We are in North Wales this week. After the heat wave of Monday/Tuesday, the weather has been mixed with sunshine, showers and some hill fog. The forecast for today did not look too bad, so we headed for the Ogwen Valley to climb a mountain. Rather than heading for Tryfan or the Glyders, we chose to climb the nice grassy ridge leading to the summit of Pen Yr Helgi Du, one of the less-visited peaks in the Carneddau, to the north of the A5. This is a very pleasant, and fairly easy climb, giving great views back to Tryfan and the Glyders. Starting from the campsite at Gwern Gof Isaf, a short walk east and across the A5 takes you to the track leading to Tal-y-brach-uchaf, where the walk starts. A short way up this track, you take a path (marked initially by National Trust marker posts) heading north-east to a footbridge over a leat (water channel) at the bottom of the Y Braich ridge. It is then a question of heading steadily up the ridge-top path until after about 2 kilometres, you top-out at the summit of Pen Yr Helgi Du (833 metres) with great views across the northern Carneddau towards the Conwy valley. The return walk down the ridge is pleasant, easy walking on a grassy path- easy on the knees, and with spectacular views across the Ogwen Valley towards Tryfan, the Glyders and Moel Siabod. This is a pleasant mountain day that is not too taxing, but with great rewards in terms of views, and away from the crowds.
Orton-Kirkby Stephen (12.5 miles, 5-6 hours). This was the last day of our trip (for the moment- we hope to come back and complete the eastern section of the C2C next year). The weather forecast was for sunny intervals, with perhaps a low risk of showers. We were joined by our friend Sarah on this last day's walking, as she lives near Kirkby Stephen, and we stayed with her for the last two nights of our trip. As on Day 6, starting in Orton is actually a diversion off the 'official' Wainwright route (if there is one), so we started the day with an easy walk across fields from Orton to re-join the C2C path at Scarside. There are pleasant views back to Orton.
More easy walking across fields and a country lane brings you to the small hamlet of Sunbiggin, where we were not made welcome by a rather aggressive border terrier.
After Sunbiggin, the path crosses Ravenstonedale Moor and the lower reaches of Crosby Garrett Fell, before dropping down to the scenic highlight of the day, Smardale.
There is an 18th Century packhorse bridge that carries you over Smardale Beck, and to the north, the Smardale Gill Viaduct is visible - this carried a now disused railway line south from Kirkby Stephen, but is now used as a footpath for the Smardale Gill nature reserve.
We were now well and truly into the 'home strait' of our walk - climbing out of Smardale, there are mounds visible on the right, known locally as 'Gaint's graves', but in reality are more likely to be man-made rabbit burrows, to provide food for ancient settlements around Smardale Fell. The path climbs gently across Smardale Fell, then starts to drop down into Kirkby Stephen, with views of Nine Standards Rigg in the distance. After passing under the Settle-Carlisle railway line, it is a short walk to the 'finish line' of the western section of the C2C
So, we had made it - a bit weary and sore-footed, but with a nice feeling of achievement - it had been very enjoyable, with great scenery, mostly good food and accommodation and some nice people along the way. We'll hopefully be back next year to carry on further east towards Robins' Hood Bay.
Bampton Grange - Orton (12.5 miles, 4-5 hours). Today we got wet - very wet ! It started raining just as we left our accommodation (Crown and Mitre) at Bampton Grange, and apart from some brief respite over Crosby Ravensworth Fell, it rained all the way into Orton. We could not really complain, as we had been really lucky with almost completely dry weather through the Lakes, so we were due some rain.
Bampton is strictly a diversion off the Wainwright route, as his Day 5 route was straight through from Patterdale to Shap - quite a long tough day, so the option of finishing at Bampton or Bampton Grange, and then stopping at Orton (thereby shortening the Shap-Kirkby Stephen stage) is a good one. We thoroughly recommend the Crown and Mitre at Bampton Grange - very comfortable accommodation, good beer and food, and very obliging and helpful staff.
