A Miners Path

Geese riding the Ullswater swell by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThe weather really should be getting a bit warmer by now but it was a grey, overcast morning and a sharp breeze when I got out of the car at Dockray; having parked near the bridge across the road from a phone box. I was feeling slightly under the weather but there was nothing too adventurous on the walk I had planned so I thought I would be able to cope. I set off along the road back towards Ullswater for about a mile looking for a footpath to get me off the road for a while. At the second parking area I ignored the start of a footpath and carried on along the road until it bent around to the left and I found the path I was looking for.

The line of the path wasn't very obvious as it crossed wet fields but I was able to see ahead to the next gate and make my way avoiding the worst of the swampy ground. I eventually found a more substantial track but a yellow arrow on a wooden post seemed to point in a slightly different direction. I walked through a wet wooded meadow in the direction of the arrow where a migrating goose complained as it got out of my way and a hare dashed away as I got close to its hiding place.

On the way to Seldom Seen by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerI found a gate that let me back onto the lakeside road; there is very little concession for walkers and you have to beware of the traffic coming from both directions. The strong breeze made the water quite rough in Ullswater and a couple of geese were riding the swell that was at least the same height as them. After a short while I passed a footpath sign where I should have rejoined the road, it seems that I would have been better off staying on the track. After walking past the entrance to Glencoyne farm the road climbs as it skirts past a rock outcrop and the start of the track to Seldom Seen is just around the bend.

I walked up the track that is good for walking but rough for cars, through the trees of Glencoyne Wood and with a view over Ullswater that would have been good if it wasn't so misty. I reached the terrace of cottages known as Seldom Seen, they are in good repair and occupied, I half expected them to be derelict or converted into holiday homes or an outdoor centre. The path from here was narrower and rougher and only fit for pedestrians; it goes all the way to Nick Head but I was looking for a way to get up the col between Glenridding Dodd and Sheffield Pike. I presumed that following the wall I would find a way up but I came across a small stony gill that seemed to offer a more direct way uphill.

View of Sheffield Pike from above Glencoyne Wood by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerIt was steep but the ground was alright and it was a reasonable way uphill but I started to think that I might not feel well enough to finish my planned route, I was sweating profusely and my legs felt as they had no strength in them. I got uphill more slowly than usual and I was glad when the gradient eased, I was higher up than I had planned and I came across a faint footpath. I thought at first that I was close to the summit of Glenridding Dodd so I made the short extra climb to the substantial cairn at the summit. The descent to the col didn't seem to be familiar but I made way over to the wall, it didn't look familiar at all and nor did the col I could see in the distance.

It looks obvious on the map now but I had climbed up to the cairn on the shoulder of Sheffield Pike that is covered by Glencoyne Wood on its lower slopes. I had a walk over rough ground to the col; I did think about a more direct climb of Sheffield Pike but I didn't fancy climbing over the high stone wall with a long drop on the other side. On the climb upwards I had been sheltered from the wind and became very warm but up here the strong, cold wind was driving the mist along and I had to put my jacket back on and put on a pair of gloves. If I had been feeling alright I might have made the short climb to the summit of Glenridding Dodd but as it was I decided just to get on with climbing Sheffield Pike.

Looking back to Glenridding Dodd from the ascent of Sheffield Pike by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThe climb up to Heron Pike is interesting without ever being a scramble and the views would have been better if it hadn't been for the mist. I was making slow progress but I was getting there and I decided I was going to take a shorter and less arduous route than I had planned. The summit plateau of Sheffield Pike was as swampy and misty as usual; some of the pools at this time of year are filled with frog spawn and I wondered if any had survived the recent cold weather. From the summit of Sheffield Pike the descent to Nick Head is easy even if the path is a little bit obscure. If the gradient gets steeper you know you are going in the wrong direction and you should take a compass bearing to Nick Head.

Once you get down to Nick Head the path becomes more obvious, there is only one way to get across the bog and I would recommend finding it rather that make your own way. I carried on uphill on the path to Stybarrow Dodd but I was looking for a path branching off to the right that was obvious when I was on Sheffield Pike; I couldn't see it when I was close to it. I went off the path to look for the old Miner's path and traced the start of it back to a rash of stones that provide the only clue to where it is.

Miners path around Glencoyne Head by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerI've seen the path around the head of Glencoyne several times and finally I'm going walk it, this was one of the reasons for planning this particular route. The path keeps to the contours with almost no undulations, the only exceptions being to get past two of the larger gills. I was looking for a path branching off to the left because I didn't want to go directly back to Dockray but, as frequently happens, looking too hard for a path means that you don't find it. I got to a point where Ullswater came into view, if it wasn't misty I would have excellent views along the length of the lake.

I decided I had to climb up the easy slope to the grassy skyline to try and find the path I was looking for. On the broad ridge I found a faint footpath although with hindsight I'm not sure it was the one I was looking for. I was on Watermillock Common and actually found a cairn, I could see quad bike tracks leading to the summit of Common Fell. According to the map the path went nowhere near Common Fell so I started to descend the rough grassy slope. I could see the buildings at Dowthwaitehead in the distance but there were no signs of any kind of footpath or any other natural way down.

Dowthwaitehead by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerI found another substantial cairn so I was encouraged to carry on in the same direction but it became obvious that I was going too far past Dowthwaitehead. I decided to descend to the intake wall and try to find a way through to the fords and footbridge I would need to get across Aira Beck. At the wall I followed it to the left because I could see a gill coming downhill and there were a couple on the map that seemed to be in the right place. I got to the gill and was able to cross it easily enough and climb over a wooden barrier in the fence on the other side.

I found a gap in the next fence and I then had to walk cross fields and find gaps in the ruined walls before I came to a ford and followed a farm track on the other side of the stream to the footbridge crossing Aira Beck. At the footbridge there were waymarker arrows showing the path that I should have come down on. From there were signposts and arrows pointing the way across fields until I joined the road a short distance from Dockray. According to my pedometer I walked about twelve miles in spite of not being as well as usual.

Andy Wallace 22nd April 2006

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