The Newlands Round
I love the night before a trip to the hills. The well-rehearsed routine of planning the route, checking the weather, making a sandwich, packing the rucksack, cramming pockets full of snacks, lining everything up by the door, early night. Ready to go.
A dress rehearsal for the following day’s adventure.
And it continues afterwards too. The debrief. Jotting down thoughts in my notebook. Cleaning dirty boots and reproofing gear. Packing it all away. Ready for next time.
It’s this familiar rhythm either side of heading to the hills which makes your trips more likely to happen. Minimise stress, get yourself organised and regular hill time is yours for the taking. There’s a confidence which comes with knowing you have everything covered, which allows you to be spontaneous when the time comes.
I’ve felt a little out of this routine over the Christmas period as one challenge finished and another begins. I’ve been itching to get back to the Lake District, so packing for my first mountain walk of 2020 felt particularly exciting.
What to choose?
With a fresh list of walks to choose from, I was a little boy in a sweet shop once more. I settled on The Newlands Round. Partly to kick off a year of exploring ‘new lands’ – see what I did there… But partly because it’s close to Derwent Water, where I began my 2019 lakes challenge. Something steered me towards doing the same again this year.
The Newlands Round is a classic high level circuit. Suspect I’ll be saying that a lot this year. Wainwright’s account takes in four peaks: Maiden Moor, High Spy, Dale Head and Hindscarth, beginning in the tiny settlement of Little Town.
At 7am, it was still dark as I pulled into the small parking area. I’m trying to get used to walking in the dark a bit more. Not only does it make even the most familiar pastures look alien, it’s a great simulation of navigating in low visibility. I’m looking to become a navigation ninja this year, so practising in these conditions for when it really matters is a good way of doing this.
Ascents always feel easier in the dark, probably because you can’t see the climb ahead of you. As it happens, the ascent to Hause Gate is a relatively gentle introduction to the day’s walk and I made good progress towards the saddle between Catbells and Maiden Moor.
As I reached the ridge, the day was just warming up and I enjoyed the classic view across Derwent Water bathed in an inky blue early morning light. I could see across to Bleaberry Fell with Clough Head peaking out behind. It’s these mountain panoramas which pull me back to the hills time and time again. And the knowledge that the views only get better with altitude spurred me on.
Maiden Moor and High Spy
The climb continues towards the indistinct summit of Maiden Moor. By this time the cloud was thickening and a light covering of snow from the night before dusted the landscape like icing sugar on a cake. I enjoyed looking back across Derwent Water with the unusually empty summit of Catbells along the ridge below me, but views across the Newlands valley were non-existent.
The weather forecast suggested the early morning cloud was due to lift as the day went on, so I trusted that would be the case, safe in the knowledge there are various escape routes from High Spy should I need to turn back. I could just about make out the bulk of High Spy along the ridge but the clag was thicker up ahead. Nothing for it but to take a bearing, estimate timings pull my collar tight to keep out the wind and venture onwards.
High Spy is a good 2km away but there’s a good path and the ascent is barely noticeable as you rise. The summit cairn is impressive and a solid marker of your location in the mist. The dusting of snow had increased slightly to around an inch, but it was thawing quickly and not particularly slippery, save for a few greasy rocks on the way down to Dalehead Tarn.
As I made my way through the base of the cloud, I had a clear view of the plateau ahead and picked out Dalehead Tarn glinting below. This was an important milestone on the route, as it marked the point where I could return to the car along the valley floor, using the waters of Newlands Beck as a handrail all the way. Alternatively, you can descend steeply alongside Tongue Gill towards Rosthwaite and enjoy a pleasant low level walk back towards Derwent Water.
The Steep Climb to Dale Head
I pondered over a pork pie in an obvious lunch stop area next to Dalehead Tarn. I had no company today, other than some inquisitive birds and a chilly wind, which threatened to nip any exposed skin. Dale Head was still in mist but I could see it blowing across as the sun did its very best to burn off the worst of it.
There also looked to be more white on the ground, and with Dale Head’s summit being exactly 100m higher than High Spy’s, I decided to see what it was like as I approached, safe in the knowledge I could always retreat if it became too slippery.
Wainwright refers to the unavoidable steepness of the climb but it didn’t feel as bad as I’d remembered it from a previous outing. There’s a distinct turn to the south west about two-thirds of the way up which marks the nearing of the summit.
Before you know it, you’ll see the formidable cairn come into view. The mist was rolling across in short bursts. Five minutes on five minutes off. This led to dramatic glimpses of the route travelled so far, the Newlands valley and Hindscarth Edge towards the Scope End ridge still to come.
The views were exquisite. AW suggests it may even be one of the finest valley views from a summit anywhere in the District. And it’d be hard to argue with him. Skiddaw and Blencathra stood proudly in the distance. I could see across to the Coledale fells (one to look forward to this year). And, as I continued along the tops and the mist lifted, down to the Honister Pass and beautiful Buttermere far below.
Hindscarth Edge was wonderful, with some rocky knolls and sweeping views across to Fleetwith Pike and the Buttermere valley. The path continues towards Robinson but I broke off north along the gentle ascent to Hindscarth.
The summit of Hindscarth has two cairns. One is untidy and not particularly exciting for a sandwich stop, particularly when compared with the structures on Dale Head and High Spy. Far better to continue for 150m to the second, more impressive cairn, which has been hollowed out to form a windbreak. This would make a fine spot for a rest, but given the forecast of strengthening winds in the afternoon, I decided to descend while conditions were favourable and didn’t linger on the summit.
Starting our descent
The final 4km or so is a joyous descent. After some initial scree, the path becomes more distinct as you follow the Scope End ridge back to the valley floor. I stopped frequently to take photographs. Excitement punctuates the descent at regular intervals, with short, easy scrambly sections, some steeper drops to the Newlands valley below and glimpses of snowcapped peaks in the Coledale and Skiddaw ranges.
The Newlands Round ends far too soon as you arrive at Low Snab to cut through the farm which brings you out on the road by Newlands church. A Royal Mail van negotiated the narrow lanes, leaving me whistling the tune to Postman Pat for the final 500m back to the car.
As I took off my muddy boots, I reflected on the first walk of the year. The Newlands Round certainly marked a new chapter in my walking adventures. After a year of walking around lakes, I’m ready for higher ground again. And the associated extra planning that comes with it.
Lots of things fell into place for me on this walk. Reading the weather and planning accordingly. Navigating in the dark and taking appropriate decisions on the terrain. Filling out route cards in advance – something I’d not done since DofE days. Getting my snacks right. Winter kit too. And immersing myself in the landscape. Thinking about animal tracks in the snow, the geology of the area and the flora en route. It really did enhance the walk.
The reason I enjoyed the Newlands Round walk so much was partly down to the planning. It paved the way for confident progress on the day. It allowed me to immerse myself in the environment and feel effortlessly at home in the mountains. It’s a feeling I hope to refine throughout the year.
It’s this increased competence that boosts your confidence to shun another day in the office and head to the hills more regularly.
Highs and Lowdown
Start / Finish: Little Town
Distance: 9 miles (14.4 km)
Wainwright count: 4
Navigation: Mostly straightforward but always take a map and compass and worth reading relevant chapters in Wainwright’s Pictorial Guides for safe routes down
Terrain: Good, well-trodden paths but some rocky descents and short scrambly sections
*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.