The Whinlatter Fells
A surprisingly rough walk over fine Wainwrights. That’s how my guidebook* describes this route across the Whinlatter Fells. I trace my finger across the map while my other hand cradles a steaming cup of coffee. From my comfortable layby on this drizzly late summer’s morning, I am fooled into thinking this is a mistake.
“These are only little fells. Plus a gentle walk through the forest. How rough can it be?”
It only takes 150m of walking to answer that question. “What, up there?!” screams the voice in my head. A wall drops from the steep slope to my left, with heather and slippery scree competing for any remaining space. It’s hard work to start with. But I push through the initial discomfort and the way underfoot eventually becomes surer, if no less steep.
How rough can it be?
It’s an excuse to pause regularly to take in my surroundings. The Whinlatter Fells lie between the A66 to the north and east and the Whinlatter Pass to the south and west. The towering cliffs of Barf stand tall above the shores of Bassenthwaite Lake, while the rolling slopes of Lord’s Seat, Whinlatter, Broom Fell and Graystones stay largely hidden from view, unless you go out looking for them.
Two of my favourite fells, Grizedale Pike and Hopegill Head come into the picture, with the tempting prospect of a quieter approach via Swinside and Ladyside Pike planting seeds of inspiration for future days out.
I play around with some navigation around the summit plateau of Graystones: a diminutive Wainwright that feels well-earned after that abrupt approach. Now I’m up high, I can skirt around the plantation below, enjoying views across the forest as the rasping noise of chainsaws is carried to my ears on the breeze.
It’s tempting to think Broom Fell is in the bag as I reach the impressive cairn by the fence. But those in the know wander past and head a few hundred metres south-east to the true summit, marked by an unassuming pile of stones. There’s another summit red herring to ponder across the forest. But that’s for later in the day, so I press on towards Lord’s Seat.
This is the biggest disappointment of the day. The feeling of isolation shattered at the sight of a well-groomed gravel path, which I suspect leads back to the main car park and facilities at Whinlatter Forest Park. I like to feel I’m miles away from anywhere in the mountains, even if it’s often an illusion in our increasingly connected national parks. I turn my back, pretending there isn’t an easy way back to civilisation and head into the mist.
I enjoy this part of the walk, navigating the twists and turns of the less dramatic side of Barf. I feast on bilberries and arrive at the summit just as the clouds lift to reveal the stunning sight of the massively underrated Bassenthwaite Lake.
Anyone can see this is a spot for lingering, as the clouds whirl around me, serving up glimpses of the Skiddaw massif and the green fields of northern Lakeland. The cold wind stings my cheeks and purple-stained hands as I let that feeling of being in the mountains wash over me.
The Enchanted Forest
An approaching fell runner is my prompt to leave the summit for another to enjoy as I tackle some more challenging navigation through poor visibility to find my way into the trees. Despite being a commercial timber forest, it feels like I’ve stepped into an enchanted landscape, full of toadstools, elves and fairies.
There’s a lot of faith required here. I find myself heading towards what looks like impenetrable forest, only for the trees to give way to a more well-trodden path. But don’t trust too much. I make the mistake of putting the map away, allowing my instincts to send me off course slightly. Pride a little dented, I dig out the map and go back to a more reliable method of finding my way through the trees.
Finding nothing more enchanting than a wooden statue of the Gruffalo and a few mountain bikers, I head back on to open fell to climb the final peak of the day. Whinlatter has several knolls, with Wainwright suggesting the third (and not necessarily the highest) as the summit. I visit all of them to be sure, before starting the surprisingly (there’s that word again) tiring descent.
An impossibly invisible track leads me back into the trees before the concluding miles along forest roads. As I tread these last few steps, I am reminded that you should never underestimate any mountain. And I wonder how many have done just that with these surprisingly rough little Wainwrights.
*Walking the Wainwrights – Graham Uney
Highs and Lowdown
Start / Finish: Layby for a couple of cars at Scawgill Bridge, or forest parking area near Darling How
Wainwright count: 5
Navigation: Generally straightforward in clear conditions with a couple of tricky parts around Barf and coming off Whinlatter.
Terrain: Rougher than it looks on the map.
Facilities: Whinlatter Forest Park, 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.