Steel Knotts from Groove Gill

The future of the new Walking the Lake District Fells 'Fellranger' series

Mark Richards
By Mark Richards
4 minute read

On a walk from Howtown to Steel Knotts using his Patterdale guidebook, Cicerone author Mark Richards reflects on his new editions of Walking the Lake District Fells 'Fellranger' guidebooks and discusses how to make sure his guidebooks remain responsible, responsive and fell-friendly in the future.

Steel Knotts from Brownthwaite Crag
Steel Knotts from Brownthwaite Crag

As the complete updated series of Walking the Lake District Fells 'Fellranger' guidebooks publish, my thoughts turn to the future of the series. My underlying philosophical stance is that to be effective, the guidebooks need to be both responsive and responsible.

The Lake District fells may seem eternal, but our impact on them is a constant concern; path pressures fluctuate and new lines of desire come into being. In fact, the role of the series to provide ‘all the fells, all the routes’ places a unique burden on the ongoing life of these guidebooks to deliver both reassurance to the users and to protect the very landscape they explore.

I plan to keep my eye on the ground, identifying and reflecting on changes needed for the next reprint to keep the routes as fell-friendly as possible, and so readers know they are being guided wisely.

I have always been at pains to talk with people I meet on the fell. I consider this vital intelligence, learning how people move around and why they choose the routes they do. Living within a stone’s throw of the fells has enabled me some liberty within pandemic limitations, and I look forward to increasing my scrutinising forays as things begin to unlock once more.

Post-publication reconnaissance: walking to Steel Knotts from Howtown

This brings me to a recent case study walk, traversing Steel Knotts from Howtown. A thoroughly delightful circular fell and date outing that features in my Walking the Lake District Fells - Patterdale guidebook, this is a walk that might appeal to anyone disembarking from the Ullswater Steamer at the Howtown pier. The route follows the spine of the ridge over Steel Knotts to the very head of Fusedale before returning down the valley.

At present the Ullswater Steamer company only allows disembarking at Howtown and does not pick up for the return journey across the lake, meaning walkers using the steamer will need to continue walking to either Glenridding or Pooley Bridge after the route. In an age where traffic congestion and green transport is a live debate, this may change in the future.

Following the field-path to the Howtown Hotel access lane, I passed the presently closed café and kept on the road to the cattle grid, where the road opens and advances to Cote Farm. Here I met an issue that will be addressed in the first reprint of the guidebook. The Dalemain Estates now bar visitors from parking on the verge, which means starting point 9 needs to move beyond the cattle grid, to the verge at the foot of the hair-pinned road that climbs to Martindale Hause. Even better, walkers could park at the Hause itself and wander easily down The Coombs bridle-path.

Now I turn to the fell walk itself and the use of the guidebook. To my delight, the book slips easily into my pocket and I can check where I am in an instant by using the book's flaps as a bookmark. This was not the case with the previous Fellranger editions which largely spent their time on my bookshelf, to be consulted before and after a walk. Now the guidebook comes into play as and when I want.

Pikeawassa
Pikeawassa

The ridge is fellwalking gold. The actual summit outcrop carrying the quirky name Pikeawassa, reflecting the nickname of a shepherd from many centuries ago – Pike of Wassa. It is a measure of the respect for these high places that while the top must attract hundreds of visitations every year, there is no trace in the close-cropped turf. It’s not a place to race from. Rest, gaze, and soak up the peace of the landlocked and fell-wrapped beauty of the Martindale valleys.

From the summit, the path skips pleasingly down to a wall. The ridge path runs on south in varying harmony with this ridge wall that is reminiscent of the great switchbacks of Hadrian’s Wall. The path curves left in marshy ground short of Gowk Hill (cuckoo hill) to a pair of ruined shielings separated by a ford of the headstream of Fusedale Beck. This place also harbours its own sanctity, and is a place to reflect on the long history of shepherding upon these wild hills. I saw perhaps a dozen sheep during my walk, a mix of Swaledale and Herdwicks, no doubt belonging to Cote Farm.

Paths diverge from this point, offering a climb to Mere Gill for the High Street ridge via Wether Hill or High Raise. Though the more obvious path leads on north bound for Fusedale, I descended to a slab bridge over Groove Gill and down into the depths of the valley. Passing a substantial ruin with a wooden bench in front, you can peer up to spike of Pikeawassa and perhaps observe a walker or two repeating your own happy visitation.

The dale way crosses two wooden footbridges and comes onto the concrete roadway to complete this lovely five-mile trip. Hopefully in the near future, walkers will be able to enjoy the delights of the tearoom at the Howtown Hotel, which is a place I relish too.

As the number of walkers in the Lake District continues to increase, I hope my guidebooks to Walking the Lake District Fells will be trustworthy companions to those exploring the hills and valleys, and can respond to the changing needs and pressures of the fells.

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