Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Sail, Crag Hill, Grassmoor, via Mill Beck.

For a while now I've been looking for routes within the cumbrian fells that are not normally covered by others to give variations on classic routes. I have covered the routes to Grassmoor and also those to Crag Hill(Eel Crag) from both Braithwaite and Buttermere/Crummock on a great number of occasions. There is a valley that I have walked only once about eight years ago and have kept meaning for a re visit and this time to use it for a route up onto these aforementioned fells. The valley is the Mill Beck, Sail Beck, Addacombe Beck route, between Whiteless Pike and Knott Rigg. This is a route that takes a walker away from The Newlands Valley road, if you want to walk from Buttermere to Braithwaite and keep off tarmac and steep inclines. Our intention was to use it as a route into the fells before doubling back over Sail, Crag Hill and Grassmoor to return to Buttermere.
 The two of us parked up above Buttermere Church. The two dogs were in the cage in the back and had whined with excitement once through Lorton and were getting a backward view of The Mosser Fells and Hopegill Head. The sight of mountains sets them off; it's nice to hear but after 15minutes of whining, you're getting sick of it.
 We set off heading down to the gate directly opposite The Bridge Hotel that gives access to the track running up the north side of Mill Beck which leads through the oak wood to the stile over the drystone wall which we would then follow. You can also park at the National Trust car park in Buttermere, the footpaths will converge near the Stile.

Millbeck and it's oak wood, heading for the stile.

'The Beast' about to bound up the stile. The wall is the marker to then follow to the right.
The walk from here on is not our normal 'out of the car and straight up something steep' walk or as we refer to them 'as the crow flies' route to the summit. This is a long, gentle, ascent to the valley head before a short upward climb through heather to the crossroads of paths between Scar Crags and Sail. Be aware that the route seems to divide into two paths on Whiteless Breast. The lower 'path' follows the line of the beck but goes through reeds and swamp. We took this initially though can't say quite where. The path proper is above the reeds line and best described as , 'if there appears a path above you, then that is probably it'.
Sail Beck meandering to Mill Beck, Ard Crags to the right, Sail to the left; Causey Pike's distinctive buttress framed by the valley head. You can just make out the higher correct path and the lower incorrect one.

Addacombe Beck, with Addacombe Hole above. This looks like an interesting route to try to access Crag Hill from as another route up to these high fells.
Although not the sunniest day, it had been dry up to the valley head, but as we branched off to the left for the paths junction on the east side of Sail, the cloud began to descent and envelope us so we switched to waterproof jackets whilst in the mist. As I stated earlier, I've walked the valley path once before but this ascent to the path junction was a first time for me, albeit a short section. I was surprised at the erosion on this with deep gouges in the soil, at times at knee height. I assume this is caused from walkers wearing away the foliage and water washing gullies into these walked areas exposing shale underneath the topsoil.
 We were now on territory very well known to us, being regular traversers of The Coledale Horseshoe; although cloudy this route is committed to memory no matter what the weather. We turned for Sail and it's new 'fix the fells' winding path that is correcting the erosion caused by walkers and mountain bikers. Some regard this as a bigger scar on the landscape than the erosion it is attempting to counteract, but I believe it is it's newness and in time the banking will blend in as similar paths on Scales Fell and Blease Fell have now done.
Sail, with it's new path. You canjust  make out the direct descent route that used to be the eroded path.
We made our way up this by getting our head down and ticking off the eight bends on the right and nine on the left. It's a way of not looking up while the heart is pounding but knowing still how close you are to the top. The summit cairn is just visible to the right at the top of this, the path not actually passing over the fell top.
Dillon "I don't care, this is top enough for me!"

Beyond Sail we made our way along the craggy Scar. It's a walk though occasionally you need to get your hands on the rocks to assist; safe though.
And then we make the barren landscape that is Crag Hill and it's trig point.
We were intending on having a bait stop here but the wind had picked up. Our next fell top was to be Grassmoor and there is a spiral, three spoke shelter on it's summit giving some protection from the wind. This wasn't fierce by any means but good to shelter from when at rest and differnt from our last visit in January when we were getting blown over in iced conditions. To this point we had not seen a living sole though began to meet others coming off Grassmoor, with a lone walker also at the cairn who was engaged on his version of The Coledale Horseshoe. Grassmoor is another barren landscape fell with no distinctive features to assist you off. The Lad Hows path is a difficult one to locate if you can't catch sight of the ridge it descends, but we knew it well enough and soon located it in cloud. Once on the ridge you can't really go wrong and we very quickly began to get out of the mist with the Buttermere valley opening up before us.
Lad Hows, Whiteless Pike to the left and beyond in cloud, Haystacks and High Stile range.
I love the vista of Buttermere, Crummock Water and Lowswater you get off this route, with High Stile, Great Gable, Pillar and Robinson always in view as you walk down. The botton of this path leads to the famous Rannerdale and it's shock of historic bluebells 'blueing' the valley floor when viewed from on high. If ever you take this as a route onto Grassmoor however, beware. It is a relentless slog as it is one of those rare routes where you can see the fell top from the valley bottom. You never seem to get any closer no matter how long you walk, but in that regard it's a spirit tester and worth the effort; you can always rest, turn and take in this view.

"Come on, hurry up you of only two legs!"
Here we have Crummock and Melbreak, with Lowswater and the Mosser Fells in the distance.
Once at the valley floor we had two choices, over the top of Rannerdale or up Squat beck, in other words, steep or gradual. I had been out walking the day before and was feeling this. The two of us have put some long walks in recently which have made us unpopular at home, landing back at 19.30hrs and 20.30hrs(when we had said we would be back for 17.00hrs), so we opted for the quicker Squat beck route to score brownie points. This is a beautiful gradual incline up a valley between Rannerdale Knotts and Whieless Pike, but I hope to cover this better in the bluebell season so will leave it there. When at it's head we then dropped to meet our original path again, at the Stile.
The descent through the oak wood at Millbeck, same path, different direction.
.... and finally, out onto the Buttermere raod opposite The Bridge Hotel before the short tarmac trek to the car.
 This was a worthy walk of 15kms with 1200m ascent, not the biggest, but good enough after a 17kms yesterday. Try it, it's different, the views tremendous, you'll like this.
 I say .... and finally, well, not quite. No group walk is complete without a trip to a pub and it wasn't to be The Bridge or The Fish. If we are ever near it, the pub for us is The Kirkstile Inn, an iconic public house just at the foot of Melbreak and Lowswater village. It has it's own microbrewery, though these days the brews are done at Hawkshead, the brewing room now converted to an eating room; incidentally, my mate says they make the best steak and ale pie he's ever eaten and I can't disagree. This and heavenly micro beers, why would you go anywhere else? 


  1. Excellent Ray,I am having difficulty keeping up with your output

    1. I had two good days off the belt end Paul and still feel pretty good, had I not been working today I may have been out again. Thursday next, I know not where just yet, but somewhere high and near a pub.