This hike is a circular hike in the North of the English Lake District and to the west of Lake Bassenthwaite. The Lake District is a National Park and occupies most of the county of Cumbria. Formerly a combination of parts of the old counties of Cumberland, Westmoreland and Lancashire, it is also my home. I grew up amongst these mountains and you’d be hard pressed to name any I haven’t summited except in the far North East of the region. The English Lake District is a popular area for outdoor recreation including hiking, climbing, kayaking, sailing and many more. But it is also the home and birthplace of many other people and things of note including:
• The poets Wordsworth, Coleridge and Ruskin
• English rock climbing with the first ascent of Napes Needle by Walter Parry Hasket-Smith in 1866 marking the beginning of rock climbing
• Rheged, the national mountaineering exhibition at Penrith
• Sir Chris Bonnington
• Doug Scott
• The first nuclear power station in the UK at Sellafield
• Kendal Mint Cake, the instant energy boost as used on many Everest expeditions
• Alfred Wainwright, the late great creator of the seven guidebooks to the region
So as you wander amongst these peaks, feel the history and presence of those who have gone before you. Take your time to look around you beyond the summits, see the industrial archaelogy, the wildlife, the people.
The area covered by this hike occupies the CP’s (civil parish) of Wythop and Lorton to the North of Keswick and West of Lake Bassenthwaite. There is no grand summit or towering peak that this circular hike can be named after so I have decided to give it the title of Bassenthwaite West for obvious geographic and positional reasons. There are six fells (hills or small peaks) that can be joined either with obvious tracks or across vast open spaces frequented only by sheep! Assuming your base is the village of Braithwaite to the west of Keswick take the minor road to Thornthwaite which runs parallel to the main A591 heading north. A mile through Thornthwaite village you will reach the Swan Hotel on your right. Park up on the left and begin your hike through the forest. In sequence you are heading for Barf, Lords Seat, Broom Fell, Graystones, Ling Fell and Sale Fell.
Whether you are travelling from the North or South of the country the best way to the area is to take the M6 to Junction 40 at Penrith. Now take the A66 heading west. From here it’s 17 miles to Keswick.
When To Climb
All year round
Camping would not be necessary across this hike though some may want to consider an overnight wild-camp as part of the overall experience. Water sources are scarce though so you would need to carry a supply for your evening cook. In Braithwaite there is a good campsite, Scotgate, Tel. 01768 778343
This hike can be completed at any time of the year. It’s on the extreme northern edge of the Lake District and not much frequented by regular hikers. So, it’s one of those extremely rare places in the area where solitude is virtually guaranteed. My own preference is to make this trip in winter when the only tracks you are likely to see are your own, the sheep, an occasional deer and a variety of birds. The main “condition” to cope with is the weather, and if you think that British weather is generally unpredictable then the unpredictable scale isn’t big enough to accommodate the Lake District. As a “visitor” the first thing you need to understand it that there are at least three mini zones of weather within the area. First, to the extreme west is the Irish Sea and the coastal zone leading up towards the western and central fells. Second, the central fells from Borrowdale to the eastern side of Helvellyn, and lastly the far east beyond the Helvellyn range. Each of these can also be divided into north and south, but it’s the west-east line that seems to have the greatest variation in weather. So, it can be sunny in the west, raining in the centre, and merely cloudy in the east. I’m sure that true meteorologists will be having a fit at my divisions and generalisations, but I think you are getting the picture. The upshot of this is that the weather can change very rapidly, mostly from the west except under the winter conditions when we frequently have fronts from the Arctic descending on us. Always check the forecast before you set off:
Lakes weatherline tel: 01768 775757 here
Try to learn something about cloud formations, especially how to spot lenticular formations and what they might mean for the rest of the day. The two photos appended to this section show how the weather has changed on Grisedale Pike within about 7 hours but it had been heralded by some lenticular formations to the west which my camera wasn’t good enough to distinguish in the pale watery sky.
Route Information & GPS Data
The map I use for this area is Ordnance Survey, Outdoor Leisure 4, The English Lakes, North Western Area, 1:25,000 scale. The table below shows a set of waypoints for each fell together with start and finish points which can be programmed into a GPS. Note that these are OS grid references and NOT Lat. & Long. Positions and that the Bearing and Distance information is an “as the crow flies” bearing and distance to the next peak or waypoint.
|Position||Elevation (ft)||GridRef.||GridRef||Bearing||Distance (km)|
Accommodation & Getting Around
There is lots of accommodation in the area to suit all budgets including:
• Scotgate Campsite 01768 778342 at the village of Braithwaite
• Keswick Youth Hostel 0870 770 5894 in Keswick town centre
• Coledale Inn 01768 778272 in the village of Braithwaite
• Lots of further information and accommodation help can be gained at the Keswick Tourist Office 01768 772645 also in Keswick town centre
• If you need transport to get around call Traveline 0870608 2608 for information on local buses.
• Don’t forget the National Mountaineering Exhibition, Rheged, at Penrith, here which is also an exhibition of Cumbrian history and heritage. Not to be missed by all mountaineers!
• The Keswick Mining Museum, 017687 80055
Lake District Geology
I can only scratch the surface here (a pun!) so I hope all you professional geologists, including my wife who worked for the geological survey in Kathmandu, can be tolerant of my amateurish attempt. The shaping of the mountains in this region and the origins of it’s rocks represent separate and dramatically different periods of time. The hills, lakes and valleys are mainly the result of glacial events of which the most significant took place during the Devensian period between 25,000 and 10,000 years ago. The bedrocks record a much longer and more exotic series of events in earth’s history extending back more than four hundred million years.
During the last half million years glaciation has affected the lakes area in the form of repeatedly advancing and retreating ice sheets, culminating in the present inter-glacial stage during which human civilisation has developed. At it’s most extensive ice covered the Lakes in a way similar to the present day Greenland ice-cap. The ice from Scotland which filled the Irish Sea basin, covered virtually the whole of the area and occasionally exposed scattered peaks or rocky mounds projecting from the ice.
As the ice melted sea levels were raised to flood the valleys of the Solway and West Cumbrian coast. Most of the characteristic glacial erosion features, including corries and lakes in U-shaped over-deepened valleys, originated during the last glacial stage. The ice sheets deposited huge quantities of rock debris as moraines, several of which dam lakes, and a blanket of boulder clay which obscures bedrock over much of the lowland areas.
During and after the ice melt some 10,000 years ago, water run-off became the main agent of erosion and rivers cut deep V-shaped valleys into moraines, unconsolidated boulder clay and softer bedrock, notably Skiddaw slate. River debris was washed down into the lakes to create deltas like the one separating Derwentwater and Bassenthwaite on which Keswick stands. The end of glaciation was also marked by widespread landsliding which is now stabilised.
Overall then, the mountaineer in Lakeland views a landscape shaped mainly by the events which took place as the ice shrank to valley glaciers and then to isolated corries before finally melting away, leaving the streams and rivers which became the main agents shaping the modern landscape.
At this point I will end, leaving a gap for someone to fill by writing up information on the regions bedrock. This is your chance to describe the Borrowdale Volcanics, Skiddaw Slate and Silurian Slates.
The Herdwick Sheep
This is the true breed of Lakeland sheep, unique to our fells and probably the hardiest of all breeds. It’s sturdy appearance, a tough individual personality and hard wearing wool enable it to cope with severe winter fell conditions. They have been known to survive a winter by eating their own wool! Although they are not recognised as a meat breed not many people know that it was served at the wedding and coronation of our Queen Elizabeth II. The hard wearing nature of it’s fleece make it more suitable for carpets rather than garments.