LAKELAND 600 PHOTOGUIDE DAY 8: ROSTHWAITE TO ELTERWATER (via Langstrath, Stake Pass, Mickleden and Chapel Stile)
Another terrific day’s walking this one – back to the theme of Days 2 and 3 of walking up one valley and down another. The valleys this time are the mightily impressive Langstrath and the Mickleden branch of Great Langdale. If you’re lucky enough to enjoy clear weather the mountain scenery is superb – from the exciting views early on of Eagle Crag, to the wild country around Stake Pass and the close-ups of Bowfell and the Langdale Pikes.
Leave Rosthwaite by taking the main Keswick road for a short distance before turning right onto the Hazel Bank Hotel access road (signposted for Stonethwaite and Watendlath). Cross the bridge over Stonethwaite Beck and turn right onto a riverside path (signposted for Stonethwaite). Even by the high standards of the walk so far, this path is a joy to walk with increasingly interesting and impressive scenery to help take your mind off the stoniness – (is that a word?) – underfoot. Just stay on this good path as it winds about a bit and, in about 20 minutes arrive at a path junction at Stonethwaite Bridge. Here are some photos of this entirely brilliant stretch of the walk.
Our route doesn’t visit Stonethwaite, but you might want to make the short diversion over the bridge to have a look at this very attractive hamlet. The view from the bridge is good too.
Just keep ahead for a further 15 or 20 minutes, staying with the much clearer path at a waymarked junction just before a sheepfold. The path bearing off left here is bound for Dock Tarn via a steep climb through woodland and is not our route.
Gradually the view up Greenup Gill begins to open up a little but the view is dominated by Eagle Crag, another of those small, rocky fells that the Lake District appears to specialise in.
Pass an area of sheep-pens – from where there is a view straight ahead up Greenup Gill – and, a little later on, there is a view up Langstrath. Just after this, turn right to go through a waymarked gate.
Cross a footbridge and start the long walk up Langstrath. The clue is in the name (lang = long; strath = valley), and this is nice and symmetrical because the valley we end the day by walking down is Great Langdale, and that means exactly the same thing. So, two long valleys for the price of one and, dividing the two is the high crossing of Stake Pass, but we’ll come to that a bit later. The path up Langstrath is free from navigational difficulties (although there are one or two vaguer sections of path as the foot of Stake Pass is approached), and is full of interest and grand scenery. Highlights include the small waterfalls in Langstrath Beck (which require a short diversion over damp ground just after we’ve crossed the footbridge), an area of big boulders with a giant one called Blea Rock and Blackmoss Pot, a deep pool in the stream a couple of minutes away from the path just after the Blea Rock.
If you do go to have a look at Blackmoss Pot please remember that the cliffs above it are vertical and that the water is very deep. Assuming you have not fallen in the water, return to the path and go through a couple of gates (or use the stile) to enter the upper part of the valley. The scenery is wilder now and there is a view across the valley to the rocky rib of the Cam Crag Ridge, a classic Lake District scrambling route.
From round about the same spot as the above photo was taken we get our first view of the top of the Stake Pass.
It is also hereabouts that the valley bends away to the right, heading for Angle Tarn and Esk Hause – not our route. Instead, we stay with the better path which makes a short ascent to cross a footbridge. This is where the main climb of the day starts – to the top of Stake Pass. Recent work on the footpath has repaired the damaged and unpleasant footpath that used to be here, and whoever is responsible for this work deserves a medal – it is a delight to walk up here now and the proximity of the cheerful falls in Stake Beck also help. There is, of course, no need whatsoever to resist the temptation to sit down by the stream and have a break. The four photos that follow were taken from the path itself, or very near to it.
Don’t forget to stop and have a look at the view behind you from time to time – you’ll have plenty of opportunity to do so I’m sure.
Once the steepness eases, it is not far to the summit cairn which, at 1576 ft, is comfortably the highest ground we’ve been on since Steel Fell on Day 5.
Ignore the path going off to the right (just north of west) from the cairn and stay with the bigger path heading south west. Soon arrive at a junction where you keep right: the left-hand branch heads uphill bound for High Raise and the Langdale Pikes. Unlike Scandale Pass (Day 2) and Grisedale Hause (Day 3), which are both up-one-side-and-straight-down-the-other sort of places, Stake Pass leads the walker through a strange landscape of pools and hummocky moraines, while descending very gently but with the odd bit of uphill thrown in just to keep things different.
