Wainwrights: Hart Side
Date walked: 12/10/2021
Time taken: 3.35 hours
It was Tuesday morning as we drove under a miserable grey sky to the National Trust High Cascades Car Park that is a short distance south of the village of Dockray, a car park that was occupied by only a couple of other cars in contrast to the dozens that are usually parked up by visitors who have come to see, and picnic besides, the waterfalls on Aira Beck that the car park is named after. It had rained the day before and although it was dry overnight in the part of the Eden Valley where I live it had obviously not been the case around here and having walked these fells a number of times I know that there are areas up there that never completely dry out and are always soft and spongy even after a decent spell of dry weather.
There were four of us, three who had climbed Hart Side before and one, Ann, who hasn’t, whilst Martin has only done it from the White Stones side after a walk along the Dodd’s so new territory for the both of them.
The walk starts by following a rising path just on the north side of the car park and within a few metres we arrived at an old stone and brick building perched on the slopes just below a fence stile from where the path turns into a bit of a steep but mild scramble for a couple of metres or so before getting onto the easier ground and following the path with the wall on our right to a small gate that would put us onto the opposite side of the wall and the good – sometimes overgrown – grassy path that rises easily as it snakes its way around the lower slopes of the Birkett’s of Bracken How and Round How.
A look back from the east side of Bracken How showed various shades of grey cloud hanging over Great Mell Fell with Gowbarrow clear of cloud just now but later on it would look different as its summit becomes cloaked in cloud.
Great Mell Fell left of centre
The wall is strung out in front of us as it led the path unerringly across the lower slopes of Round How and beyond.
The Birkett of Round How
The clouds hung low over the higher fells with just a couple of blue patches daring to show themselves somewhere over Patterdale.
Just follow the wall
Ullswater appears below to the southeast along with Place Fell, Hallin Fell Steel Knotts and the ridge that carried the old Roman Road from High Street to Carlisle.
The ridge from High Raise to Loadpot Hill behind Ullswater
Looking back along the wall there is the long lumpy dead bracken covered top of Gowbarrow Fell.
Gowbarrow behind Bracken How
As there is nothing remarkable about this route to Hart Side apart from the views it was just a case of ambling along the path that varies between dry and damp, grassy and overgrown with rushes and/ or bracken with just the odd short steeper section until we get to where the path turns from south at Glencoyne to southwest where the going is quite long and steep. But we haven’t got there yet so we will enjoy the views that are mostly to our left before the mountains above and around Patterdale sneak into view.
A view south along Ullswater
Gowbarrow from Spying How
Place Fell to Loadpot Hill view
The clouds had closed up the fleetingly glimpsed blue patches and now hung low over the Hartsop Dodds’ and the Helvellyns, clouds that before too long we would also be involved with as we started the climb from Glencoyne to Hartside. The tree covered Glenridding Dodd and the eastern tip of Sheffield Pike also make an appearance.
Slopes of dying bracken
Eastern Fells view from below Swineside Knott
Wainwright marks the top of Swineside Knott as the best place to view Ullswater from; we aren’t going up there today as we were perfectly happy with the views that we already had of Ullswater, both ways from where it bends below Glencoyne.
The next photo was taken from the head of Near Swan Beck between Swineside Knott and the foot of Brown Hills.
Sheffield Pike and Glenridding Dodd
As we turned from walking southwest we followed the wall and path as they turned to the west and from below the south slopes of Brown Hills the north craggy face of Sheffield Pike was in full view.
North face of Sheffield Pike
The path continues west and into Glencoyne Head but as we continue below the south slopes of Brown Hills the path bends away slightly to the southwest rising easily as it runs across open and wet ground before meeting the stile in the wall that we would cross and now follow the path uphill as it split from the one going directly into Glencoyne Head.
The path that runs behind the cottages of Seldom Seen is plain to see as it rises across the north face of Sheffield Pike to more or less connect up with the path that runs around the head of Glencoyne. Looking at the face of Glencoyne Head it’s hard to envisage a path going anywhere along the face as it’s nigh impossible to see from where we were, but a path there is as I have walked along it on a few occasions in the past although not in recent years. The first time that I walked it the old mine workings were still open for exploration though I only ventured into it for a few yards and the next time that I passed that way it had collapsed in, or maybe it was closed purposely to avoid any accidents.
From the wall stile the path now steepens considerably as the wall is again followed right to the summit of Birkett Fell and the only respite from the plod upwards is where the ground levels out a bit where the wall stile is that leads onto, or off, the path following the ridge across the line of Birkett’s on Watermillock Common.
At this point we were fast approaching the clag that threatened once again to ruin the expected and deserved views from mountain summits.
