The Lakeland Round 1995

Author: George Tod

This walk is illustrated with photographs. Click on small photo to enlarge in situ, or click caption to enlarge into new window.
Part 3 - Coniston to Eskdale


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Day 3 - Monday 22nd May: Coniston to Elterwater via Coniston Old Man

Distance: 12 miles, Ascent: 3970 ft

Accommodation: Elterwater Y.H.A. - 13.90 Dinner B&B

It was a bright, sunny start to the day as I got up and went down to breakfast. The only others at breakfast were the couple from Sheffield. They have done a lot of walking in their time including the Pennine Way and the Coast to Coast walk. Today they were having to move their things up to Coniston Coppermines Youth Hostel as this hostel is closed to normal members during the week at this time of year for use by groups and school parties.

The drying room was very good and most of my washing had dried out apart from my thick walking socks, which were still a bit damp. The best way to dry out damp things, if they are not too wet, is to wear them as the heat from the body soon dries them out, whereas the other technique of dangling things from straps on the rucksack only works well in warm, dry weather.

I had to go through town on the way, so I stocked up with a few more things for lunches as I didn't think that there would be any shop on my route through Eskdale. The first part of the walk was up a fairly easy, well defined track to Walna Scar with only a few steep sections, so I was able to make good progress, passing a group of youths on the way and leaving them way behind. Before the final ascent to Walna Scar, I saw the couple from Sheffield turning off for Coniston Old Man by the more direct route via Goat Water, whereas my route took the ridge to Dow Crag and then looped round to the Old Man. There were quite a few signs of mining and quarrying on all sides of the fells around this area, not just in the main area around Coniston coppermines.

The weather turned rather dull and overcast with the odd shower of rain as I made my way up the ridge from Walna Scar to Brown Pike and on to Dow Crag. This somewhat marred the view, but at least the cloud was high enough to be off the top of the fells and there were a few brighter patches in the sky. From the ridge to Dow Crag, the massive bulk of Coniston Old Man dominates the view to the east with the southern part of Coniston Water visible beyond it and to the south. To the west is Harter Fell and Eskdale, not to be confused with the other Harter Fell which is in the far eastern fells. There is a fine bird's eye view of Goat's Water far beneath and a number of very steep gullies fall away below.

I decided that I could just comfortably make the descent to Goat Hawse and climb the 500 ft onto Coniston Old Man in time for lunch at the summit. The weather brightened up when I reached there and there was even a bit of weak sunshine breaking through. There were some spectacular views down to the tarns below and the coppermines, but the distant views over to the Scafell Pikes were still rather hazy. I met up with the couple from Sheffield again and there were several other people about, but far less than had been around at the weekend. I could see the group of youths I had passed on the way up - they had only just reached Dow Crag.

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Low Water, Levers Water and Wetherlam from Coniston Old Man
Low Water & Wetherlam

After spending some time at the summit I made my way along the ridge to Swirl How which gave a good view overlooking Little Langdale Tarn as well as a better view of the next day's walk over Crinkle Crags, Bow Fell and Scafell Pikes. The Langdale Pikes were quite prominent and Helvellyn and Fairfield were just visible in the distant haze.

A steep scramble then took me down Prison Band to Swirl Hawse with a good view of Lever's Water, and a further 500 ft climb brought me to the summit of Wetherlam, which does not give as good views as some of the other peaks. My map showed a clearly marked right of way down the north side of Wetherlam. It started with a small path, which then disappeared, and I was faced with scrambling down a very steep grassy hillside with craggy outcrops. The going was very difficult and I was heartily glad when I met up with a proper path again near the bottom. The problem with the latest Ordnance Survey maps is that they show public rights of way very prominently, luring the unwary into believing that this implies that a path exists. In fact the real paths, which are shown far less distinctly, often either do not exist, or take a different route from the right of way. I have been caught out by this on many occasions and continue to make the same mistake. Looking at Tom Lawton's book later, I should have taken a route down to the east rather than the north.

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Pack Horse Bridge, Little Langdale
Little Langdale

Down in Little Langdale valley the temperature was much higher and there was very little wind. There is a complete change in scenery here, changing from the dramatic scenery of the high fells to the essence of peaceful, rural tranquillity of Little Langdale. After climbing a few gentle hills, I reached Elterwater Youth Hostel. The signs outside said it was full although it didn't look like it when I reached my eight-bedded dormitory, which was empty.

