7 Coledale Horseshoe


from Braithwaite

distance : 16 km/10 miles time : 6.5 hours ascent : 1,210m/3,970ft grade : strenuous

PARK: GR 227237 From Braithwaite follow the Whinlatter road up the initial rise, passing the Hope Memorial Camp on the right, find a track access left (room for six tidily parked cars). Typically this free parking can reach capacity by 9:30 in good weather so an early start is recommended. Village parking is not plentiful.
WALK SUMMARY: One of the most popular round trips the Coledale Round culminates upon Eel Crag, taking in Grisedale Pike, Hopegill Head, Eel Crag, Sail and Outerside en route. Walkers can include further scenic summits if inclined with Grasmoor, Wandope, Scar Crags and Causey Pike with Barrow a final flourish. In wet conditions the small rock-step on the east ridge of Eel Crag calls for care, in normal conditions you’ll skip down!
MAPS: Ordnance Survey Explorer Map OL4 The English Lakes, North-western area; Harvey Lake District Outdoor Atlas and/or their new plastic Mountain Map.

The Coledale Horseshoe

Approaching Keswick along the A66 rising mightily west of town it’s the North-western Fells, principally Eel Crag and Grisedale Pike, that excite most attention. Visitors seeking a setting sun view of Castlerigg Stone Circle have these fells as a backdrop. This impressive walking tour tightly embraces the skyline of Coledale and includes the summits of Grisedale Pike, Hopegill Head, Eel Crag, Sail and Outerside.

The walk begins from the village of Braithwaite, sited in a broad natural clearing, the origin of the place-name. The apparently large village of today, dominated by the camping ground, holiday lodgings and retirement homes was formerly substantially larger, certainly in terms of population. This had been an industrial community, home to miners, woollen millers and pencil-makers, the Cumberland Pencil Co. having a factory here from 1868-98, when a fire resulted in its demolition and the transfer of manufacturing to Keswick.

Coledale is a long straight, deeply entrenched, valley surrounded by shapely fells composed of various ele-ments of Skiddaw slate. Where broken underfoot, the shards are angular and don’t have the ball-bearing effect of the Borrowdale Volcanic of the central Lakes.

Located in the upper end of Coledale, the Force Crag Mine thoroughly merits the attention of fellwalkers and praise accorded the National Trust and English Heritage for their work on this industrial monument (see page 3). While the buildings have been carefully secured and preserved, with the latterday machinery, visitors are only able to see inside during specific guided tours - pre-booking is essential, contact 017687 74649.

These boots were made for walking

Climb the flight of steps rising immediately to the right. NB: The track beyond the barrier leads easily into Coledale proper and can play into your walk, if, later in the day the weather deteriorates and you have to retreat from Coledale Hause. The path gives fine views over the Bassenthwaite Vale to the Skiddaw massif, as it rises to a stile. After this the path climbs a little further before levelling along the Kinn ridge overlooking Coledale, with eyes focused on the headwall drama of Force Crag.

The valley is of simple form, reserving all its visual drama for its upper reaches where a rockband intervenes causing the valley beck to step down two great mares tail falls. Pitching up again onto the heather bank of Sleet How, the ridge now overlooks the diminutive Grisedale Beck valley and Whinlatter Forest Park, where osprey’s now regularly nest. Climb ever more sternly up the conical east ridge to the summit of Grisedale Pike. Path erosion is inevitable on such a singular and popular trod, any splintered rock encountered a minimal hindrance.
The summit has a block of tilted slate providing a naturally sheltered southern shelf, the outlook, whether to Skiddaw or Eel Crag, is superb. The Hobcarton valley dominates the westward view. The name is interesting, deriving from the Irish personal-name Cartan, with hobb meaning tussock, suggesting a fertile patch of land where the grass grew thicker.

