Around the Northern Fells

A three day backpacking trip around the Caldbeck and Uldale Fells.

The Northern Fells in the Lake District are unlike the other fells in the Lakes. Beyond the smooth, brooding mass of Skiddaw and the buttressed front of Blencathra lie a series of modest fells separated from their more famous neighbours by the valley of the River Caldew. In character they are more like parts of the Pennines, Dartmoor or even Scotland than the rest of the Lake District fells.

The topography reflects the geology. The Northern Fells are the oldest rocks in the Lake District composed of early to mid Ordovician sedimentary rocks, largely mudstones and siltstones of marine origin. The rocks are known as the Skiddaw Slates. Their friability generally leads to mountains with relatively smooth slopes such as Skiddaw itself. Here and there are intrusions of the giant granite batholith, which is responsible for the overall shape of the Lake District’s mountains.

It had been a long time since I’d walked the Northern Fells and a plan to do a circular backpacking trip had been nagging at me for a while. Last week was the first opportunity I have had this year to get out for a trip and it seemed an ideal time to have a wander and explore north of Skiddaw.

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Scotgate camp site with the palatial shower block in the background

As usual in the Lakes, I based myself at a camp site. This time I used Scotgate in Braithwaite. Justifiably, this is a very popular camp site. The shower block wouldn’t disgrace a high class hotel. The ground is well drained and flat. The only drawback is the noise from the the nearby A66. When I arrived there were only three other tents on the site, although there were a fair number of motor-homes.

The overnight temperature in the tent was -4C, however, the day dawned bright and sunny, melting the ice on the tent. Although the sun was shining, there was a cold wind blowing as I set off. After a short detour into Keswick to get some cash and to buy a natty TNF folding cap, I climbed through the pleasantly wooded north-western slopes of Latrigg. Sheltered from the wind, it was pleasantly warm.

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Hazy view from Latrigg towards the North-western Fells

On reaching the car park at the end of the lane from Applethwaite, I lost the shelter of the woods and the slopes of Latrigg and the keen wind again became apparent. I followed the Skiddaw path for a short distance before branching off right to follow the Cumbria Way up the deep cleft between Lonscale Fell and Blencathra, carved out by the Glenderaterra Beck. It was a joy to follow the mining track with the emerging views of Great Calva and the Caldew valley.

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Glenderaterra Beck

As I reached the watershed between the Glenderaterra and the Caldew, I had a slightly surreal experience of my bank ringing me on my mobile phone to query a cheque that I’d written. A little further on, I decided to stop by the bridge crossing Salehow Beck for a spot of lunch. As I munched my way through some oatcakes, a handful of other walkers passed by, looking enviously at my feast (not).

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Lunch by Salehow Beck

While there was some shelter from the wind, I didn’t dally too long, as I was unsure where I was going to camp that night. I decided to push on as I didn’t want to walk late and lose the light. I rejoined the track to Skiddaw House, passing a few patches of snow in the shadow of the wall. At Skiddaw House, I turned north east to follow the Caldew. The track is mainly good as it is used by the Cumbria Way, and navigation is hardly taxing. This was good news as I discovered that I’d left my compass back at base. However, I didn’t envisage any real problems as I had the backup of the maps loaded on to my iPhone.

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Walking down the Caldew

I reached Wiley Gill in good time and had a look at the circular sheepfold. It looked a good place to camp, although it was a bit early to stop. Looking down the river, it didn’t seem too promising for camping, but I decided to walk on for another half a mile or so to scout out the valley to see whether there might be any suitable pitches. As I looked down the valley, it became apparent that it was becoming narrower and it didn’t look too promising for camping, so I turned back and camped at Wiley Gill (the next day showed that this was a wise move).

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Camp at Wiley Gill

I pitched the tent in bright sunshine and aired my sleeping bag. The disadvantage of the site was that I lost the sun quite early, shaded by the flank of Great Calva. However, the ground was flat and the sheepfold provided a bit of shelter from the wind. All in all, it was a rather lovely place to camp.

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Morning looking towards Mungrisdale Common

For the first part of the night, the skies remained clear and the temperature dropped to well below freezing. In the shelter of the sheepfold, the air was relatively still, so there was a fair amount of condensation in the tent, with even a modest amount in the inner. As a result, the foot of my sleeping bag became damp, where it touched the inner. Early in the morning, the skies clouded over and the temperature rose a bit. When I got up, the fells were wreathed in mist.

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Caldew (looking south west)

After packing, the mist started to lift a bit, so the walk down the Caldew was quite pleasant. What was very apparent was that there was a singular lack of places to pitch a tent. Walking down the Caldew reminded me very much of Scotland as it has that desolate lonely feel of the Highlands. Along the way I passed a couple of fell runners (they must be mad!). At Grainsgill, the Cumbria Way leaves the Caldew and heads north to High Pike.

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Grainsgill Beck

The path is not always obvious, but the gill is easy to follow. Just after a small waterfall, the path leaves Grainsgill. Although it was misty, the path was clear and I soon reached the hut below Great Lingy Hill. I can imagine, it could be a life saver in poor conditions. The next mile or so is rolling moorland and the track heads inexorably towards High Pike. I considered giving the summit a miss, but it wasn’t much of a climb. Somewhat incongruously, in the midst of this desolation, there was a bench next to the summit cairn.

