Tuesday, 13 January 2015

The Mell Fells & Gowbarrow Fell

Open Space Web-Map builder Code

Route: A5091, Parkgate Farm, Dockray, Norman Crag, Ulcat Row, Moorend Farm, Brownrigg Farm, Great Mell Fell, Brownrigg Farm, Nabend, Little Mell Fell, The Hause, Watermillock Fell, Little Meldrum, Great Meldrum, Gowbarrow Fell, Green Hill, Bernard Pike, Aira Force

Date: 13/01/2015
From: Aira Force

Parking: Aira Force Car Park (A5091)
Start Point: Aira Force
Region: Eastern Fells

Route length: 11.7 miles (18.8 km)
Time taken: 04:40
Average speed: 2.5 mph
Ascent: 1068m
Descent: 1073m

Wainwrights on this walkGreat Mell Fell (537m), Little Mell Fell (505m), Gowbarrow Fell (481m)

Additional summits: Watermillock Fell (424m), Little Meldrum (404m), Great Meldrum (437m), Green Hill (442m)

Other points of interest: Aira Force

The glorious week of weather we experienced over the festive period seems like a distant memory and we've returned to business as usual across much of the UK. Storm force winds make an unappetising prospect for any walk, let alone one in the Lake District. Still, I was optimistic that I might catch a break in the weather and not waste a hard earned mid-week day off.

The weather was still forecast to be very windy - 50 to 70mph - with frequent snow showers, so I set my sights on some of the more modest hills on my 'to do list', a trio of fells near Ullswater and the edge of the National Park.

Despite their names, Great Mell Fell and Little Mell Fell are hills. Large hills, yes, but still hills. They have no real connecting ridges, no subsidiary summits to speak of and no crags to draw the eye. Gowbarrow on the other hand, marks the transition between hill and true fell with multiple peaks and a profile with discernible ridges and the presence of all important crags. Included in that list is the majestic waterfall, Aira Force.

The downside of these three Wainwrights is that there stand quite far apart, particularly if you are attempting a circular route as I was. They sit in an approximate inverted L-shape, with Gowbarrow's summit the most southerly point and Great Mell Fell the furthest away. That meant a long, roadside walk either at the beginning or the end of the walk.

Given what the weather was planning to do, I opted to do the long road section first, saving Gowbarrow and the highlight of any views for later in the afternoon when the best of the weather was forecast to arrive.

I parked the car in a small car park along the road between Dockray and Ullswater and promptly proceeded back to the aforementioned hamlet. Forgive me if I skip through this bit rather swiftly and there isn't a great deal of interest or much to write about.
Ullswater over Aira Beck
Norman Crag
Great Mell Fell
Cottages at Ulcat Row
The route I followed was around 3 miles, mainly along the lanes passing Ulcat Row and Bald Howe to Brownrigg Farm at the footing of Great Mell Fell, the highest point of the day. A lane leads from the roadside past a stile with a National Trust sign for Mell Fell. I ignored this, instead continuing slightly further to another gate and stile along the lane. I had spotted the path up the fell (not marked on the map) from the road and this was the obvious way to access it.

Norman Crag and Ulcat Row
Little Mell Fell
A look back along the path from Brownrigg Farm
After a short, steep section the gradient abates and the path wends its way up the hillside, into the stiff wind. A series of snow showers lashed me with some horizontal graupel on my way up but, luckily, the weather was starting to clear a bit when I reached the top.
Climbing Great Mell Fell
The remnants of the woodland that used to cover the fell
A snow shower over Watermillock Common
Gowbarrow Fell
Mell Fell is found in the earlier form Melfel and is probably derived from the Brittonic word męl (or the Welsh moel) meaning a bare hill, with Fell as a later addition. The further addition of 'Great' distinguishes it from the smaller of the two, Little Mell Fell. In Wainwrights day, the fell was off limits as it was owned by the War Department (MoD) and used as a firing range - there is a disused range and target control building on the north western side of the fell.

