An aborted attempt at fell walking

I haven’t posted for a while as we’ve enjoyed a whole week’s holiday in the Lake District at half term and the rest of February has simply run away from me. But our holiday has spawned some fantastic outdoor activities and memories for me to share here now.

The weather was the best we’d had all winter with brilliant blue skies, cold and frosty nights but sunny days. Perfect.

We stayed about 10 miles outside Keswick in a holiday village called Whitbarrow which is remote and quiet but wonderfully so. The village is surrounded only by fields and views of Blencathra, one of the high peaks of the Northern Lakes, and at half term, it was still sparkling with snow at the top. We packed all our waterproof outdoor clothes, as well as plenty of thermal socks, boots, wellies, and hats as we were determined to get to the top of another, fell this year.

Our first attempt was an intention to climb a relatively easy fell called Castle Crag at the southern end of Derwentwater in Borrowdale. However, our little trek didn’t go quite as planned on the day.

Fell walking up Castle Cragg - walking poles are essential

Castle Crag is mentioned in Wainwright’s books as maybe too low to qualify as a fell but worth the walk for the beautiful views. We had Alfred Wainwright’s book with us, but even so we managed to get lost following his instructions. Taking a wrong right turn we managed to head up an extremely steep fell (called Nitting Haws, we discovered afterward).

Our suspicions were aroused when we realised there weren’t any other walkers going our way! And as Castle Crag is a well-worn route for families we decided we’d missed our turning. By this time it was lunchtime anyway so we sat on some flat rocks next to a lovely waterfall before heading a bit further up the fell to catch the view of the lake from the corner. The climb was pretty steep in places and we had to scramble sideways over loose shale and retreat our steps carefully to descend again.

Fell walking offers glimpses of beautiful countryside details

It was worth getting lost on the fells though as the views were stunning. Not so sure I’d recommend it with a child though we were well prepared with maps, charged mobile phones, proper walking weather-proof clothes, and food. There had already been reports of walkers being airlifted off some of the higher fells so when we returned to Keswick I bought a book on walking in the Low Fells for later in our week. More on that later…

Castlerigg Stone circle

As we were in Keswick for the day, we decided to head towards Castlerigg stone circle, a very short drive out of town. It’s one of those smaller Neolithic wonders which, because of the amazing scenery surrounding it, makes you feel connected to the past and the landscape you’re standing on, in a magical way.

It was also freezing cold, but beautiful and sunny and we all fancied some fresh winter air and some mountain views, without having to trek too far. It’s a magical place anyway – full of mystery and history and one of the most picturesque locations for any stone circle in the country. The panoramic view of the fells in the distance is uninterrupted all around.

Castlerigg Stone Circle near Keswick

We encountered our first mystery as we drew up in the car to park in the little lay-by at the foot of the field. There in front of us was an ice cream van (it was mid-February and about minus three degrees). Odd, we thought, but the ideal location for anything odd.

When we got to the standing stones, we had the place to ourselves. The stones are quite large and have been standing there since the Neolithic period apparently, that’s over 5000 years ago. There are 38 stones in Castlerigg stone circle and inside the ring is a rectangle of another 10 standing stones. No idea what they were used for all those years ago.

The view towards Helvellyn was amazing and the air was so still – the only sounds were bleating Herdwick sheep and the odd raven. A quick game of hide and seek around the stones warmed us up slightly but it was really too bitter to hang around for long.

Castleriff stone circle

On a walk up Dodd Fell earlier in the week, our daughter had collected some small but beautifully snow white quartz crystal shards. She had put them in her coat and had forgotten about them, but as she plunged her freezing fingers into her fleecy pockets, she found them. Brilliant! We lined them up along some of Castlerigg’s stones in order to infuse them with magical powers. After a few minutes we decided they must be fully charged (and anyway, we were even more freezing by now) so we collected them up to take home to scatter around the end of our garden (which has always been where the fairies live, she says).

Trekking up Dodd Fell

A trip to the Lake District isn’t consider a real success unless you go trekking to the summit of a fell. So after we lost our way on our first trekking attempt, I found a book on the Low Fells to follow which sounded a better option for little legs and we decided to tackle Dodd Fell.

At the summit

This is a smallish fell but was still slightly higher than Alice’s first-ever summit of Cat Bells last year. At just over 1600ft it’s an easy ascent along a well-tended path with utterly fantastic views of both Derwentwater and Bassenthwaite from the very top. On a clear day, which we enjoyed, we could also see the Solway Firth and Scotland in the far distance.

On the way up trekking in the sunshine

The whole week we were on holiday in Keswick it had been sunny but chilly and this day was no exception. We wrapped up well and packed our provisions into rucksacks as we can never be sure how long a never done before the walk will take us. Especially when one of our party has little legs. At the car park where we could begin our ascent, there’s a cute little cafe too so we decided to have lunch there when we returned. After we had changed into our tough walking boots we headed up the main path towards the fell. This took us through pine woods and a steep craggy, and icy, beck tumbling down the hillside. On our left were slate cliffs with icicles and the odd stream and Alice began hunting for fairy crystals (the tiny white stones that sparkle). This was a good idea as it kept her interested in the walk! We did forget to take our walking poles but we found a solid branch for her to use which was promptly named, “Scruff”.

View form the top of Dodd Fell

So Scruff and Alice continued their climb upwards in good humour. Chocolate ‘snacks’ are always a good incentive as are spotting other families either on the way down from the top as it’s a good way to encourage them up a hill on what could be seen in their eyes as just a boring walk.

As always as soon as we reached a milestone in the trek, or plodded around a corner and were treated to unexpected views it was all worthwhile. The view from the summit was the best I’d ever seen thanks to the beautifully clear and sunny weather! A quick photo of Alice proudly standing next to the cairn and we descended to have a well-deserved lunch before visiting Mirehouse Gardens in the afternoon.