To get back on the original Wainwright route, there is a path directly opposite the Crown and Mitre (through the churchyard) that leads to Rosgill and then on to re-join the C2C path at Shap Abbey. We encountered some stubborn herds of cows on this path, that did not want to move to let us through gates/stiles, so there were some minor diversions needed over stone walls to by-pass them. Now that you are outside the Lake District National Park, Coast-to-Coast signs start to re-appear (although only occasionally, so close attention to the map is still needed). We considered the brief diversion to look at Shap Abbey, but in view of the persistent rain, we pressed on past it, just glimpsing it through the gloom !
We were glad to walk into Shap, only about four miles into the day's walk, and for an early lunch break at the Abbey Coffee Shop (very good and recommended - they will make fresh sandwiches to take away).
There was no let up in the rain as we walked on - there is quite long walk down the main street (A6) in Shap before turning off down a side street to cross the West Coast main railway line, then across fields to cross the M6 motorway - not the most scenic part of the C2C, so in the rain, it was a case of getting the heads down and getting some miles under our boots. Things improve a little after Oddendale, where the path swings south across Crosby Ravensworth Fell - there are some impressive limestone pavements here, but the rain kept on, and we pushed on towards Orton.
Although there were now more waymarkers/signposts in evidence, some of these were broken, and weather-beaten, so the direction arrows were no longer visible. Careful attention to the map was needed to avoid going off course.
The path swings east eventually to lead you past Robin Hood's Grave, according to the map - one of many such graves in Northern England, and we could not spot it through the rain. You then swing south on a lane leading down towards Orton Scar, and carry on due south down a bridleway into Orton itself - we had some more encounters of the cow kind on this last stretch. We were very pleased to walk into the pleasant village of Orton, where we headed for Kennedy's chocolate factory - we 'squelched', dripping wet, into their tea rooms for much needed refreshment at the end of a very damp day. Fortunately, the walking is fairly easy between Bampton and Orton, so this was probably the best day to be caught in the rain.
Patterdale - Bampton Grange (12.5 miles - lots of hours !): A bit of an epic day to-day !. Weather forecast was quite good - sunny intervals, the occasional shower, but a bit breezy at height. Ian at Old Water View Hotel had suggested an alternative route along part of High Street (not in any guide book), to get down into Bampton, avoiding the rather tortuous path alongside Haweswater. This sounded like a good idea, and after consulting the map, we decided to follow this route. We set off from Patterdale shortly after 9.00 am, and climbed up the 'ramp' south-east out of Patterdale to reach Boredale Hause. There were good views back down to Patterdale and Ullswater.
We now made probably our only major navigational error on our walk. At Boredale Hause, there is a bit of a 'Piccadilly Circus' of paths, with five different paths spanning out in different directions from this point. The map and our compass seemed to indicate a path going south east as the correct ongoing route towards Angle Tarn (which in fact it was). However, one of our guide books said 'avoid a path going south-east, as that will lead you back down into Patterdale'. So we took the next obvious path which headed uphill due east for a short distance then turned south-east - seemingly in the right direction. However, this was a path leading into Martindale, and after about quarter of an hour we realised that the terrain was not matching what we expected from the map. So, we reluctantly resorted to the GPS to get an accurate position, then took compass bearings so we could walk cross-country towards Angle Tarn. This took about another half an hour of hacking over open ground before we landed at Angle Tarn - back on route. So, if you are attempting this walk, when you get to Boredale Hause, take the path going south-east, slightly uphill that crosses the stream (Stonebarrow Gill) - ignore all other paths ! It was a relief to see Angle Tarn, and we stopped there for a well -earned refreshment break before pressing on towards the highest point on the C2C, Kidsty Pike.