The top is bare with no real cairn or feature though a tumulus is marked on the the OS maps. This is possibly a Bronze Age burial mound. The views in all directions are pretty good, the highlight being Blencathra which, on a day like today, was looking its most mountainous.
The summit and its view over the Vale of Keswick
Clough Head and Blencathra
Vale of Eden 
Returning back to Brownrigg Farm, Little Mell Fell is next
I retraced my steps down the hillside and returned to Brownrigg Farm. Another short road section links Great Mell Fell to Little Mell Fell via the farm at Nabend. I opted to climb a gate and follow a series of zigzagging tracks that make their way up the western slopes. These provide a much easier route to the top than a steep ascent from The Hause (where I'd be passing later).
A shot of the road leading to Nabend
Great Mell Fell from the climb up Little Mell Fell
One of the odd tracks I followed up the fellside
The wind was truly starting to howl as I finally made my way towards the summit, blowing fiercely as it whipped across the top of the ridge. It's worth noting that many of the smaller fells in the Lake District can be particularly grim given the correct weather conditions, I can only imagine what it was like on some of the higher fells today. I don't mind foul weather but, when I comes to wind, that's where I really start to keep an eye out. After all, I'm fairly sure that rain can't physically knock you off your feet (I'll concede that a rain-swollen river certainly can).
The mighty Helvellyn over Sheffield Pike
A path makes its way along the top of Little Mell Fell
The clouds break over the Vale of Keswick
Little Mell Fell's summit
The Dodds
At the top of Little Mell Fell stands a lonely trig pillar which commands a good view of the most northern of the Far Eastern Fells - Bonscale Pike and Arthur's Pike. Gowbarrow and the fells behind also make for a nice scene. Given its isolation and the strong wind, I was off the top fairly swiftly and down the steep slopes to The Hause.
Arthur's Pike and Bonscale Pike
Loadpot Hill
Gowbarrow and the Eastern Fells
The ridge linking Little Mell Fell to Gowbarrow Fell
A steep descent to The Hause
The Hause is a popular starting point for a quick ascent of Little Mell Fell as it stands around 100m shy of the summit and makes for a short but rewarding excursion. It also marks the beginnings of Gowbarrow Fell and its sprawling north eastern ridge which is home to a number of small, named tops; the first of these is Watermillock Fell.
The Far Eastern Fells 
Sunlight over Watermillock Common
The epitome of a snow shower
After crossing the top of Watermillock Fell, I pursued a long period of off-path walking to cover the remaining named tops. Second, in the direction I was travelling, is Little Meldrum which hides in the woods of Swinburn's Park. It was pretty watching me bundling my way through the tightly planted conifers and, through more luck than judgement, I found the clearing where Little Meldrum stands.
The dastardly woods
I dove back into the woods once more before deciding that the going was getting pretty slow, eventually emerging near the fencing that bounds Swinburn's Park. I returned to the main path that runs parallel to a large wall in order to cross the fence and continue on unmolested by trees or other shrubbery. Thanks the the exertions of battling through the winds and the woods, I almost deliberately missed Great Meldrum, considering it for another time but, at the last minute, changed my mind and made the arduous climb up through the tussocks to the summit.
Little Mell Fell
Great Mell Fell
The woods that hide Little Meldrum
The undulating Gowbarrow Fell
From Great Meldrum, the top of Gowbarrow Fell can be clearly seen - a trig pillar perched on top of a rocky outcrop, that of Airy Crag. A wide path winds up from Collierhagg Beck to the summit, one that has recently had the attention of volunteers from Fix the Fells and a good job they've done too. It's a very easy climb to the summit.
Monochrome stile with Gowbarrow's summit behind
The new path to the top of Gowbarrow Fell
Gowbarrow Fell's hummocky surface has much in common with some of the fells around Borrowdale, Grange Fell in particular - a result of sharing the same geology. It also has the character of a proper fell with rocks and stone replacing the grass of the Mell Fells beneath your boots. Gowbarrow probably means windy hill - a derivation of the old Norse words gol (gust of wind) and berg (rocky hill) and it certainly lived up to its name today.

Gowbarrow Fell forms part of Gowbarrow Park, an ancient hunting park that was part of the Greystoke Manor Estate. A map from 1783 shows the boundaries of the park extended from Gowbarrow Hall to Glencoyne Bay - the high stone wall that surrounded this land is still in good repair. In 1906 the National Trust acquired 750 acres of the Park to safeguard it from proposed house building which is why their logo is proudly displayed on the trig pillar.
The trig pillar on Gowbarrow Fell
Airy Crag with the pillar sat on top
The first view of Ullswater from Gowbarrow Fell
Green Hill, connected to Airy Crag by the new path, has the best views of the day, stretching along Ullswater to Patterdale and including the majority of the fells that encircle it. A perfect spot to survey the incoming snow showers that were about to give me another lashing. An obvious path from here begins the descent down towards the final stop and perhaps the true highlight of the day; Aira Force.
Hallin Fell and Steel Knotts
Grimness approaching
Ullswater once again
Sheffield Pike
The waterfall tumbles down a 20m ravine, which is impressive enough, however it are the viewing platforms and bridges that make it a real spectacle. Approaching from the direction I did, the first view is from the bridge which crosses the top of the falls, offering a perilous view straight down them. There is a further bridge at the foot of the falls but the highlight is the newly built viewing platform approximately half way up the hillside. It is here you can see the full splendour of the cascade. Being a weekday in winter I was lucky enough to have the whole thing to myself.
Aira Beck upstream of Aira Force
The upper bridge
The view upstream of the bridge
The water as it enters the ravine
The view straight down the falls from the bridge
The lower bridge
Aira Force from the viewing platform
Aira Force and the new viewing platform
I'm glad I saved Gowbarrow aand Aira force until the end, if I had done them first the reminder of the walk would have paled in comparison, especially the tramp along the road. If you do repeat this walk I'd highly recommend doing it the way round I did and really save the best until last.