LAKELAND 600 DAY 11 A HAWKSHEAD CIRCULAR WALK (taking in Latterbarrow, the Claife Heights Tarns, Near and Far Sawrey, the western shore of Windermere from Ash Landing to Belle Grange and the Belle Grange to Colthouse bridleway).
Not a circle really, but a figure-of-eight walk with a well known crossroads of paths on Claife Heights being the centre of the eight. Often ignored by the majority of fell-walkers but much-loved by cyclists, family groups and those walkers who have impeccable taste when it comes to where to walk, Claife Heights has lots to offer. There are super views over to the bigger fells, notably the Langdales and the Coniston Fells, a network of good, easily graded paths and forest roads, some splendid tarns and a fine collection of noble trees – both conifers and hardwoods. Latterbarrow is an excellent small fell with a unique summit ‘cairn’ and the walk along the shore of Windermere is top-notch, even when it’s very busy.
Walk north from Hawkshead village centre along Main Street until, just after passing the Red Lion Inn, you reach a tarmac drive on the right. Take this public footpath (signposted to Latterbarrow and Claife Heights), reach and cross the busy B5285 road and keep straight ahead onto another tarmac lane (this one signposted to Scar House Lane). In just 25m or so, with a house in front of you, go right onto a paved footpath that bends left to pass some attractive houses and gardens.
The path crosses a sturdy footbridge and, in less than 100m, reaches a junction of paths where there are a couple of gates in front of you. There are no waymarks here but turn right on the wider path which, after 150m crosses a small bridge and comes to a signposted junction at a gate. Go straight on (signposted to Loanthwaite) – the path going right and signposted to Colthouse is our return route – and in 150m come out onto another surfaced track: this is Scar House Lane. Bear left and, in 50m or so, go right through a waymarked gate.
Follow the path up the field alongside hedge and fence, pass through another couple of gates, switching to the other side of the hedge/ fence at the second one, and join a farm track which brings us out onto the narrow tarmac road of Loanthwaite Lane, exactly at a point where there is a great view straight ahead of Red Screes and Scandale (Day 2).
Turn right (NT sign to Latterbarrow) and follow Loanthwaite Lane for something over 500m to its end through an idyllic landscape of fields and woods. The big green hump of Latterbarrow might look dauntingly large from the lane but don’t let it worry you. At the T-junction turn left and in 50m come to a gate on the right, from where there is an excellent view to the Fairfield Horseshoe.
Go through the gate (public footpath signpost) and come almost straightaway to a National Trust sign for Latterbarrow.
Stay on the obvious path and in 150m at a waymarked junction go left, choosing the track that fairly obviously is going to climb Latterbarrow. The climb steepens here and soon becomes even steeper, your progress being aided a by a flight of stone steps. The views over to the left towards Hawkshead and the Coniston fells might also help.
The top of the steps marks a change to easier ground and the path bends right for a simple stroll to the summit structure – a stone pillar about 12 ft tall, so not really a cairn and, it has to be said, not especially attractive to look at. One writer likens it to a stone factory chimney. Whatever you think of it, there can be no denying it is distinctive and helps identify Latterbarrow in distant views.
The view from the top is good but the highlight is probably the summit pillar.
At 244m (800ft) the top of Latterbarrow is the highest point of today’s walk and it looks and feels like it, too. Although there is plenty of upland on Claife Heights, much of it is in trees where gradients are gentle. The top of Claife Heights – an eminence called High Blind How – is about 80ft higher than Latterbarrow but we don’t visit it on today’s walk. We head roughly north-east from Latterbarrow’s summit and there are three or four paths seeming to head that way. It’s the leftmost one of these we need to follow and once off the summit plateau you can see the gate in the wall that we have to aim for.
The gate is next to a tree and exactly at a junction of walls and fences. Through the gate the way is obvious as it descends gently through the woodland of Waterson Intake…
…to reach a forest road, where turn left and arrive at a gate boasting a splendid collection of padlocks.
Go through the gate – not locked at all it turns out – and turn sharp right to pass a sign telling us we are at (or near) the National Trust Basecamp. Where the forest road turns left towards the Basecamp buildings, leave it by continuing ahead to come to a gate with a signpost for Nor Moss and Near Sawrey. Go through and soon go through another gate – a taller one this time. Just follow the path – waymarked where necessary – although you can, if you prefer wide forest roads, use the permitted bridleway that runs parallel to and just to the right of the public right of way. We are now well and truly in the Claife Heights conifer plantations but there are occasional signs of old walls and gateways dating from pre-plantation days.
