Thursday 1 September 2016

Grasmere to Silver How Walk - 29th August 2016

I arrived in Grasmere on a warm and sunny bank holiday Monday.  The sky was a clear blue with the occasional white cloud drifting above in the light wind, and it was a relief to find the village not as busy as could be expected on such a day. I had come to do a walk from the village to a nearby fell called "Silver How". At 395 meters this was one of the lower "Wainwright" summits, but it was quite steep, had a well defined shape, and looked a bit rocky in places: a nice 'little' fell.

Silver How from Grasmere

I set off up the narrow Red Bank Road with the picturesque Grasmere lake coming into view across the fields on my left. After a few hundred meters or so, I turned off the lane onto a steep path between two dry stone walls, with overhanging trees on one side and open fields on the other. Soon the path emerged out of the shade into an open field where I got my first glimpse of the fells on the other side of the valley. 

View of Seat Sandal from the lower slopes of Silver How.

The rocky path quickly gained height as it traversed the lower slopes of Silver How. The terrain around here was quite fascinating.  Wainwright describes it in glowing terms: " ... the intermingling of crag and conifer, juniper and bracken, is landscape artistry at its best." 

Looking back to Helm Crag from the lower slopes of Silver How

As the path followed the course of a dry stone wall, the lakes of Grasmere and Rydal Water came into view again on my left.

Grasmere lake in the foreground with Rydal Water behind. 

Up until now the path had been skirting the lower slopes of Silver How.  However, it was not long before there was a turn off to the right, and a new path headed directly up through the bracken and stones towards the fell summit. 

Path to the summit.

The path actually climbed to a col between the main summit on the left of the path and a lower summit to the right.  The terrain at this point started to get quite rocky.

Making my way up to the col (or hause) between the twin summits.

A glimpse of Windermere looking back from the col.

Once I had reached the col, the path turned off to the left to make the final push to the summit.

Path to main summit.

The summit is situated on a ridge which separates Grasmere and Great Langdale . The views on such a clear day were spectacular. On one side I could see the Fairfield, Helvellyn, and Easedale range of fells, and on the other I could see the Langdale Pikes, Pavey Ark, Bowfell, and Crinkle Crags.

Langdale Pikes and Pavey Ark from the summit cairn at Silver How.

Left to right: Pike o' Blisco, Crinkle Crags, and Bowfell.

The Fairfield range of fells.

The Village of Grasmere.

The lakes of Grasmere and Rydal Water from the Summit.

I spent around half an hour or so up on the top before making my way back down to Grasmere via Wray Gill and Allan Bank.

Crossing Wray Gill on the descent to Grasmere.

St Oswald's Church in Grasmere village.
This church is the final resting place of William and Dorothy Wordsworth.

Wednesday 17 August 2016

World's Top Cyclists' to Race in Lake District Next Month

The worlds top professional cyclists' get around a lot! Last month they were climbing the high mountain passes of the Alps and sprinting down the Champs Elyees in the Tour de France; this month they have been racing for gold along the Copacabana and velodrome track in Rio; but next month, many of the same world class riders will be arriving in the UK for the Aviva Tour of Britain. On 5th September, Stage 2 of this 8 day road race will be hosted entirely within the county of Cumbria, and will pass through the heart of the Lake District National Park, taking in much of the area's spectacular scenery.

In addition to providing free access to the event for the 50,000 spectators likely to watch from the roadside,1 live action and highlights are also due to be broadcast in the UK, Europe, and the rest of the world. This represents a much needed boost to Cumbria and the Lake District in the wake of the storm damage and flooding which devastated the area back in December 2015.  Many people will, for example, remember news images of the A591 road washed away at Dunmail Raise between Keswick and Grasmere2. This, and much of the other storm damage, has now been repaired, and local officials are pleased the coverage will show an international audience the area is very much "open for business".

So who will be riding in this years race?  The actual names of the riders haven't been announced as yet, but the team names have. These include ten of the worlds' top professional teams - for example Team Sky, Movistar Team, BCM Racing Team and Lotto Soudal will be competing.  However, based on the start list of last years Tour of Britain, we may see the home talent of Bradley Wiggins, Ed Clancy, Owain Doull, and Mark Cavendish racing through the streets of Grasmere and Ambleside. Other top international riders we may see include Edvald Boasson Hagen (NOR), Mark Renshaw (AUS), Andre Greipel (GER), Taylor Phinney (USA) and Woet Poels (NED).

