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Great Gable

The last day of my holiday in Borrowdale, and I still hadn’t been up on the high fells. It was raining when I woke up and the weather forecast suggested that it would continue for a while before clearing late morning, so I decided I’d have to venture out, and after a hearty breakfast, that’s what I did. Unfortunately, I discovered, yet again, that weather forecasts can be unreliable. On Monday and Tuesday it had been better than forecast, and I was keeping my fingers crossed it would be the same outcome as I set out heading towards Seathwaite, with the intention of climbing Great Gable.


It was raining, but I was wearing appropriate clothing that would keep me warm and dry. I certainly wasn’t the only fool setting out. I spotted a number of walkers setting out up on to the fells.


Although when I reached Seathwaite I stopped to chat with a couple around my own age, who had decided to leave it for another day. Undaunted I continued along the path


until I reached the picturesque Stockley Bridge,


where I turned up the path that started to climb up the fells up to Sty Head.


It’s a good, engineered path (at least most of the way) so I made good progress.


But it continued to rain and I could see that the tops of the nearby fells were shrouded in cloud. Never mind, I thought, it’ll clear up soon! Looking back down the valley I convinced myself that there were signs that this was happening.


I made steady progress, enjoying the walk despite the rain (fortunately it was coming from behind me; much preferable than having it hitting me in the face)


and after a couple of hours I’d made it to Styhead Tarn, which is almost at the top of the pass. Now this is a wonderful viewpoint at the foot of Great Gable and with Scafell Pike, Scafell and their adjacent siblings dead ahead. But today the high fells were largely covered in cloud so most of the summits weren’t visible. In fact I began to wonder whether Scafell Pike actually existed! But I could see that those mountains I could see had a covering of snow towards the summit. Now this wasn’t what I was expecting.


I stopped for a while to refuel and took stock. A group of walkers ahead of me had turned off and it looked like they were going to tackle the Corridor route to Scafel Pike. That didn’t seem such a good idea to me. And it probably wasn’t such a good idea to head up Great Gable either, as I could see some snow settled towards the top. But feeling optimistic I decided to carry on.

Looking back to the tarn. Looks like conditions are improving.

Reaching the stretcher box at the top of the pass, just beyond the tarn, I turned right to take the path up Great Gable.

The Mountain Rescue stretcher box at the top of Styhead Pass, with the Scafells behind. I was hoping I wasn’t going to need this!
Scafell Pike is in there, somewhere!

It was continuing to rain as I climbed, but I was making good progress.

The start of the path up Great Gable. Doesn’t look too bad?

But then the rain got heavier and there was some hail mixed in with it. Never mind, carry on. Looking down I could imaging what a fantastic view I would have had on a better day. I could also see a small party coming up the path further down, so that encouraged me to carry on.

Getting closer to the top, there was some patches of snow underfoot. But nothing too serious. I can cope with that!


But then it started to snow. I reckoned I hadn’t too far to go so decided to carry on, but as I climbed the snow started to come down harder. Eventually I realised that’s I’d reached the summit, but visibility was very poor as the snow continued to fall and it was windy too. So I huddled down behind the cairn.

Reaching the summit

The summit of Great Gable is one of the best viewpoints in England with views across to the Scafells and down Borrowdale, Wasdale and Ennerdale. But I couldn’t see a thing. I’d been up here once before, when I was about 17 with a party from school led by a Maths teacher who was a keen walker. We didn’t have snow that day but there was low cloud so when we reached the top that day we were in thick mist and couldn’t see anything. This time it was even worse.

The cairn and rocks I sheltered behind was the site of a monument dedicated to the members of the Fell & Rock Climbing Club who died in World War I. The club bought 3,000 acres of land including Great Gable which it donated it to the National Trust in memory of these members. An annual memorial service is held here on November 11th, Remembrance Sunday. I braved the wind to take a look at the monument.


By this time the group coming up behind me had reached the summit and, as you do, we had a chat. I was feeling a little vulnerable up on top on my own in the snowy conditions so asked if they would mind if I tagged on to their group as they descended down the “Windy Gap” and then back down to Seathwaite, which was also my intended route down. It seemed the sensible thing to do (as I hadn’t been that sensible carrying on up on my own when conditions were deteriorating).