There were only four having dinner, which was soup, sausage casserole and Eve's pudding with ice cream. The others were an assistant warden from Patterdale Hostel, a girl student from Canada and a chap from Gloucester. The assistant warden was a young chap who was on a busman's holiday on his days off, carrying his guitar in a black bin liner as he walked from hostel to hostel. He had only been learning the guitar for four months but was already playing it quite well.

At about 9 p.m. three Scottish men and a woman arrived from Ulverston after their first day of the Cumbria Way. Two of them had walked the full 23 or more miles, whereas the other two had decided that it would be too much and had made a diversion via Lake Windermere to take the boat up to Ambleside and thus reduce the walking distance to about 16 miles.

Later in the evening, I went into the village to post a card and to call for a drink in the pub. Having found the Post Office I hunted all over for a post box but without success - it turned out that the post box is inside the Post Office and, therefore, only accessible when it is open! I went across to the pub and had a pint of Boddington's bitter, which is normally one of the cheaper bitters, for 1.60. A while later a couple of locals came in and were charged 2.75 for a pint of Boddington's and a pint of something else, so it is obviously a case of ripping off the tourists. The landlord had an almost shaved head, a beard and an enormous beer belly and eyed up everyone with a miserable scowl on his face, grumbling that trade was not very good tonight. I could understand why and didn't bother to stay for another pint.

Back at the hostel, the chap with the guitar was playing and two others were sitting with him. They were both British Telecom men in their early fifties who had been lured into early retirement by a very generous package of cash and enhanced pension benefits. One of them was having a go on the guitar, as he used to play some time ago.


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Day 4 - Tuesday 23rd May: Elterwater to Eskdale via Scafell Pikes

Distance: 16.6 miles, Ascent: 5200 ft

Accommodation: Elterwater Y.H.A. - 14.70 Dinner B&B

It was quite a pleasant start to the morning as I went down to breakfast. There were quite a few more at breakfast than were at dinner - obviously, they must have had dinner elsewhere. This was the first hostel so far without a dishwasher, so I helped to wash up both at dinner and breakfast.

I set off at 9.15 a.m. along Great Langdale valley, following the route of the Cumbria Way for the first few miles. It was pleasantly warm so I took off my T-shirt for the first time so far. My feet and legs were standing up to the walk very well with little problem from either; the only slight problem being that after the first day of the walk my left big toenail had suffered from pushing into the front of my boot on the descent. Since then it had caused a bit of discomfort as it had swollen slightly thereby lifting the nail a bit more and causing it to be aggravated on steep descents. The only other problem, which has just started, was a touch of 'jogger's nipple' where my shirt had been rubbing. Over the past year, I have had a few problems with this when wearing certain shirts so a change to a different T-shirt may prove necessary, but a spell without one on would also help.

Along the valley the mountains stand majestically all around but, pleasant as it is in the valley, my heart lies at the top of the fells and I was glad to reach the place where I parted company with the Cumbria Way to head upwards onto Crinkle Crags. It was 11.15 a.m. when I started the ascent, having done about a third of the day's mileage but far less than a third of the time and effort. It was a beautiful day apart from the distant haze as I started the 2000 ft climb up to the start of the ridge after first having a rest and a snack. After the initial steep path the route got easier and I was able to make good progress with very few rests up to the first 'Crinkle' of Crinkle Crags, where I stopped for lunch at 12.45 p.m.

Unfortunately, the haze restricted the view to about five miles or so, but apart from that, the weather was very pleasant and not too cool even at nearly 3000 ft. The passage along Crinkle Crags involves several steep scrambles up and down which severely restricts the speed of progress. At one point, I had to scramble up a gully that had a large horizontal slab of rock sticking out, apparently blocking the way. The rocks at either side of the gully were devoid of good footholds and several people were turning back to take a different way round. I remembered two years ago, when I was coming from the other direction and had to lower myself down, wondering how difficult it would be to climb up. A chap coming the other way revealed the secret: by crawling on a ledge underneath the slab of rock, it is possible to come up through an opening behind it. The manoeuvre required my rucksack to be removed and pushed up ahead of me but I managed it without too much difficulty.

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Sca Fell and Scafell Pike from Bow Fell
Scafell Pikes from Bow Fell
Great Gable and Styhead Tarn from Great End
Great Gable & Styhead Tarn
Lingmell and Pillar from Broad Crag
Lingmell from Broad Crag

I reached Bow Fell by 2.15 p.m. with a fine view of the Scafell Pikes looming ahead. Although I had made good progress, I still had a long way to go so, after stopping for a short while to chat to a chap on the summit, I made my way over Esk Pike at the head of Eskdale and on towards Scafell Pikes. After Esk Pike, there was the possibility of a short optional detour of about half a mile and 150 ft ascent over to Great End. Great End looks quite insignificant from this side, but just past the summit it drops away very steeply to Sty Head Tarn revealing magnificent views of Great Gable, the head of Wasdale and the valley down into Borrowdale, so it was well worth the detour. I took off my T-shirt again, as it was quite warm in the shelter from the wind (I had put it back on again when I stopped for lunch on Crinkle Crags).

