - little ascent

Elterwater to Ambleside

It was rather a dull morning with mist and cloud, though not actually raining, as I went down for breakfast at 8.00. I sat with two young women who were walking over to Eskdale via Swirl How, whereas I had a very gentle day ahead walking to Ambleside. This hostel is quite small compared to many of the Lake District hostels and the dining room was shared between several people having hostel breakfasts and several others who were self catering. There was a father with his two sons sharing my dormitory. They were heading for Grasmere but by a somewhat easier route than I took yesterday. I took plenty of time to get ready, as I was in no rush to get going, with only a short, easy walk ahead of me.

It was quite surprising that, after all the difficult, steep and uneven walking yesterday, an ordinary plaster had stayed in place over my blister which, although it was still weeping, had not caused me any trouble. I had expected that I would have had to put on another of the Compeed dressings half way along, but it doesn't look as if there will now be any need for one. Eventually, I started out at a leisurely amble by Great Langdale Beck, past Elter Water, to Skelwith Bridge, going past the waterfalls of Skelwith Force on the way. This part of the walk is also part of the Cumbria Way, but the two part company at Skelwith Bridge. It was rather muggy after the overnight rain and there was little movement of air as I followed the path through a the yard of a quarry, where they were cutting and polishing the local stone and had all kinds of things for sale. However, I didn't fancy carrying a few hundredweight of stone water feature for the next fifty miles, so I passed them by.

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With plenty of time on my hands, I decided to take a detour by Loughrigg Tarn and from there up onto Loughrigg Fell. From this side, the ascent is a very steep slog straight up the hillside - not quite the thing for my leisurely day, but then it only took about half an hour at a steady rate. It was well worth the climb, as it offers very good views of the eastern fells and, for its modest height of around a thousand feet, gives wider views than many places a lot higher. The wind sprang up as I reached the top, clearing much of the mist and cloud and bringing larger patches of sunshine, but it also made it feel quite chilly.

There were quite a number of people around including several families, as it is not a difficult peak for children to climb by the main route, and gives a real sense of achievement at the top. I followed the craggy top of Loughrigg Fell over to Todd Crag, which gave a splendid view over the head of Lake Windermere. From crags further along, there were even better views of Waterhead and Ambleside Youth Hostel, which used to be an hotel. From there I dropped down into Ambleside, which was very busy, as it is popular with all types of visitor. On the way through town, I called for a pint of Bass and found that the prices were more reasonable than in many places with my pint costing 2.20 rather than the 2.40 or more that some places had been charging.

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Lily Tarn near Todd Crag
Lily Tarn
Waterhead and Lake Windermere from near Todd Crag

I arrived by Ambleside Youth Hostel at 4.30 pm and wrote a few postcards by the side of the lake before checking in. There would have been no problem checking in sooner at this hostel, as it is extremely large and has reception open all day. Because of its lovely position and all its facilities, the hostel attracts a wide variety of different people, from foreign tourists to people who cannot find a B&B for the night. It is not, however, the sort of hostel that appeals very much to walkers, as its large size makes it very impersonal and it lacks the warm, cosy atmosphere of the smaller hostels in more remote places. Meals are provided in a cafeteria rather than the traditional single sitting, though this style of service is now being copied by many other hostels. I had soup, then oriental pork followed by treacle tart, which was all very tasty, and I sat by the window with a view across Lake Windermere. A bar is advertised, but it only sells canned and bottled drinks, so this is little more than is on offer in many other of the larger hostels.

It was now steadily raining outside so, after sitting in the lounge for a while, I put on my waterproof jacket and set off in search of a pub. I had it in mind that I would have to walk about a mile back into Ambleside, but then I noticed that there were places by the lake in Waterhead, not far away, saving me a trek in the rain. I came to the Wateredge Inn, which was quite busy inside, but there were tables under umbrellas outside, overlooking the lake. I sampled some of the local ales; Jenning's Crag Rat and Coniston Bluebird (I have visited the pub in Coniston where the Bluebird is brewed), before returning for an early night.

This was the first hostel of this walk where the dormitory was so full that I had to take a top bunk, even though I checked in quite early. Although this is a three star hostel, the accommodation was still rather cramped with seven sets of bunks but only one washbasin, one stool and four lockers. There also seemed to be no men's washrooms nearby, only toilets and showers. I settled down in bed, but it was a very warm, humid night, so not very comfortable for sleeping.