Looking down towards Styhead and the Scafells.

We located the path we wanted to take (not so easy in poor visibility) and started to make our way down. It’s quite steep and required a bit of scrambling, a little tricky in descent, especially with snow underfoot. But this path is more sheltered and there was less snow and as we descended conditions underfoot improved.

The start of the path down to Windy Gap
It didn’t look too bad on Green Gable, which is lower than it’s “sibling”
Looking down towards Ennerdale from Windy Gap. Visibility wasn’t great but at least I could see something of the valley and Pillar Mountain with Ennerdale Water just visible in the distance.

Reaching the hause, in better conditions I’d have liked to have climbed the neighbouring fell of Green Gable, but today continued on down the scree covered path that would take us back down to Styhead Tarn.

The Scafells were still hidden in the mist, but looking back I could see that the cloud was clearing off Great Gable and conditions were certainly improving. If I’d reached the top an hour or two later then I might have had a view. Ah well, the Fates are clearly determined to stop me experiencing the great views from the top of this mountain.

Looking back up to Great Gable. Conditions definitely better. If only I’d set out a couple of hours later 😦
Looking across the tarn to the Scafells

I continued back down to Borrowdale with the group. As we descended, conditions were certainly improving, although it continued to rain.

Heading back down the pass towards Borrowdale
Conditions definitely improving
The view along Borrowdale towards Seathwaite
Back at Stockley Bridge

After crossing Stockley Bridge we continued down the path to Seathwaite. A short distance along the metalled road from the farm towards Seatoller we parted company when the group reached their vehicle which they’d parked up on the verge.

The road back to Seatoller.

I continued the last mile back to the farm and was glad of a soak in a deep hot bath.

So my last day in Borrowdale had been something of an adventure. On reflection I’d have been better if I’d set out a little later. But I hadn’t and encountering the conditions when I reached Styhead, I really should have turned back. I still would have had an enjoyable walk, though I know I’d have been disappointed not to have made it to the top. But hindsight is a wonderful thing and decisions have to be made on the spot. Luckily, I didn’t come a cropper, but on my own I could have done, particularly if conditions had deteriorated still further.

So I’ve been up Great Gable twice and on both occasions haven’t been able to enjoy the views. But the mountain hasn’t gone away so I’ll just have to look out for a good day when I’m not in work and get up there again. Mind you, will I be able to trust the weather forecast?

A walk around the Borrowdale hamlets


When I woke up on the Wednesday of my break in Borrowdale it was raining, and the forecast was that it was going to chuck it down for the rest of the day. So, I decided to drive in to Keswick and have a mooch around. Keswick is a pleasant enough place, but once I’d walked around the shops and had a coffee in Java, one of my favourite cafes, I decided I’d had enough and drove back to Seatoller. It was still raining, but not heavily so I decided that as there’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing (or so some people say!) I got out my waterproof coat and set out for a low level walk around the valley. The rain eased off for a while and during the walk it only fell intermitently, and it was never too heavy,

I decided on a route which would take me round the small hamlets at the south end of the valley. Setting out from Seatoller I took the path from the National Trust car park (adjacent to the farm) and then followed the route that skirted the woods and then along a riverside path.


At one point the path was very close to the river and the path was rather precarious, so chains ha d been installed as handholds, a little like a mini via ferrata! Well, perhaps that’s an exaggeration but without the chains it would have been difficult to avoid slipping into the river

I passed the Borrowdale Youth Hostel and then carried on along the riverside path as far as Rossthwaite. To reach the village I needed to cross the river. The first opportunity to do this was at a ford where there were stepping stones for pedestrians.


I considered crossing here but as I didn’t have my walking poles with me and my balance these days isn’t great, not wanting to risk a dunking, I decided against it. So I carried on a little further and crossed over on the New Bridge that I’d been over the day before.


I carried on along the path to the village and was tempted to stop at the farmhouse cafe for a brew.


I carried on retracing my steps from the previous day, but instead of heading to Watendladth, turned off to take the path that shadowed Stonethwaite Beck towards the hamlet of the same name.


