The Eastern fells

For many, the Eastern Fells mean Helvellyn and Striding and Swirral edges, and why not? Surely this is one of the classics of English hill walking.

But Helvellyn is merely the centrepiece of a long north-south ridge that is well worth exploring, and by no means the only fine hill of the group.

In my August 2016 trip I chose an enterprising route up to one of Helvellyn’s main satellites, Dollywaggon Pike, and a completely contrasting line over the rounded hills to Helvellyn’s north, centred on Great Dodd. Helvellyn via the two edges featured in one of my earliest hill-walks (1974), and the Fairfield Horseshoe in 2007 remains my wife Barbara’s longest-ever mountain excursion.

Approaching Sheffield Pike

Approaching Sheffield Pike

Thursday 25 August 2016. Great Dodd and its satellites, ten miles.

These rolling grassy hills to the north of Helvellyn are in many ways atypical of Lakeland, apart perhaps from the northern fells behind Blencathra, but that is all to the well and good: you have a chance of solitude. Indeed, despite an approaching bank holiday, I saw barely a dozen people all day.

This made sense as a linear walk, starting at Dockray, which I reached by the morning bus from Glenridding. It’s a long and lonely plod from here along the old coach road.

I left the old coach road at Mosedale Beck for the straightforward, and totally untracked, climb up to the first hill of the day, Clough Head (2382ft). It’s an unremarkable summit, one of Lakeland’s loneliest outliers, but at least I had something of a view, the cloud just brushing the top.

Approaching Clough Head

Approaching Clough Head from the old coach road

Clough Head summit

Clough Head summit

The cloud enveloped me soon enough, on the way to the highest hill of the day, Great Dodd (2812ft), and across to Stybarrow Dodd (2766ft) as well.

Stybarrow Dodd

Bemused sheep on Stybarrow Dodd

Things started to improve over Green Side (2608ft), one of the few Hewitts that is not also a Wainwright, and were markedly better at the day’s last hill, Sheffield Pike (2215ft). Though the lowest hill of the day, Sheffield Pike was in many ways the most interesting, jutting out craggily above Ullswater.

The safe way off is to backtrack to the hause to the west and drop down the zig-zags to Glenridding Beck, but a path headed off encouragingly to the SSE, so I thought I would try that. A couple on the top with me were debating whether to go that way, but as I managed to stumble awkwardly at the cairn, I don’t think they wanted to follow! Yet the path works, following down the ridge of Heron Pike to a bracken-fringed path circling Glenridding Dodd.

off Sheffield Pike

The interesting way off Sheffield Pike

All that remained now was to decide which pub to eat at, and as the Traveller’s Rest at the top of Glenridding village soon appeared, this was not a difficult choice. And later, the zig-zag couple stopped too.

Friday 26 August 2016. Dollywaggon Pike via The Tongue, ten miles.

The next day was much brighter, with cloud well above the tops. There’s a cluster of hills between Helvellyn and Fairfield which don’t always get their due, Dollywaggon Pike and St Sunday Crag amongst them, and it was a good day to explore them.

This route set itself nicely for a circular walk from Patterdale village, though to get there I had first to take the bridge over Goldrill Beck, the day’s main objective in sun-dappled view.

After munching on a breakfast sarnie at the post office, there was a long walk in down Grisedale, a typical Lakeland dale and so a joy to be following.

Dollywaggon Pike from Goldrill Beck

Dollywaggon Pike from Goldrill Beck

Grisedale

In Grisedale

At the climber’s hut of Ruthwaite Lodge, where the Coast-to-Coast path heads down from Grisedale Tarn, there’s an interesting route that heads up to Dollywaggon Pike (2810ft) via The Tongue. It’s not quite a scramble, but it is steep, and there’s the chance to get up close and personal with a bit of rock.
I was never quite in doubt of my route finding, but there was one little gully which seemed a little more committed than most of the route: just when I was beginning to be a tad uncertain, there was a little cairn right in the middle!

The route to the Tongue

The route to the Tongue above Ruthwaite Lodge goes to the left of the becks

The route soon crosses to the NE prow of the Pike, a grand way to reach the summit.

Approaching Dollywaggon Pike

Approaching Dollywaggon Pike summit

Looking westish to Scafell Pike and its companions, the weather seemed to be closing in – indeed walkers over there were probably having some unscheduled rain.

Looking west from Dollywaggon Pike

Before St Sunday Crag I had one other hill planned, Seat Sandal (2415ft). Unfortunately it’s not remotely as good as the other two, but it’s in the area so might as well be taken. I dropped steeply and directly off Dollywaggon to a saddle just above Grisedale Tarn, and then went straight up the other side, which might have been called Seat Sandal’s north ridge if it did proper ridges.

The box duly ticked, I headed down to Grisedale Hause, then contoured above the tarn for a while before heading up to Deepdale Hause – it was relief to be on good tracks again. The ground then rises inexorably up what is undoubtedly a ridge, the SW ridge of St Sunday Crag (2756ft).