On the way to Birkett Fell at around 600 metres
There is no joy in plodding up a steep grassy bank enclosed in cold, damp grey cloud but to allow Ann to achieve her new summit we ‘plodded’ on and on the way collected a couple of elderly ladies who had walked in from Dockray both on their first visits to this fell. They were dressed appropriately and were well equipped but felt nervous and unsure in the thick fog so asked me if they could possibly tag along whilst in this murk. I chatted to them as we arrived at Birkett Fell top and waited whilst they took a photo and then walked with them to the summit of Hart Side where we all sat together chatting away like old friends.
Approaching Birkett Fell summit
As we left Birkett Fell we could see no sign of Hart Side...
Hart Side is out there somewhere
The path is good and wide but as on a good day is fairly wet underfoot in places but it doesn’t take too long to cross from one top to the other, a matter of minutes and the grey summit photo was being taken.
Hart Side summit photo
Just to the west of the summit there are the remains of a man made ditch that lends itself to old and uncompleted mine workings of which there are many in the area. It was quite breezy on top of this exposed summit so the ditch made a welcome haven especially near the north end that has been blocked off by local stones to form a windbreak. Break over we made our way back to Birkett Fell that was unseen through the clag.
Birkett Fell under cloud
As we walked along a hazy strip of sunshine below the clouds gave us a view of Matterdale away in the distance...
A band of sunshine over Matterdale
and a lightening of the fells behind Sheffield Pike gave us no comfort as we were still clag bound.
Brighter weather behind Sheffield Pike
Back at Birkett Fell the clouds had now lifted somewhat to reveal a strip of Ullswater far below...
Ullswater from Birkett Fell
whilst further round to the south it was possible to see into Patterdale as we descended back down the way we had come.
Hazy view into Patterdale
A little further along and our return route along the ridge to Common Fell came into view confirming that the clouds were lifting slightly.
Brown Hills to Common Fell ridge
One consolation of the damp and low cloud cover was that it seemed to bring out the many various colours and hues of the resident fell grass that were many shades of pink, yellow, green, brown etc with large clumps of them making for a wonderful carpet of colour amongst the greens of the many types of moss and lichens.
Colourful fell grasses
The two ladies had followed us down and decided to have a break at the stile before continuing on by the way that they had come from Dockray which was the way that we were making our way back to the car park, along the ridge formed by the four Birkett’s.
The cloud had dropped slightly but not too low that it blocked our views even though they were rather hazy through the thin cloud vapours floating about.
The ridge to Common Fell
It’s an easy walk along the ridge on a good track but the famous AW viewpoint on Swineside Knott today afforded us none of the promised views he spoke about. Good time was made and we soon arrived at the summit of Common Fell with its small cairn of stones from where we would now bear off slightly to the east towards a large boulder that gave us some respite from the cold breeze as we had a quick drink and a bite to eat.
Taking a break at the boulder on Common Fell
Our path off Common Fell runs right by the boulder dropping down the easy grassy slopes and soon morphs into a quad bike track going all the way down to Dockray. If one doesn’t want to climb on to Common Fell the ridge path splits before the climb to the summit begins and an easier track continues down to meet our own further down the fellside. From dropping off to the east the path soon turns to the north for a short distance and then turns back towards the northeast to Pounder Syke that it more or less follows to Dockray.
This path/track is well graded and easy to follow and negotiate albeit a bit wet in places and a slip hazard for the unwary.
Meandering track to Dockray
Looking back up the north slopes of Common Fell
The clouds had dropped back over Gowbarrow whilst we had been descending and Bracken How had had a haircut as the bracken had been harvested for animal bedding and garden compost when mixed with sheep’s wool and pomfrey evidence being the many round bales that were stacked on the lower fellside showing just in front of the trees in the second photo.
Gowbarrow behind Bracken How
Dockray from Pounders Syke
The cloud base has been up and down like a yo-yo this last hour or so with Gowbarrow now clear of cloud.
Gowbarrow now clear of cloud
The walk is now all but over as we left the fells behind by the gate and this old style metal NT sign...
An old style National Trust sign at Dockray
and I wasn’t looking forward to the walk along the road but as the ladies didn’t want to leave by the small scramble we had on our way out of the car park we had to submit to female pressure and do as we were told.
Another walk under low cloud did nothing to mar the enjoyment of the walk even though the views were minimal from the summits and it made a nice change to do Hartside from the east as I hadn’t been this way for a few years. After seeing Glencoyne Head I got a yearning to re-visit and walk around the old miner’s path to Sheffield Pike again so one in the book for another day. Apart from the two ladies we saw no other walkers at all so very quiet on these fells today.
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- Location: Near Appleby - Cumbria
- Activity: Mountaineer
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- Ideal day out: A good mixed walk with scrambling leading to a good ridge walk.
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