Thursday, 17 June 2010

Walking in the Lake District - Kirkstone to Ambleside

lakeland_fells



From the top of Kirkstone Pass, I followed the path that leaves the car park opposite the Kirkstone Inn at its far end. The slope ahead was daunting - a vast wall of screes and crags that rose still over a thousand feet above. This was the fell known as Red Screes and it's well named as the tongues of scree descending below the cliffs do indeed have a reddish tint to them. I was setting out to walk from Kirkstone to Ambleside via Scandale Pass and Dove crag which is a walk of nearly seven and a half miles or about 12km. The route takes in 5 Wainwrights - the Lakeland fells classified by AW Wainwright - Red Screes, Little Hart Crag, Dove Crag, High Pike and Low Pike with the option for the dedicated peak bagger to divert to High Hartsop Dodd which makes the walk 9 miles.


Despite the fearsome appearance of Red Screes, the path finds a steep but easy way through the obstacles and stone steps have been constructed up much of the route making it less rough than when I was last here. The only remotely tricky part was where the track veered left across a wide ledge to a short scramble but the route is marked with an arrow painted on the rock which if followed avoids any difficulties. I was soon stood on the summit admiring the breathtaking views of Lakeland and sheltering from the cold wind behind the cairn. My route ahead could clearly be seen and I began the descent heading in a north westerly direction towards Dove Crag. Bearing too far to the North will take you down the ridge leading to Middle Dodd and would require retracing your steps to continue the route. My current heading led down easy slopes towards the attractive castle like twin summits of Little Hart Crag which rose across Scandale Pass.

The path crossed the Scandale Pass track and climbed the open grassy slopes opposite and where it tended to head off to the left towards Dove Crag I diverted to the right to Little Hart Crag which is a fine summit - the first craggy knoll is the highest point - with spectacular views of the craggy eastern side of the Fairfield range. In the shelter of the cairn was a perfect lunch spot where I could occasionally hear parties of fellwalkers passing below on the path to Patterdale and Brothers Water though no-one came up the last fifty feet or so to the summit. From Little Hart Crag I headed down the main path to High Hartsop Dodd - an easy walk that gave good views of the fells around the top of Ullswater before retracing my steps and continuing on my way to Dove Crag. this diversion would only be recommended if you havn't visited High Hartsop Dodd - it isn't really on the way!

The route to Dove Crag is a wide path through grassy terrain but - with care - a diversion to the right will give impressive views down the precipitous crags overlooking Dovedale - an almost comletely unspoiled valley hidden in this particularly beautiful area of eastern Lakeland and a microcosm of what the Lake District was like in years gone by. There is no way down here though so don't try unless you are a proficient climber and have a rope to belay with. Certain death awaits efforts to scramble down unroped!

From this flattish area the route begins a steady ascent which emerges on the south ridge of Dove Crag, the summit being a short walk to the right up the broad ridge. I ate the last of my food here wrapped up against the freezing wind before setting off on the last leg of my walk. If you havn't been here before then a diversion of about 400m to the North gives spectacular views of Dovedale from the top of the crag after which the fell was named. I had so I didn't on this occasion.

Wainwright describes the walk from Dove Crag to High pike as the easiest mile in Lakeland and it is though this fact didn't stop me from slipping and falling ungracefully on my backside after 10 minutes. The gradient though is just right for walking down - enough slope to walk down with no effort yet not so steep that you have to slow yourself down. On towards Windermere which stretched away in front, barely rising over the summit of High Pike before making a steeper descent with the stone wall on my right.

The weather became steadily warmer as I lost height with the wind losing its chill. Low Pike rose just to the right of the path and I scrambled up to where the summit rocks and cairn nestled against the wall providing an interesting and comfortable perch on which to enjoy a banana and some water. Lower down the ridge was steep for a while as I followed the wall which was something of a feat of engineering descending the craggy ridge. A little lower still and trees began to return to the landscape which became softer and less rugged as Ambleside and the valley were approached. The cold wind had now gone but spots of rain were starting to fall from a grey sky.

If the ridge is kept to there is an awkward rock step to negotiate which is easier going up. It can be avoided by following the path to the left where it forks. Heading down through scattered trees on what was now a cart track I presently arrived at a bridge over the rushing waters of Scandale Beck which was pleasantly located in lush woodland and a short walk down a lane brought me into the busy centre of Ambleside.

This walk is ideal for anyone based in Ambleside even without transport as a regular bus service crosses Kirkstone and the start of the walk. As described it is about 9 miles in length, involves 2700 feet of ascent and 4050 feet of downhill. for the peak bagger the route visits 6 of Wainwright's summits. Not including High Hartsop Dodd does shorten the walk somewhat.


Summits: Red Screes 776m/2546ft; Little Hart Crag 637m/2090ft; High Hartsop Dodd (optional)519m/1703ft; Dove Crag 792m/2598ft; High Pike 656m/2152ft; Low Pike 508m/1667ft


Essentials >>> 7.5 miles or 12km of walking >>> 2700 feet or 830m of ascent >>> 4050 feet or 1230m of descent >>> Start at Kirkstone Pass and finish at Ambleside 
Pete Buckley May 2010

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