I hadn’t seen Fi since we were trainee teachers together, down in Somerset when Noah was a lad, but her energy and spirit were instantly familiar when we met up at Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake.
First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
What a day for walking, as cold as anything, with high cloud over the Lake District and lemon-yellow sunlight streaming across the crumpled faces of Skiddaw and Blencathra. It was wonderful to be kicking up showers of leaves in Cockshot and Castlehead Woods like teenagers, chattering away as you do when you have a few decades to catch up on.
Up by Springs Farm the chaffinches were trying out short explosive phrases in the silver birch coppice. A stony lane led us up beside a loud little stream with the big dark bulge of Walla Crag looming ahead, its crown feathery with larches. “An eminence of intermingled rocks and trees,’ pronounced Wainwright (Book 3) in my hand, ‘of moderate elevation, yet steep, romantic, challenging.’ We passed Rakefoot Farm, its chimneys pushing up columns of woodsmoke behind a screen of leafless sycamores, and turned uphill and out onto the open fellside leading up towards Walla Crag. A ‘braided path’ as Fi described it, an in-and-out tangle of footways beside the wall, with a sensational view spreading behind us northward towards hollow-shouldered Blencathra and the rising waves of the Skiddaw range, the sun picking out the monoliths of Castlerigg stone circle in the foreground.
‘Dear thoughts are in my mind
And my soul soars enchanted,
As I hear the sweet lark sing
In the clear air of the day.’
So sang Fi as we crunched the ice in the puddles and followed the braided path along the edge of the crag. A quick stop in a sheltered hollow out of the clear (but bloody cold) air for oatcakes and mango chunks, and we were at the summit cairn admiring the deep glacial scratches in the rocks and looking out over the islands and bays of Derwent Water. Clouds went marching through the valleys beyond, but all the tops to the west were clear.
On along the escarpment with an incomparable view southward towards the jostling hills enclosing Borrowdale, the peaks of Great Gable, Scafell Pike and Glaramara dipping in and out of the cloud sea like so many dark topsails. Then a steep skelter down the fellside among juniper bushes, and we turned back along the stumbly path under Falcon Crag. It was a vigorous, noisy walk back to Keswick along the lake-shore with white horses pawing at the little pebbly bays, and a rising wind roaring in the pines and shivering the water of ditches jellied with frogspawn as if to blow the last of the winter clean away.
Start: Lakeside car park, Keswick, Cumbria CA12 5DJ (NY 265229)
Travel: Bus 554 (Carlisle), 555 and 556 (Lancaster, Carlisle) to Keswick (www.stagecoachbus.com);
Road: M6 to Jct 40, A66 to Keswick
Walk directions: (6½ miles; moderate; Explorer 0L4): Past theatre to lake; left; in 100 m, left (fingerpost) along path. Over path crossing, up through Cockshot Wood. Cross field, then B5289 (269226). Bear left, fork immediately right uphill. Up and over Castlehead Wood; path to road (272229). Right, past Springs Farm; follow signed path through Springs Wood (‘Castlerigg, Walla Crag’). In ½ mile, left over footbridge (283222) to road. Right; at Rakefoot fork right; follow path (‘Walla Crag’) over footbridge and steeply up beside wall. Near top, wall is broken by railings; right through gate here, left along crags to summit cairn (277213). Continue for 150 m; stile through wall; don’t turn right along wall, but head ‘inland’ on path heading for Bleaberry Fell. In 300 m, bear right across beck on path along edge of escarpment. Follow this over Falcon Crag for ⅔ mile to meet wall (272198). Right downhill to gate; right along path towards Keswick for ¾ mile. At wall of Great Wood (271210), right uphill; left on footbridge across beck and fork left downhill on woodland path. In 200 m, ahead over path crossing. Continue to car park (272214); follow slip road down to cross B5289; down steps; follow path. In 50 m, left at footbridge to lake shore (270213); right along shore path for 1½ miles to car park.
NB: Online maps, more walks: www.christophersomerville.co.uk
Lunch: Picnic; or Stalls Bar, Theatre by the Lake (01768-772282)
Accommodation: Littlefield, 32 Eskin Street, Keswick CA12 4DG (01768-772949; www.littlefield-keswick.co.uk) – quiet, welcoming, walker-friendly.
Guidebook: Wainwright’s Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells, Book 3 (Frances Lincoln)
Information: Keswick TIC (01768-772645); www.golakes.co.uk)
www.ramblers.org.uk www.satmap.com www.LogMyTrip.co.uk