From Stonethwaite I crossed the fields back to the road heading back to Seatoller, but after a short distance turned off on a track which passed Thornythwaite farm and then on to Seathwaite following the path through fields that skirted the foot of Thornythwaite fell.


Seathwaite is literally a dead end, where the road along Borrowdale finishes and the path up tot he high fells starts. It’s just a farm with a few buildings and a campsite.


In 1555 a seam of pure graphite, which is was found up on the side of the fells near to Seathwaite. Graphite mining became an important industry, the mineral being supplied to the pencil factories in Keswick. Mining ended, though,  around 1891 when veins of the solid graphite became harder to find


Seathwaite is also famous as being, reputably, the wettest settlement in England, with around 140 inches of rain every year, and at this point some of it was falling on me!

Passing the farm buildings I joined the metalled road and after about a mile was back at Seatoller farm.


Time to get out of my damp clothes and have a shower. It had been a grey day, not good for photos, and a bit damp, but still an enjoyable walk.

Castle Crag and Watendlath


On the second day of my break in Borrowdale, the weather forecast was for rain and snow on the high fells, so a walk at lower level seemed to be the most sensible option. I’d planned out some possible routes and decided to follow the path along the side of Borrowdale and head north to the small, but popular, hill, Castle Crag one of the “Jaws of Borrowdale”.

At the bottom of the Honister path, just behind Seatoller Farm, I took the path up the hill
until I reached another path that headed north along the side of the valley.

Looking back down to Seatoller
Taking the path up hill

Despite the grey skies there were good views along and across the Borrowdale.

Looking back across the valley

The “Jaws of Borrowdale” soon came into view. Castle Crag is the smaller of the hills ahead.

Looking towards the “Jaws of Borrowdale”
Looking back along the path from Seatoller

Looking over to my right I could see the hamlet of Rossthwaite and the Langstrath Valley, where it was clearly raining.

the view towards Rossthwaite and Langstrath

Getting closer now to Castle Crag


And there’s the path up the small hill


According to Wainwright

“Castle Crag is so magnificently independent, so ruggedly individual, so aggressively unashamed of its lack of inches. It conforms to no pattern. It is an obstruction in the throat of Borrowdale. Its abrupt pyramid, richly wooded from base almost to summit but bare at the top, is a wild tangle of rough steep ground, a place of crags and scree and tumbled boulders, of quarry holes and spoil dumps of confusion and disorder. But such is the artistry of nature, such is the mellowing influence of the passing years, that the scars of disarray and decay have been transformed in a romantic harmony, cloaked by a canopy of trees and a carpet of leaves.

Well, given this rather glowing description I just had to climb to the top. It’s not very big, only 950 feet, but it was a short sharp climb, the final stretch over a path up through the former slate quarry waste heaps, where I had to watch my step not to slip on the loose pieces of slate.


It didn’t take long to reach the summit, with it’s war memorial, commemorating men of Borrowdale who died in the First World War


It was worth the climb. Despite the far from perfect weather the views certainly were outstanding.

Looking towards Derwent Water. Skiddaw was obscured by the rain falling over the lake
Looking up the valley towards Rossthwaite and beyond
Looking up the valley towards the high fells. There does seem to be a smattering of snow on Scafell Pike, but not much.

I stayed for a short while, taking in the view and then set off back down the hill. I carried on the path in a northerly direction through pleasant woodland


until I reached the River Derwent. I then turned onto the path along the river back up the valley, rounding Castle Crag.


Leaving the woodland I carried on following the riverside path through fields until I reached the New Bridge, an old packhorse bridge, which I crossed to take the path towards Rossthwaite

It used to be new

Rossthwaite is another one of the very pleasant of the former mining hamlets in Borrowdale


A good place to stop for a brew and rest for a little while. The food options looked good too – I rather fancied one of their hot Herdwick lamb pasties – but I’d had a packed lunch made up which I was saving for a little later in the day.

Brew with a view

The route I’d been following was a popular one, it’s recommended on various websites including the National Trust. I could have continued from Rossthwaite following the route back to Seatoller, but it was only midday and the weather wasn’t too bad at with a little sunshine appearing now and then. And I had another route in mind, starting in Rossthwaite which would take me over the low fells to a hidden hamlet.