Back on route, the path onward from Angle Tarn was fairly clear, although there are one or two places where you could be led astray by other paths (often not on the map) heading off in different directions, so it is wise to keep checking your position on the map. The path climbs steadily, passing the peak of Rest Dodd to the north, and skirting round the The Knott (739 metres) .Careful attention to the map is needed after The Knott, to make sure you do not miss the 'switchback' turning to Kidsty Pike - this is about 500-600 metres after passing The Knott, and is marked with a large cairn. This actually takes you onto the old Roman high level route through the Lakes called High Street. Missing the turning to Kidsty Pike can be major problem - we met one walker the next day who had made this error, and it resulted in an 8-mile detour to get to Shap, their destination for the day. Fortunately, we found the turning - we were being ultra-careful with our navigation after our earlier error, and we were soon at the summit of Kidsty Pike (780 metres), the highest point on the Wainwright C2C. It was quite breezy up there, so we donned fleeces and waterproof jackets (we had a short shower on the way up from Angle Tarn) whilst we ate our lunch at the summit. There are good views all around - down to Haweswater, along High Street, and to the east you can see where the Lakeland Fells end and the terrain becomes less hilly. The Pennines are just visible in the distance.
The traditional Wainwright route onward from Kidsty Pike involves a knee-crunching steep descent to the southern end of Haweswater, followed by a rather long trudge along the north-western shore of the lake over a rather undulating, rocky/muddy path with several stream crossings. We chose to follow Ian's alternative route along High Street and down over Bampton Common to by-pass these features. From Kidsty Pike summit, you back-track slightly and pick up a track running almost directly north to the summit of High Raise. At 800 metres, High Raise was actually the highest point our on C2C - we took advantage of the wind shelter there to check the map.
After High Raise, there was about another 3 kilometres of walking north along High Street to get to the turn-off point for Bampton Common. We like ridge walking, and in spite of the strong breeze, this was very pleasant, easy walking - soft/grassy underfoot, with great views all around from our elevated position.
We continued along High Street to Wether Hill, where Ian indicated the path down to Bampton Common would turn off just past a cairn - we found the cairn no problem, but could we find the path ? - could we heck !. We scoured backwards and forwards for several hundred metres either side of the cairn with no sign of a path anywhere. We checked our position using the GPS- we were in the right place, just there was no path. We could see the ridge of Bampton Common, where we needed to go, so we decided to walk on a compass bearing in that direction, to hopefully intersect the path. Eventually, after almost an hour of hacking around, we stumbled across the ridge top path and began the slow easy descent towards Bampton. As on High Street, this was easy, pleasant walking on grassy paths, with views of Haweswater off to the right.
Our navigational woes were not completely over for the day, however. As you head down the Bampton Common ridge, various paths criss-cross it, potentially leading you off-course. We realised we were dropping down too much towards Haweswater, so tried to stay as close to the ridge top as possible - to get to the road into Bampton you need to aim for the farm at Drybarrows. Just above the farm, you need to drop down to a wall (there is no route through the farmyard), where the farmer has placed a footpath sign. This is not that helpful, as it directs walkers onto a track south around Aika Hill, to the farm at Littlewater, where numerous signs show that all routes are private and are not public rights of way. So, another half an hour of back-tracking followed - what you need to do at Drybarrows is stay close to the wall going slightly north-east from the foot path sign (not going south as the sign suggests), and you will come to a gate in the wall that leads you onto the public footpath across the fields to meet the lane that takes you on to Bampton Grange. There is about 2 kilometres of road walking to get you into Bampton Grange. We staggered into our accommodation, the Crown and Mitre pub, at about 7.00 pm, after almost 10 hours on the path. We tucked into their excellent beer-battered fish and chips as a means of recovery ! It had been a challenging day at times, but with some very pleasant walking and fine views - this day is really the tail-end of the Lakes, with less dramatic terrain to follow. We probably lost about 2 hours due to our navigation issues, so this day could be completed in 7-8 hours. Ian's route over the High Street and down Bampton Common is a good one, with pleasant walking away from the crowds, but we would only recommend it in good visibility, and if you are a confident navigator. We later spoke to Ian about the problems we had, and he then told us that the previous day he had sent some walkers on this route, but they had given up and lost confidence at the non-existent Wether hill 'turn-off', and had walked all the way back to Patterdale to stagger in to Old Water View at 10.00pm, asking for a taxi to take them to their accommodation in Bampton. So, if attempting this route, you should assume there is no path on the ground at Wether Hill down Bampton Common, and you should just walk on a compass bearing from the cairn down to the ridge of the common. Be careful to aim for Drybarrows lower down the ridge, then stay close to the wall after that to find the footpath to the road (oh, and it helps to take the right path at Boredale Hause out of Patterdale at the start of the day), and you should be fine !
