Winter perfection – a Newlands round

by backpackingbongos

At dusk after a day on the North Central Fells it was already below freezing.   Having parked high on the Watendlath road I was cautious driving the van down the steep icy stretches near Ashness bridge.  Thankfully I arrived at the Borrowdale road without incident and drove into the Newlands valley via Keswick.  My planned spot for the night was just past the hamlet of Little Town, however I made a serious navigational error on the network of minor lanes in the valley.  I found myself ascending a short but steep hairpin bend which was covered in a sheet of ice, there was some spinning of wheels but somehow I got to the top.  It was then that I realised that I was on the lane at the northern tip of Cats Bells.  There was no way that I was going to attempt to drive back down the icy road so reluctantly did a huge circuit into Borrowdale, back into Keswick and finally onto the minor road to Little Town.  A loop of well over ten miles just to avoid a hundred metre stretch of road!

I had a peaceful night in the van, dismayed to wake at one point to the sound of rain.  So much for a weekend of clear and crisp weather I thought.  The car park I was in started to fill up before 8.00am and by 9.00am it was totally full.  Sitting in the back of the van eating breakfast it was evident that just about all the cars belonged to a walking group led by a man with a fluorescent arrow on his rucksack.  A real pity that people had arrived in one’s and two’s, their cars dominating pretty much the only parking in the valley.  Surely a bit of car sharing could not be too difficult to arrange?

9.5 miles with 1,080 metres ascent

Newlands Round

The wet and grey weather that had greeted me when I first woke up had quickly been replaced by clear skies.  It was evident that the temperature was beginning to quickly drop now that the weather front was out of the way.  The wet surfaces were starting to ice over so I packed my micro-spikes just in case.  We walked back up the lane towards Little town before taking a track to the south.  The sun had not yet reached the valley and our breath rose in plumes in the cold air.

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Reuben made me chuckle as he crossed a rather large iced over puddle.  Half way across it could no longer support his weight, there was a look of confused surprise as he found himself up to his knees in cold muddy water.

We crossed the beck by a footbridge and doubled back on ourselves, a path above the farm at Low Snab leading steeply on the ridge to Scope End.  I thought that the rain in the night would have washed all the snow away but the fells above Grasmoor were still covered in the white stuff.

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It was hard work gaining height but we were soon on the ridge proper, a delightful path winding its way through the heather.  I took my time, in no particular hurry and savoured the setting in such good weather.  We stopped frequently, finding sunny spots sheltered from the wind.  I grazed from my substantial lunch box, enjoying hot coffee from a flask.  It probably took twice as long as needed to reach the cairn and shelter on the northern slopes of Hindscarth and I loved every minute of it.  Solo walking can bring its rewards, one of which is relaxed dawdling.

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Throughout the ascent, Reuben was like a dog possessed, the wind in his sails.  He was lolloping around like a loon, throwing himself on his back and rolling around.  He even managed a couple of impressive forwards rolls.  When we reached the shelter to the north of the summit he curled into a ball and had a little doze whilst I scurried round clicking away with my camera.  I really could not believe just how clear the air was.

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Once again the Helvellyn range was the star of the show, a uniform world of white above the 750 metres contour.  The weather was meant to remain the same the following day, so I started making plans to dust off the ice axe and crampons.

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The way to the summit of Hindscarth was a bit slippery, a combination of bare earth, ice and rock hard snow.  The conditions did not make it necessary to get my micro spikes out but I needed to take care to remain upright.  We met the first people of the day and their dog at the summit, they were walking in the opposite direction to me and were surprised that they had the hills to themselves until they reached Dale Head.  As they left a bank of cloud drifted up from the valley below, adding further drama to the mountain scene.

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An easy path took us along the narrowing Hindscarth Edge, before the final climb to the summit of Dale Head.  Once again I found myself frequently loitering to take in the splendid view.  I really could not believe how lucky with the weather I had been.

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The summit of Dale Head was deserted.  It’s a well know viewpoint but as it was exposed to the wind I did not linger for more than a minute.  I measured the temperature with my Kestrel 3000, which showed a wind chill of -10c.  The exposed skin on my face soon started to ache so we started the descent to the east.