My thirst slaked, I walked through the hamlet (didn’t exactly take me very long!) crossed the road and followed the path that would take me back onto the fells.


As I climbed, looking back there was an excellent view back over the valley down to Rossthwaite and over to the high fells


I could see Great Gable(and, I think, Scafell Pike) in the distance, and it wasn’t exactly obscured by cloud and covered with snow. Looks like the weather forecast hasn’t got it right!

Zooming in


I continued climbing the modest fell, along the old packhorse route over the pass



After reaching the top of the pass I started the descent towards Wadendlath


It’s another small hamlet, a farm with a small collection of other buildings, standing next to a small tarn. Almost hidden in a valley between Borrowdale and Thirlmere, it can be reached by driving up a narrow road from Ashness Bridge, but it certainly felt very isolated.


The village is owned by the National Trust, as is the tarn, which was donated to them by Queen Victoria’s daughter, Princess Louise, in memory of her brother, King Edward VII.


I crossed my second old packhorse bridge of the day to enter the village


Time to eat my packed lunch, and then have my second brew of the day – there was a cafe in one of the houses (never miss the opportunity for a brew, especially on a walk on the fells. The next one will be miles away!)

The artist Dora Carrington, who was linked to the Bloomsbury Group, had her honeymoon in the village and painted a picture of the farm and fells, which is owned by the Tate Gallery.

Farm at Watendlath (1921 ) by Dora Carrington
Photo © Tate Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

This traditional style Lakeland building, Fold Head Farm house, was used by Hugh Walpole as the fictional home of Judith Paris in his Herries Saga of four novels published in the early 1930s


Can’t say I know much about the author. I certainly haven’t read anything by him.

Time to set off again, this time following the path that would take me to another small lake, Dock Tarn.

Looking back to Watendlath across the tarn.

There was a National Trust sign saying “don your waterproof boots for the walk to Dock Tarn”, so I guessed what I was likely to encounter!


and eventually I came to an expanse of wetland. Fortunately there was a decent path so I didn’t get my boots too wet.


After crossing the marshy land, the path started to climb


Looking back there was a good view of Watendlath and its tarn


I have to own up to going a little off track at the top of the climb. The path wasn’t clear and I ended up following another path that took me of course. However, when I realised I’d gone wrong, I managed to make my way back to my destination, the lonely, isolated, Dock Tarn.


Not another soul around. In fact, I didn’t see anyone after leaving Watendlath until I was back down in Borrowdale.

I followed the path along the west shore of the tarn and then it swung right heading in the direction of Langstrath and Borrowdale. Higher mountains started to come into view.


I stated the steep descent down towards the valley


There were great views down Langstrath and over to Rossthwaite Fell


Reaching woodland, I now had an even steeper descent down an “engineered path” , maintained by Fix the Fells volunteers, down into the valley.

this photo doesn’t show just how steep the path was – glad I had my walking poles to minimise the agony to the knees

I was glad to reach the bottom of the steep path, although there was still some descending to do


Over a stile


and I was now walking through fields down towards yet another Borrowdale hamlet, Stonethwaite


I was actually following a path along the final stretch of the Langstrath Valley towards Borrowdale, which is part of the Cumbria Way


After half a mile or so I turned off onto another path to cross over the river towards Stonethwaite


I had a quick look round


As well as a pub, the hamlet has a small church


I liked the churchyard gate


Not far to go now. About a mile walking over the fields


and then a short stretch of road took me back to Seatoller. A brew and a hot bath awaits!


Well, this has turned out to be quite a long post, but it was a decent length walk. I’d more or less combined two recommended routes (see here and here), either of which would be a good half day’s walk. The weather hadn’t been too bad at all, if a bit grey and dull for photos. I’d been rained on a couple of times, but nothing to write home about, fairly light and over after 20 minutes or less.


Borrowdale – looking back from the pass from Rossthwaite to Watendlath

Walla Crag, Bleaberry Fell and High Seat

The May Day Bank Holiday Monday was the first day of my short break in Borrowdale. I wanted to make the most of my time off so I packed over the weekend and so was able to set off reasonably early up the M6 towards the Lakes. The traffic was lighter than I expected for a Bank Holiday – probably a combination of the early start and a less than promising weather forecast.

