After a ‘rest day’ of strolling round Keswick and Aira Force, we headed out to Whinlatter Forrest to two ends, bag some more Wainwrights and have a treetop adventure at ‘Go Ape’ (but more of that later).
So after our treetop shenanigans, a pleasant lunch on a sunny terrace and some fine cake, we set forth up the woodland trail from Whinlatter’s visitor’s centre, initially towards Seat How. The trail is well laid out and way-marked by the Forestry Commission. It is a steep ascent through the heavily wooded hillside, that is home to many a family activity including storybook trails, play parks and various woodland walks.
In his pictorial guide to the North Western Fells, Wainwright is almost disapproving of the ascent from Whinlatter noting:
‘This is one of the oddest fell climbs of all, five-sixths of the distance being along forest roads engulfed in dense plantations, walking ‘blind’ and with little sense of direction… a delightfully easy ascent – but gloomy forests aren’t everybody’s cup of tea!’
As we reach the edge of the first plantation, we happen upon a small clearing and come across a familiar character (at least familiar to those of us with young children), lovingly sculpted from wood and presented for our enjoyment. We stop for a few obligatory photographs before heading onward.
The next mile or so unfortunately is largely gravel fire roads lined with dense forest of pine and fir trees, which makes for a fairly uninteresting walk and I can see where Wainwright was coming from. Fortunately the sun is shining and I am in the wonderful company of Kelly, so all is not lost. Occasionally the trees clear a little and we’re treat to a view.
We continue our ascent by-passing the trail for Seat How and taking the path out of the forest and towards the open heather strewn plane leading to the summit.
The final part of the trail is reasonable gentle and we arrive at the top of this underrated but fine Fell. The view is beautiful, presenting a fantastic panorama of some of Lakeland’s most famous and iconic sights. The view east presents our next summit, Barf and behind it Dodd, Skiddaw, Little Man, Blencathra and both Great and Little Mell Fell. Round to the South we are treat to our previous walk of Catbells, High Spy, Causey Pike, Robinson and the imposing Grisedale Pike.
It’s a beautiful sunny and calm day and the summit incredibly peaceful and we’re not in any rush, so take the time just to enjoy the view and the serenity. There’s not much to mark the summit, no cairn or significant geological features, just an old iron fence post stood in a loose hole at the highest point. There’s also evidence of some other long gone iron posts and evidently three old fences used to converge right here at the summit. They have long since been replaced by modern wire fences further down the fell now.
I also use the opportunity to show just how accurate AW’s guides and illustrations are. For all the wonder of modern technology; pinpoint accurate GPRS , high definition satellite imaging and topography, worldwide databases of accurate mapping delivered to our smartphones, it’s refreshing that a cantankerous middle-aged man from Blackburn was able to walk these fells and with nothing but a pencil, notebook and cheap film camera create guides so accurate they are still in use 50 years later.
After enjoying the rest in the sunshine we head on across the top of the fell towards the neighbouring (and unfortunately named) Barf.
For the life of me I cannot find any references to cast any light on why this fell is called so, but I presume when it was named the word barf wasn’t an unfortunate euphemism for vomiting. Regardless of its peculiar nomenclature we head across the peat-bog ridden plane between the two summits. The path isn’t always clear (or more accurately I make up my own route) and I’m thankful the weather has been as dry as of late otherwise we’d be ankle deep in bog.
It is only about half a mile walk across the wide ridge between Lord’s Seat and Barf and only a gentle change in height. As we reach the pinnacle, the path suddenly becomes much a much steeper ascent upwards through the now rocky outcrop that makes up Barf’s summit.
The views from Barf as are stunning as from Lord’s Seat, though the Fell lacks the serenity of its neighbour due to the busy A66 at its foot.
Looking out Westwards over Bassenthwaite, we can see the coast and distant fells still sporting snow caps from the winter. We find ourselves in company of the woolly variety as three Herdwick sheep join us at the summit to graze.
Herdwicks are a breed of sheep synonymous with the Lake District and indeed 99% of the breed lives in these Cumbrian hills. Herdwick comes from the Old Norse word herdvyck which more-or-less translates to ‘sheep pasture’. More evidence of the huge influence the Norse had on this land when they abandoned their Viking ways in favour of settling. Herdwicks are a hardy breed, able to survive the extreme geography and climate of the Lakes and nourish themselves on the relatively little forage present. Their wool too is also apparently known to be a hard wearing material, almost a reflection of their environment. But enough sheep talk…
We head down the south face into a small valley with Beckstones Gill at is bottom. There is a small set of waterfalls where the gill is narrow enough to cross with little effort and sufficient stepping stones to keep our boots dry.
We then ascend back up the other side of the valley into the forest paths of Beckstones Plantation. The trail snakes though the shady woods (a welcome relief from the sun on my pale, pale skin!) and it is only when we come across a brief opening we are privy to one of Barf’s quirkier features, the Bishop Stone also known as the Bishop of Barf. The stone is a whitewashed pillar around 7’ high situated about a third of the way up the Fell’s rocky eastern face. Legend has it that the visiting Bishop of Derry drunkenly bet he could ride his horse up the steep incline and died trying, as did his poor steed. They were buried on the hillside close by and for reasons only known to the perpetrators; the staff of the near-by Swan Hotel whitewashed this pillar as a monument. The hotel has since gone but the tradition is continued by members of the Keswick Mountain Rescue Team to this day. It seems a fanciful tale, but it makes for a good landmark and is easier seen by passing motorists on the A66.
The path down is much like the path up, lined with trees and largely uneventful but pleasant none-the-less. We eventually find ourselves back at the visitor’s centre from where we started.
It’s been a lovely day and a lovely walk. Different to the ‘usual’ fell walks I have done as it was largely wooded and you only really get a sense of your surroundings once at the summit, but still worthwhile and certainly worthy of AW’s inclusion in his guides.
Unrelated to fell walking, here’s a few pictures of the day’s earlier activity at Go Ape. I heartily recommend it to anyone! It was a lot of fun.