A CIRCUIT OF THIRLMERE

 


Summary

Date - 4th October 2012 Distance - 11.25 miles
Ascent -
1380ft
Map - OL5 Start point - Layby opposite path to Raven Crag (NY 3071 1907)

 

Summits Achieved

No summits were reached on this walk

 

Preface

Shaun, and Tetley were quietly reading, when Allen came bounding in his face wreathed in smiles. "Dad has just told me he plans to walk tomorrow, and I have checked the Met Office app on the iPad and the weather looks good for the Lakes."

"It would be great to be in the Lakes again even if we do not get up on the hills", replied Shaun.

"We know we still have Pen to do to complete the Birketts, but with us not being out so much this year, Dad has said he does not feel fit enough to do it now, but it will still be there next year", remarked Tetley.

"Well Dad has left the choice to us again, so we had better get to thinking", said Allen. "A mug of tea would certainly help to get my brain into gear", he went on.

"You are a real tea belly, just like Dad", replied Tetley, rolling about with laughter.

"Well you are going to get your wish" said Shaun, who had spotted Grizzly and Little Eric arriving with the flasks and scones.

"Great", exclaimed Allen, dashing off to get the mugs and plates.

"Fruit scones today", announced Grizzly, "made with my own fair paw."

"Yummy", replied Shaun.

So all settled we set to thinking, and after a while Grizzly said, "I have always fancied the doing the round of Thirlmere."

"It's a good walk", replied Shaun. "Tetley and I did it with Dad and Uncle Eric, nearly 10 years ago, when we were the only members of the club. We would be more than happy to do it again."

"Sounds like a plan" said Little Eric. "Are we all agreed."

There was no dissent, so Allen said, "right I will go and see what Dad thinks."

He was soon back. "It's on, and Dad says it will the first real long walk for a while, so will do his fitness good."

"I know", replied Tetley. "What with the weather and other commitments he has had, our walking has been rather curtailed this year."

 

The Walk

Thirlmere is a reservoir providing water to the Manchester area, and was formed by the construction of a dam in the last decade of the 19th century, from two smaller lakes, Leathes Water and Wythburn Water. The water is carried to Manchester via the 96 mile long Thirlmere Aqueduct by virtue of gravity, so no pumping stations were necessary, and is the longest tunnel in the world. It is owned and managed by United Utilities.

You tend to think that walking round a lake is easy, but with the overall ascent of over 1300ft, it was hardly flat and much of the paths were rough, and very wet underfoot due to the rain.

There are numerous car parks, so many options for the starting point. In the event today Dad parked in the layby just opposite the path to Raven Crag, just about a 100 yards off the route.

As Dad was getting ready we looked about us, Tetley spotting a notice on the signpost. "I wonder what that is all about", he remarked, walking over. "It says the permitted path from the ridge to the summit of Raven Crag is closed due to fallen trees."

"That's no good for Birkett & Wainwright baggers", replied Allen.

Dad ready, we settled in the rucksack, and strolled to the road junction, going through the gate opposite and descending the steps to the lake path. This section was a very narrow trod and rough and stony in places, and sometimes hardly discernible ahead.

On this and other such sections care was necessary to avoid slips and skids, particularly where the path was on the very brink of the reservoir, as we did not fancy a cold dip.

Above the north-east end stands the tree clad Great How (1100ft), backed here by Great Dodd (2812ft).

Many streams run off the fell sides to fill the reservoir, and along this western side in particular we crossed numerous footbridges over the streams, like this below.

"It really is brimming full, so there will be no danger of a water shortage this winter", said Tetley.

"Good news for Aunt Tish and Uncle Eddie, then", added Grizzly.

Eventually the path brought us, after crossing yet another footbridge, to the first of the many car parks, this one called Armboth.

"Uncle Brian and I have spent a few Boxing Days here having a picnic in the car", remarked Dad. "I always brought your Lakeland Bear pals, Ruskin and Langdale, who usually went for a walk."

"In that case it would be nice to include a picture or two of them, in our story", replied Allen.

So, here they are crossing the bridge above. Ruskin is on the left.

"I remember too, taking their picture sitting on that tree trunk that has been made into a seat", Dad went on.

"Well then", said Shaun, "let's have our picture taken here too."

In the car park we had seen kayakers getting ready to go out on the lake, and a little further on Dad snapped them in their brightly coloured clothing.

Grizzly was looking beyond. "that first low ridge is High Rigg that divides the Thirlmere Valley from St. John's in the Vale. Towering over behind is mighty Blencathra (2847ft).

"Wow, what a magnificent view", exclaimed Little Eric.

From the car park the path was level and wide and smooth, so as to provide disabled access. Today that would be only if the wheelchairs could get though the deep mud patch at the start!

"Let's hope this good path goes all the way to the next car park at Dobgill", said Little Eric.

These were soon dashed as it fairly soon reverted to a narrow winding trod.

"So many tree roots making progress awkward", commented Allen.

"Aye lad, I remember this section from last time", remarked Dad. "They are very slippy too, so I must be careful."

"Don't worry about having to go slower", said Tetley. "The important thing is to get through safely."