I’d planned a walk over on the eastern side of Derwent Water which would take in some moderate sized fells and a couple of well known “beauty spots”. After a fairly easy drive, I parked up late morning in the National Trust car park at Great Wood, donned my walking gear and then set off up the path through the woods.


Lots of bluebells to be seen


My first destination was somewhere I’d visited a few times, including last August – Walla Crag. The path climbed up through the woods, eventually reaching a path where we turned right towards Castlerigg farm. Views opened up over Derwent Water, the fells to the west of the lake, and, to the north, Skiddaw and Blencathra.


After the farm there was a shortish, steep climb up the fell before I reached the top of Walla Crag, where I stopped for a bite to eat and to take in the views. They were pretty good even though it was something of a grey day.

Looking over Derwent Water with Bassenthwaite Lake in the distance

Time to get moving again. During previous walks up here I’d turned off down one of the routes back down to the lake but this time I took the path that would lead me over to Bleaberry Fell, a relatively modest fell at 1,936 feet high – not quite a mountain if you take the definition as 2,000 feet. It looked enticingly close, but looks can be deceiving!

Looking towards Bleaberry fell

Part of the way to the summit the rain that had been promised arrived. But it didn’t last long and had moved on after less than 20 minutes. I was still glad I was wearing my waterproof coat, mind, and needed to use the waterproof cover for my rucksack.

Looking over to the top of Borrowdale. and the high fells, including Scafell Pike and Great Gable

Another relatively short, steep climb and I was on the summit. Time for a coffee from my flask while I looked out over the fells. Despite the cloud and grey skies, visibility wasn’t too bad and I see over to Helvellyn in the east and the high mountains at the top end of Borrowdale.

I wasn’t the on;y one on the summit of Bleaberry Fell
Looking across to the fells to the west of Derwent Water
Looking over to Blencathra
It’s raining over Thirlmere. The rain obscuring the view of Helvelyn. But no rain on Bleaberry Fell. That’s the Lake District for you. Rain in one valley and none in the next

I might have turned around and retraced my steps back down the hill, but I decided to carry on to the next summit, High Seat, which was about a mile away. Another fell I’d never climbed. It’s a few feet higher than Bleaberry Fell, and at 1,995 feet is again just short of a mountain

The modest looking bump in the mid-ground is High Seat

It looks like a relatively easy walk over to High Seat. There isn’t much loss in altitude and the terrain is fairly flat. But looks can be deceiving. The ground is notoriously boggy and Wainwright reckons that  “this is a walk to wish on one’s worst enemy“.

I soon hit boggy ground. Fortunately, we’d had a few relatively dry weeks so it wasn’t as bad as it might have been and I managed to get across the bogs fairly unscathed. It must be horrendous in winter or after a prolonged wet spell.

I made my way to the summit cairn and once again took in the views.


The trig point was just a few feet away

Another walker standing on the rocky outcrop to the east of the summit with Helvellyn in the background

Time to start making my way back down. The path which would take me to Ashness Bridge was clearly visible. It looked a much better surface than the one across from Bleaberry Fell


It was, but there were several boggy stretches to cross as I made my way back towards Derwent Water


There were a few other people about, but it was relatively quiet


Getting closer to the end of the descent now


I reached the popular beauty spot at Ashness Bridge. It’s graced many a chocolate box and postcard!


I stopped for a brief rest and removed my waterproof coat. It had turned sunny and down off the fell it was feeling warm. Then I set off down the path through the woods towards the car park, about another mile away.


Reaching the car park, I hadn’t quite finished. I decided to walk the short distance over to Calf Cross Bay on Derwent Water.


The Hundred Year Stones, a monument created by Peter Randall-Page to mark the centenary of the National Trust, are often at least partially submerged by the water, but not today. The level of the Lake must have been relatively low


After a short time enjoying the tranquil atmosphere, I walked back to the car and then drove allong Borrowdale to Seatooler to check in at my B and B.

