Barf over Bassenthwaite

Bishop of Barf by Jonathan SmithI must admit I always like a walk with a bit of history, maybe a few legends, myths or even made up stories. The legend of the faithful sheepdog on Helvellyn is one, the barmaid (of Buttermere) being another but less well known is the story that surrounds the Bishop of Barf.

Barf itself looks nothing like an individual fell, simply a spur on the long line of fells which lie to the West of Lake Bassenthwaite. Topographically this is correct with Barf being little more than a spur to one of the large fells behind, in this case Lord's Seat. However the ‘draw’ is the splash of whitewashed rock half way up its steep slopes which signify the Bishop of Barf. Legend has it that the whitewashed rock marks the point in 1783 where a drunken horseman, the Bishop of Derry set off to climb the fell and at this point came to grief. He is allegedly buried lower down the fell and his notoriety has lasted ever since.Steep route up Barf by Jonathan Smith

It was enough for myself to persuade my two children that Barf was worth a visit so at Easter we headed off up the fell. Parking is available on the old road, near the old, now disused, Swan Hotel. There is no messing about and after a 100 yards the path starts its very steep ascent of Barf. Beckstones Gill is crossed and re–crossed on the climb which is enlivened by the large variety of trees and wildlife which cloak the hill in darkness. Early on the climb there is an option to take the scree slop and visit the Old Bishop but neither myself or the children much fancied the idea – they preferred messing about in the river!

Final path to Barf summit by Jonathan SmithThe steep path lasts for about 700 foot before it strikes a more formal forestry road which is part of Whinlatter forest. Turn right on the road and within 100 yards the entire nature of the walk changes. The forest is left behind and open ground is joined at another crossing of the, now much smaller, gill. Spirits were lifted and the two girls headed off in to the distance, determined to be first on the summit. Myself and Helen trailed on behind, our excuse being frequent stops to admire the ever improving view. The summit itself is a fantastic spot, a small rocky knoll (only 1535 feet) with wonderful views down Bassenthwaite, over Keswick and further afield up Borrowdale.

Skiddaw from Barf by Jonathan SmithWe paused, ate some sandwiches and decided to head off towards Lords Seat, only slightly higher. Being free of the trees and on an excellent path this proved to be exactly what the doctor ordered; a great ½ mile of easy walking in the higher fells. There are many other Wainwrights in the area which involve little effort to reach but we turned back towards Beckstones Gill and the forest track back down to the car.

Views over Keswick from Barf by Jonathan SmithThe children flew down the track, which is really quite challenging in some places; In particular there is an uprooted tree stump which needs to be negotiated and provides some genuine scrambling. Also I do wonder about the stream after heavy rain, the crossing lower down may be challenging to say the least. It is also a shame that the Swan Hotel has ceased to be, not only for thirsty walkers but it was the workers at the hotel who made an annual pilgrimage to the Bishop to daub him in whitewash – a job now handed on to the Keswick Mountain Rescue.

However this quiet corner of the Lake District is well worth exploring further and not just left to those pesky baggers of Wainwrights!

Jonathan Smith 3 April 2012

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