There were other obstacles too, like this fallen tree.

Patience was rewarded however after a while, with a better path.

Eventually this brought us to the minor road that runs round the west side of Thirlmere. A short way further on is Hause Point.

"There are steps", said Little Eric.

"Yes pal, they lead up to a viewpoint over the lake", replied Shaun.

"What's that castle like structure?", asked Little Eric.

"There's an information board over there", called out Allen. "Maybe that will tell us."

It did too. Tetley read, "that is the straining well. Here the water is filtered to remove leaves etc., before it starts its 96 mile journey along the aqueduct to Heaton Park in Manchester. This takes 36 hours."

"Well I never knew that", said Dad. "Something to tell Uncle Brian, when we pass this way again in the car."

Although the path continued a short way on the point, this only led to a seat. We descended the steps again, then walked left a few yards to regain the lake side path. This was where in some places the path is at the very edge of the reservoir.

Little Eric was looking worried, so Dad calmed him by saying, "I will be very careful along here to ensure I do not slip and fall in!"

After all the rains the reservoir was full to capacity Grizzly commenting at times, "here the path is nearly underwater."

We liked this section of old stone wall, covered in moss, the sun making steam rise from it. "I wonder how many years it has taken for the moss to cover the stones?", mused Allen.

Eventually, the path climbed to exit on to the road opposite Dobgill car park. Turning left again, there was a few hundred yards along the road, to then go through the gate left onto the path that would lead us to Steel End.

"There's another waymark", said Grizzly.

"Yes pal, as long as we follow these blue arrows we will keep on track for the round lake path", replied Shaun.

"This must be a particularly wet and low lying section, judging by all the duck boarding that we are having to cross", remarked Tetley.

Finally, rounding a corner we came to a gate and just beyond Steel End car park, where a convenient tree stump, provided a place to sit for lunch.

"The sandwiches are coronation chicken or cheese and pickle", said Tetley

"And the scones are cherry and ginger", added Grizzly.

"Ooh scrumptious", cried Allen, tucking in.

There were comings and goings in the car park. A couple arrived and after paying asked Dad which was the best path to see the military jets. The husband wanted to be in a position above the planes as they fly low over the lake. "That would involve climbing up the fellside", replied Dad.

This did not seem to go down well with his wife!

Dad went on clarifying, "they do not fly over every day by any means and there is no knowing the days that they do. We have not seen any at all today."

"Oh well never mind", he replied. "Which is the way by the lake?", he then asked

Dad pointed the way to the path we had come along. We and Dad are more interested in the wonderful scenery, but well, each to their own.

There were two gentlemen from United Utilities about too, and they passed by in the direction we had come. As they passed one said, "nice bears."

That we are of course, as too is our sheep pal Shaun!

Lunch over, we posed for our picture, casting our shadows with the sun behind us.

Allen commented, "so far we have got away without any pictures of sheep, pals."

"It won't last", replied Tetley. "After all we are in the heart of Herdwick country."

"Well I don't mind", responded Allen. "They are our very favourite sheep."

Just as we were leaving the farmer was driving his sheep along the road.

"They will be last years lambs, as their fleeces are brown", said Tetley.

As we walked along the road, Grizzly, called out, "there is a real grandad Herdwick. Just look at his horns."

Shortly we reached the main A591, that runs by the east side of the reservoir. Before crossing, Allen pointed, "that's Steel Fell, dominating the view south. We climbed it in 2005."

"Before I was born", said Little Eric.

"I recall back on 1998, first climbing it from Dunmail Raise with Uncle Eric", said Dad. "There is a fence running up the left side about halfway along. It is exceedingly steep. Near the top we stopped for lunch having almost to wedge ourselves to stop sliding back down. Not a route I would care to repeat."

Today the main road was quiet, but nevertheless we stopped, looked and listened, before crossing. Immediately opposite, a signpost pointed the continuing way, the narrow path above the main road leading to the next car park, Wythburn.

We of course were following the Thirlmere Loop. For walkers not wanting to do the lake round, United Utilities have devised shorter circular walks from each car park. We had seen signs for an Armboth loop, Dobgill loop, and now here a Wythburn loop.

The path was narrow, wet and boggy, Tetley saying laughingly, "you are well used to wet conditions underfoot now, Dad."

"That I am lad."

It led to another car park, but more interestingly to the pretty Wythburn Church.

"Can we go and look inside?", asked Grizzly, who likes to look round churches.

"Certainly lad", Dad replied.

Here is the interior looking along the nave. "Simple yet quite lovely", said Grizzly.

Reading out from another of the information boards, Allen said, "there has been a church on this site since 1554, the current building dating back to 1640. The church is maintained purely by the donations of the people of the parishes of St. John's-in-the-Vale and Wythburn. The grounds are maintained by United Utilities."

So setting off again, Tetley said, looking up from the map, "the next section is steep."

"That's right", replied Dad. "We have to walk up the path the eventually leads to the summit of Helvellyn, but we are only going as far as the forest road, marked by the four armed signpost."

We all looked a bit longingly up the continuing rough path towards Helvellyn.

"Not today", sighed Tetley, as we turned resolutely left along the wide forest road towards Swirls.