And how does the race work?  This year's Tour of Britain has 8 stages with each rider's race time carrying over from day to day.  The rider with the quickest accumulated time at the end of a given stage gets to wear the esteemed Yellow Jersey the next day.  The rider with the yellow jersey at the end of the final stage is the overall race winner.  In addition to the Yellow jersey competition there are also points based competitions for climbers (SKODA King of the Mountains Jersey), sprinters (Yodal Sprints Jersey) and consistent stage finishers (Chain Reaction Cycles Points Jersey).  This is where the first 15 riders across a summit, intermediate sprint, or finish line (respectively) receive a certain number of points according to their race position at that part of the days stage.

Kendal sprint from the 2013 Tour of Britain.
(Photo courtesy of SweetSpot).
The Cumbria stage of this years Tour of Britain starts from Carlisle city centre at 11:00am.  It heads south, entering the Lake District National Park near Pooley Bridge at around 12:05.  It crosses the new temporary bridge (which replaces the original storm damaged structure) before following the road alongside the northern end of Ullswater. The race then winds its way through the Lake District, passing through Hesket Newmarket (12:58), Cockermouth (12:35), Keswick (14:04), Grasmere (14:32), Ambleside (14:41), and Bowness-on-Windermere (15:00).  There are three intermediate sprints at Hesket Newmarket, Cockermouth, and Grasmere for the Yodal Sprints Jersey, and three climbs at Whinlatter Pass, Castlerigg, and Ambleside for the SKODA King of the Mountains Jersey. The race finishes at 'Beast Banks', Kendal at around 15:20 (all times are approximate).

For me, the highlight of the race will be the climb out of Ambleside along an appropriately named road called "The Struggle".  This climb rises 394 meters at an average gradient of 8%, joining the Kirkstone Pass near it's summit below the peak of Red Screes.  Then there is a fast treacherous descent down the Kirkstone Pass into Bowness-on-Windermere, just 10 miles from the finish line at Kendal.  This promises to be the most exciting part of the race.

(Above) Dignitaries join professional cyclists' Jack Pullar and James Gullen at the top of "The Struggle"
above Ambleside.  (Photo courtesy of SweetSpot).
If you are thinking of going to the Lake District to watch, Ambleside offers a really good vantage point.  The town is located at the start of  "The Struggle",  and there is going to be a big screen at the Ambleside campus of the University of Cumbria open to the general public.  As well as seeing the race pass by on the roadside, you will also get watch the rest of the action from the day's stage as it unfolds.  Sounds like a great day out!

1. Based on spectator numbers at last years Cumbria stage, which also brought in over £1.5 million to the local economy.
2. The race will pass along this stretch of road, in addition to the newly repaired roads at Cockermouth.

Monday 1 August 2016

Who was Alfred Wainwright?

Many people reading this blog will already know the answer to this - after all, he has been a well known figure in relation to the Lake District and fell walking since his famous Pictorial Guidebooks were first published from the mid 1950's. Many people will remember his TV series in the mid 1980's with the broadcaster Eric Robson; and a new generation of TV viewers were introduced to his work in 2007, when in celebration of the centenary of his birth in 1907, Julia Bradbury presented two series of programs called Wainwright Walks.

Other people may have heard of AW, as he is often referred,  but know little about him other than he was vaguely associated with Lakeland fell walking.  Now the centenary of his birth has passed, it seems to be more difficult once again to find his work in book shops outside of the Lake District.  At the height of the resurgence of interest, the larger book shops such as Waterstones in Manchester would have selves stocked full of his pictorial guides and other publications, but this now seems to have dwindled to an isolated volume of two if you are lucky. Thankfully the situation is not quite as bleak online.  The Wainwright Society has an active forum for people who appreciate his work, and social media such as Facebook is full of references to his guides. As such, part of the reason for writing this post on Alfred Wainwright, is to do my own small part in keeping his work alive and well within this medium. 

Sketch of Scafell Pike from Great Moss, Upper Eskdale in his volume on the Southern Fells
 (Copyright (c) The Estate of A. Wainwright. Reproduced by permission of Frances Lincoln Ltd).
As to the man himself, Alfred Wainwright originally came from Blackburn in Lancashire.  His "love affair with the Lake District", as he called it, began in 1930 when he visited the area on a walking holiday. Eleven years later he moved to Kendal, on the outskirts of the National Park, where he began work in the Borough Treasurers office. Over the next decade he spent his spare time becoming intimately familiar with the Lakeland Fells, and then in 1952 he started to compile his Pictorial Guides, a task which dominated the next 14 years of his life.

If you are not already familiar with Wainwrights Pictorial Guides, there are two key things which define them, and help account for their popularity.