The path rises gently and meets the forest road at the crest of a hill. Keep ahead along the forest road and, in a couple of minutes, reach a signposted crossroads (it’s the crossroads just south of where it says Scab Moss on the OS map). We will be here again towards the end of today’s walk on the way back to Hawkshead from the shore of Windermere but, to continue with our route, turn right and then immediately left (signposted Sawrey via Tarns)…
…onto a good path that crosses Belle Grange Beck and climbs through a recently felled area to reach a forest road. Go straight across…
…and, in a couple more minutes, reach and keep ahead on another forest road that continues to climb briefly before levelling off with what’s left of Highs Moss Tarn over to your left.
Walk through some noble conifers…
…and go through a gate into a different world of open grassland and, once the wall on the right bends away, suddenly big views, the Coniston fells being especially prominent.
The first sheet of water to come into sight is a small former reservoir that has now adopted the name of Scale Head Tarn and the small dam makes an excellent place to sit down and rest those weary legs.
As the obvious track climbs away from the tarn, there is an excellent retrospective view back to the much larger Wise Een Tarn, backed by Bowfell and the Langdale Pikes.
There are also views left to the afforested summit of Claife Heights and, once the brow of the hill has been crested, ahead to the little peak of Gummer’s How where we’ll be on Day 59!
The track descends to Moss Eccles Tarn, a favourite haunt back in the day of Mr and Mrs William Heelis – probably better known as Beatrix Potter and husband. Beatrix liked the place so much that she bought it – and then gave it to the National Trust. Unlike the other tarns we’ve passed today, Moss Eccles has a fine collection of rocks to add to its other attractions and they make another ideal place to sit and have a good gawp at what may or may not be going on in the immediate vicinity.
Although the good track we’ve been following continues to Near Sawrey, a much better way is to leave the track just before coming to a gate below the tarn’s outflow and turn sharp right up a little grass bank to come back to the shoreline again (there is no way across the outflow higher up).
Turn left and follow the tarn’s south-western shore, crossing a footbridge…
…and soon arriving at a gate leading into a rising field. Follow the line of waymark posts across the field to reach a track that we will follow all the way down to Near Sawrey. The views from this area are great…
…and as we follow the obvious track (no directions necessary) Grizedale Forest (Day 12) and Esthwaite Water come into view.
The track – by now a tarmac lane – brings us out onto the main road at a children’s play area. Turn left and walk through Near Sawrey – usually very busy with Beatrix Potter aficionados, wanting to visit her Hill Top residence. Not far after passing Hill Top, we leave the village and take refuge from the main road through a gate on the right (signposted to Far Sawrey and Ferry).
It’s a beautifully easy stroll across fields and alongside Wilfin Beck to reach a small road near the church of St Peter…
…where we turn left for the short walk into Far Sawrey.
At a fork it doesn’t much matter which way you choose but the left hand one does pass the Hill Stop tearooms. Turn right along the main road and, just after the Cuckoo Brow Inn, ignore a turning left signposted to Belle Grange, but take the next left very soon afterwards – a rising track signposted Ferry to Bowness.
The well waymarked track takes us past the buildings of Sawrey Knotts…
…and on past a defunct-looking riding school. Descend a field alongside a wall – glimpse of Windermere and the Arts and Crafts House of Blackwell straight ahead – and cross a tarmac drive to walk down a walled lane which leads out onto the main road again, just where there is a bench provided by the Friends of the Lake District – and a very comfortable bench it is too. Walk down the road and, just after a junction with a minor road, escape onto a footpath parallel to the road (signposted Ferry to Bowness). Pass (or visit, if you have the time – it takes about 15 minutes to walk right round ) the Ash Landing Nature Reserve, cross the main road and take the continuation of the National Trust footpath down to the Ash Landing car park. There are superb views of the lake from the road just here.
Cross the car park and climb a steep set of stone steps (signposted Claife Viewing Station and Ferry). At the top, turn left to make the short there and back diversion to have a look at the Claife Viewing Station. This unusual octagonal mock-Gothic structure was built in 1799-1800 as a summerhouse for local landowner William Braithwaite, and became one of the numbered viewing stations, as identified by Thomas West, author of what is generally reckoned to be the first real guidebook to the Lakes. On my last visit here the building was in the course of renovation by the National Trust and was surrounded by steel fencing: the work is now complete so hopefully the place has been restored to something like its former glory.
