Watendlath and the North Central Fells

by backpackingbongos

It was gone 11.00pm by the time I parked the Bongo in the woods, high on the narrow lane that leads to Watendlath.  The drive up the steep sections near Ashness bridge had been tricky in the freezing weather.  Water that had run off the fells in the recent rain had turned into sheet ice.  The Bongo is 4×4 which makes it easier going uphill in icy conditions.  However I started worrying about the fact that I would have to go back down the following day, 4×4 gives no advantage when going down hill.

Reuben had not had a walk so we wandered along the empty lane, coming to a clearing above a steep drop to Borrowdale below.  The views in the moonlight were stunning, the calm glassy surface of Derwent Water backed by the snow clad Skiddaw.  The contrast from working in a city earlier that day to standing surrounded by silent mountains could not be greater.

With the luxury of a duvet and two sleeping bags I slept warm in the van, Reuben adding his own warmth to my bed sometime in the night.

Dawn comes late on the last day of November, the woods silent under a blanket of frost.  I made a coffee and wandered over to the clearing to see the view in the morning light.  A fantastic place to watch the start of a new day.

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9.6 miles with 770 metres ascent

High Seat

With lunch made and rucksack packed we set off down the lane towards Ashness bridge.  Parts of the tarmac were rather icy and it was easier to stick to the verge, especially with an enthusiastic dog on the end of a lead.  The bridge which is a popular beauty spot was totally deserted, which is probably unusual.  Although pleasant I did ponder why it is so well known and gets so many visits.

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Just past the bridge a right of way started its ascent up the hillside.  I was glad to be able to let Reuben off the lead as it was hard work with the ice under foot.  There was a confusing section where the path split in all directions, none of which were marked on the map.  I picked one which was heading in my direction and headed up the hill, all the time enjoying the views back up Borrowdale and across Derwent Water.

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The summit of Walla Crag only reaches 379 metres but the view far surpasses its lowly stature.  I wandered around for a while snapping away, Reuben providing his modelling services.  I then sat and had a cup of coffee from my flask.  Although still below freezing there was not a breath of wind.

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We retraced our steps for a bit before branching off on a path heading towards Bleaberry fell.  I regretted not bringing my sunglasses or cap as the low sun was directly in my eyes.  I had my mountain cap but it felt far too warm to wear it.  Despite the icy conditions I climbed the steep slopes in just a baselayer to avoid my jacket being soaked in sweat.

Close to the summit I suddenly found myself sprawled on the ground, verglas covered rock providing an unsuitable foothold.  Thankfully no damage was done and I arrived at the cairn with only a slightly bruised ego.  Already the sky was turning milky, the light taking on a strange flat aspect.  However the clarity remained, although difficult to capture in a photograph.  The Helvellyn range looked impressive under a mantle of snow.

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The path to High Seat was easy going with all the boggy bits frozen solid.  It was good not to need to wear gaiters, which I find uncomfortable (I need to find a pair that actually stay up).  I arrived at the trig point with spotlessly clean trousers.  Being pretty much in the middle of the Lake District the views were extensive.  In the strange light everything felt like it was really close, like you could reach out and touch the other mountain ranges.  The trig point sits on a small crag and I found a perfect sheltered seat to the north to sit and let Reuben watch me eat.

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I’m sure on most days that the walk to High Tove would need waterproof boots and a sense of humour.  However we skipped and slid across the frozen bogs.  The ice occasionally cracking below my feet but thankfully forward motion preventing a soaking.  High Tove is a bit of a non-summit but its cairn gives good views to the south east.

Armboth fell was a kilometer away across rough ground.  It is a Wainwright so I felt compelled to pay it a visit, even though its ‘summit’ only rises a few metres above the surrounding moor.  As I arrived there was a trio sitting having their lunch on the top, unfortunately Reuben spotted their small terrier before I did.  He gatecrashed the party to say hello which was not appreciated by either the humans or their canine.  I think that bad words were involved.  I had planned to sit there and finish my coffee and lunch but decided on a strategic retreat instead.

Rather than retrace our steps to High Tove we set off across trackless ground towards the ridge south of Middle crag.  A frosted patch of grass made a comfy seat to finish lunch whilst Reuben stayed on lookout for anything else he could make friends with.

