|OS Route Map →||GPX Route file →|
Date: 25 Jul 2018
Start: Thornthwaite. Finish: Keswick bus station.
Maps: Explorer 004: English Lakes NW or Harvey Superscale Lake District.
Also a map of the Forestry Commission (FC) Seat How Summit Trail with indigenous knowledge of the Whinlatter forest trails and tracks. The FC page has a downloadable PDF map, but it's a very poor schematic and the description assumes a start at the Visitor Centre (evidently they never heard of GPX route files).
GoLakes have a slightly better one but not much.
Navigating the forest with just an OS map as I did, expect a lot of grief. The pervasive trees greatly limit detailed navigation by natural features and topology. The FC have constructed excellent walker's paths and trails but they are not necessarily on the map. There are forest roads that have been extended, roads on the ground but not on the map and vice-versa. In particular, the path on the OS map approaching Seat How summit from the south does not exist in its lower reaches, but the actual Summit Trail path ascending from the east is not shown at all.
|Day 1||Lord's Seat & Ladyside Pike||8.2miles / 3436 feet (13.2km / 1047m)|
|Day 2||Hopegill Head, Eel Crag & Causey Pike||8.9miles / 2458 feet (14.3km / 749m)|
A quickly devised 2-day circuit of the northern hills of the Whinlatter Forest and the southern fells around Coledale.
The outward section, designed to include my one remaining unclimbed Dewey 500m top in the Lake District (Ullister Hill), follows the arc of hills from Lord's Seat to Graystones and descends to the pass at Spout Force and Scawgill Bridge.
The return section ascends to the Coledale fells via the north ridge of Ladyside Pike and Hopegill Head to reach the highest point of Eel Crag, then traverses its east ridge to Causey Pike. The route crosses the valley to Skelgill and follows the Cumbria Way to Keswick.
The main purpose of this trip was to test our research into the use of public transport for long journeys since our decision to go carless. This was my first backpack using entirely public transport, an opportunity to test the Advance Ticket rail booking and seat reservation system and the use of local bus services. It all proceeded extremely well and at very low cost.
I alighted from the X5 bus at the Art Gallery bus stop in Thornthwaite and took the lane south-west through the village to its end. An unsigned gravelly path continues on the right of the last house and becomes a good track following Comb Beck through fine mature woodland. The track crosses a cycleway and ascends to reach a pair of footbridges (not on the map). A new trail, a good one but again not shown on the map, ascends alongside Comb Gill. I reached a forest road and turned right to negotiate the zigzags to reach the southern end of the Seat How path at NY 21449 25316.
Double checking both sides of that point, there was no trace of it. The depth of the trees was thin at that point as the map shows. Having little choice I took it head on: very steep heather and sphagnum led to a wild untrodden open glade of tussocks with more trees beyond. Eventually I found an old bit of wooden fence and I spotted a clear path coming in from the right - perhaps this was a remnant of the mapped one. The path climbed northwards and I encountered several small trees felled and suspiciously lying right across the path. I gained the summit for a well earned view and a rest - amid the twenty-odd walkers sitting there who had obviously started from the Visitor Centre forearmed with accurate knowledge.
Setting off on the trail heading north-westwards into the forest towards Ullister Hill, it was a matter of blind faith as the path worryingly swung around in direction and undulated into the unknown and my fears were realised when I unexpectedly reached a forest road, not only that but it was heading downhill. Backtracking to a clearing on the west side, I happened to notice a vague trodden line upwards through the heather. I followed this to the top and continued the line across a dip to a second slightly higher rise to the north and surveyed the landscape: this was in fact Ullister Hill.
Back home, for interest, I finally reconciled my memory of what happened with the map, which wasn't easy. Arriving here was more experience and instinct than anything, a well earned summit bag!.
The line becomes clearer as it heads north-westwards to join the good path approaching Lord's Seat, passing through a gate for a short ascent to the 552m summit.
Relieved to leave the forest behind, I relaxed for an easy grassy walk along the broad ridge, first to Broom Fell and its columnar cairn, along the edge of the felled forest at Widow Hause and on to the 452m point of Graystones. A long steep descent brought me to Scawgill Bridge.
I walked up the B5292 and turned right on the lane to arrive at the public footpath heading south signed 'No Through Route'. The path ends at the forest edge where Littlethwaite Gill emerges and there is a narrow corridor between the fence and wall that climbs to an easily crossed junction at the open fell.
A pathless ascent of short heather and bilberry gains the path slanting aloft to the north-west ridge of Ladyside Pike. Before reaching the final cone of the mountain I made my pitch with views to Hopegill Head and Skiddaw.
No problem with midges on this pitch, the stiff breeze was maintained under the clear sky and keeping things cool too. The sun rose over Skiddaw and blossomed into a fine sunrise as I struck camp and set off for the final ascent of Ladyside Pike. On reaching the summit cairn the wind dramatically increased and blew me backwards at first.
The southern approach along the fairly narrow ridge to Hopegill Head shows the finest view of the mountain, its bare rocky defences giving a most engaging ascent.
Traversing the dome of Sand Hill, I remember thinking that a superb tent pitch could be made here, were it not for its proximity to major path junctions.
Descending to Coledale Hause I contemplated the very steep, rocky lower section of Eel Crag's north ridge, looking increasingly formidable today with the passage of years since the previous climb. Though by far the best and most interesting line of ascent, there are no clear signs of any path from the main highway to its foot. The cool breeze of the early morning on this sheltered side and improving mood of the sky were ideal conditions for the excellent climb, a distinct line soon becoming established in the rock.
As the angle eased the sun had dispersed the sombre cloud to give a good view back to Sand Hill and Whiteside. The ascent ended with a splendid sunny promenade to the trig point on the flat stony top, the best views were from the southern edge to the High Stile ridge, Robinson and Knott Rigg.
The rocky enjoyment continues eastwards on the descent of The Scar to the col before Sail. Unfortunately one of my persistent memories of this ridge is the eastern face of Sail, where the name 'The Scar' might be more aptly applied to the snaking raised line of aggregate laid as a 'path' from top to bottom. I took a photo of this monstrosity but I'll not sully this account with it.
Fine walking resumes on the final stretch of the ridge to Causey Pike, pleasantly narrow and also colourful now that the heather is coming into bloom. Descending steeply to Sleet Hause, I took the slanting path left down to Stoneycroft.
I crossed the valley on the lane via Stair and Skelgill to Hawse End and joined the Cumbria Way (CW). Much of the CW was in the welcome shade of the woodland and I bought a chilled drink in Portinscale. At Stormwater Bridge came a final open stretch directly to the main road in Keswick.
I arrived with plenty of time to spare before catching my planned bus back to Penrith, the one before the last possible bus to connect with my train, allowing a leisurely exploration of the town to pick up required food and drink and also browse the many outdoor shops, mainly to get into the shade and air-conditioning. On this blistering July day the town was absolutely heaving with a dense sea of people making slow progress along the main street market stalls and shops.
Here's a first: paying to enter the public toilets with a credit card (only because the damned thing had eaten my 40p in coins but not released the turnstile and would not return them). We are told this is progress.