A break in Borrowdale


Last year I took a short solo break in Coniston after the May Day Bank Holiday. I enjoyed getting away up onto the fells, getting away for a few days to wind down so I decided to do something similar this year, so booked a short break in a B and B in Seatoller in Borrowdale, south of Derwent Water, at the start of the Honister Pass and close to the highest fells in the Lakes. The weather wasn’t particularly kind; it rained a lot, but then I was only staying 1 mile from Seathwaite, allegedly the wettest settlement in England.

But rain wasn’t going to stop me enjoying my break. It was the Lakes, after all, so it’s to be expected! It was good to just get away and after the Bank Holiday Monday, being early in the season, it was very quiet and peaceful.

I was staying at Seatoller Farm B and B, a working farm who have three rooms a cottage for rent and a campsite, in a very scenic location.


I had a very comfortable room with an on-suite bathroom with a bath (good for a soak after a long walk) and there was a resident’s lounge where I could relax in the evening

View from the resident’s lounge

The farm’s been there a long time. At one time it WAS Seatoller, a remote farm well away from “civilisation”. The hamlet developed when housing was constructed for workers at the Honister Slate Mine. It’s a long hard slog for a mile and a half up a steep hill from the hamlet to the mine where workers would have worked long, hard days throughout the year, before walking back downhill to their homes.

Some of the local residents
Looking towards the fells from behind Seatoller Farm
View towards Glaramara

The weather forecasts during the week weren’t exactly trustworthy. The weather was better the first couple of days and considerably worse on the Thursday when I’d decided to tackle one of the high fells.

I managed to get out for some good walks exploring the valley and nearby fells, so plenty to write up!

Joan Eardley

Salmon Nets 1 (1961-3)by Joan Eardley

While we were last up at Abbot Hall Gallery in Kendal a couple of paintings included in the display of works from the Gallery’s own collection on the first floor took my eye. The Gallery have a large collection but limited space so they only have a limited number of works on display at any one time, which change from time to time. I couldn’t recall seeing these particular paintings previously, so had a closer look. They reminded me a little of the work of the Irish artist, Camille Souter, whose paintings I’ve seen during my visits to the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin.

It turned out that they were paintings by Joan Eardley a 20th Century artist,
s born on 18 May 1921 in Sussex but whose family moved to the Glasgow suburb of Bearsden in 1940 when she was 19. She enrolled at Glasgow School of Art the same year.

She became known for her portraits of local children near her studio in Glasgow. In the late 1950’s she started to visit the Scottish seaside village of Catterline, in Aberdeenshire, moving there permanently in 1961, where she painted seascapes and landscapes. The Abbot Hall paintings are from that period.

According to the National Galleries of Scotland website she was

one of Scotland’s most popular twentieth century artists. Her powerful and expressive paintings transformed her everyday surroundings, including the rugged Scottish coastline and Glasgow’s street children. During her lifetime she was considered a member of the post war British avant-garde, who portrayed the realities of life in the mid-twentieth century.

She became well known for her work in Scotland and probably would have become more widely recognised but died in 1963 from breast cancer when she was only 42.

The Cornfield (1962) by Joan Eardley

There’s a good article about her life and work on the National Galleries Scotland website and also here.

The two Abbot hall paintings, although figurative, have a strong abstract quality to them. Apparently, she liked to paint outdoors, working quickly to capture the changing light and conditions, in all sorts of weather, and would sometimes add vegetation to her thickly textured paint.

It’s always good to discover the work of an artist I’ve not really come across before during a gallery visit. And I’ll certainly be trying to find out more about Joan Eardley and her work.

“Do you have some Blues in you?”


I came across this gentlemen at his stall on Hebden Bridge market when I was there a few weeks ago. He made up cigar box guitars and after spotting them I had to have a closer look.

He greeted me by asking me “have you got some blues in you?” Well I have – a little anyway! He spotted my Lancashire accent but despite this (!) I got chatting with him about how he made his hand built guitars and I had a go at playing one – they’re meant for playing slide or “bottleneck” style and it’s not something I’d really attempted before.

He told me that he had Parkinson’s disease (he had the characteristic hand tremor) but still persevered in building the instruments. I thought they were quite reasonably priced (probably worth more) and would have been tempted to buy one if I wasn’t just about to set out for a walk on the moors.