The Lake District Guide

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Keswick Walks (Click here for part 1)


Dowthwaitehead 2.75 miles

Before plunging down the well-known waterfalls of Aira Force and into Ullswater, Aira Beck falls from its source in the north part of the Helvellyn range, down Deepdale and by Dowthwaitehead, a cluster of buildings at the top of a quiet valley. This walk goes to Dowthwaitehead, and returns via a section of the old coach road from Dockray to St. Johns.

Dockray is a village on the A5091 road which links Ullswater with Troutbeck, leaving the lake opposite Aira Point, three miles north of Glenridding, or six miles south of Pooley Bridge. From Keswick, the A5091 leaves the Penrith road after nine miles. On the north side of the bridge at Dockray (that is the side farthest from the lake) there is a road leaving the village past the inn. Take this road and follow it to the top of the hill and the crossroads. Park here. There is a parking spot a few yards down the Dowthwaitehead road.

Walk down the road as signposted "Dowthwaitehead". When the road forks you have a choice of routes. Both are pleasant. The left hand route is more adventurous as it crosses fields (wet in places). The right-hand route takes the road and is easier and drier. Both routes converge at Dowthwaitehead, and if those taking the road route think they have dodged all the wet they will be a little disappointed as the continuation takes you over some damp moorland.

First the left-hand route. Go down past the waterworks building. Below this there is a group of buildings. Just after the one on the right turn round its end and go through the gate. Go along the field side following a fence and then a wall. The rather broken wall curves left and there is a stone step-stile over the wall. Go over this stile. Continue on in the same direction, on an indistinct path. Presently you will see a gate in the wall in front, make for this. Now follow the wall down to the next gate. Keep close to the wall to avoid the boggy area, moving off left before you reach the corner.

Go through the gate, turn right to the fence and follow this fence along. At the next gate there is a track. Follow this through to the buildings at the end. Join the macadam road and turn right. On reaching the next building on the right as you turn the corner, there is a gate on the left. Go through this.

For the right-hand route simply follow the road down until you come to the hamlet at the bottom. On reaching the house on the left a wicket-gate will be seen opposite. Go through this.

Beyond the gate go through the wall gap and bear right. No obvious path is visible at first. But as you climb up there will be seen a pleasant green path in front of you, old, and well made. There is a grotesque larch tree on the right. As you climb the view over the valley is most pleasing. When the path forks, do not take the one on the right, but continue climbing left. Ford a little beck. Zig-zag left on a rough section, and then go off right up a steep grassy path towards a little gate you can see in the wall on the sky-line. Go through this gate, pick up a path which zig-zags left and follows a wall to a corner. Go straight ahead at this corner on the same line, when this grass path bears right however go down hill to the left. Make for the small grassy mound in front. Go over it and then continue on the same line beyond it keeping the little beck just to your left. Then on the same line, cross the beck at a convenient point and make towards a gate which you will see at the end of a wall opposite. Just before you reach this you will be on a hard road. This is the old coach road from St. Johns to Dockray. Turn right and go along it to the wicket gate at the end, and you are back at the crossroads where you started.


The Hill Fort near Thirlmere - 4 miles

High above Thirlmere at its northern end are the earthworks of an ancient hill fort. The works of this fort can be made out but it is difficult to imagine it as it must have been. The walk to it is somewhat steep. Strong footwear is a must. Nearly all the walk is through forest on a public footpath. From it the route is by a forest road with no legal right of way. However you may walk it by courtesy of the owners, provided that you guard against risk of fire, close gates, and leave no litter of any kind. The return journey downhill is easy and pleasant.

Park your car at the open area at the road junction on the west side of Thirlmere dam. To reach this from Keswick take the A591 Windermere road. After about five miles prepare to turn right at the end of the dual carriageway. Turn right down the secondary road. This goes over the dam and the parking spot at the junction is just at the other side. Coming from the Threlkeld direction via St. John's in the vale, turn right on reaching the major road, and the turning is first on the left. From the south it is the first turning after the St. John's junction.

Leaving the car, facing the same way as you arrived, take the road to the right. Very soon on the left you will see two sandstone gateposts. The path starts just short of these. gateposts and goes up through the trees. A track, gouged out by timber extraction, is joined. Follow it leftwards. Rough parts of the track can be avoided by diverting right a little. At the fork just after a bridge continue upwards. There are two paths going upwards. The one on the left has been spoiled by timber extraction. Take the one on the right. This forks, but do not be tempted off the ascent. Keep climbing. A reasonable track should soon be joined. In soft ground about here you may see the tracks of red deer. The very fierce looking crag on the left through the larches is Raven Crag, very popular with rock climbers. When the track is obscured by a landslip keep climbing and head left a little and a path will soon be joined, rough but more easily seen.

At the path top a forest road is joined. Walk on down the road until you come to a point where it has been widened out to allow timber loading and turning. At this point turn right into this bay and head right, on a course almost parallel to the road along which you have just come. Head through the trees without losing height. This route might seem rather roundabout but it is to avoid deep swamp! A faint path should be seen. You go through birch trees with a heather-covered knoll in front of you. Cross the first ditch of the earthworks then climb over the first mound and following the same course go down into the next ditch, then climb up the crag by the faint path working up to the right and zig-zagging left. To reach the highest point go over to the right following the earthwork up, a short steep section goes under a mountain ash, and a faint path goes up and round to the left. The summit is easily reached then through the bracken and bilberries.

You can see right down the valley to the vale of St. Johns. Skiddaw is prominent on the left, and the mountain on its right is of course Blencathra or Saddleback. The fierce crag across the valley is Iron Keld. Note how the beck opposite has cut a great groove into the fell side. After a rest on this pleasant perch, return from the summit by the same route as the ascent. Go back to the forest road by the same route too. On joining the forest road turn left. Walk back along the road the same route but this time walk past the footpath by which you arrived, and go on along the forest road.

This is a pleasant way through spruce and pines, passing impressively round a crag face. When another road comes in from the left carry straight on. At the bottom note how the grass can grow under the deciduous larch trees, allowing controlled grazing by sheep. The cover of evergreens does not allow grass growth. At the bottom of this road another one comes in from the left, go right. Go through gate to T-junction and turn right. The crag opposite now is Castle Crag. There is no castle on it, nor was there ever. It is another rock-climbers' crag. Go through another gate and go onto a road. Turn right.

This road eventually brings you to the starting point. It is a quiet road but it is as well to keep a good look-out for vehicles.


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