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Day 12 - Wednesday 21st July - 17.6 miles - 3,730 ft ascent

Ambleside to Staveley via Thornethwaite Crag (High Street)

I had quite a hard day ahead of me, so I tried to get off to an early start by getting up at 7.15 and going down for breakfast at 7.30, though I found that I had misread the times and it didn't start until 7.45. However, this still allowed me to get off by 8.30 into the rather poor weather outside, with mist, low cloud and drizzle. The route started off by going up through Skelghyll Wood, owned by the National Trust, towards Troutbeck. As I climbed up, it was already starting to brighten up a little behind me, but not where I was heading. I had to take care to keep on the right path, as several paths branched off, mainly going more steeply up the hill, whereas my route skirted around the hillside. It started to rain, so I stopped to put on my waterproofs only to find, as so often happens, that the rain had stopped by the time I got them on. Rather than take them off again right away, I left them on for a while in case the weather turned again.

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Troutbeck Park from Garburn Road
Troutbeck Park

From along the hillside there were some good views across Lake Windermere, firstly looking northwards, then later looking southwards as well. A track called Robin Lane then led down into Troutbeck where I crossed Trout Beck on the bridge near the church before starting the ascent into the mountains. There was a long steady incline along a track running obliquely up the hillside. It was time for a short break, so I stopped up above Limefitt Park with its large caravan park, looking across to Troutbeck, which sprawls out along the hillside across the valley. Wansfell Pike was just starting to clear of cloud, but it had a long way to lift before it would clear from the highest part of my route, though there were now some signs of blue in the sky. I was finding the walking and climbing quite easy today, unlike yesterday when every ascent was an effort. The short day's walk had obviously allowed me to recuperate from the strenuous walk on Monday.

A few other walkers appeared, presumably having come from Kentmere as I approached Yoke, the first peak of the ridge, which was now out of the cloud, as were the rest of the mountain tops around High Street. Just as I was approaching the summit, a low cloud came along and engulfed everything in mist. I was going to stop for a break, but carried on a little until the cloud had passed over, giving me a good view of Kentmere Reservoir with Harter Fell behind, its summit constantly in and out of the cloud. Considering what the weather was like when I set off this morning, I couldn't believe how lucky I had been so far. Even if I were to be engulfed in cloud from time to time, I would still consider myself fortunate. With the cloud out of the way, there were now views to the east and the gentler, rolling hills of the Yorkshire Dales.

After a series of ups and downs (more ups than downs), I eventually reached the point where a path swung across to the right towards Mardale Ill Bell and I followed that. The guidebook takes the path up to the beacon on Thornthwaite Crag, but I had not been checking this, as I was using OS maps because of my change of route after Harter Fell. However, I have been up to Thornthwaite Crag on a few occasions before, and I was not too worried about following the exact route of the walk this time, having done the walk before, so it didn't particularly bother me. There were some powerful gusts of wind whistling up the valley at the head of Kentmere but otherwise the weather was now pretty good, with the cloud thinning out and more sunshine.

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Haweswater Reservoir and Small Water
from Mardale Ill Bell
Haweswater and Small Water
Haweswater Reservoir from Harter Fell
Scrap Metal Cairn on Harter Fell
Harter Fell

I stopped for another short rest as I started to drop down to Nan Bield Pass, where it was a bit more sheltered from the wind. There was a fine view from here down to Small Water and Hawes Water Reservoir, the latter being very low because of the recent period of dry weather. It didn't take long to drop down to the Nan Bield Pass and climb up onto Harter Fell, which gave more good views of Hawes Water, Small Water and Blea Water. The best view of Hawes Water, though, is from the northern end of Harter Fell, past the strange scrap iron cairn made from the rusting remains of an old iron fence. This viewpoint, which is on the published route, involved a detour from my altered route, adding about a mile there and back, but it was worthwhile for the fine view. After returning to the summit of Harter Fell, I then made my way towards Kentmere Pike, following the ridge to the west of Longsleddale and the guidebook route. There is no accommodation to be found in Longsleddale, so my route change would allow me to drop down to the west of the ridge into Staveley for accommodation, saving me from a very long and tiring walk. The ridge walk was very easy and pleasant with wide views all around, whereas the walk down Longsleddale soon becomes very tedious. My route added a few hundred feet of ascent, but the reward was some lovely upland walking, albeit a little boggy in places. I pressed on at a good pace, with the weather now beautiful, and reached Staveley at just after 6 pm, but then found that my B&B was at the top end of the village making it 6.15 when I arrived.

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St Margaret's Tower, Staveley
St Margaret's Tower

After a shower and a very welcome pot of tea, I set off back down the road to find somewhere to eat. It was a beautiful evening and one where it would have been good to sit in the evening sunshine, but I didn't see anywhere with tables outside, so I went into the Duke William. It was very quiet in there with me as the only customer for a while, but that didn't matter as the bartender was very friendly and the Black Sheep extremely good. The food was also good and very reasonably priced - for soup, beef and ale pie, and a pint of Black Sheep I paid less than 9 - what a change from prices in the middle of the Lake District. After a while another customer arrived, then another two, but it was still very quiet by the time I left.

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