Grasmere-Patterdale (8.5 miles, 4-5 hours): This was a very pleasant day's walking, with easier terrain than on Day 3, and great views as we passed close to some Lakeland highlights (such as Hellvellyn). The forecast was for heavy rain spreading into the Lakes by the afternoon, so we made a reasonably early start, being on the path just after 9.00 am. We picked up the path just north of the Traveller's Rest pub, with a pleasant, gentle ascent alongside Tongue Gill, with good views back to Grasmere.
At the top of the Tongue Gill path you reach a 'col' at Hause Gap, overlooking Grisedale tarn, with the impressive bulk of Dollywaggon Pike in front of you.
From Hause Gap, there are some different route options. The really heroic walkers can elect to take the steep zig-zag path up Dollywaggon Pike and then walk north to the summit of Hellyellyn before descending Striding Edge to Patterdale (not for the faint-hearted). Some walkers we met on the path took this route, but had a tough, nerve-wracking descent of Striding Edge in the heavy afternoon rain, so we were glad we did not take this option. We were tempted by another high-level option from Hause Gap, which takes you over the summit of St. Sunday Crag, giving great views to the north and over the whole of the Lakes. However, with the approaching rain, and feet still sore from the rough paths on Day 3, we took the low level option down Grisedale valley into Patterdale. This was a very pleasant walk - there are some features of interest such as the Brother's Parting Stone, where William Wordsworth last saw his brother John.
Walking down Grisedale, there are good views back to the surrounding fells, although the weather was starting to close in as we walked towards Patterdale, with the summits becoming lost in the clouds.
As you walk over the final stretch into Patterdale, views of Ullswater open up on your left - on the day we were there, these included the Ullswater show in full swing on the village field in Patterdale.
We walked into Patterdale just after 2.00pm, and just as the heavens opened - we had just beaten the weather !. We actually beat our bags (we were using the Packhorse baggage transfer service) to our accommodation - the Old Water View Hotel, where our host Ian showed us to our room. It was named Place Fell, and was the room used by Alfred Wainwright himself when he stayed in Patterdale. He was looking down at us from his picture on the wall
Overall, Day 4 was very pleasant, with fairly easy walking and no major navigational traps. If the weather forecast had been better for the afternoon, we might have taken the high level route over St. Sunday Crag to provide more dramatic views. Next time !
The Old Water View in Patterdale provided very comfortable accommodation, with the host Ian providing good suggestions for our onward walk (more of that tomorrow !). They no longer serve evening meals, so the options for an evening meal are a bit limited in Patterdale. We ate at the White Lion Pub, but the food there was not really up to the standard we experienced elsewhere on the walk, so we would not recommend it. Bar meals are available at the Patterdale Hotel, which might be worth considering.
Rosthwaite-Grasmere (9.5 miles, 5-6 hours): A shorter day today, but not necessarily easier walking ! Once again, the weather was pleasant with sunny intervals, light winds, but with the threat of showers. We only got caught once in a short light shower as we descended towards Grasmere. The Day 3 walk starts with a pleasant amble alongside Stonethwaite Beck, before beginning a steady climb on a good path next to Greenup Gill. There are pleasant views back down into Borrowdale as you climb up the path.
