Cumbrian short circuit days 3-6

photo: T. Morgan

Day 4 - Black Sail to Keswick via Dale Head

Today we resolve not to miss any more tops, and after a good nights sleep we head off by 8.30am on the Coast to Coast path towards Honister Pass and the cafe, about which the only good things are the hot chocolate and the cheese and onion pasties. Self powered is only really powered by 3 things - cheese, snickers and pasties.  The weather is hot and hazy, but the drummocks in the valley bind their own spells as we shake the sleep from our heads.

Passing high over Haystacks and Buttermere early in the haze at 9am, we rest and drink water.  At the pass we meet tourists, still friendly as its early, and after refreshment head north up to Dale Head.  A long steady pull in the growing heat and humidity.  A fell runner moves up fast and surprises us.  The rocks and our breathing take control.  I start to enjoy the endorphins half way up - day 3 is always rough, day 4 is fitter - always.  The top is worth every calorie, as the ground simply peels away as you reach the summit to reveal high ridges on both sides of a enormous valley leading eventually to Keswick.  The images I have are too hazy to do it justice, but its a fine drop.

We come off sharp right and down on tip-toe to Dalehead Tarn, a beautiful spot in the midday sun for paddling, lunch and friendly dog showers.  The reeds penetrate the surface tension and the sky is submarine with mere smears of cloud.  Another wild camp must for the future, surely.

After resting again (it would be rude not to spend at least some time here) we ascend to the ridge and spend the afternoon in high heat walking from High Spy to Keswick, Maiden Moor and Catbells along the way.  These are easily accessible tops from Little Town and Keswick, and its easy to understand why they are so popular.  Catbells especially has a rollercoaster of a character and plainly makes a great 'first scramble' for many a youngster out with family for the milder weather.  Its busy, and as we get nearer town people become less friendly, but a good, easy and fun yomp all the same.

The end of the day is marked by a slightly tortuous path into the campsite at the head of Derwent Water, for which there is no easy access - you must continue on the Cumbrian way into town and then cut right.  The woods are beautiful respite from the sun but 'hotel riverside walk' does not hold a shortcut into the campground!

distance: 11.4m or 18.3 km
elevation range: 680ms
map here

 Day 5 - Sharp Edge and Blencathra

Today, was a day off, at least from the backpacks, so we went up Sharp Edge.  Catching the X50 bus at 10.10, after a hasty but hearty breakfast from Booths, we were ejected at Scales Farm and took the contours around the base of Blencathra as they came.  Another blue day.

This is an excellent first scramble for grown ups - it's much shorter than both Crib Goch and Striding Edge and certainly nowhere near as exposed as the Aonach Eagach, and we had a riot going up... others felt less sure but it wasn't too crowded so no rush.  The last haul up to Atkinson Pike is not to be underestimated as it is on largely flat slabs with less clearly defined holds, but we had the weather and the head for heights to make this a fun, exciting foray that was over far too quickly.  In winter it would be different - I'd like to come back and make this my first winter grade 1 climb.  Along to Blencathra top for lunch, contemplated Halls Fell ridge for the descent but decided to stay high and head along the ridge to Blease Fell, which allowed us to take stock of the next days route shimmering in the distance.

The route down from Blease Fell is long and arduous in the heat and the map is not the territory - the paths however all lead eventually to the Blencathra centre at the foot of the hill.  After that it was a languorous walk back in the sun through pasture and grazing, through woodlands and past dozing lambs and humming insects.  The hills became silhouetted in blue, ideas of themselves - hands in pockets now, after the exposed rock of the morning.  I love this variety.

After bimbling through meadows we enter Brundholme wood and a lovely path on the northern side of the river which bends and winds too much for us at the end of the day.  As always, the edges and margins - where the town meets the country, provided one of the weirdest scenes of the trip so far.

Later on, we went for a thai curry at the Star of Siam in Keswick, which was excellent, especially the wonton soup.

distance: 8.1m or 13km
elevation range: 790ms
map here

Day 6 - All manner of bewitchment from Castlerigg to under Great Dodd

Today we leave late from Keswick and aim off for Castlerigg Stone Circle, a mile or 2 out of town.

There were 3 equally significant things about this:  Firstly, the location, which is a circle of rock encircled by rock, blue mountains all around, and makes a striking impression in deep sympathy with its surroundings.  Secondly, these places are visited by people from all over the world - there were asians, americans, germans and brits all there taking it in - what could it all mean?  And lastly, word should be given to the best ice cream van in all christendom - Luchini plays a plaintive and endless blues on his half sized 'parrot' guitar, whilst he patiently waits for us to make our choice - except that we're listening to him...... this could go on forever.  Genius.

After, we do more ambling in the building heat along to Sykes, between Low Rigg and High Rigg, and pop in on St. John in the Vale chapel.   Its nice to get out of the heat and John Richardson sounds like an interesting guy, having written a book of Cumbrian poetry in the 1830's which remains important to the study of linguistics even now.  We stop for lunch at a lovely river at the foot of the valley, before embarking on the tortuous old coach road circling around Clough Head, entirely devoid of water or shelter.

It wasn't without its charms, the open country is quiet and the traffic moved off into the background.  We headed right at Mosedale Beck following the stream up to Calfhow Pike.  From dry to sopping wet, by now I have the hang of when to don the waterproof socks so dry feet and a smug grin are mine to wear whilst we seek out a camp spot.

Eventually we settle on a small hill under Great Dodd, with a view of Skiddaw in front and an extravagant bathing pool from which we take our fill.  Rice and a drop of wine culled from last nights restaurant, and bed by 9 to listen to the breeze moving across the high eastern Fells above us.  The walk is now starting to settle, achieve some balance.  We are quite alone.

distance: 9.7m or 15.6km
elevation range: 650ms approx
map here