from The Swirls
distance: 4.4km/3½ miles time: 2½ hours ascent : 110m/360ft grade : stroll
MAPS (Harvey Superwalker) Central Lakeland
(Ordnance Survey) OL4 North-western area
BUS STOP Station Coppice/The Swirls
PARK Car-borne walkers park in the United Utilities The Swirls car park (with the inevitable coin meter). Alternatively, use the adjacent Station Coppice (free) lay-by, with its historic coign of vantage!
Low and behold from The Lakeland Pathfinder
This second Ride & Stride expedition is a signifi-cant departure from the established pattern of Park & Stride. Being basically a low-level excursion concentrating on the relationship of dale and lake, though the latter is strictly a reservoir. At the precise time of writing this piece in April/08, half the walk is closed due to tree-felling operations. The permissive forest path will open again in early May giving access from the dam to Station Coppice. Even in truncated form, the walk makes the ideal starter stroll for anyone considering venturing out upon The Lakeland Pathfinder bus (or one of its fellow cohort of buses) on the 555 Lakeslink service.
The walk along the western foot of the northern extension of the Helvellyn range keeping in harmony with the intake wall is a scenic delight of the highest order (see left) every step of the way. One gets that ‘He’ll be coming round the mountain when he comes’ sensation on a path bestowed of many subtle turns, dips and rises. A firm path and lovely views north to Skiddaw and Blencathra beyond Great How ensure a cheery stride. In view from The Swirls is a valley clearly distinct from that of Thirlmere, the eyes training through the narrowing St John’s Vale between High Rigg and Castle Rock of Triermain to Blencathra. Cute water catchment engineers sought to claim all the flow of water from the Helvellyn range they could, hence the course of Raise Beck to Dunmail Raise was simply turned north rather than south. More ingeniously, the string of streams spilling from the range from Ladknott Gill to Helvellyn Gill were intercepted by an open concrete leat or aqueduct channel.
The effect an illusionary uphill flow of water heading south tumbling into Thirlmere below Station Coppice. The name Station Coppice is intriguing, there being now railway or bus depot near to hand obviously! The explanation being the knoll above the car park was a ‘Picturesque’ observatory, one of Thomas West’s set of Lakeland outlooks from where the awful heights could be observed in true proportion and scenic balance, framed through a Claude Glass. Horse-drawn coaches brought ladies and gentlemen to marvel at the view across the small lake of Leathes Water, to the cascades of Launchy Gill backed by Bell Crags and Fisher Gill backed by High Seat. Such a device has its modern equivalent in the digital camera!
How the scene has changed. The great flooding of water and conifers effecting a radical transformation. That the conifers have been felled and the resultant shoreline landscaped is due to a court case in the 1980’s where a lady brought to task the owners of the recent past North West Water. The Act of Parliament passed to permit the building of the reservoir in 1879 decreed that the shoreline be landscaped only with native trees. This correction is now nearing fruition, enhancing the view and bio-diversity considerably. Further south from Station Coppice this has brought the extra benefit of taking out mature trees threatening traffic on the A591.
While the south-bound bus stop is beside the entrance to The Swirls car park (from where just walk in). The north-bound bus stop is beside the Station Coppice lay-by. In this latter case carefully cross the main road to the hand-gate and follow the footpath signed ‘Public Footpath Helvellyn’. This leads through the car park to a plank footbridge over Helvellyn Gill.
Thirlmere leat at StanahGo through the adjacent hand-gate by sheep pens. Progress to a fork in the way where The Swirls Nature Trail veers right to a plank bridge. Here go up half-left to a kissing-gate and, crossing plank bridge rise to a wooden footpath sign, guiding left ‘Sticks Pass and Stanah’. Come above the intake wall and follow the clear path which early in its course keeps up across the stony fellside beset with bracken in summer, but a strong path exists. Waymarking assists progress as too retaining slabs. Cross a footbridge spanning a tiny gill with yew and juniper strikingly evident upon the outcropping above. The intake wall dips and rises with the path in similar playful mood, coming above Thirlspot where the old White Stones path junction is encountered. A slate sign set into the fell bank above the wall indicating the old pony route to Helvellyn; originally the landlord of the King’s Head had daubed stones with white-wash to aid guests progress to Helvellyn, of its time ‘top of the range’ waymarking.
Continue as directed ‘Sticks Pass’, the path accompanying the intake wall down to a substantial footbridge spanning Fisherplace Gill, a tumultuous series of fuming falls pile down from above, worth climbing up to inspect given the day, quite the best sequence on the range. The path continues soon re-joining the intake wall on the lead down to a crossing of Stanah Gill (no chairlifts in sight!). Go through a hand-gate and come down to the right of a large roche moutonnee (ice smoothed outcrop) through which the Thilmere leat was drilled. A gate then descend the paddock to a ladder-stile left of Stanah Farm.
Follow the metalled Stanah Lane down to the road. Go right passing the derelict former youth hostel taking the footpath signed left following the field-wall across the valley pasture to a stile and steps up the embankment onto the A591. Go right then cross over to the broad gates gaining entry into the forestry beneath Great How. Follow the track left as this shapes to enter pasture bear up right with the path to the brow then keep faith with the winding trail through the landscaped lakeside section passing beneath Dale Head Hotel via hand-gates to eventually rise back up to Station Coppice, with its knoll-top viewpoint to enjoy.
Many will be more than content to sample the iced confection from the van frequently parked in Station Coppice car park. For a more earnest bite and liquid refreshment then the King’s Head Hotel at Thirlspot, could hardly be handier and it is all-day opening.