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Potts Gill Farm

North of High Pike, I followed some old mine tracks to Potts Gill. Above the farm house, with some some shelter from the biting wind, I decided to stop for lunch. Although it was still generally misty, it was a little brighter here. After lunch, I followed the track and then roads through Fell Side and Branthwaite to Longlands. In truth, it wasn’t very exciting, walking along country lanes, but there was some respite from the wind and the walking was easy.

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Longlands

At Longlands, it was time to leave the Cumbria Way and head south towards Trusmadoor. My original intention had been to camp at Trusmadoor, but the wind and cloud suggested it would be wiser to camp lower. From the map, it looked as though there might be somewhere to camp along the beck south of Longlands. However, no suitable places were apparent. I was beginning to get a bit concerned as the area of drumlins below Trusmadoor didn’t look very promising.

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Camp below Trusmadoor

In spite of appearances, when I reached the waters-meet, there were a couple of flattish pitches. The downside was they were quite exposed and the wind was gusting strongly. On the other hand, it did give an opportunity to give my new tent a good test 🙂 . After pitching, I collected some water and took a few photos before diving into the tent for some shelter. Not long afterwards it started to rain. The wind and rain continued through most of the night and the tent passed with flying colours.

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Uldale Fells

Although the wind wasn’t quite as strong in the morning, by the time it came to pack up, there was still light rain falling. My original plan had been to go over Trusmadoor then Dash Beck and back along the Glenderaterra. The conditions didn’t look very inviting, so I decided to to re-jig my route to follow the cycle route that goes through Bassenthwaite village and down to Keswick, before following some footpaths back to Braithwaite.

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On the road to Bassenthwaite looking towards Skiddaw

I was grateful for my umbrella as I encountered a series of light showers over the next few miles, following first a footpath and then minor roads to Bassenthwaite village. Just before the village, the weather brightened and I was able to remove my overtrousers. Near Green Hill I saw this simple memorial. I presume Dodger was a much loved dog (or perhaps a horse).

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Memorial to Dodger

The cycle route along side the A591 follows a track just to the north of the main road. As far as Mirehouse, it is in good condition, but beyond that point it becomes overgrown. Around Little Crosthwaite, it becomes hard to follow and I had to ask a couple of NP workmen where the path was. Worse was to come, as either side of Long Close Farm, I had to walk on the grass verge beside the main road. Considering this is a marked cycle route, I thought this was pretty poor. After a mile or so, I left the main road to follow the Allerdale Ramble towards Braithwaite.

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River Derwent

This is supposed to be a marked trail along the River Derwent and then through open fields. It was very poorly marked and it wasn’t entirely obvious what line was supposed to be taken though the fields. After a bit of searching, I located the track to How Farm. The trail is supposed to avoid the farm yard, but the gate giving access to the trail was partially blocked, so I walked through the farm yard and along the farm track to the A66. I met a lady with a boisterous chocolate Labrador. The dog greeted me like a long lost friend. All that was left was a short walk alongside the A66 back to the camp site.

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13 thoughts on “Around the Northern Fells”

  1. Lovely stuff Robin. Really nice to see you out and about again. Sheepfold camp spot looks a good one although I tend to avoid them as I reckon they might be used as a “restroom” as they say. 😦

    1. I think it’s obscure enough and at a time of year when that shouldn’t be an issue. Decent pitches seem to be few and far between on the Northern Fells.

  2. We know all about boisterous chocolate labradors!

    I’ve always fancied backpacking in that very area, so it was good to see all your photos. The first day in particular looked lovely with the sunshine 🙂

  3. Great post Robin. I always enjoy the Northern Fells (except Mungrisdale Common!) although it never feels like the Lakes. I love the slate seat at the top of High Pike -it is one of Chris Bonington’s favourite spots as he lives jsut down from there on the way to Caldbeck.. For those who don’t know, it is also possible to camp at a spot about 100 metres from Skiddaw House – they charge you but you can then use their facilities if you are of a mind, including kitchen, toilets etc.- useful in bad weather. And, again, good to meet up with you on the evening you finished this walk.

  4. Great pics – thanks . So different form Australian bushwalking! Are you able to tell me what make of tent is in the first picture – the green and purple one? It looks bombproof. And what tent is yours – looks like a Hilleberg Nallo but bright green! Cheers

    1. The first tent is a Force Ten Vortex 200 (it’s actually green and black). The other tent is a Force Ten Nitro Lite 200. I will be doing a review of the Nitro soon. If you search my blog for “vortex” you’ll find a review and comments. BTW I have no affiliation to F10 and both tents were purchased with my own money.

    1. I was surprised at how few places there were to camp. I’m going to have another explore some time to find some more. I have some ideas 🙂

  5. Excellent report, looks like it was a great trip and a super remote area to explore, as you say much different to the rest of the lakes.

  6. I don’t know how, but somehow I missed this report when you posted it – which is odd as I get your posts by email.
    That’ll be it! I changed my internet provider and it was a nightmare for a few days.
    Anyway!
    What a splendid stravaig.
    The tent looks a little short for me (as does the Trailstar 😦 ) so I’m still looking for my dream tent after Wanda is pensioned off. I may well go for another Stephensons Warmlite.- but a 3R this time…
    Nice report, Robin
    🙂

    1. It’s a shame they didn’t make the Nitro a tad longer. You really ought to look at the Scarp 1. There should be a new version coming out soon. It is plenty long enough.

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