The first thing I want to mention is their unique nature.  The text is handwritten, and interspersed with his own pencil sketches and hand drawn maps.  He also included hand drawn 3d diagrams of fells showing his various recommended route options to the summits. His style of writing is another factor which adds to the unique appeal of his work. It is full of warmth, often humorous, and indicative of his intimate knowledge and love of the Lakeland fells.  Here is a sample from his chapter on Allen Crags: -
"This quiet, attractive top is a pleasant refuge from the busy thoroughfare converging on Esk Hause, only five minutes away. Unexpectedly there are three good cairns on the twenty yards of level summit, that in the middle, set on a rock, being slightly the highest. Patches of stones and low outcrops add an interest to the top of the fell but the distant views will appeal more." (Wainwright 1960 - The Southern Fells, Allen Crags 5)
The second thing is their comprehensive categorisation of the Lakeland Fells.  His 14 year work is divided into seven volumes, documenting 214 fells.  These have come to be known within the fell walking community as the "Wainwright's", and have become the focus of "peak baggers" who aim to visit each of the summits. In fact, the Long Distance Walkers Association, and the Wainwright Society have both created registers of people who have completed these 214 fells.  With regard to his division of the Lakeland Fells into seven areas, he aimed to do this in a way that made sense to the fell walker.  In so doing he made " ...
the fullest use of natural boundaries (lakes, valleys and low passes) so that each district is, as far as possible, self contained and independent of the rest" (Wainwright 1955, A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells, Introduction).

If you are interested in finding out more about Alfred Wainwright and his pictorial guides, I recommend you visit the Wainwright Society website, or the Lakeland Fells section of my own English Lake District website where there are also Amazon links to purchase his books online.  And if you are thinking of walking the 214 Lakeland fells, or are in the process of doing so, I wish you the best of luck.  Enjoy them all!

Friday 22 July 2016

Lakeland's bid to become a World Heritage Site (#lakedistrictbid)

It's been long been my belief, along with many others, that the English Lake District is one of the most scenic and picturesque areas in the world.  As Chris Bonnington, the famous mountaineer, recently suggested in an interview, other special areas of the world may, in their own unique way, equal the Lake District in their natural beauty, but nowhere exceeds it1.

Wast Water
Wast Water in the English Lake District's Wasdale Valley (Copyright Nick Thorne) 
voted "Britain's Favourite View" in a 2007 ITV poll 
For those of us who share this view, it would seem extremely appropriate for the English Lake District to receive some formal international recognition that would place it alongside some of the worlds great National Parks such as Yellowstone, the Great Himalayan and the Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch to name but a few.

The good news is that this may actually happen within the next year. This is because the English Lake District is in the process of a bid to become a World Heritage Site. Earlier this year, the UK Government's Department of Culture Media and Sport submitted their final nomination to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee who administer this internationally recognised list of sites.

The bid will set out in what way the Lake District is of "Outstanding Universal Value" and demonstrate how the area meets one or more of the ten World Heritage Committee's cultural and natural criteria.  These include criteria such as whether an area is "is directly or tangibly associated with ... artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance" and/or whether the area is "... of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance".

Buttermere (Copyright: Nick Thorne).
Looking at the photograph's of Wast Water and Buttermere above, the natural beauty of the Lake District, with it's glacial valleys, lakes and fells, speaks for itself; and as far as literature is concerned, the area is inextricably linked to the Lakeland Poets of the early 19th century. One poet in this group was William Wordsworth whose work was inspired by the landscape of the area, and is known by people throughout the world.  Thousands of people come to the Lake District each year to visit his former home - Dove Cottage in Grasmere - which, along with the nearby Wordsworth museum, is open to the public.

Dove Cottage
Dove Cottage (Copyright: Christine Hasman)
So what would it mean for the English Lake District to be inscribed in the World Heritage List? Well, the original idea of the list was a way of preserving and protecting sites of world cultural and natural heritage. UN member states who ratified the World Heritage Convention, of which the UK is one, have additional responsibilities in their management of such sites. In practical terms, the Lake District is already taking care of these responsibilities as a result of it's status as a National Park, so there wouldn't need to be any great change in this regard.  

However, the local organisations who put the big together are hoping that recognition as a World heritage Site will attract additional funding and investment.  The government has, for example, pledged additional resources to help protect such sites. This could be good news to struggling Lakeland farmers who play such an important role in looking after the areas's landscape. The local organisations are also hoping that inscription on the list would elevate the Lake District National Park internationally, develop the area as an international brand on the A list of places to visit, and attract what they refer to as "cultural visitors".   It is believed that such visitors have a tendency to spend more, stay longer, and have respect for the landscape with the aim of exploring the area. They estimate that a one percent switch to cultural visitors would boost the UK economy by around £20 million a year.