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We passed two couples who had ascended via the right of way shown on the map that leads directly from Dalehead tarn.  Both warned me off a direct descent as the steep grassy slopes were frozen and covered in a thin layer of hard snow.  Therefore we instead headed onto the path that leads to Dalehead crags before a steep descent to the tarn.

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A wall close to the tarn provided a perfect sheltered spot to enjoy the rest of my lunch.  As Reuben watched rather sadly I felt guilty for leaving his meaty sticks in the van.

Although not even 3.00pm the light was rapidly changing signalling the approaching sunset.  I never get used to these short days, the fact that light starts to fade not that long after lunch.  However it does give me the opportunity to witness some spectacular displays of light.  Once again I found myself dawdling as we crossed High Spy, the setting sun lighting up the hills around me.

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The light started to fade as we crossed Maiden Moor and it had almost diminished completely on the ascent of Cats Bells.  I managed to pick my way to its rocky summit without resorting to my torch.  The lights of Keswick sparkled in the darkness below.  I could trace the line of traffic along the A66, feeling far removed from the busy road.

Finally in the pitch black I used my torch to walk back down into the Newlands Valley, Reuben leading the way in his hi-vis jacket and light attached to his collar.  Care was needed on the icy bridleway into Little Town, thankfully I avoided a slip in the darkness.  The van was the only remaining vehicle in the car park, already encrusted in frost.  It was going to be a long cold night.

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29 Comments to “Winter perfection – a Newlands round”

  1. Utterly fantastic,awesome photos, really great to see the fells in such splendor

  2. Wonderful – what super, atmospheric photos.

    I remember doing the exact same circuit – only in the opposite direction – some years ago with our two previous doggies. A great day out.

    But fancy forgetting Reuben’s meaty sticks……

    • It’s a bit of a classic this circuit, highly recommended. Totally unforgivable forgetting the important meaty sticks…………

  3. Winter perfection indeed, glad to see you enjoying a grand round in such wonderfull weather James.
    Hope Christmas brings a bit more of the same!

    • Yep, fingers crossed Paul that we get a bit more of this weather over the next few weeks, not looking promising with the rain that we have had today.

  4. Gorgeous photos. Love the sunset photos.

  5. Agreed wonderful photos, there are times I wish there were a few fells around here, however, every location has its own beauty.

    Keep the photos coming.

    • Agreed Roger, every location does have its beauty, have to admit that I nearly always prefer the hills and mountains though.

  6. Yes it’s a lovely walk. I’ve done it in both directions but I think your direction is probably better, to get the benefit of the Maiden Moor to Derwent Water views. I’d like to do it again some time because it’s been a few years…

    That van of yours sounds excellent. I can sleep in my car but only in secluded places (as you find in Scotland for example), and only with discomfort!

    • I recommend having a van for hiking trips James. Ours is a Mazda Bongo (hence backpackingbongos!), unconverted but with a mattress on the floor and a cheap camping stove you have everything you need. Expensive in diesel though.

  7. Nice outing James. Did Reuben do the dangly jangly abject wet leg shake and reproving look when he went in the big puddle? 🙂

    I am hoping, fingers crossed that I will take Barney up into the Black Mountains proper this Christmas…weather permitting of course

  8. Fantastic photos and a great looking walk. Looked a pretty perfect day!

  9. Like Chrisse I did pretty much the same circuit a few years back and loved it. Superb photos, It really has been a great winter for the late aftrenoon light shows!

    • I’m glad that I did not do it the other way round as my knees were knackered by the end, the descent would have killed me off. Winter seems to have taken a break the last few days 😦

      • That descent from Hindscarth is a real killer on dodgy knees (we did do it the other way round), as is the ascent up Dale Head from Maiden Moor.

        I was up near Hadrians Wall at the weekend and I think we got lucky, weather not too bad at all

  10. You are a lucky man Mr Boulter – bit like Arnold Palmer – more you get out the luckier you get. Stunning indeed. W

  11. For those of us whose dogs have become too old and arthritic for proper mountain days, your pictures are a mix of medicine and melancholia. Thanks for a cracking report!

  12. A very enjoyable read and great to actually see the views from the round as when I did the walk it was all shrouded in mist. Great photos as ever.

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