Sunday, December 2, 2012

High Tove and High Seat

heading over the bridleway to the hanging valley of Watlendath, looking back south west to Rosthwaite and, centre right on the horizon with snow - Great Gable, I think that's Base Brown in front of it

The end of November/start of December 2012 has brought fantastic conditions to the Lake District.  Cold, frosty days are ideal for getting a bit of a sweat on.  The air is crisp and clear so visibility is right up there.  The bits of snow on the higher fells (the usual suspects of Skiddaw, Scafells, Helvellyn range, Blencathra and the higher Coledale fells) pick out the detail of the various ridges and gulleys brilliantly, creating a monochrome effect, almost like a Wainwright sketch.  Furthermore, the ground is hard.  No muddy trudging on days like this, ideal for exploring the much derided boggy areas.

heading into Watendlath with the climb ahead
Usually, when presented with a weekend of such weather, I am spoilt for choice - run, walk, bike - a bit of everything?  Alas, I have been brought down in my prime by a recurrence of a knee injury.  I first felt the injury during the Grizedale Ultra recce run.  A few weeks later, I tried a short walk to Armboth Fell which I found to be very painful.  I have managed a few road runs and to get out on my bike but I felt that I was some way off getting back to the fells.

Then I thought about all those old men and women that walk with sticks and wondered if there was anything in it.  A quick query on Facebook revealed that a lot of people swear by them.  So that was that.  On Saturday, I headed to Keswick and into one of my favourite shops, Needle Sports, where the helpful assistant advised me on the various walking poles.  The Black Diamond Carbon Ultra poles looked good but were almost twice as much as the pair I eventually opted for, Black Diamond Trail.  I also thought that Carbon Fibre wouldn't stand up well to the inevitable bashing that I would give them.

frozen Watlendath Tarn
I planned a short walk to try them out, a quick out and back to High Tove from Rosthwaite.  It would have been about 5 miles if I had actually stuck to this plan.  It would also have given me the opportunity to call for a lift from Watlendath if things got difficult.

I headed to the parking at Rosthwaite.  I can never predict how busy this car park will be.  There are about 15 spaces and it is ideally situated for walks.  It's popular with more casual walkers because of the very popular Castle Crag route nearby as well as the wander down to Grange.  I got there pretty late today but there was plenty of space.  As a National Trust member, I get to park for free (well, the cost of my membership).  There is also parking at the village hall next door which is £3 for the day (or free if you are dishonest with the honesty box).

Watlendath and the packhorse bridge
So heading off from Rosthwaite, back across the road, I headed up the bridleway past the Hazel Bank Hotel, over the bridge and left, up the hill to the woods at Birkett's Leap.

Playing around with the poles, trying different techniques, I found the best method to be planting them at the same time as each foot - left pole with left foot, right pole with right foot and pushing down with your arms.  They certainly help with going up hill, I was flying.  The hard ground and wide grassy path seemed ideal for sticking the ends into.  Before long, I was across the stream at the top and watching some mountain bikers coming down the path.  Not quite as amusing as this video at the same point but not far off:

From here, there is a really nice path across Puddingstone Bank.  It looks as though it has been turned over. This is where a deeply rutted path shaped like a V is dug over on itself making a raised path.  The rutted part in the middle is now on either side, allowing the water to run down the sides of the path rather than down the middle.

looking back at Watlendath Tarn
Next up was a steep down hill section to Watlendath.  The path was stony and icy.  This is what I had been worrying about with my knee.  It was hard to get the poles in position on each step (I later discovered that shortening the poles for going downhill helps).

My knees seemed to hold up fine.  A worry I had about the poles was that they would be cumbersome and that I would trip over them.  I didn't find this to be the case, in fact, I was able to use them to stop me falling over on at least two occasions.  I did feel the need to explain to everybody I met that I had a bad knee and that was why I was using the poles.

There is a steep climb up from Watlendath to High Tove.  Once a gate is reached, the terrain mellows a bit and, what would normally be a very boggy area begins.  By now I was sweating a fair amount and a clothing adjustment was required.  Zero wind today meant that, once you had warmed up, you stayed pretty warm.  I traversed across great frozen boggy pools to the summit of High Tove.

climbing to High Tove and looking back across the frozen bog towards Great Gable again.  To the left of Great Gable, the little mound is Lingmell and to the left of that is Scafell Pike.