So what happens next?  Well,  the World Heritage Committee will now look at the Lake District Bid and announce their decision on 31st July 2017.  In the meantime we can support the big in two main ways. Firstly, we can go to the Lake District World Heritage Bid website, and click on their "Back the Bid" button to add your 'vote'. Clicks are counted and the total is displayed on their website, thereby showing your support.  Another way is to share your "Lake District Story" by using #lakedistrictbid whenever you post Lake District related photo's, messages and video's on social media. This content is aggregated and displayed on their website's social media feed, again showing your support for the bid.  

Go to the Lake District Heritage Bid's Get Involved webpage for more information on how we can help.

Best of luck to the bid team.  Let's hope for a good result next July!


1. This interview was conducted on the summit of Castle Crag by Julie Bradbury in episode 2 of her ITV series called "Best Walks with a View" broadcast Feb 2016.  This was the general gist of Chris Bonnington's comments when asked (half jokingly) which was best: Castle Crag or Everest?

Friday 15 July 2016

How the Lake District National Park is getting bigger from next month!

Back in June I posted an article about the boundaries of Lake District, highlighting the difference between the Lake District National Park, and the county of Cumbria. You may recall how the Lake District falls within the latter county, but covers a smaller area.  You may also remember that Cumbria contains part of the another National Park, that is, the Yorkshire Dales, in addition to the whole of the Lake District.  

I included this Google Street View screenshot of the southern end  of the Howgill Fells as seen from the M6. These hills fall within the boundaries of both Cumbria and the Yorkshire Dales, but not the Lake District itself.

The southern Howgill Fells, Cumbria as seen from the M6.
From the 1st of August 2016, the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales National Parks are extending their boundaries! The Lake District will increase it's size by an extra 27 square miles, and the Yorkshire Dales by an extra 161 respectively.  A large part of the extension of both National Parks will occur on either side of the M6 corridor around the northern end of the Howgill Fells and beyond.  This will mean the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales will come within touching distance of one another at this location.  

The M6 as it passes between Greyrigg Pike (left) and Blease Fell in the northern Howgill Fells (right).  As from 1st August next month this stretch of motorway will separate the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales National Parks respectively.  At present this countryside does not have National Park status with all the protection and benefits that this provides. 
In addition to the east boundary extension between Birkbeck Fells Common and Whinfell Common (including the Greyrigg Pike area shown above), the Lake District National Park will also gain extra land south of Kendal.  This will stretch from Heslington Barrows to Sizergh Fell, and includes Sizergh Castle, Brigsteer, and part of the Lyth Valley.  (You can see detailed maps of the east extension area and south extension area on the Lake District National Park website by clicking these links respectively).

Cairn on Heslington Barrows.  This are is soon to become part of the Lake District National Park (Copyright: Karl & Ali)
So what does all this mean to people like us who love the Lake District and it's countryside?  Well, the Lake District National Park authority will now manage these new areas along with their existing land.  The new areas will consequently benefit from the extra care and protection that National Park status provides. In addition to this, the Lake District National Park Authority are looking at ways to open up more of the countryside in the new areas to the public. As it states on their website

"We are excited about being granted the responsibility to look after these special landscapes and explore opportunities to improve access to enable people to enjoy the beauty of these spectacular places." (Lake District National Park authority website)

Hopefully this means that, in time, we may come to see new footpaths, bridleways and cycle tracks, in addition to improvements and extensions to existing ones.  

So it sounds like good news for lovers of the Lake District all round!

Wednesday 6 July 2016

The Jaws of Borrowdale ???

In my last post about Seathwaite, reference was made to the Jaws of Borrowdale, located further down the valley.  As you may remember, Wainwright described this specific area as the nicest square mile in the Lake District (a fact that I hadn't realised until I was corrected by one reader).  As such, I thought it would be good to explore the Jaws of Borrowdale further in this post.

I remember driving through Borrowdale for the first time in 2004.  I had left the town of Keswick and passed the picturesque Derwent Water on my right.  The road around here was narrow and winding, bordered by moss covered dry stone walls with woods or fields on the other side.   It  makes it way along the southern edge of, what is at that point, an open and wide valley floor.  Once I passed the stone bridge near the turn off for the small village of Grange, the sides of the valley gradually started to close in on both sides.  Then the road then cut through the side of a rock buttressed hill that rose above me on the left, as it went through a narrrow gorge with the river Derwent below me to the right. On the other side of the river, the valley rose steeply again, but this time to a craggy pyramid shaped peak with wooded slopes.  This fell is Castle Crag, and the gap I was passing through is known as the Jaws of Borrowdale.