A broken wall accompanies the continuing ridge path over a intermediate top ending where the path forks; the lefthand path leading directly down to Coledale Hause. Keep to the ridge, now above the remarkable craggy headwall of the Hobcarton valley, revelling in the views back along the edge to Grisedale Pike, climb to the beautifully peaked cairnless summit of Hopegill Head.

Hobcarton Crag falls majestically beneath one’s feet, its grassy ledges threaded by perilous sheep trods. Within two inaccessible gullies on this crag cling patches of alpine catchfly, at the very end of its post-glacial history in Britain: known in Scandinavia as copper moss, in this spot, there is only manganese. At this tiny carniverous plants only other British location, the mountains of Angus, serpentine is the notable element, hence one might have expected it to have lingered in the gullies of Wasdale Screes, showing that the Hobcarton site is indeed a chance survival.

To the west, the continuing narrow ridge extends to Whiteside, with Crummock Water peeping into view down Gasgale Gill. To the north the ridge steps down slabs towards Ladyside Pike, and looking down the heathery slopes of Hope Gill spy the verdant Lorton Vale.

Turn south, follow the path over Sand Hill, shards of slate not sand underfoot. Descend into the broad hollow of Coledale Hause, a path intersection. NB: To shorten the walk follow the restored path left down to join the Force Crag Mine access track, leading easily along the north side of the valley directly to the car park. Due south, the north ridge of Eel Crag rises in two abrupt craggy steps. It is far better to follow the re-structured path rising beside the upper course of Gasgale Gill SSW on an easy gradient. The path, rising out of Coledale leading to the source of Gasgale Gill, had become so gullied by spate water that, as the image in the gallery shows, it was 12 feet deep, hence the imperative for mechanical restoration. Reaching the T-junction of paths by a pool, with the Grasmoor ridge connection right; a worthy bolt-on for the extraordinary panorama from that summit, backtrack to continue). Turn left still upon an engineered path climbing the plain slope, a brief traverse right reveals a sumptuous parade of fells over Addacombe Hole.

The OS column stands on the broad featureless summit of Eel Crag, stride the few paces north-east to peer down on the Force Crag Mine and upper Coledale. The east ridge descends with continuing grand views on either hand. There are two minor scrambly sections, one near the top and the other near the foot of the ridge. A small col leads to a steady climb onto Sail. The actual summit, bypassed by the common flow of fellwalkers, is marked by a tiny cairn in a shallow pool. Descend ENE to a lower more substantial hause. One may continue up the facing ridge onto Scar Crags en route to Causey Pike. However, the preferred route takes its leave of the ridge at this point, a clear path angles NE to descend beneath the outcrops on the western side of Scar Crags. Shortly after conversion to a track, legacy of the failed cobalt mine venture, veer smartly left across the marshy hollow of High Moss to climb the grassy ridge of Outerside.

Being a less frequented summit this is an excellent place to linger longer, the view devoted to Coledale. The heathery path descending the east ridge contends with minor gullying. Reaching Low Moss one may stride over Stile End, advance via Barrow Door onto Barrow itself, a super viewpoint. The chosen way is mindful that many walkers will be quite tired by this point, and veers left beyond the pool on a turf path that slants gently down the western flank of Stile End. This leads sweetly down the pasture free of bracken passing to the right of the tree-lined enclosure of the ruined High Coledale then joins an open track alongside the gorse fringed Barrow Gill. A kissing-gate heralds a tarmac road, lined with bluebells in late May, leading down into Braithwaite.

After-walk refreshment

Braithwaite offers three worthy inns for weary walkers, the Coledale Inn, Royal Oak and Middle Ruddings, and don’t overlook the general stores for walk provisions; while up the Whinlatter road The Cottage in the Wood country house hotel serves the walker in two ways, supporting the work of the Tourism & Conservation Partnership, for whom a lionshare of funds received goes directly into path restoration. The Partnership are currently seeking a business sponsor to finance a webcam on the osprey’s nest from Whinlatter Pass.

If you would like a downloadable PDF of this walk CLICK HERE
Mark Richards

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