The Coledale Fells with a snow topping

in the middle right of this picture, behind the fence is the summit cairn of High Tove.

and behond is Helvellyn and the Dodds
I met a couple at the summit and chatted to them about the usual, where did you start, where are you heading.  I couldn't bring myself to retrace my steps so I had a choice of right towards Ullscarf, straight on to Armboth Fell or right to High Seat.  

Ullscarf is quite a long way and I remember a very unpleasant trudge around Blea Tarn.  I also remember a steep descent so that was out.  

looking back towards High Tove
Armboth Fell had been my last walk and I didn't want to face that again (although it would certainly not be as wet today), it would also involve coming back the same way or a very long way around.  

So left to High Seat it was.  This would normally be a horrible horrible muddy boggy trudge.  Today it was crisp and pleasant.  My feet didn't get muddy at all.  Not even wet.  I have to remember this.  I have stayed away from this area because of it's boggy reputation but on a cold day when the ground is frozen, it is delightful.  A quick check of the map reveals the fact that High Seat is easily navigated to by following the fence line I can see in front.  So off I go.

fence leading to High Seat
The extent of the mud (which is frozen today) is remarkable.  It's difficult to see how you would make your way through in wet conditions, I would be seriously worried about getting swallowed up by the black gooey mud.  

I keep thinking that the ice is going to give way - it seems like I am stood on some very deep boggy areas - but the whole area is frozen solid.  I chip away at it with my newly acquired poles but it is not giving at all.

Before long I get to a style over the fence.  There appear to be two summits but the cairn on High Seat, to the left, is distinctive.  The other summit to the right is labelled 'Man' on the map.

High Seat summit with the Coledale Fells behind

and again, Catbells and Maiden Moor directly in front

Skiddaw group to the north over the frozen bog

from Ashness Fell looking over Derwent Water, Bassenthwaite beyond

The terrain changes after High Seat and a good clear path is a relief to find.  Today, the relief is that it gives a clear direction of travel.  I know that usually this path gives a relief from the boggy trod.  This is the point that I start descending for real and this is going to be the real test of my knee and my walking poles.

I follow the path down, eventually to Ashness Bridge.  The steepest part of the descent are tough on my knee and it reaffirms that I need to go for the MRI scan to see what is wrong but overall the poles are a very good help.  There is an area called High Strutta (great name!) just above Ashness Bridge and this was the hardest part.

Once I got to Ashness Bridge, I decided to take the road back to Rosthwaite.  It was a fair distance but a really enjoyable walk alongside the river and through the woods.  The light was really nice and I did my best to capture it on camera but I think I lack the skills to really do the scenery justice.

Skiddaw to the right across Derwent Water from the jetty

in the other direction over to Maiden Moor and Dale Head

further along - frozen Derwent Water

back to Rosthwaite

It's always nice to get back to the car but today I was really happy with my effort.  I walked 11 miles and, although a lot of it was on the road back, that's not too bad.  I can live with being restricted to that distance until I can get my knee sorted.  High Tove was one of those Wainwrights that was always going to get left to the end - both because of the horrible boggy trudge up to it and because I had bagged all the other Wainwrights around it.  So it is really good to tick that one off the list.

the red line shows my route starting from Rosthwaite on the right hand side


  1. Hi Paul,

    I too struggle walking with two poles so I might try your left foot left pole down technique that's of course when I come round to buying a second pole! Great route to test your knees this one & I like that you choose the central ridge during a hard frost. Great account & pictures Paul, hope the knees keep holding out for you.


    1. Thanks Paul. I think two sticks is key. I did feel thy we're more help going uphill and it's downhill that I struggle with. Very happy with this walk though -

  2. Hi Paul, just in case you hadn't noticed, my Blogger account has reached maximum, so I have had to start a new one. To view further postings about Derbyshire, or to change your 'follow' status, my new blogs are and I hope you are well, and continue to enjoy my blogs. Les

  3. Beautiful photos. I love days like that.