A warm day for a short circuit of the central heights of the Lakes.
The Stonethwaite valley is a lovely offshoot of Borrowdale, and surprisingly quiet in the middle of a sunny Sunday morning – plenty of parking available and only a few people on the paths above. I had thought I’d set off with an open mind about whether to take the direct route up the front of Eagle Crag and, as steep and imposing as the north face is, the route looked obvious and possible. But it only took a few strong gusts to put me off and heading shamefacedly up Greenup Gill instead! This is a good alternative ascent though, a well-made path climbing gradually up the valley past fine little falls, Ullscarf looming large above. The east side of Eagle Crag is steepish but grassy and not too wet or difficult, and approaching from this side gives you a sudden and unpreviewed arrival and the spectacular summit viewpoint. This must be one of the finest spots in the area; stunning views of the high mountains west and south, of verdant Borrowdale and the long bleak Langstrath valley.
Sergeant’s Crag is another good rocky top, but stuck amid some pretty rough country, bog and heather on the approach, a pretty spongy depression the other side. Surprisingly to me though, this was as bad as it got on the long way to Ullscarf – there’s a decent off-map path along the top of Long Crag and across to the central ridge. Broad and very gently sloped, this might be impassable after a bit of rain but it’s alright for now, even if the route north seems pretty long and aimless; you only see the summit in the last few yards.
The outcrops marking High and Low Saddles would definitely be better ‘summits’ than the actual one, looking down into the Watendlath valley, and it’s an easy enough slog down the boulders and long grass to Dock Tarn, another lovely spot. The surrounding area is a maze of hillocks and heather and it’s only having the cairn on Great Crag periodically popping into view that gives you a chance of easily getting there. You can usually be sceptical of Wainwright claims like ‘there are no paths on Great Crag’ (legions of followers since tend to have trodden a clear enough way to most places), but it’s pretty close in this case bar the last few yards – there’s certainly very little in the way of clear or connected paths and I probably stumbled and thrashed about three times as far as necessary to get back to the head of the descent path by Willygrass Gill… This starts very well – great views back to Eagle Crag and Langstrath – but the last part, a steep staircase of thousands of embedded rocks, is full-concentration, knee-testingly slow going; probably a lovely way up through the woods, but not my kind of way down.
The valleys and lower heights around here are delightful and – big green lump as Ullscarf is by itself – this was really a very good way to take it in.
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