To many, this group contains just two hills: Skiddaw (3054ft), overpowering the view from Keswick and one of Lakeland’s 3,000-footers, and Blencathra (2848ft), a magnificent hill whose multiple gills and buttresses dominate the A66 road for miles around Threlkeld. Alas, Skiddaw still awaits the Aylmer feet, but there are plans.
But there’s more, “back o’Skiddaw”. Here there are grassy rolling fells that provide quiet but rewarding days out when more popular routes practically need a queueing system. I picked up the six Hewitts here over two days in August 2017, and a memorable excursion it was too.
Wednesday 16 August 2017. Carrock Fell and High Pike, nine miles.
It was a bit unfortunate that Adrian and I could not complete all we wanted in our sojourn at Keswick two weeks before. The plan had been to finish with the two days that I undertook solo now, using Great Lingy Hut bothy for an overnight. However, an opportunity soon presented itself, and the two days showed how a little ingenuity can fashion a great little trip to the hills for a Londoner.
From Penrith, the Keswick bus dropped me at the Mungrisdale road end. Not walking to walk all the way to the village by the road, I took a path through marshy ground from just below the bus stop. It wasn’t easy to follow though, and from Blakebeck farm the path wasn’t evident, so I did divert to the road, though soon swapping by a track to the quiet lane on the west side of the River Glendramacklin.
Mungrisdale has a super pub, the Mill Inn, and I wasn’t going to pass by without popping in. We had a chat about what I was planning to do, and they warned me that the local fell runner had been up there earlier and said it was “rough on the tops”. That was no surprise; the tail end of a storm was passing through, with gusty winds down in the valley and the threat of rain later, so I wasn’t expecting a picnic.
The path up to Carrock Fell (2175ft) starts nearly three miles up the valley just beyond the farm of Stone Ends. From here a path slants up through the bracken to where a beck forces a way through a rock band guarding the fell. Like I do sometimes, I thought I could short cut a bit but the progress through the bracken was slow until I gained the path proper; not a sensible thing to do. Reaching the beck, I filled my water carrier with the two litres I would need overnight, stepped just a little higher, then was nearly knocked off my feet by the force of the wind.
So progress to the summit was not quick, with the need to steady oneself from time to time. The cloud was high though, so there was no problem working out where I was going. Carrock Fell is an interesting hill, a former hill fort, with plenty of evidence of mining, too, in the valleys south and north.
There are good paths towards the next hill, High Pike (2159ft). At the col is a hush, a reminder of some of those mine workings. A bit of rain started to come down, but it was dry at the summit. There is a bench here, not typical summit furniture, and a splendid view north beyond Caldbeck.
Turning south, and not only was I in the teeth of the gale, but the rain came hard into my face. But there was only a mile to the bothy. I passed a couple of runners who had just popped into Great Lingy Hut – quite a relief to know it was still there! A relief too to the Mountain Bothies Association, who were about to take over maintenance of the bothy from the National Park. I settled in for the rough night. Not even earplugs were going to make this a quiet sleep!
Thursday 17 August 2017. The Caldew Hewitts, 12 miles.
I did sleep quite well nevertheless. On a brief resurfacing at 4am, I wondered where had the wind gone: where previously it was a jet engine outside the ‘window’ (more like a glazed aperture), now all was quiet. I’d expected an easing, but not to stillness. On proper waking, beautiful sunshine greeted me; a wondrous transformation.
The hut is somewhere around the 1900ft contour, and with today’s four hills in the low 2000s, I had a good advantage on the day. There was a little dip to Grainsgill Beck before the first hill, Knott (2329ft), and I was pleased to note that despite the overnight drenching the fells weren’t quite as wet as I feared they might be. It was good not to have to concentrate too much on puddle-hopping, with grand views south-west to Skiddaw and south-east to Blencathra dominating the skyline, as they were to do all day.
Great Calva (2264ft) followed without difficulty, before the day’s major challenge, the crossing of the River Caldew. This involves losing more than 1000ft of height, and it was bad enough descending, through heather – an initial thin path did not take me all the way to the valley. It’s easy enough in the valley, following the track used by the Cumbria Way, but I had to make a crossing opposite where Blackhazel Beck came down.
This is a notorious river crossing for there’s no bridge anywhere close and the river can rise quickly after rain. It was clear this wasn’t going to be a swift little hop so I looked for a good crossing place and tested it with a trekking pole: roughly knee deep in what looked as if it would be the deepest place, so achievable. Boots and trousers safely stowed, I carefully lowered myself in. It was cold, but quite fun. Inching carefully across, I was soon at the more shallow waters on the far side, and time to dress again. An important little practice; you can never be too skilled at river crossings, especially solo, and with no-one else around.
There’s a path above Blackhazel Beck for most of the way up to Bowscale Fell (2303ft), or at least there is until I (probably) lost it. It’s one of those climbs that feels steeper on the ground than it looks on the map; just that gradient where you can’t (or, more properly, I now can’t) keep up a steady pace without occasional pauses. There’s no technical difficulty though, and since it was now afternoon, I hadn’t seen a soul, and the countryside all around was heaven-sent, the occasional pause was hardly a hardship.
There were a few old guys at the summit (I say this aged 66) and we had a few words before they set off for Bannerdale Crags (2241ft), my last Hewitt of the day and easily reached by contouring round above the eponymous crags. I took a slightly wider line so as to give them some space but still got there before them. There were a few others around now too, but with Blencathra now much closer, it was apparent that the parent hill was far the busier.
As I descended to the Blackhazel – Glenramacklin col, I had a grand view of the Sharp Edge route to Blencathra’s summit. One of Lakeland’s classic scrambles, today it was one line of thrill-seekers. I’ve never climbed it, which is a shame, and probably never will now. But for me it was downhill all the way, occasionally meeting up with walkers heading up for the Edge, down to the White Horse at Scales. This is another friendly pub, though alas I was just too late for lunch.
It was easy now to get back to Penrith on the bus. If it had been raining I might have put my hand out on the A66 – there’s no official stop, but the barmaid told me that they usually stop with clear warning just a little to the west – but a more certain route, a pleasure on this belle afternoon, was to walk by the old road for a quiet half-hour to the Mungrisdale road end, and hence close the loop to the previous day, 24 hours plus 30 minutes before.
Other days in the Northern Fells
In August 1992, on a family holiday to the Lakes, I was allowed out on my own for one day (as Barbara was heavily pregnant with Adrian and had a four-year old Matthew in tow, that was quite as much as I could have expected), and took myself up Blencathra by the classic Hall’s Fell ridge. I returned by Blease Fell and walked back to Keswick where we were staying. The three of us also climbed little Latrigg (1207ft) together – from the car park nearest the top.
This leaves me with a day out from the Ravenstone Hotel to Keswick, first up to Skiddaw by its outliers, then over its Little Man to Lonscale Fell, to complete my last five Hewitts in the Northern Lakes.