Back at the top of the steep steps, keep straight ahead on the well manicured path (signposted Station Cottage and Courtyard; Ferry). There is a cafe at Station Cottage/ Courtyard and there are usually lots of people – walkers, cyclists and others – milling around here. Leave through the arch and head north along the tarmac road (signposted Bark Barn and Wray Castle).
After about five minutes stay with the road where it bends right towards the lake, passing a National Trust Claife Estate sign and a car park, to reach Coatlap Point, where a view up the lake to the Kentmere/ Troutbeck fells suddenly unfolds – another great Lake District moment.
About 15 minutes’ easy walking after this the road loses its tarmac surface and enters woodland (signposted High Wray). Just stay ahead on this obvious undulating track, keeping an eye (and an ear) out for cyclists, and enjoying the shelter (from sun or rain, whichever) afforded by the splendid trees.
There are occasional views to the lake and to Belle Isle with its round house, and this whole mile-and-a-half section is a joy to walk. We pass just beneath the area intriguingly marked on the map as Crier of Claife. The story goes that the Crier of Claife was a monk who saw it as his duty to save the souls of fallen women. Unfortunately he fell himself – head over heels for one of his clients who spurned his advances. As in many a good story the monk went mad and died, returning in spirit form to wail, shriek and howl. He kept this nonsense up until his spirit was exorcised and banished to a small quarry nearby. It is believed that the Crier of Claife is the only place in the Lake District named after a ghost. Well, we live and learn. Eventually the track descends to lake level and comes to the substantial building of Bark Barn (not named on the OS map). There is a new (2014) jetty here built to be a landing place for a new launch service from the Brockhole National Park visitors’ centre on the opposite shore of the lake. This is for cyclists and walkers only and makes a welcome alternative to the better-known car ferry between Bowness and Ferry Nab. Also just a few yards away from the lakeshore is a spiky stone going by the rather grand title of Bass Rock, which has recently been equipped with a warning triangle.
About 50m beyond Bark Barn, and immediately before reaching the big house of Belle Grange, come to a junction. Turn left (signposted Hawkshead) and start the climb once again to Claife Heights. Zig-zags ease the gradient and you soon reach a junction with a path going off left to Far Sawrey. Ignore this and keep ahead, the climb levelling off as our path comes alongside a wall with Belle Grange Beck down to the right.
Pass the open area of Scab Moss – famous for its dragonflies apparently – and reach a crossroads that might look familiar: we were here earlier on our way from the NT Basecamp to the tarns. Go straight across and then take the right hand fork (signposted Hawkshead via Guide Posts). This rough bridleway climbs to another crossroads (this is Guideposts) and, again, we go straight across (signposted Hawkshead). In a couple of minutes arrive at a waymarked junction with a footpath going off to the right. Ignore this and go straight on onto a sort of lane with a fence on the left and a wall on the right.
When I first came here, recent felling – sorry, harvesting – meant that there was a view over to Latterbarrow, but subsequent replanting has deprived most ordinary mortals of that view. People on stilts or who are 8 ft tall might see something but I certainly couldn’t. Not to worry, the track is pleasant enough as it trundles gently downhill, passing a reed-choked pool to our left…
…and then giving brief views of Esthwaite Water ahead. The path swings right, passes through a tall gate – note the wall made of upright stone flags here…
…and brings us to a road at the driveway to a house called Gillbank. Turn left and, in less than 50m, go right onto the tarmac access road to a big white house. In 100m where the road bends right uphill turn left (signpost) and go through a waymarked gate into a small paddock. Don’t go through the next gate but turn right to walk alongside a fence that leads us, via a gateway, into a field.
Follow waymarks (posts) through the field, cross a stile and descend to a kissing gate onto Scar House Lane.
Go straight across and through another gate (signposted Hawkshead Hall and B5286) onto a clear, narrow footpath. This soon arrives at a signposted crossroads (where we were earlier on our way out of Hawkshead). Turn left and retrace your steps to Hawkshead village.
Another great day, I hope you’ll agree. Don’t have nightmares about the Crier of Claife – he wasn’t real.