Wainwright Walks 82: Two hills in the East, then a long journey west

  • Hills: Selside Pike, Branstree
  • Classification: Wainwrights (153 and 154)
  • When: Wednesday 15 September
  • Who: Me and the mountaineering minion
  • Distance: Not sure, would guess about 6 miles
  • Weather: Glorious sunshine
  • Post walk watering hole: The Strands Inn, Wasdale
  • MAMBA factor: High to start off with. Didn’t see anyone else till I was on Branstree. 
  • Uses of the arse crampon: Still MIA.
  • Mishaps: Nearly a car hire issue. Also nearly a parking issue. No issues with the hill itself.

Once again, it has taken a long time for this blog to crawl its way out of my subconscious and onto the web. If anything, it’s taken even longer than usual and it will come as no shock to my regular readers that the usual factors have been present. One of these days I will not start my blog with a rant but until the world gets back to something approaching the ‘old’ normal – if it ever does – this will probably not happen. I still want to punch something when I hear the phrase ‘new normal’ and can’t see that changing any time soon either!

Since my last walk in the Lakes back in June – a holiday which was punctuated with far too much work – there hasn’t been a lot of walking. There had been a bit, courtesy of a trip to the Gower Peninsula in August where I did climb a small hill (Rhossili Down, which had glorious views of Worms Head) and we did some coastal walking as well as swimming in the sea a couple of times. Whilst this was a nice break, yet again it was interrupted by work on more than one occasion. Whilst technology has its advantages, i.e. being able to work anywhere, being able to work anywhere clearly has its downsides and the pandemic seems to have accelerated the lines between being at work and not being at work becoming increasingly blurred. If a client knows you can answer their email from Gower, Cumbria, or for that matter anywhere else just as easily as from a desk in the City of London then inevitably the expectation not only that you can do so but that you will do so starts to creep in. Consequently it becomes increasingly difficult to actually get a proper break and at the time of writing this, with the exception of a couple of days in Lancashire earlier this year, I have not had a single holiday this year which has not been interrupted by work to at least some extent. I’m quite frankly utterly knackered and really need a proper break but have no idea when I will get one.

The ongoing pandemic also continues to worry me. As at the date of writing Plan B continues to be talked about and a survey in one of the papers (I forget which) said that 40% of people support another lockdown. This disease isn’t going anywhere – we can’t continue to have endless cycles of restrictions where our lives are put on hold, at some point we just have to accept the risk and get on with things. If you don’t want to take the risk and continue to stay indoors all the time despite being double jabbed – like some people I know – then fine, it’s your call, but I’m happy to trust the vaccination programme and try and get on with my life as best as possible. Though I’m not thrilled by the idea of having to have endless boosters either, it’s better than endless lockdowns or vaccination passports, in other words having to show my supposedly private medical records to a barman in order to get a drink in the pub.

Anyway, end of yet another rant and on with the walk! I had – at least in theory – a few clear days in the calendar in mid September with annual leave to use up. I’d done the same thing last year and had possibly the best spell of weather ever with five days of glorious sunshine, several walks and an open water swim. I had no real hope of getting similar weather this time but after the previous trip to the Lakes being basically ruined by work getting in the way I was definitely in need of some hill time – and also in need of de-stressing. I’d decided to stay in Penrith for one night, travelling up after work, then pick up a hire car in the morning with the rest of my stay being in Nether Wasdale, an area where I’ve never stayed and where I have quite a lot of hills still left to do. Rather to my surprise the forecast for the first couple of days of my stay was really good though the ongoing level of tiredness and lack of fitness still meant that epics were not going to be an option.

Amazingly there were no transport mishaps, unless taking far too much stuff, and therefore having to lug it across London, counts! I’d decided to take the wild swimming gear as well as walking gear which doesn’t quite involve twice as much kit but is not far off, certainly if taking the wetsuit rather than just a couple of swimming costumes. I managed to leave work mid afternoon and was in Penrith just before 8 enabling me to grab a McDonalds and a couple of glasses of wine before hitting the pit. The weather for the following day looked better in the East so I decided to pick off some of the remaining Far Eastern fells from Mardale, having never actually been to Haweswater. My car hire pickup was booked for 9am – what could possibly go wrong?

Mishap 1 – seemingly no buses from central Penrith to where I was going. Mishap 2 – no taxis at the taxi rank either. Fortunately one eventually turned up which at least meant I did not have to (a) go into a Withnail and I style rant about going on holiday by mistake or (b) give up and walk the mile and a half to the hire car place which given the amount of gear I was lugging around I really didn’t want to do. Got to the hire car place more or less on time to find that the DVLA website didn’t like my national insurance number and that their helpline also seemed not to be working. By this point I was starting to panic a bit as no hire car basically meant no holiday, it being totally impossible to get to Wasdale by public transport. Fortunately they did have some sort of online help function which ultimately resolved the issue so as soon as I got the keys I picked up some supplies from the nearest garage and headed off to Haweswater. I was already starting to panic a bit about the parking though as I knew there was not much and even though it was midweek it was a glorious sunny day. My route was to do Selside Pike and Branstree via the Old Corpse Road (which although I didn’t realise it at the time also featured in Withnail!)

