|OS Route Map →||Route file →|
Date: 02 Jan 2019
Start: Aira Force on the A592. Finish: Glenridding.
Maps: Explorer 005 English Lakes North East or Harvey Superscale Lake District.
|Day 1||Aira Force, Hart Side & Green Side||5.0miles / 2328 feet (8.1km / 709m)|
|Day 2||Stybarrow Dodd & Sheffield Pike||5.9miles / 687 feet (9.5km / 209m)|
A 2-day route around the hills bordering Glencoyne, starting at the popular and well maintained Aira Force woodland path. The line ascends along the slopes of Watermillock Common to Hart Side and Green Side reaching the highest point at Stybarrow Dodd, then returns via Sticks Pass to ascend Sheffield Pike and finish along the Greenside Mine track to Glenridding.
On this our first midwinter backpack for years, the weather fell far short of our expectation from the forecast and yielded only brief sunshine in the middle of the first day, the remainder was thickly overcast with a dull, flat light that drained the landscape of colour and struggled to produce good views and images. The oddest aspect though was the total absence of snow on even the highest summits in early January.
We alighted from the 508 bus at the Aira Force car park and joined the maintained path through the woodland on the western side of Aira Beck where specimen trees of various species are labelled. This was our first complete walk-through of the waterfall trail and it makes a fine aperitif to the hills beyond. Despite the season there were a significant number of people around at the optimal viewpoints vying for photo opportunities of the falls.
The path crosses to the east side and ascends to the upper Higher Cascades. Having checked the detailed map posted at the start of the trail, we saw that there is now a footbridge at NY400211 not shown on our current software mapping: it leads onto the old permissive path up to the quarry car park on the A5091.
Immediately right of the quarry car park on the left of the adjoining wall is an unsigned thin path climbing up to the access land. A short way up is a fallen tree that bars the way, but a broken stile(?) enables a momentary detour to the right side to bypass it and cross back to the left side. A little way farther is a gate where the right side is finally joined for the gradual ascent towards Swineside Knott and Brown Hills.
Here the sun finally broke through and bathed the landscape in colour giving excellent but hazy views over Ullswater below.
Beyond the flank of Brown Hills the path passes through a wall. Here we ascended on the south-western side to the cairn on the nose of Birkett Fell and curved around to the summit of Hart Side. The sunshine had been brief and was already succumbing to thick cloud as the temperature began to drop rapidly. We were quite surprised to see quite a few walkers on the skylines of these hills at this time of year. An easy walk south west and gradual ascent brought us to the summit area of Green Side where we made our pitch.
All the mountain summits were clear but the views were dull and lifeless, no picturesque sunsets today.
Overnight the tent flysheet was coated with hard globules of ice but at dawn the temperature had increased enough to melt most of it. The sky conditions were unchanged, no chance of a good sunrise either, in fact the sun would never shine at all today.
An easy ascent westwards gained Stybarrow Dodd, the highest point of the route with uninspiring views this morning. A short walk down the south-western nose brought Thirlmere into view with a hazy mountain skyline beyond followed by an easy walk down to Sticks Pass, the spot of a previous tent pitch in January 2004 where we saw our finest sunrise ever in a snowbound true winter landscape.
Descending on the main path along Sticks Gill, we left it at the quarry on a discernible path continuing east towards Nick Head. The peaty and boggy bits were well frozen, facilitating progress to the final ascent of Sheffield Pike giving a final hazy view of Ullswater from its summit. Again to our surprise we spotted several walkers already approaching the cairn.
We backtracked to Nick Head and turned south-west on a path descending to a footbridge at the quarry. Over the bridge we picked up the main path heading for Greenside Mine that zigzags down to the hostel above Glenridding Beck and joins its access road into Glenridding.
We were in plenty of time for the bus back to Penrith and we wandered around the local shops to pick up food for the journey home.