Region Overview

The Coledale Horseshoe (the third and last in this series around Keswick) is a circular hike in the North of the English Lake District which, as a National Park, 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. 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 including:
• The poets Wordsworth, Coleridge, Southey 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 archaeology, the wildlife, the people.

Getting There

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.

Mountain Overview

Coledale is a valley running south west from the village of Braithwaite just 2-3 miles to the north of Keswick. The valley is “open” at the eastern end rising to Coledale Hause (Cumbrian dialect for a col or gap) then dropping down into the Buttermere Valley. It is surrounded on its two flanks by a series of peaks joined by some of the finest ridge walks in the area. So, a start point of Braithwaite, moving in an anticlockwise direction will take you to the summits of Grisedale Pike, Hopegill Head, Sands Hill, (down to Coledale Hause) up to Crag Hill, Sail, Scar Crags and Causey Pike before returning to Braithwaite for a pint of Jennings beer in the Royal Oak after a total distance hiked of approximately 16km. This is my favourite hike in the whole district and I’ve completed it in sunshine, clouds, blizzards and alpine-like conditions. I do it every year on New Years Eve mostly, working up a thirst!

Red Tape


Route Information & GPS Waypoints

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 Positions and that the Bearing and Distance information is an “as the crow flies” bearing and distance to the next peak or waypoint.
PositionElevation (ft) GridRef. GridRef Bearing Distance (km)
Scotgate Campsite 282NY2347723647  
Car Park startpoint395NY22730237902463.14
Grisedale Pike2593NY19865225872501.33
Hopegill Head225NY18557221701500.28
Sands Hill2460NY18707218971640.70
Coledale Hause1970NY18895211771530.92
Crag Hill2749NY19262203870970.58
Scar Crags2205NY20807206400720.96
Causey Pike2035NY21837208900781.54
Scotgate Campsite282NY2347723647  

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. In Braithwaite there is a good campsite, Scotgate, Tel. 01768 778343

Mountain Conditions & Weather

This hike can be completed at any time of the year. It’s on the extreme northern edge of the Lake District. My own preference is to make this trip in winter 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
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.

Accommodation & Getting Around

There is lots of accommodation in the area to suit all budgets including:
• Scotgate Campsite 01768 778342
• Keswick Youth Hostel 0870 770 5894
• Coledale Inn 01768 778272
• Lots of further information and accommodation help at the Keswick Tourist Office 01768 772645
• If you need transport to get around call Traveline 0870608 2608 for bus informaton
• Don’t forget the National Mountaineering Exhibition, Rheged, at Penrith, which is also an exhibition of Cumbrian history and heritage. Not to be missed by all mountaineers!
• The Keswick Mining Museum, 017687 80055, run by local historian and enthusiast Ian Tyler

Some Local History

The local history of the Lake District can not be summarised in one or two paragraphs here, but there are some issues of industrial archaelogy specifically which have a bearing on one’s enjoyment of the mountain landscape. In particular I refer to the mining industry and for several centuries the region has been famed for it’s mining of coal, iron ore, lead ore (galena), and graphite
The Force Crag mine is to be found in the valley of Coledale and you should be aware of it’s existence at least so as to avoid falling into a mineshaft when descending from Grisedale Pike! Some basic facts about the mine:

• Situated below Force Crag on the Coledale flanks of Grisedale Pike
• Mining rights have been held here since 1066 by the Leconfield Estates
• Serious mining began in 1564 with the arrival of experienced miners from Germany
• Initial ore mined was the lead ore, Galena
• Queen Elizabeth I created the Company of Mines Royal resulting in all silver mined along with lead ore having to be handed over to the Crown
• Subsequent mining for Barytes (Barium Sulphate), Zinc Blend and Silver
• Formation of the New Coledale Mining Company in 1984 attempting to continue small scale mining and preserve local tradition
• Closure of the company in 1992
• Purchase of the site by the National Trust in 1992
• Clean-up of the site by local volunteers during 2004
• Site opens for “restricted” guided tours in 2005

Millican Dalton: Professor Of Adventure

This is an extra section that doesn’t appear in the other two Groups around Keswick. Who was Millican Dalton? “ ...... was unhappy with his career in the mundane world of insurance, it was dull, repetitive and boring. After only a short period of time spent within the confines of a London office, he decided to create a new life and spend the remainder of his days roaming the world in search of romance and freedom, thrills and adventure. Capitalism and modern day living were cast aside in favour of self-fulfilment and simplicity. A Spartan life under canvas, in caves and in his woodland hut ensued. Millican was a man of education and culture who made his own clothes and camping equipment. A quintessential English character, he was teetotal, vegetarian, a philosopher and a pacifist.”
He spent his early life south of Penrith and lived a significant proportion of his adult life in Borrowdale to the west of Keswick living under canvas at Lodore and in a cave on Castle Crag. I visited his cave on 3rd January 2006 and found someone living in it!
Do visit the website Professor Of Adventure and be ready to be amazed at this blokes exploits.
Millican Dalton (1867-1947) pioneering rock climber, professional camper, mountain guide.

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.

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.


The Coledale Group

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