I got to the layby at the start of the walk – inevitably no parking. Now an option would have been to carry on to the car park at Mardale Head and do the circuit in reverse but by that point I wasn’t confident there would be spaces there either. Fortunately a couple of hundred yards past the Old Corpse Road there was a pull in which one car already occupied but just about had enough room for another. I faffed a bit making sure the hire car was as tucked in as possible and not obstructing the road, then inevitably the faffing with gear ensued! I’d decided to take a punt and wear trail shoes rather than walking boots as this was not a walk which looked all that boggy. Back up the road to the start of the Old Corpse Road and up… and up.

This bit is steep and by the time I was about half way up I was boiling and really feeling the long lay off from any serious hill walking. That said I knew that it was the only steep ascent of the day and once I’d done this initial haul the remaining gradients were pretty gentle. The compensation for the steep ascent were superb views back to Haweswater. The water level was clearly pretty low and I wondered if the remains of the drowned village would be visible from closer up.

The initial steep bit out of the way, there is then a bit of pretty much level walking before a path branches off from the Old Corpse Road to head up the shoulder of Selside Pike. This bit is probably a bit boggy at normal times but was completely dry. I did have a minor navigational hiccup, in a good way for once, as what I had assumed was a false summit turned out to be the actual summit of the hill, having reached it quite a bit quicker than I had expected to. The views were excellent and the huge cairn is apparently a scheduled Bronze Age monument so got bonus points for history as well. I took a brief break and the inevitable terrible summit selfie before heading off in the direction of Branstree.

The route between the two hills was easy with minimal up and down and good views throughout. It had to be said that the summit of Branstree itself is not that inspiring with better views from the two massive cairns on Artlecrag Pike which you reach just beforehand. Not that I was complaining as it was a superb day to be out! I met the first people of the day on the summit of Branstree and took an extended break, which turned out to be more extended than I had hoped as I had to take a work call – argh! I guess at least it was a scenic place to do it and maybe gets some sort of award for extreme accounting given it involved advice on application of accounting standards.

Work, and a snack and a drink, sorted out it was a simple, albeit steepish, drop down from Branstree to the Gatesgarth Pass. I did vaguely consider going up Harter Fell as well but given fitness levels plus a drive of about 2 hours to Wasdale Head I decided it was better left for another day. It was a relatively quick descent to Mardale Head – where the car park was heaving – although having to then walk uphill back up the road was a bit of a pain! The views remained the compensation and various walls etc, presumably from the drowned village, were clearly in evidence where the water levels in Haweswater had dropped.

I was back at the car by about 2.30 for the long drive to Wasdale – I won’t drive over the Hardknott Pass so the only reasonable route was to drive back to Penrith then across to Cockermouth and down the west coast. In theory this should have been fine and for the most part was but I got stuck in traffic near Whitehaven and ended up not getting to my accommodation until shortly after 5pm, which meant missing out Harter Fell was the right call. I guess it is not going anywhere though! The first post walk drink, after getting my stuff into the hotel room, was aptly enough a pint of pale ale brewed at the pub called ‘Double Jab Freedom Ale’ which simply had to be drunk and which was really nice. Inevitably a couple of glasses of Merlot followed suit but given another superb forecast for the day after, consumption was pretty restrained.  Honest! Maybe I am finally becoming sensible in my middle age..

4 thoughts on “Wainwright Walks 82: Two hills in the East, then a long journey west

  1. To get to Wasdale et al from up north, you need to take the inner of the western roads, i.e. the Egremont road – that avoids Whitehaven and is much shorter.

    Cracking photos on that walk – you’ll have to make yourself a calendar this year! 😉

    It can be very wet indeed getting from the top of the Corpse Road to Selside Pike so you were very lucky it was dry. Having said that, I’ve given up ever walking in boots in England and always wear trail shoes instead – albeit waterproof ones if I can get them!

    I prefer Artlecrag Pike to Branstree!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fab conditions for this walk and some lovely photos, I’ve got a similar photo to your 5th photo on this post, where the grassy path lines up with the Long Stile ridge up to High Street. Nice to tick these two off in dry conditions underfoot as well and these get you to just 60 left to do!


  3. Amen to your points re: lockdown. That’s a very dry Haweswater, although I imagine it’s filling up again a bit now, in December….


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