5.3 miles (8.5 kilometres) circular walk with two Wainwrights. Elevation 2003 feet (610 metres). February, cloud and some sun. With son and silly dog.
Just 4 days after recovering from Covid I find myself in the gorgeous village of Hartsop on Brothers Water in the eastern fells of the Lake District. We arrived by night in moonless oak gall inky dark via the Kirkstone Pass, unable to see even a molehill on the verge but with an indistinct looming solid blackness on either side of us. I awoke next morning to an arresting view from my bedroom window, and a feeling that I might have underestimated the local hills.
Brothers Water is just at the bottom of the lane, we want to see that as well as bag our first Wainwright of the year, this being the lakes after all, so we decide to head up High Hartsop Dodd and see whether I have the energy to bag a couple more.
It’s a short walk to Cow Bridge, where Dorothy left William Wordsworth while she went for a walk along the lake. If it’s good enough for Dot, that’s good enough for us so we head off along the well marked NT track along the western bank of the lake. Brothers Water has a curious etymology and Lakeland Tales has a well researched post about it. One day in early January two hundred and thirty years ago, John and George Atkinson were returning home across the frozen lake when they both fell through the ice and drowned, their father watching in horror from a field on the other side. Broader Water became known by its new name in memory of the two young brothers.
The clouds are hanging gloomily across the tops of the distant fells as we walk alongside the cold, tranquil water. Soon High Hartsop Dodd comes into view, on the right of the top image.
I focus on the one word: steep.
We pass through an ancient settlement at the base of the fell. There are huge boulders and distinctive banks in the field, seen even more clearly from above. Then we begin the steep hill.
It is hard going for me. I’m not going to pretend pre-covid I could run up like a goat, but I have to take innumerable stops on the way up. Of course it starts benignly enough, merely teasing me with 45° grass. The grass turns to peaty steps, I have my poles this is easy, (the things I tell myself). The peaty steps become steepy peaty steps, then turn to a gravelly channel. This is not easy. The gravelly channel meanders up close to the edge, this does nothing for my fear of heights, I think I’m walking in a watercourse. I stop alarmingly often, counting my breaths and waiting for my heart to stop pounding. Lovely son is miles ahead. Then comes the inevitable fit bloke behind me and I have to let him pass so he can stop seeing me struggle.
There’s also a false summit where I sit on a rock and stare up into the gathering clouds. When I turn to look where I’ve been my stomach lurches. I can see Kirkstone Pass snaking far below between me and appropriately named Rough Edge.
We summit, of course, me several minutes later than the dog who looks worried. Even with the enveloping cloud the views are magnificent.
There’s not much of a cairn, just a higgledy piggledy pile of rocks. I’m reinvigorated. The positive thing about having a fear of heights is you can’t simultaneously concentrate on the muscle strain at the same time, adrenalin is a wonderful thing.
We had an option to continue on the well trodden trail to take in Red Screes and Middle Dodd over the way, so we first make for Little Hart Crag, which although another hundred metres higher is a considerably gentler hike. But as we ascend the cloud is rolling in thickly. We are all soaked in that wet hug. We have become cloud. Unfortunately we can’t see much at all now. Red Screes is another 140 metres higher and likely to be worse so we take the decision to back track and come back down High Hartsop again. I am not looking forward to this. I assume if the vertigo was bad on the way up it will be bad on the way down. As it happens it’s ok, a little cloud can shield the view and very slowly I make it back down where the clouds haven’t reached.
This time I get to look a little more closely at the ground about me and see lots of lichens on the rocks, I don’t know what they are but I’m determined to get a lichen spotting book. Having bagged two Wainwrights, we decide to walk round the Water and head over the other side across the wooden bridge to the campsite. The shop is open so we are forced to choose between Magnums (Magna) or a drink in the pub. We opt for Magna.
The lakeside path is a perfect antidote to the strain of the fell: gentle and relaxing, notwithstanding the sound from the road which runs above us. the sun even shines a light on the hills in front of us. A light which we follow home. But not before one of us jumps in the lake and gets his hairy belly soaking wet. It’s not a lakeside walk unless you bring some of the lake home with you.
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More walks in this area
This walk is very straightforward, it’s the first part of walk 12 in Walking The Wainwrights by Graham Uley, and it’s also here on Jim Earl’s website which is where I first read about it, he had weather much worse than ours. Jim’s website is a fabulous resource if you’re walking in this part of the lakes. My own GPX is here. These two Wainwrights are in Wainwright’s book The Eastern Fells. You can park by Cow Bridge, we were staying in a lovely place in Hartsop.
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