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Borrowdale Fells / 3 days / 20 miles (32km)

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Date: 16 Mar 2008
Start / Finish: Rosthwaite NT car park.
Maps: Explorer OL4 & OL6: English Lakes NW & SW.

Day 1Dale Head, Fleetwith Pike & Innominate Tarn6.6 miles / 3740 feet (10.6km / 1140m)
Day 2Brandreth, Great End & Allen Crags7.6 miles / 2940 feet (12.2km / 896m)
Day 3Glaramara & Rosthwaite Fell5.5 miles / 930 feet (8.9km / 283m)

A fine 3-day solo circuit of fells around Borrowdale with fragmented late winter snow on the highest peaks.

The weather was mixed overall but the clarity and changeability gave superb landscapes in the clear periods, presenting rare opportunities to capture the dramatic mixtures of light and dark skies on rock, snow and frozen pools. There was a fantastic sunset and sunrise from the tent pitch above High House Tarn, the second occasion it has happened there: both suddenly appearing from nowhere and captured in the nick of time.

Day 1 - Dale Head, Fleetwith Pike & Innominate Tarn

Not a good start in Rosthwaite: the rain was predicted to have cleared southwards very early on, but I sat in the car for a little while and waited for it to stop. It's not too bad when it starts raining in mid walk but I hate setting off in the wet. I put on my pertex windshell to fend off the cold northerly and headed W on the farm track to the River Derwent, where the first crossing opportunity was the stepping stones: not a wise choice today on the slightly swollen waters. I continued to the stonebuilt New Bridge and crossed the footbridge on the other side to join the footpath up Tongue Gill leading to the old Rigghead quarries.

The windshell was fortunately enough to repel the light showers that continued on the ascent to the wet saddle and down to Dalehead Tarn, and was much appreciated on the very gusty climb to Dale Head, still sporting patches of snow near the columnar cairn at the summit. Although clear of cloud the summit views were very gloomy and I descended smartly to Honister Hause, feeling quite warm in its sheltered position in the sunshine. The sunny skies prevailed on the ascent of the quarry track and deserted path to Honister Crag, a delightful walk which gave the first really good view of the day.

Buttermere and Crummock Water from Honister Crag
Buttermere and Crummock Water from Honister Crag (16 Mar 2008__12:59:21)

The grey clouds closed in again at Fleetwith Pike leaving the classic view of Buttermere rather muted. I didn't linger in the cold wind, I hastily descended the unmarked path down the southern flanks to the quarry workings near the easy stepping stones across Warnscale Beck.

As expected from the nearly full car park at Honister there were quite a few people on the excellent walk from here to Hay Stacks, and I pottered around for a while in the vicinity of Innominate Tarn through a succession of sunny intervals and cold grey periods to get a good vantage and search for a sheltered pitch spot.

Blackbeck Tarn
Blackbeck Tarn (16 Mar 2008__14:54:20)
Innominate Tarn
Innominate Tarn (16 Mar 2008__15:40:12)

Day 2 - Brandreth, Great End & Allen Crags

It was crystal clear at dawn though not especially cold, and the early orange light illuminated the heather and mountain slopes with a warming glow. The wind had weakened and there were no reflections in the tarn, but the classic view of Pillar across the water was still a great sight.

Dawn light on Innominate Tarn & Pillar
Dawn light on Innominate Tarn & Pillar (17 Mar 2008__06:50:09)

I retraced my steps as far as the marked path that flanks Great Round How, a route we have not walked before. The brief boggy bits were frozen and there were beautiful views back towards Pillar, Hay Stacks and High Crag while the first skylark of the year began to sing. Crossing a fence stile higher up, I left the path and climbed directly to Brandreth then descended to the partly frozen pools at Gillercomb Head that made a picturesque foreground to Kirk Fell and Great Gable.

Green Crag & High Crag from Great Round How path
Green Crag & High Crag from Great Round How path(17 Mar 2008__07:19:22)
Pillar from Great Round How
Pillar from Great Round How (17 Mar 2008__07:47:03)
Frozen pool at Gillercomb Head with Kirk Fell & Pillar
Frozen pool at Gillercomb Head with Kirk Fell & Pillar (17 Mar 2008__08:33:54)

From the pools I contoured around the slopes of Gillercomb to the col between Base Brown and Green Gable. There is no path here, and the first part of this manoeuvre traverses very steep rough ground studded with rocky outcrops, but it's easier than it looks: I started above the first little outcrop and picked my way along at roughly the same height to emerge on easy ground just above the col. From the traverse there are great views into the combe.

From the col I slanted down easy slopes towards Styhead Tarn and joined the main path to the stretcher box at Sty Head and on to the Corridor route. Above Stand Crag a helicopter was picking up bags of stone and flying them around to a point just below the awkward external rocky corner of the path (which was mercifully free of ice). Across the valley there were grand views of Great Gable while Lingmell looked very impressive ahead.