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Descending directly to the west we soon picked up the bridleway that led us steeply down to the hamlet of Watendlath.  The path in the steeper sections were pitched with stone which was lethally covered in patches of ice.

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Apart from a couple of vehicles in the car park the place was deserted, smoke rising vertically from a chimney in the still air.  There is a path marked on the western side of Watendlath beck but I stuck to the minor road instead which gave rapid progress back to the van.  I was nervous about the drive back down the road past Ashness bridge.  Before setting off I walked to the viewpoint one last time to take in the dusk light, mist just beginning to form, not a ripple on the surface of Derwent Water.

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25 Responses to “Watendlath and the North Central Fells”

  1. Superb mate. And Reuben makes for a handsome model. I’ve walked that very route you’ve done several times over the years and bar Walla Crag you hardly encounter any other folk on the hills. Yet it’s an enjoyable ramble which affords fab views! 🙂

    Shame you didn’t camp out up there 😉

    I suspect the spot where you parked up, and had the nice view of Derwentwater, is where I ‘officially’ proposed to my wife many years ago. I say ‘officially’ as I did do so the previous night in a hotel in Buttermere. But that didn’t count apparently because I was a little worst for wear and she made me do it again in a lay-by that overlooked Derwentwater up the lane from Ashness Bridge! Ha! 🙂

    • Totally agree Terry, Reuben is a very handsome model! Some great views along that ridge without too much effort. No wild camping, although it had to be said that I enjoyed the comfort of the van during such long and cold nights!

      Not a bad spot to propose. I went one spot better and proposed on the sofa at home whilst we were eating spag bol in front of the telly, sort of just came out!

  2. Lovely views there James. Have walked from Watendlath many times, although never in that particular direction for some reason.

    I think the area is so popular because of a series of books (Rogue Herries being the first), written by Hugh Walpole. There are four books and they’re all set in and around Watendlath. I read them many years ago and as a result felt the need to see the place for myself!

    Poor Reuben, he only ever wants to share his love with everyone 🙂

    • Thanks Chrissie. I will look up those books and see what they are all about. Yep Reuben does like to share his love, although it is not always appreciated. Small terriers always seem to take a dislike to him for some reason.

  3. Well, that took me back to being twelve years old! Our family used to camp at Ashness Farm for quite a few summers. That trip of yours was just about my very first fell walk all on my own. That went well, so I was allowed to take my younger brothers up Skiddaw, in an almighty thunderstorm, with lightning coming down onto the ridge all around us.
    I expect my parents would be locked up these days for letting us off the leash like that.
    🙂
    Lovely walk, James – and well done Terrence for making an honest woman of her.
    🙂

    • Was that during the 20’s or 30’s Alan? 🙂 Shame that kids don’t get that sort of freedom nowdays. I used to set off on my bike as a kid and disapear for hours around the local villages. Ended up 40 miles away in Cambridge once! Bet not many youngsters get to do that sort of thing now.

    • Ha. Thanks Alan 🙂

      Ashness Bridge campsite. Now that’s going back eh? I’ve heard of that campsite, seen it on old maps. Alas it’s no longer I believe. At least, not when I’ve visited in recent years anyway

  4. Beautiful. I love it when there’s not a breath of wind on the water.

  5. James, some great photos, particularly the one showing Helvellyn and your final one. I don’t blame you if you want to stay in the van overnight. They are long nights this time of year !

    • Thanks Mark. Even though the van has no heating it is much more pleasurable to spend a long night in than a tiny backpacking tent!

  6. Some nice shots there James. Reuben looks very smart in his jacket doing his mountain dog poses.

  7. Try Outdoor Research Crocodile Gaiters, about £40 online,

  8. Cracking last photo of the calm Derwent Water. Never walked that area although I have climbed the big waterfall upstream of Ashness Bridge. I know, not wired in the head properly 🙂

  9. I remember carrying my son, who was only about three at the time, up to to High Seat one November morning. It wasn’t frozen and my trousers got very dirty! I had never been up there before and was surprised by the extensive views. He weighs the same as me now, so if I tried to repeat the experience we would probably both be swallowed up in the peaty mire.

  10. Beautiful!

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