At the top of the climb, you reach Lining Crag, a fine viewpoint for looking back into Borrowdale, and across to the Scafells and many other surrounding fells. It also makes a good picnic spot, except that on the day we were there, we were beaten to it by a large group of Dutch walkers on an organised Coast-to-Coast walk, so we pressed on towards Greenup Edge to avoid the crowds.
After Lining Crag, the going gets a bit tougher, with the path becoming rather vague and passing over quite boggy ground. There are occasional cairns but these are quite hard to spot even in clear conditions, so in mist, great care would be needed when navigating this section. It was clear when we were up there, but we later met some walkers who had gone off course here and ended up in Thirlmere instead of Grasmere. Careful map reading and some compass work led us to Greenup Edge, where we stopped for lunch. The route ahead is fairly clear from here, with the path dropping down slightly then up again to the 'col' at the top of Grasmere Common/Far Easedale.
There is the option for a high level route into Grasmere by taking the path over Calf Crag and Helm Crag above Far Easedale, but we opted to stay in the valley and began the long descent into Grasmere. Although the terrain looked fairly benign, the path underfoot was quite rocky, uneven and boggy in places, making for quite tough walking over this stretch.
We walked into Grasmere at about 5.00 pm after about 5-6 hours walking. The distance may have been shorter than on previous days, but the feet certainly felt as though they had walked further, due to the quite rocky terrain from Greenup Edge onwards. Careful navigation is needed after Lining Crag to the top of Far Easedale, particularly if the weather is poor. We had trouble getting accommodation in Grasmere - most hotels and B&Bs are not interested in C2C walkers, as they stipulate a minimum stay of two nights. Grasmere is really geared towards day trippers and coach party tourists, with the tea rooms and souvenir shops. It was a bit of a shock after being out in fairly remote country for the last three days, and we did not like it that much (Wainwright was no fan of Grasmere either). We did manage to get a one night stay at Chestnut Villas, a very nice B&B on the Keswick road, which we would certainly recommend. Just up the road is the Traveller's Rest pub - a good place for an evening meal (they also do accommodation, although when we enquired we were also told there was a minimum of two nights stay). The start of the walk on Day 4 is just 200 metres or so up the road from the Traveller's Rest, where there is a Bridleway sign to Patterdale.
Ennerdale Bridge - Borrowdale (Rosthwaite) - 15 miles (7-8 hours): This was quite a challenging day's walk, and involves more ascent than Day 1. Adverse weather conditions are more likely to have an impact, but in spite of a forecast for heavy showers, we largely stayed dry, with just two short showers as we walked up the side of Ennerdale Water. We left Ennerdale Bridge at about 0930, and headed for the path alongside the north of Ennerdale Water - the traditional Wainwright route follows the south shore, but is more rocky and muddy, and tougher walking. In view of the potentially long day, we opted for the easier, but perhaps slightly less dramatic option. Ennerdale Water looked lovely in the morning sunshine.
After leaving the end of Ennerdale Water, there is still a good bit of fairly tedious, but easy walking, along a forest track until finally you emerge from the trees to drop down to Black Sail Hut, one of the most remote and dramatic locations in the Lake District.
'Black Sail Hut is a Youth Hostel, but is often left open for passing walkers, so they can use the toilet and kitchen facilities. It is perfectly placed as a lunch stop on Day 2, to take on refreshment before taking on the toughest climb of the walk so far. Black Sail is one of Wainwright's favourite locations in the Lakes, as it sits nestled below an array of dramatic fells - Haystacks, Great Gable, Kirk Fell and Pillar to name but a few.
Care is needed when leaving Black Sail, to take the correct path towards Loft Beck - we saw several walkers take the wrong path - you should take the higher, less distinct path heading south-east, not the main track, which can lead you into the wrong valley completely !. The climb alongside Loft Beck up towards Honister is the steepest of the walk so far, but the path is well engineered with stone steps, so is not too hard if you take your time. There are great views back to Great Gable and Kirk Fell as you ascend the Loft Beck path.