Eventually, reach and cross the headwaters of Stake Gill – not easy after a lot of rain (you might have to walk upstream a little way) – and almost immediately start the steeper part of the descent into the Mickleden branch of Great Langdale. There is a splendid outlook across the valley to Pike o’Blisco but Bowfell looks truly magnificent from here.
Like the one on the ascent from the Langstrath, the path down to Mickleden has been repaired. However, unlike the one on the Langstrath side, the Mickleden one has been pitched, making it harder underfoot. Still, the line of the path has been restored to make the gradients so much easier than they had become – it’s a veritable zigzag city.
When you can stop to take your eyes away from the almost mesmeric sight of all those thousands of stones you’re having to tread, there is a fine view down the valley with smooth, soaring grassy slopes leading to the rocky cone of Pike o’Stickle.
Eventually, after what might seem like an eternity, we come to a cairn marking the junction with the path coming down from Rossett Gill. Turn left past a sheepfold and then cross Stake Gill again – this time by a footbridge.
It’s just a case now of following the very wide path we’re on all the way to the Dungeon Ghyll Old Hotel (ODG). The path is pretty straight and there are no confusing junctions to worry about so you can freewheel along here and enjoy the scenery.
As you approach the ODG the main path stays low and heads for the hotel/ pub – plus car parks and bus stop (bus for Elterwater and Ambleside). If you’re still feeling chipper and want to carry on with the walk to Elterwater without calling in for a pint, leave the main path here for a walk across grass to a slightly higher gate than the one leading to the hotel. NB There is a lower-level and slightly easier alternative path leading from the ODG car park across fields to the NT car park near the New Dungeon Ghyll but I don’t think it’s as interesting as the higher path.
Through the gate, we’re back on a good, easy to follow, well worn path. It follows an up and down course on its way to crossing Dungeon Ghyll at a very substantial footbridge. Just after the footbridge the path makes a slight rise to go through a gate and then we need to turn right through another gate that leads down through a rough field to a large car park (where the low level alternative rejoins our route). Unless you want a drink at the Stickle Barn, or are staying at the New Dungeon Ghyll Hotel (in which case turn left through the car park), leave the car park by the entrance just ahead/ right, turn left along the road and almost immediately go right onto the tarmac access road to Side Farm. There are views from here directly into the cleft of White Gill, a scree-filled gully below the rock-climbing ground of Whitegill Crag.
Turn left at the farm through a gate and then cross a beck: there is an excellent view from here to the miniature but ferocious looking Side Pike.
Rather frustratingly for those walkers who feel they have done enough for one day thank you very much, the path climbs away on a partly pitched path to reach a sheepfold and stream crossing. It’s not a long climb but it’s certainly enough at this stage of the game. But what a viewpoint!
The path descends back to valley level and winds along past a series of old walls to reach the buildings at Oak Howe. This whole stretch of walking is just great and there are some splendid views back to the Langdale fells, Harrison Stickle in particular looking majestic.
Just before Oak Howe ignore a path going off right and stay with the main path that curves left to pass in front of the buildings.
Stay on the now broad track as it comes alongside Great Langdale Beck. Although we don’t want the path branching off left over a footbridge, it is worth just stepping onto the bridge for a fabulous view of Loft Crag, Harrison Stickle and Pavey Ark.
From here it’s an easy, level walk along the tarmac track to Chapel Stile. There will probably be more people around now especially where the track passes through the campsite of Baysbrown Farm. Cross New Bridge over Great Langdale Beck and follow the track below a slate tip, a sign that we are now entering an area that used to depend on its quarries for its prosperity. You can either follow the valley road through the village centre of Chapel Stile, or by-pass it along footpaths via Thrang Crag Farm.
Walk past the Wainwrights Inn and then take a footpath on the right (signposted for Elterwater and Great Langdale). Cross the footbridge and pass a very fine slate seat…
…to follow the good track between the beck and some tall slate tips.
The track makes a short climb to meet a tarmac road directly opposite a closed quarry entrance. Turn left and follow the road down to meet another road at Elterwater Bridge. Turn right for the Youth Hostel or left for the bus stop and the Britannia Inn. Bazonka!