Travelling through the Jaws of Borrowdale.  Castle Crag can be seen across the River Derwent on the right.
Screen Shot taken from Google Street View
Soon the valley widened out again as I drove beside farmers fields and passed through small picturesque villages. After the turn off to Seathwaite, the road started its ascent of the Honister Pass as I left the Borrowdale valley on my way to Buttermere.

As you can see from the photograph below (which looks back down the Borrowdale Valley in the opposite direction to my journey), the Jaws of Borrowdale are formed by three fells which constrict the sides of the valley to form a gorge through which the river Derwent flows.

The jagged profile of the Jaws of Borrowdale are formed by hills of High Spy (right), Castle Crag (centre) and Grange Fell (right).   You can also see the tree lined course of the river Derwent as it meanders through the left hand side of the valley prior to passing through the gorge.  Photograph by Ann Borker
Alfred Wainwight, author of the famous Pictorial Guides, writes of the natural beauty of the area inside the Jaws of Borrowdale.  
"The [area inside] has a special significance.  It encloses one mile of country containing no high mountain, no lake, no famous crag, no tarn;  but in the authors humble submission, it encloses the loveliest square mile in Lakeland - the Jaws of Borrowdale."  (A Wainwright - A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells: Volume 6.  Chapter on Castle Crag).
Inside the Loveliest Square mile in Lakeland. Castle Crag from the River Derwent at Grange.
Photograph by Anne Bowker.

Castle Crag (Centre) by Anne Bowker.
Anyway, if you think Borrowdale looks nice (which it is), just wait till you get to Buttermere!!!

Wednesday 29 June 2016

What we owe the small hamlet of Seathwaite (and two other important claims' to fame)

The small hamlet of Seathwaite is located in a remote area at the head of the English Lake District's Borrowdale Valley.  It may only consist of a  a few cottages and farm buildings, but it has some rather impressive claims' to fame.

Seathwaite, looking west.  The first graphite mines were located at the top of Newhouse Gill seen here back centre of photograph.  By Antiquary (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.
To begin with, it was on the fells above Seathwaite that the first natural deposit of graphite (aka pencil 'lead') was discovered some time prior to 1555.  Local farmers in the area used this resource as a way of marking sheep so shepherds could tell who owned them as they grazed on common land high up on the open fells. The graphite in the area, which was pure and solid, was then mined on a commercial basis. Extracted graphite was eventually used in production of the worlds first pencils.  Whilst graphite is still the main ingredient in pencil 'lead' to this day, this material is now also used in the production of the same batteries which power our mobile phones, tablets and laptops.   Although the mining of graphite in Seathwaite ceased towards the end of the 19th century, it's worth remembering the remote Lakeland location where this important material came from originally.

Seathwaite's next claim to fame is it's position in relation to Scafell Pike, England's highest mountain.  The hamlet is a popular starting point for fell walkers setting out to reach this fell via the two Borrowdale to Scafell pike routes.  As a result what was once a quiet corner of the Lake District is now a thriving hub of activity since fell walking gained in popularity during the 20th century. The first of these Scafell Pike routes reaches the summit via Grains Gill and Esk Hause; the second, crosses Stockley Bridge and follows the old packhorse path as it heads towards Wasdale, before turning off onto the Corridor Route.

Stockley Bridge, Seathwaite. Located just south of Seathwaite, the old packhorse route crosses here on it way to Wasdale.  Fell walkers ascending Scafell Pike leave the packhorse route at Sty Head to follow the Corridor Route towards the summit.  Photograph by Mick Knapton.
View of Scafell Pike (back centre).  The Corridor Route traverses the side of Broad Crag  (back left) before ascending to the summit from the col behind Lingmel Crag (mid centre).  Photograph by Ann Bowker.
And finally, having it's very own weather station where rainfall is recorded for the met office, Seathwaite has the somewhat dubious honour of officially being England's wettest inhabited spot.  This fact was mentioned by Julia Bradbury in her 2007 TV series of Wainwright Walks.  Such high rainfall, does however, contribute to the areas natural beauty, and is perhaps one reason why Alfred Wainwight, author of the famous pictorial guides, described an area known as the Jaws of Borrowdale (a little further down the valley) as the nicest square mile in the Lake District.