As you emerge onto the plateau after climbing up Loft Beck, weather depending, you can have one of those 'wow' moments on the Coast-to-Coast. Stunning views open up in all directions - across to Honister Slate Mine below Fleetworth Pike, views back to Haystacks, High Crag and Red Pike, and as you cross towards Honister, great views into Buttermere open up on your left.
The path from the top of Loft Beck swings right past the lower slopes of Brandreth and Grey Knotts, and is clearly marked with frequent cairns, so navigation should not be a problem, even in poor weather. It then joins former tramways to cross towards Honister, and then down (fairly steeply) to the Honister visitor centre (a good refreshment stop before the final walk down to Borrowdale).
There was still about 3-4 miles walking from Honister to our hotel in Rosthwaite, but the walk down from the visitor centre was generally pleasant, down through Seatoller, then on alongside the River Derwent - there is one short section of rocky scrambling above the river (with a chain in the rocks to use as a hand-hold) to negotiate, but otherwise the path was good.
We walked into our Hotel (Hazel Bank Country hotel- slightly expensive, but very nice) at about 1830, after a long day's walking, but which had been very enjoyable and not too technically demanding. We now felt we were in the heart of the Lakes, with the dramatic scenery to match. Navigation on Day 2 was relatively straightforward, as long as you took the correct path from Black Sail to Loft Beck !. We were lucky with the weather - this would be a very tough day in poor weather. Whilst very good quality (4 rosette) evening meals were available at Hazel Bank, we opted for a rather more relaxed meal at the Scafell Hotel bar just down the round - good quality it was too, eaten outside on the terrace above Stonethwaite Beck (with midges for company).
St. Bees- Ennerdale Bridge (14 miles : 6-7 hours). We arrived in St. Bees by train from the famous Carnforth station (of Brief Encounter fame). We walked past the statue of the Irish Princess St. Beagh, who gives her name (or a corruption of it) to the village, down to the Seacote hotel, our accommodation for the night.
Day 1 of the walk dawned fine, with blue skies, light winds and warm, but not too hot temperatures- ideal for walking. We performed the obligatory 'boot dipping' in the Irish Sea (or rather a puddle of it at the top of the beach - the tide was out !) and the photo-call by the start point.
Then off we went - the first part of the walk actually heads north up the cliff top above St Bees head, with great views of the Irish Sea and back to St Bees bay. The cliffs are favourite nesting grounds for sea birds, with several RSPB viewing points alongside the path.
After passing St Bees lighthouse, the path swings east, then inland to the pleasant village of Sandwith, where the pub was in use as a polling station on the day we passed through (it was EU Referendum day) - then on to the village of Moor Row, where there is a statue of a Coast-to-Coast walker as you enter the village.
A short distance further on brings you to the village of Cleator, with its famous pie-selling village store- a good place to stock up on refreshments for the rest of the day's walking. Then comes the only real climb of the day - up to the top of Dent Fell (352 metres), with the last good views back to the Irish Sea, before you head on east towards the Lakes.
Dropping down from the top of Dent Fell (via a steep, knee-testing path), you start to get a glimpse of the dramatic scenery to come in the Lakes, with various Lakeland Fells coming into view in the distance.
The last few miles walking involve a pleasant ramble next to the Nannycatch Beck, then alongside the road down into Ennerdale Bridge.
We walked into Ennerdale Bridge, slightly weary and sore-footed after a good 14-15 miles walking, but it was generally easy walking over pleasant terrain and good paths. Navigation was generally straightforward, but some attention to the map was needed near Bell House (after Sandwith), coming out of Cleator and also over Dent Fell, to avoid going off course. We stayed at the Shepherd's Arms Hotel in Ennerdale Bridge, which was quite comfortable, but the better food is to be found at the Fox and Hounds pub in the village.
Peter and Lorraine, owners of Ty Uchaf since 2011. We will post occasionally items that may be of interest to our guests, past, present and future !