"Well", said Little Eric. "We have all been to the summit before."

It was easy progress on the well surfaced forest road, and a good pace was maintained, except of course when photographic stops were made.

"That's a fine view of Thirlmere", said Allen. "We can see the castellated structure of the straining well, by the lake in the centre of the picture. Also Thirlmere's two islands - Hause How Island, and peeking out behind it Deergarth How Island."

Like on the west side many streams run off the steep fell sides and feed into the reservoir, one such being Whelpside Gill.

"After all the rough narrow and slippy paths on the west side, it would be nice if this smooth forest road went all the way to the next car park at Swirls", said Grizzly.

"Yes pal", agreed Shaun,

There hopes were dashed however, as soon, at a junction, where the forest road dropped down left, the blue arrow on the waymark pointed right. The path immediately crossed a footbridge, and then continued rough and rocky, as it undulated through the woodland. "Hey ho", laughed Tetley.

"The clouds look a bit threatening", remarked Allen. And sure enough we could soon hear the patter of rain on the leaves of the trees overhanging the path. We decamped from the rucksack while Dad replaced his sweater with his waterproof, but paradoxically, just minutes later the shower had passed over and it was dry once again for the rest of the walk!

Soon, the route rejoined a forest road that undulated onwards to reach Swirls car park.

"Where now?", asked Little Eric.

"We walk right along the road and cross to that small parking area you can see", replied Shaun. "Then we go through the left of two gates down and by the lake."

"Thanks pal, I do not know what we would do without your guidance."

As we joined the path there was a roaring on the left. Looking at the map Shaun said, "that's Helvellyn Gill."

In flood it hurtled down the gorge, to soon to empty into Thirlmere.

In general the path here was pretty good, apart from the narrow wet sections where we passed behind Dale Head Hotel.

"That's a fine view across to Raven Crag with The Benn to the right", pointed Shaun. "Worth including in our story."

There were lots of young Herdwicks grazing, and Dad had the camera out snapping them as they just stood and posed for him.

"That's four you have taken." said Tetley.

Allen said sternly, "I don't think we should include them all. Two at the most."

"Aww", replied Dad, "they are your favourite sheep. How about we group them all together?"

"Oh alright", sighed Allen.

Finally the path brought us below the slopes of Great How.

"That's a Birkett summit", remarked Shaun.

"Yes", replied Tetley," we climbed it in January 2009, with Uncle Eric."

There were three choices of path here, and going either left or right would get us round Great How, and to the road that crosses the dam, which was the objective.

"The instructions indicate we should go left", said Shaun. "However the way right, although longer, is a better path."

"I'd rather do the extra distance on the better path", replied Dad as her strode off right.

We made good progress the way descending, and then leveling below the tree clad slopes, and coming close to the main A591 road. At a junction, with a large sign board, we went left, climbing over the shoulder of the fell and so down to the road, here turning left.

Dad and Uncle Brian, with some of our other pals, stay quite frequently at the luxury Armathwaite Hall Hotel, on the north shore of Bassenthwaite Lake, over which towers mighty Skiddaw. After the last time, when Dad went on his own for a meal in the Brasserie, Uncle Brian has expressly forbidden Dad to go unless he is with him. Not daring to defy Uncle Brian, this view of the Skiddaw group, was the nearest he came today!

Strolling on we passed a house on the right. "We definitely don't want to go in there, without permission", called out Allen, who had read the sign fastened to a tree.

Soon now, rounding a corner we began to cross the huge dam, that holds back the 8,235,000,000 gallons of water, that is the capacity of Thirlmere. And for sure after the monsoon summer we have had, there is little doubt the reservoir is full to capacity.

At the end of this first straight section, Little Eric called out, "what is that crest set in the wall?"

"Of Manchester Corporation, who built the dam to create the reservoir", replied Grizzly.

Below this was a large plaque commemorating the laying of the first stone on the embankment on 22nd August 1890, by Alderman Sir John James Harwood, and the other dignitaries present.

Another rather less grand plaque, to celebrate the centenary of the Thirlmere Water Supply Scheme, told us that the water first started to flow along the aqueduct on 13th October 1894.

"Well", said Allen, "I never realised it was so long ago that the reservoir was created. A testament to the ingenuity of the Victorians."

Autumn is now upon us, and this tree provided the promise of the glories of the colours to come.

Continuing on the view was dominated by the abrupt vertical cliff of Raven Crag.

Very soon the road junction was reached and it was just a short stroll right to the car.

"I'm glad to be back", sighed Dad. "My legs have about had enough for today."

"It's been a wonderful walk", enthused Little Eric, speaking of the rest of us too. "Thanks Dad!"

"It is certainly not a walk to be undertaken lightly", went on Tetley. "Not as easy as it may sound."

As Dad was getting his boots off, we looked across in the direction of the Dodds and Allen called out, "that will make a nice picture of Castle Rock (1125ft), bathed in the sunshine. It was interesting climbing that with Uncle Eric, back on 2007."

"OK", said Dad grabbing the camera and lining up the shot.

And take one of the Dodds too, please", said Tetley, "to round off our tale."

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