‘The valley of Coledale is without charm but will be remembered with affection by those who walk around the mountain skyline of its perimeter and by so doing enjoy one of their most rewarding days on the tops.’ Alfred Wainwright
Ups and Downs
Many walkers instinctively know whether they prefer going uphill or downhill. Perhaps you like the prolonged thrill of the climb. Your lungs screaming out for air. Legs burning. The slow, simple, rhythm of putting one foot in front of the other. The satisfaction of picking an efficient line across rock. And ultimately breaking through the clouds and emerging victorious on a summit.
Or maybe it’s all about making rapid progress on the descent. Leaving the wilds of the high places behind. Legs getting tired. Each step taking you closer to that hearty meal by a warm fire in the pub and reliving highlights of the day with your mates.
For those of an uphill persuasion, the first peak on the Coledale Round is a good place to start. Beginning at the foot of the Whinlatter Pass, it’s just a few steps on flat ground before the footpath starts climbing immediately. No gentle walk in to loosen the limbs. It’s uphill all the way with no respite until you reach the summit.
Grizedale Pike is one of those fells that gets under your skin for all the right reasons. The ‘Skiddaw of the North Western fells’, the ascent presents no technical challenges for most walkers, other than a relentless slog from ground level to the summit.
A hot and humid day with storms forecast for the afternoon meant an early start. With no breeze and haze blurring the outline of distant peaks, I girded up my loins and began the unforgiving ascent. The views of the Coledale valley soon open up, and while it might not be as aesthetically pleasing as its Newlands neighbour, its mining heritage lends it a certain industrial drama.
As you gain height, the views of mountains, lakes and forest take your mind off the uphill trudge. The final ridge is where the drama really begins though, with views of more distant peaks starting to appear beyond the opposite side of the horseshoe. You’ll be picking out your favourites as you near the summit.
One down, a few more to go
All too soon, the climb is over, leaving you to catch your breath and enjoy the excellent views all around. But what commands your attention the most is the magnificent Hobcarton Crag and its summit Hopegill Head. The sweeping crescent looking more like a spaceship from the Alien franchise than a mountain.
I felt lucky to be here at 8 o’clock on this Monday morning. I thought of all the office workers starting their working week. Some of them silently dreading the phone starting to ring and the sick feeling building in the pits of their stomachs for another week. Not knowing how to reach out for help. Yet here I was, sitting on a mountain top listening to the sounds of a distant cuckoo being carried up on the most subtle of breezes from the trees of Whinlatter below. Proof that it’s possible to reassess and prioritise happiness. I felt truly grateful to have made the switch to this life.
Back to the present, I still had five (ended up being seven) more fells to tackle. So I succumbed to the draw of the alien mothership and headed towards it.
There’s a gentle descent from Grizedale Pike as you follow the sweeping line above the Hobcarton valley. You’ll then rise towards the small summit with the tiniest of rocky scrambles to get to the highest point.
In these times of social distancing, it’s a summit optimised for one. The views are first-class, with the ridge sweeping down to the subsidiary summit of Ladyside Pike to the north and the steep sided slopes of the path towards Whiteside to the west. You’ll catch a glimpse of Crummock Water in the gap between Whiteside and Grasmoor, making you realise just how far into the valley you’ve ventured.
There’s a bit of a trek now before the next summit of Eel Crag. I dropped down to the cairn of Sand Hill, which gives the impression of standing on a summit but is not a Wainwright in itself. After losing more height, I soon arrived at Coledale Hause, where you could descend east to return to the valley floor along Coledale Beck. But our climb continues as you rise to the right of the cliffs of Eel Crag.
It is possible to cut the corner up the grassy slope after the worst of the cliffs is passed. But by sticking to the main path until the junction, you’ll enjoy a gentler climb and be treated to some stunning views of the iconic peaks of the National Park. Even on this hazy day, I could pick out diminutive Haystacks standing in front of Pillar, Kirk Fell and Great Gable. The Scafell range rising even higher beyond them.
The summit, like its neighbour Grasmoor, is large and flat, which obscures the views a little. But it’s a nice place to be and definitely a fell I’d like to return to.
Leaving the trig point on a south-easterly bearing, you’ll soon pick up the steeper-than-expected descent, labelled on maps as ‘The Scar’, to a small saddle, before a short climb plonks you on the next summit on our list, Sail.
All I can remember about this top is being devoured by flying insects. My bare arms became a feast for the local wildlife, leaving behind a polka dot pattern of red spots for me to itch later on.
There’s no mistaking the way down – the path is draped over the hillside like a ribbon, with just a hint of Swiss mountain road about it. It takes the edge off the loss in height and soon deposits you at another saddle and a path junction. Right heads off towards Buttermere and left towards High Moss and the next summit on the Coledale Round, Outerside.
But there’s another path. Straight ahead is a the tempting proposition of an easy ridge walk to bag two more Wainwrights, Scar Crags and Causey Pike. Although technically outside the remit of the Coledale Round, I’d powered through the early part of the walk and was way ahead of schedule. I could tick these off the list before dropping down to High Moss with an easy-ish finish.
The temptation being too great, I continued along the ridge. Scar Crags is an unexciting summit, save for the views of the ‘bumps’ of Causey Pike. Like Haystacks, it’s another stegosaurus of a mountain and I enjoyed the final stretch of the ridge, where I was treated to excellent views of the Newlands Round.
Back to the route
Retracing my steps, I picked up a faint path heading diagonally across the slope down to the valley at the foot of Outerside. This looks the least impressive of the Coledale fells on paper and I suspect many a weary traveller has omitted the summit from the circuit. But it is worth the extra effort, simply to look down into the valley on one side and up to the circuit of high fells accomplished earlier in the day.
After a steep climb up the heathery hillside, I reached the summit before descending along the spine. The paths become more vague and the vegetation seemed to soak up the heat like a sponge. It’s heavy going but just about possible to pick a route around the base of Stile End, leading to Barrow Door and the short climb to the final peak of the day, Barrow.
Barrow is in the same category as Cat Bells in terms of stature and character. With its proximity to Derwent Water, Cat Bells scoops the prize for the most picturesque views. But Barrow trumps it by four metres in terms of height and is arguably less well-known, making it a quieter proposition for an evening stroll. Perfect for working off a steak and ale pie.
The Coledale Round has been on my radar for a while. It’s a joy throughout. One of those low-pressure, high-level walks where you can stride out, ticking off the tops enjoying exceptional views as you go.
And while it might not have the drama of some of the spikier routes in the District, you’ll almost certainly have enjoyed one of your more rewarding days on the tops.
Highs and Lowdown
Start / Finish: Small car park in Braithwaite at foot of Whinlatter Pass
Distance: 10 miles (16.2 km)
Wainwright count: 8
Navigation: Fine on a clear day as you can see much of the route. Take care through the heather on Outerside.
Terrain: Good paths for much of the walk. A few rockier sections coming down Eel Crag and Grizedale Pike can feel lofty on the east ridge if the wind picks up. Thick heather is tiring on Outerside.
Facilities: Braithwaite and Keswick
*These routes and descriptions are only ever intended to be a personal record of my adventures, which may inspire your own. Hillwalking involves a degree of risk, so please make sure you are properly equipped and prepared if you choose to follow them.