The best laid plans of mice and men. We’d sort of decided that, after an early night on Friday, we’d make a mid morning start on Saturday and try the Dovedale trail, possibly taking in Dove Crag. Brotherswater, which sits at the bottom of Dove Crag is only about 10 miles from our house, we’d driven past it on quite a few occasions but never stopped to take it in. Saturday arrived and things just sort of got in the way, including the cricket. The weather forecast for Sunday wasn’t too bad, cloud with occasional showers (decent walking weather) so we decided to wait a day. To get to Brotherswater, dependent on whether your coming from the North or the South, you either have to take the road that runs alongside Ullswater from the Penrith direction or take Kirkstone Pass from Windermere. Both these roads, for different reasons, are well worth driving. Cow Bridge Car Park is small, so if you’re going to do this trip you need to either arrive first thing or get lucky. We were lucky to get a slot as an early walker was pulling out as we arrived. We’d only just changed our footwear and set off when it started to rain fairly heavily. The least we could do, now we were here, was take a look at the lake, so we set off along the path, sheltered a little by the overhanging trees.
We still aren’t quite sure why, the weather forecast couldn’t have been more wrong, but when we got past Hartsop Hall (an old Cumbrian Farmstead) and beyond it to the point where the trail divides, we continued walking. We were quite wet by now and I think we’d both decided to carry on, with the intention maybe of turning back and retracing our steps when we’d had enough. After a short while (we’d taken the right hand fork) the path starts to rise steadily. There was no one else in sight, the clouds were low and the whole experience was taking on an almost ethereal quality. After about maybe half a mile the path begins to rise more steeply, as we stopped to take stock the clouds parted affording a wonderful view down into the valley. There were a couple of houses away in the distance but even though we were no further than three miles from Glenridding I felt as if, just for a moment, that we were completely alone.
We had a drink of water and discussed whether to carry on or go back down. The clouds were closing in and the rocky path was becoming quite slippery but we decided that , being as we were there and we were already wet, we’d carry on to the head of the beck where we knew there was a crossing. At this point we weren’t exactly sure how far it was, or how much of a climb was involved but the sense of adventure, maybe derived from walking in Canada, was in us so we set off, heading steadily and carefully upwards, hoping that it was going to be worth the effort. After maybe another quarter of a mile the terrain changes with the rough grass and bracken becoming studded with large rocky outcrops. Turning a corner in the path we were greeted by that ubiquitous inhabitant of the Lakeland Fells, a Herdwick ram, looking for all the world as if this were his kingdom and we were simply interlopers. We still hadn’t seen another human since we left the car park but we could now see Dove Crag off to our left and we guessed, rightly as it turned out, that we were reasonably close to the beck crossing.
We climbed maybe another couple of hundred feet, covering about a mile of rough ground and came to the small bridge. This is the point where the decision has to be made as to whether to continue up and onto the harder terrain of Dove Crag or turn back and walk down into the valley and alongside the beck, rejoining the track to the lake where we’d originally taken the right fork. The crag looked quite imposing, the peak occasionally visible through the clouds but I don’t doubt that had the weather been a little better we would have accepted the challenge. We took on more water and mints and set off again. It wasn’t going to be too comfortable eating our sandwiches in the rain so, with the beck as a guide on our left hand side we decided to push on back to the car and eat in the dry. At this point, below the first waterfall after the bridge, Dove Beck, although small and narrow, is a lovely Lakeland stream. The recent rain, including that which was falling on us, had swollen the water course; there’s a satisfying joy in watching clear fresh water tumble over the rocks in this type of stream and we took a minute to take it quietly in.
The path down the valley is not quite so easy to follow as the fell path we had walked up and has washed out in places, meaning a bit of extra care is needed to safely negotiate it but the several waterfalls, again quite small in comparison to others in the area, were well worth the soaking we were getting. The way down (which can be the way up if you choose the left fork) is considerably steeper and is quite boggy in places but not too much of a challenge, even for less experienced walkers. After a shortish descent which took us away from the beck we could hear water rushing more loudly. We found a flattish expanse of boggy grass and went to investigate. Behind a largish outcrop of granite was a very pretty waterfall which turned out to be the last fairly easily accessible one on this part of the walk. Even though it was now raining quite heavily I couldn’t resist taking the time out for a photo opportunity, I was already soaked and for me it’s one of the main reasons to go walking in the Lakes.
Mrs C has a step counter on her phone, we knew that the route we had chosen, avoiding the crag, was about 5 miles in total and she figured that we had another mile or so to go. We were now nearing the flat and the beck was broadening out as it got closer to the lake but we still had to be reasonably careful. At this point, after around 3 hours of being the only two people on this part of the fells we met our first walkers, heading up the way we had come down. We exchanged greetings and briefly touched on the weather, as the British are wont to do, before heading through the now fairly flat and grassy landscape which was well populated with a range of fell sheep including Swaledales, Herdwicks and a couple of the smaller darker coloured Joshuas, their lambs still trailing behind them. Typical Lakeland.
We stopped for a last water break with the weather looking like it was about to close in again. Mrs C spotted something under an overhanging tussock of grass and pointed it out to me. On closer inspection it turned out to be a large Fly Agaric, the first one I’d seen for a very long time. There is a school of thought that this toadstool has hallucinogenic properties but I wasn’t going to try it and find out. I settled instead for photographing it and leaving it to maybe spawn and create some more of its kind. We reached the fork in the path and soon found ourselves on the wider track above the lake. A family with a couple of young children in tow and some older people, no doubt the grand parents, were braving the elements and enjoying a picnic, partly sheltered by trees overhanging a narrow beach. I suppose if you’ve made the effort then a little bit of rain isn’t going to put you off. We arrived back at the car, wet and a bit dishevelled but quietly pleased with ourselves that we’d decided to give it a go. It was more than worth it. Next time I’ll try it in the dry and give Dove Crag a go.
© Colin Cross 2018