Near the top of St Sunday Crag

Near the top of St Sunday Crag

From here the path heads relentlessly down the hill’s NE flank back towards Grisedale bridge, but rather than drop directly to the beck, I took a little path which twisted through Glenamara Park before arriving at the back door of the Patterdale Hotel.

The Far Eastern fells

My first long walk, from the Tees valley to the Kirkstone Pass road in spring 1972, ended with a traverse of the Far Eastern fells, from Haweswater to Hartsop.

I remember coming over Harter Fell and Mardale Ill Bell before the highest of the group, High Street, and finally Thornthwaite Crag, with its great cairn. Finally I dropped into Threshwaite Mouth, which seemed to me impossibly steep – I inched down on my bottom – before following Pasture Brook to the finish. Here I hitched a lift to Glenridding with two old guys (as I then thought them), and wondered if one of them was – whisper it – Wainwright himself.

Forty years is a long wait to return to some hills; in fact, it was 44. In August 2016 I had a few days based in the camp site below Place Fell, and as well as the two routes in the Eastern Fells above, used it as an opportunity for the two routes below.

The ascent to Caudle Moor

The ascent to Caudle Moor

Wednesday 24 August 2016. Caudale Moor, four miles.

A simple little jaunt. I parked at the top of Kirkstone Pass to give myself a 1500ft starter for the climb to the top of Caudale Moor (2502ft). There’s a little bit of crag near the start (Raven’s Edge) but otherwise it’s just a case of follow the wall. The top of the moor is flat, so the main challenge is finding the summit cairn, set back a little, which on a beautiful evening was all part of the fun. Same way back, which gives a chance to have a better look at the view behind me on the way up.

Ill Bell ridge

The Ill Bell ridge of the Kentmere Horsehoe

Saturday 27 August 2016. High Raise circuit, 11 miles.

It would be wrong to stay at the Side Farm camp site and not climb the fell immediately above, Place Fell. Originally I thought of doing it as a one-off, much as I had Caudale Moor, but one of the prime reasons for being where I was was in order to walk the fells north of High Street, and the idea of a horseshoe walk took shape. Even better, it finished with a boat ride back!

To be a proper circuit, I didn’t want to take Place Fell (2156ft) by the Boardale Hause route, for that would have meant retracing my steps. Though the fell’s western edge is guarded by crags, there is a weakness, taken by an old path that heads north-east towards the fell’s northern ridge. There’s a cracking view of the Helvellyn range across Ullswater, if you need to pause for breath.

But eventually the gradient eases and it’s easy to turn south towards the summit of Place Fell.

The Helvellyn range across Ullswater

The Helvellyn range across Ullswater

Approaching the summit of Place Fell

Approaching the summit of Place Fell

From here it’s a simple matter to descend by to the hause and continue on a good path which eventually twists round the beautiful Angle Tarn before heading to High Street.

I had other hills in mind however, and after rounding Satura Crag guessed that a thin path heading east would lead me onto the shoulder of Rest Dodd (2278ft), which it did.

Angle Tarn

Angle Tarn

Great Gable from Rest Dodd

Great Gable from Rest Dodd, across Deepdale Hause

From then it was a simple matter of keeping roughly south-east, nearly rejoining the High Street path, before the easy rise to Rampsgill Head (2581ft). Glancing ahead, the cairn on Kidsty Pike, just a few hundred yards away, was positively thronged. Maybe I should have made the effort but didn’t, continuing on the easy mile to High Raise (2634ft).

High Raise is the dominating fell of this little group, by virtue of its rocky top just about distinctive enough to be thought of as more than a satellite of High Street.

Approaching High Raise

Approaching High Raise

High Raise summit

High Raise summit

There is a subsidiary top, Wether Hill (2211ft), like Kidsty Pike a Wainwright but not a Hewitt, but unlike the Pike my route ran directly across it, following the old Roman road that traversed this hills. Over to my left, the Northern Fells looked inviting in the sun.

The Northern fells from Wether Hill

Just to show that the Romans could do crooked, the Roman road contoured round Loadpot Hill (2201ft), but I did not, for it was the last of the day’s five Hewitts. It’s an interesting place, with the relic of a shooting lodge just before the top, even if one of the flattest summits in Lakeland.

All that remained now was to descend to Ullswater. The top may be flat but its flank heading down to Howtown was not. I knew there was a path that headed down through the bracken, but how to find it? I had my 60-year old Wainwright guide with me, and really should have opened it, for it would have shown that the simple way was to join up with the former Roman road just below the summit and continue past some tarns above Brock Crag, the sketchy path soon becoming clear as it steepened.

Instead I continued north until I knew I was just above a beck that dropped to Howtown, then turned west. That’s not bad practice in itself; I didn’t want to get caught on the wrong (south) side of the beck. It wasn’t long before I could see the good path below me, and I was soon at valley level in the Howtown Hotel with enough time to sit on the grass in the sunshine and enjoy a pint. I would have enjoyed it even more if the pub were not almost the only one in Lakeland not to serve real ale. Still, the steamer jetty was not far away, and a boat trip is a very nice way to end a day.

Descending to Ullswater

Descending to Ullswater

At Howtown pier

At Howtown pier