Great Gable from the corridor route
Great Gable from the corridor route (17 Mar 2008__10:19:06)
Helicopter above the corridor route
Helicopter above the corridor route (17 Mar 2008__10:45:46)
Lingmell from the corridor route
Lingmell from the corridor route (17 Mar 2008__11:23:10)

Where the route levels out I left it and climbed the steep bouldery slope to the combe enclosed by Broad Crag and Great End. Round How is only a short climb and is worth it for its own unique view of the surrounding mountains, while the combe itself is a real gem: a wild and very little trodden microcosm in this highly popular area affording excellent views of the towering cliffs.

Western cliffs of Great End from Round How
Western cliffs of Great End from Round How (17 Mar 2008__11:40:20)
Broad Crag
Broad Crag (17 Mar 2008__11:55:22)

A steep climb alongside the snow-flanked Greta Gill and a short easy angled ascent brought me to Great End for a leisurely wander around the summit plateau. As usual there was an intermittent but steady flow of people on the main highway to and from Scafell Pike, they can often be seen above Calf Cove in a huddle around a map where the path loses itself in a boulder field.

Ill Crag & Scafell Pike from Great End
Ill Crag & Scafell Pike from Great End (17 Mar 2008__12:11:39)

The pitched steps down into Calf Cove were partly snow covered but quite easy to walk down without resorting to the Kahtoola crampons I had packed (not used at all, yet again), and I passed the cross-windshelter to climb to Allen Crags. Some steely grey clouds were forming now which made the wind really biting out of the sunshine, especially as I was now walking north into it, but the mixture of dark and sun produced some great opportunities for capturing the unusual light on the landscape, especially the partly frozen tarns which looked like pools of mercury.

A shaft of sun highlights a frozen pool near Allen Crags
A shaft of sun highlights a frozen pool near Allen Crags (17 Mar 2008__14:19:54)
High House Tarn
High House Tarn (17 Mar 2008__14:58:56)
High House tarn & Bow Fell
High House tarn & Bow Fell (17 Mar 2008__15:01:08)

I pitched the tent above High House Tarn and abandoned any notion of a good sunset under the grey gloomy skies, but just when I was settled in my bag with a brew, an orange glow lit up the tent. I peered around the door and... wow!. Legs flying everywhere and pulling on my boots with a quick knot, I grabbed the camera and made an inelegant dash down the slope to the shore of the tarn, nearly breaking my neck and sinking in a bog in the process, and fired off some shots before it all disappeared. One of those magical sights I'll remember forever.

Sunset over High House Tarn
Sunset over High House Tarn (17 Mar 2008__18:03:11)
Sunset over High House tarn with Seatallan beyond
Sunset over High House tarn with Seatallan beyond (17 Mar 2008__18:10:53)

Day 3 - Glaramara & Rosthwaite Fell

Amazingly the same thing happened next morning: the eastern sky appeared generally dull and grey with an occasional minute of sunlight piercing through to give an early glow on the mountains. In the middle of packing up the tent the blanket of grey suddenly cleared and it was another mad dash for the tarn, but this time my boots were secure and the bog was frozen. The sunlight showed the cloud layers over towards Great Gable too.

Dawn light on Bow Fell & Allen Crags
Dawn light on Bow Fell & Allen Crags (18 Mar 2008__06:33:51)
Sunrise over High House Tarn
Sunrise over High House Tarn (18 Mar 2008__06:35:47)
Pitch near High House Tarn
Pitch near High House Tarn (18 Mar 2008__06:43:23)
Early low light illuminates cloud layers and Great Gable
Early low light illuminates cloud layers and Great Gable (18 Mar 2008__06:48:34)

The north facing slopes on the ridge to Glaramara had some largish patches of fairly hard snow but all could either be circumvented or crossed by digging in the heels without crampons. Below Glaramara the snow and ice was almost all gone and the sunshine was dominant on the little frequented northern half of the ridge to Rosthwaite Fell. There was even a chance for a decent picture of the little known Dovenest Top and a view over Tarn at Leaves.

From the tarn I followed a descent line above Rottenstone Gill to join the clear path through a wall gap and down to Strands Bridge, where I joined the Cumbria Way along the river to join the outward route.

Combe Head
Combe Head (18 Mar 2008__09:36:02)
Approaching Dovenest Top
Approaching Dovenest Top (18 Mar 2008__09:38:17)
Summit of Rosthwaite Fell
Summit of Rosthwaite Fell (18 Mar 2008__09:57:10)
Tarn at Leaves from Rosthwaite Fell
Tarn at Leaves from Rosthwaite Fell (18 Mar 2008__09:57:56)