#279 – Walla Crag, (nearly but not quite) Bleaberry Fell and Derwent Water

Bleaberry Fell, with the summit shrouded in mist

(For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in, then use your browser return arrow to go back – go on, it really does work!)

Spring 2020 in the UK will be remembered by many for the unusually warm and dry days of April, May and June.   It will also be remembered for the Covid-19 lockdown, and during those fine weather months, we were confined to hiking on our own patch (see posts #275 and #276).   I shouldn’t complain – there are folk who would drive for miles to get to the northern end of the Clwydian Hills, but when the restrictions were lifted it was good to branch out a bit further to Cwm Idwal (see post #277).

Derwent Water and the route

The route in blue, with the abandoned section in red

It was mid-July before we ventured out of Wales for a short stay in the Northern Lake District.   Our first day out to Castlerigg Stone Circle (see post #278) had been mizzly and damp, but Day 2 was forecast to be better.    Sure enough, the rain stopped but the cloud base was still low, and the planned trip over Bleaberry Fell and High Seat looked like being nothing more than good navigation practice in the mist.  Ever optimistic, Chris and I (plus Border Collie ‘Mist’ of course) decided to give it a go.

Border Collie ‘Mist’ sets off, leading the way as usual

On Bleaberry Fell, the ‘other mist’ comes down even lower

Approaching Walla Crag ….

…. with the view down to Keswick, Derwent Water and Bassenthwaite Lake ….

…. while on Bleaberry Fell, the mist might just be lifting

‘Mist’ (the dog that is) is a welcome addition to any hike, but me missus does like to see where we are going, and the ‘other mist’ rolled in and out as we set out from Castlerigg.   By the time we reached the top of Walla Crag it looked as though things might clear up a bit, and there were views over Derwent Water and the surrounding country, though there was still a big grey cap over the hills around Borrowdale.

The view from Walla Crag

Heading south from Walla Crag ….

…. with constantly changing views across Derwent Water

Looking towards ‘The Jaws of Borrowdale’ in the distance ….

…. and the view to Cat Bells and Maiden Moor across the lake

So, a compromise was reached – we would take the lower track to Ashness Bridge and see how things looked when we arrived there.    I like to head for the summits as a rule, and it’s easy to forget that there are some cracking views on lower ground, so we enjoyed the constantly changing views over the lake and Borrowdale as we dropped down to Ashness for a lunch break.   The tops were still murky and misty, and before long we hit on an alternative plan.

The Bob Graham memorial cairn ….

…. and the plaque

One of the objects of the trip had been to find the cairn built to commemorate Bob Graham.   This was harder than expected due to the size of the cairn (small) and the height of the surrounding grass (high) – persistence paid off, and after some searching, we located the memorial.   In June 1932, Bob Graham completed a circuit of 42 Lakeland fells in 24 hrs,  covering 66 miles (106 km) with a height gain of 26,900 feet (8,200 m) – the most remarkable thing about this achievement was that it would be 28 years before anyone repeated it!

The Bob Graham Round © ‘Thincat’ (Reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence)

In my 30’s and 40’s I acted as pacer/navigator on several Bob Graham rounds done by other runners (my usual patch was the stretch from Dunmail to Threlkeld over Fairfield, Helvellyn and the Dodds)  but to my regret, I never got round to attempting the whole thing myself.   It’s a tough test, but one that continues to attract mountaineers and club runners, and by the end of 2019 there had been more than 2300 successful rounds in summer conditions.

Barrow House, now an independent hostel but previously a guest house run by Bob Graham

We celebrated Bob Graham’s achievement with a brew of coffee before finally admitting that the high-level route was going to be a boring wander in the clouds.   Then inspiration struck – in all the years I’ve been walking and rock climbing in Borrowdale, I had never walked along the lakeside path by Derwent Water.   So, we headed down through the woods passing Barrow House, which Bob Graham had run as a guest house from 1943 to 1961.

Boat jetty on Derwent Water

The view back to Walla Crag from the lakeshore

St Herbert’s Island with Cat Bells ridge beyond

‘Mist finds a new friend

Down by the lakeshore, the views were familiar but different, giving a different angle to the usual panorama from higher up.   One of the highlights was the view back to Walla Crag, emphasising the vertical distance down to the valley from the summit rocks, where we had earlier watched hikers wandering around, totally oblivious to the drop below.   The main highlight for ‘Mist’ was meeting up with a young male Collie, who could almost have been a twin.

On the way up to Castle Head

The view south into Borrowdale from Castle Head

On the way back to Castlerigg, we headed for the top of Castle Head, a mere 161 metres in altitude, but with a surprising view into Borrowdale – over the years, I must have driven past there several hundred times without ever setting foot on the hill!    Then it was back to the Crag Bar at the Heights Hotel, where the landlord usually has music from the 1970’s playing (Tubular Bells on our visit) – a nice, cold cider was our extra reward on top of what had already been a rewarding day.

Our reward!

Text and images © Paul Shorrock except for the map of the Bob Graham Round, which is reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence

About Paul Shorrock

I've been mucking about in the mountains for longer than I care to mention. I started out by walking my local hills, then went on to rock climbing, mountaineering and skiing. Still doing it, and still getting a buzz. I'm now sharing the fun, through my guided walking business (Hillcraft Guided Walking) and by writing routes for other publishers, mainly Walking World and Discovery Walking Guides. Just to make sure I keep really busy, I am also currently a member of my local mountain rescue team.
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7 Responses to #279 – Walla Crag, (nearly but not quite) Bleaberry Fell and Derwent Water

  1. I stayed at Barrow House probably about 10 or 15 years ago now when it was a YHA hostel. It had a lovely waterfall at the back of the house which gave me a route up to the Watendlath road.

    I’ve never done that path off Walla Crag which goes through Great Wood to Ashness Bridge but I keep looking at it… Parking’s the worst problem with Borrowdale though.

    Like

    • The waterfall is quite spectacular but I wasn’t happy with my pics so left them out of the post – it might call for a return trip but there’s so much else to do, and I do prefer the heights….

      As for parking in Borrowdale! Almost as bad as Pen y Pass 😕

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      • Yeah – I heard about that day on Pen Y Pass – apparently around 500 cars down the roadside and it was more or less blocked wasn’t it?

        Liked by 1 person

      • It’s been just as bad at Ogwen – the police finally started towing offending vehicles, not before time. All of a sudden the areas we love are being swamped by crowds who don’t understand the need for respect of wild places.
        I dare say, a few will realise they have fallen on something worthwhile, and may learn to respect, but I hope the rest return to their beach resorts next year.
        Personally, I’m looking forward to a cold, snowy winter – that should sort out the true outdoors types

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      • Agree with everything you’ve put there – couldn’t have put it better. I’m absolutely fed up of the crowds now and have taken to glaring at people on the busier hills. It’s was palpably more peaceful as I left Blencathra for the hills behind the other day – I could literally feel the peace descend and my mood lift!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Steve says:

    At the end of the day…..Mike Oldfield playing in the background, whilst quaffing a wet…. whats not to like…. happy days

    Liked by 1 person

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