I couldn't stay for long as time was pressing and there was still about two miles of not very fast scrambling over rocks to Scafell Pikes. The fell tops all along this ridge are devoid of much soil covering and consist mainly of mounds of rocks and stones which are not very easy for walking on. Looking at my watch I realised that I would not have time to do the optional climb up Lord's Rake onto Sca Fell. This would involve descending and ascending about 900 ft, although the descent to Eskdale from the summit of Sca Fell would be easier and more direct than that from Scafell Pikes. I pressed on over Broad Crag to the summit of Scafell Pikes which I reached at 4.15 p.m. The view from the summit is not particularly good, as it is a rather flat topped mountain. There is a still a lofty feeling of being at the highest point in England, even though the summit of Sca Fell, about 50 ft lower, can give the mistaken impression that it is higher. The wind was quite strong and distinctly cold so as soon as I had stopped climbing I quickly put my shirt back on.

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Great Gable from Scafell Pike
Great Gable from Scafell Pike
Scafell Pikes and Broad Crag from River Esk
Scafell Pikes from River Esk
Sca Fell and Scafell Pike from Eskdale
Scafell Pikes from Eskdale

After quarter of an hour around the summit I headed down to Mickledore, which is the ridge separating the two pikes. The route straight ahead involves some genuine rock climbing, which is why walkers have to drop considerably further down before finding a suitable scramble up to Sca Fell. However, as I went past, I saw a group of three without any equipment attempting the climb by giving each other a leg up or a haul up. It was the something that could easily lead to an accident, but they seemed to have managed to get past the most difficult part by the time I lost sight of them.

The descent down into Eskdale is very steep and tiring on the legs until the hanging valley of the River Esk is reached. At the start of the descent the huge craggy cliffs of Sca Fell tower above and are awe-inspiring. At the bottom is the Esk valley that is a delightful place, a beautifully flat, green valley hidden away from civilisation and surrounded by high mountains. There was one solitary tent in the valley and a couple of walkers over the other side of the river but otherwise it was deserted. I still had over four miles to walk to the hostel so I pressed on at a very rapid walking pace despite the fact that I was tired from the day's exertions. Fortunately the going was now much flatter and easier and I eventually managed to reach the hostel by 6.45 p.m., just in time to have a quick shower before dinner but too late to have first choice on the menu. On the way through farmland, I passed by a ewe looking very forlorn as she stood a few yards from her dead lamb, not knowing what to do. Nearly all the lambs around here are black although the ewes are a normal greyish white colour. I can only assume that they are not 'colour fast' and that they fade when washed in the Lakeland rain or go prematurely grey at an early age. Shortly after I passed the dead lamb, I saw the farmer coming along the lane on his motorised quad bike, so he would no doubt dispose of it.

The hostel was quite busy, occupied mainly by a party of thirty or forty sixth form girls and their teachers as well as several other walkers and cyclists. For dinner I had lentil soup with seconds, then Hobson's choice of cheese flan as the sausages were all spoken for. The cheese flan was very tasty and there were second helpings of that as well, which I availed myself of, before finishing off with pudding.

In my dormitory I was surprised to find the two ex BT chaps Bill and Alex who, having driven round from Elterwater, had spent the day by the coast and on the Eskdale railway. Alex is a great narrow gauge railway fan and spends some of his time as engine driver on the narrow gauge railway at Cleethorpes. He managed to negotiate a vast discount on the ticket prices because of his connections. They both live in Lincolnshire and, when I mentioned that I lived in Kirk Smeaton, I was quite surprised to find that Alex knew of it because of the Harrisons who used to live in the village. They had a traction engine and fairground organ, as well as an interest in narrow gauge railways. I spent most of the evening chatting with the two of them and then we went to the Woolpack just down the road. It was very pleasant in there and I noticed that, on his price list, Boddington's bitter was 1.25 a pint, which was 35 pence cheaper than in Elterwater. I mentioned this and a local at the bar, who had done a lot of drinking at Elterwater, said that it was normal practice to charge the locals about 20 pence less for their drinks. We drank Theakston's XB which, being a stronger ale, was 1.55 a pint.


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