The Route from the Bassenthwaite Side
Most visitors to the lakes will recognise the classic outline of Skiddaw, the graceful lines rising high above Keswick’s busy streets or as a back drop to those famous views of Derwentwater that adorn so many calendars and postcards of the region. Of those who choose to walk up England’s fourth highest peak, most do so by the wide path from Keswick along which the world and all his dogs can be encountered. There is however, another and unfamiliar side to this most familiar of mountains.
Leaving the A591 about a mile south of the Ravenstone Hotel near the path to the Osprey viewing platform, a pleasant forest trail runs northwards following the road, the way being indicated by yellow markers. After a short while the track leads out of the trees and Bassenthwaite Lake is seen below – incidentally the only major body of water in the Lake District with the name “lake” , the others being “mere”, “water” or “tarn”. Shortly afterwards we part company with the yellow markers which lead back to the right and 50 yards further on the the way veers right over a stile before slanting steeply across the hillside above.
A steep ascent brought me to a well placed rest rock on the grassy ridge above. Here the path doubled back on itself and ascended the ridge towards the sharp peak of Ullock Pike. Skiddaw itself was to the left – a huge green and grey mass – while the west Cumbria plain spread out beyond the hills of Bassenthwaite. Steadily climbing this fine ridge with its ever expanding views, brought me up in good time, by my standards, to a last short scramble which led to the top of Ullock Pike – Oh not quite – the real top was a couple of minutes further on! As false summits go though, far better than being faced with another half hour to walk.
Ullock Pike seems out on the edge of things. The cluster of familiar peaks around the head Borrowdale seemed almost as distant as the hills of Galloway in Southern Scotland seen behind, across the sands of the Solway Firth, and it was here that the mountains ended. Between me and Scotland were low hills and farmland leading to the coast and all was far below.
Now I followed the narrow ridge, known as Longside Edge which is just as good as the one leading up to Ullock Pike, which could now be seen behind framed against the pastoral landscape beyond. I stopped again at the top of Longside, where a small cairn on the narrow ridge marked the highest point. From here the main track led down and across to Skiddaw but I left this at the bottom and headed over springy turf to the cairn on Carl Side where views down the steep slopes to Keswick could be had just beyond the summit.
Leaving the deserted top of Carl Side I rejoined the main path abd began the climb up Skiddaw. The grass rapidly gave way to grey shale as the path climbed steeply and the people I saw coming down appeared to be finding it just as hard work. Eventually with knees aching I reached easier angled slopes and people could be seen milling around on the summit just ahead. The ridge brought views of Blencathra looking somewhat grassier and less imposing from this angle and of Helvellyn to the south separated from the central lakes by the deep trench containing Thirlmere.
I had lunch in the north top shelter which protected me from the cold wind which blew up here at 3000 feet. People could be seen toiling up the wide track from Keswick past the cone of Low Man but the lands to the north of here and Blencathra showed little sign of human influence, a total contrast to Keswick and its valley to the south. Here the hills of the north stretched wide and lonely beneath the empty skies.
My chosen way down would lead me first to the North Col. This is not the Tibetan Route to Rangbuk Monastery but a wide grassy saddle between Skiddaw and Broad End to the north. Leaving my lunch spot a short descent to the north brought me to the namesake of that famous col where the wind was doing its best to make the experience as authentic as possible. Now I followed the steep edge around past the col and picked up a faint path which led slowly around to the left. Ahead were views of Scotland and the sea and to my left a wild valley below the steep slope of Skiddaw.
The path became more obvious the lower I went and back in the heather and bilberry zone there was an obvious crossroads. The main path led straight on but a consultation with Wainwright and my map suggested the narrow left hand fork was my route. This led across the heathery slopes – below the steepest parts now – towards a sheepfold visible in the bottom of the valley below. I presently crossed a stream and turned right onto a grassy trail that had been visible from above and now followed the river for five minutes before taking a left fork onto a shallow col.
This whole area of Barkbethdale and Southerndale was completely empty of people and I saw no-one at all on the descent until I reached the forest trail again. I wouldn’t recommend this way down in misty weather though, there are far too many opportunities for getting lost although missing a path here would result in a longer walk than intended rather than falling off anything.
From the col I followed a bumpy ridge down with Ullock Pike and Longside Edge high above to my left. Rejoining the main path at the bottom there was a wooden bridge over Southerndale Beck by another stone sheepfold. From here it was briefly back uphill towards Ullock Pike and so to the col where I’d stopped at the first rest rock.