Bakestall (nearly)

Date: 7 Feb 2020 Weather: 6’C, sunny, gales
Height gain: 1,499 ft Distance: 5.0 miles
Time taken: 3 hours 25 mins Wainwrights: DNF

Route:  From parking opposite Peter House Farm near Bassenthwaite following the Cumbria Way to the top of Whitwater Dash waterfall then turning right up the hillside following Birkett Edge to (nearly) the top and back the same way.

The weather forecasts have frustrated us this week.  Wednesday was forecast to be the best walking day with sunny spells and gentle winds.  Thursday was forecast to be foggy from valley level all day and glorious sunshine was expected on Friday but with gale force winds from early afternoon.

We decided to make the most of Wednesday and head for Bakestall.  When we opened the curtains we found a grey day outside and both of us felt lacking in energy so we opted for a walk from Underbarrow that we hadn’t done before.  It was a good walk but the cloud got lower and lower and the day ended up being the foggiest of the week.

Expecting more fog on Thursday we got up at a leisurely pace with no walking plans.  By mid-morning the skies started to clear and we sat indoors watching a clear blue and calm afternoon pass us by – very frustrating.

Wall to wall sunshine was still forecast until about 3pm on Friday but with winds expected to strengthen throughout the day reaching around 50mph at 2,000ft by mid-afternoon.  We decided to take our chances and make an early start up Bakestall.

We woke up to the promised sunshine and the added bonus of still trees out of the window.  We were on the road in reasonable time and headed up the M6.  We stopped at Rhegged services to pick up food – they were surprisingly low on stock with a sandwich choice of only “simply ham” or “simply tuna” on white bread.

As the ham looked the colour of beef which had been stewed for 10 hours I went for tuna – although there looked to be more butter than tuna (why mayonnaise AND butter – I just don’t get it – you don’t need that much greasy stuff on a sandwich).  They were also low on cakes which was a shame as they usually do these well.  I needed a microscope to see the chocolate brownie I settled for.

However, it was a quick stop and we made it to Bassenthwaite in just over an hour – good going to get to this relatively remote part of the north lakes.  There’s a large layby opposite the farm and it was completely empty when we arrived.  We parked carefully nose on to leave plenty of room for others although I doubted many more would arrive here today.

As we opened the car doors it was as if a giant fan had just been turned on and the trees all around us started to shake and sway.  The sound of the wind whipping through them was loud and unnerving as we put on boots and packed up ruckscaks.

We decided we would make a start and see how we got on – the mountains surrounding the path should give us some protection as we climbed.  I took a moment to take a photo of Basssenthwaite Lake which we could see in the distance shimmering a beautiful blue in the sunshine:


The first two miles take us 750ft up to the top of Whitewater Dash waterfall on a good tarmac and then stone path which is part of the Cumbria Way.  It climbs gradually with great views of mountains ahead of us with the waterfall streaming down the middle, the Solway Firth behind us and a remote and stunningly located Dash Farm across the valley:


It should be a gentle and pleasant climb except that the wind is in our faces and making it seem much harder work than it should be.  We do get patches of calm as the mountains shelter us from time to time and while at first I’m a bit spooked by the strength of the wind I soon acclimatise and it’s not too bad.

We make gradual progress towards the top of the waterfall:


It seems amazing when we reach the high point of the path and are looking down on the water as it makes it’s way to the point where it falls away down the hillside.  I look back down the sunlit valley we’ve climbed up with the Solway Firth and Robin Rigg windfarm out in its waters clearly visible in the distance in the clear air:


We go through a gate and know this is where we need to turn right up the hillside for the final very steep 900ft of ascent.  There’s initially a wall running along Birkett Edge and we look either side of it for a likely path.  The route just before the gate with the wall on the left looks more like a river bed.

We go back through the gate and carry on along the track for a short distance and see signs of a path heading diagonally upwards which we decide to take.  It soon heads back to the wall but we can then see a clear path in the grass and gorse going straight up with the wall to our right so we continue upwards.

I remember this ascent as long, steep, pathless and scary last time we did it but although it is still a lot of very steep grass the path is clear and it’s not a scary ascent – maybe we went off-piste by accident last time.  Out biggest issue today is the wind.  As we climb we get more exposed and it also feels like it’s getting stronger, now blowing across us from left to right.

After about 300ft of ascent the wall becomes a fence and we pause hanging onto a fencepost.  We see a woman coming up quickly on the other side of the fence and can see a clear path over that side but it looks well used and muddy.  We much prefer our grassy track and, as we get higher, having the fence to our right becomes very useful.

As we catch our breath we debate whether or not to carry on.  I am wavering and it would only need S to bail out and I’d happily turn around.  But neither of us is willing to be the one to crack so onwards we go.

The path is steep and the wind gets stronger and stronger.  I try to keep to the path but am struggling to stay upright and go back to the fence and grab a post every 50ft or so for a breather.  I’m very grateful at just how well made it is – the posts are rock solid even in these winds.

We meet a man heading down – we swap hellos and he confirms he struggled to stand up at the top.  We carry on with our slow progress and see another man heading down.  He makes a bee-line for us and says he was almost blown over at the top and is glad he’s now heading down – he suggests we should be very careful.  He doesn’t actually say we should turn back but we know that’s what he means.

We’re only 150ft from the top now and have a very steep section covered in gorse bushes ahead of us.  By this point I’m moving from fence post to fence post barely able to stay on my feet in between them.  S says we should stop for food, but I’m not keen in such an exposed place.  We agree we need to at least stop for a breather as our pace has got ridiculously slow.  We turn around and plonk ourselves on the ground.  S fishes a couple of twixes out of the rucksack and despite mine being rock hard from the cold and very white from age I devour it and realise I did need the calories.

We sit for a few more minutes and the wind seems to get stronger.  The woman from the other side of the path reached the ridge and disappeared from view about 15 minutes ago and as we turn and look back up the hillside we see her appear on her descent.  We stand up and she stops briefly to say hello as she reaches us and also says she could barely stand at the top.

I look at the final 100ft of near vertical hillside and know there’s about 50ft across the exposed summit ridge to reach the top and I crack and ask that we abandon mission and turn back.  S reluctantly agrees.  We start heading downwards and although it’s still a challenge to stay upright it’s so much easier than trying to go steeply upwards when fighting the wind.

It’s a long and steep descent – I’m surprised we made it so far given we were moving so slowly.  After about 300ft I turn back and take a photo – it doesn’t really do the steepness justice but you can see the fence which has been my best friend for the last hour or so:


The views east towards Blencathra have been great as we’ve climbed but it was just too windy to stop and take a photo – here’s a glimpse from the way back:


We make reasonably quick progress in descent and reach the Cumbria Way track again with relief.  We perch on the grass by the wall to eat a hasty sandwich – even a white bread overly buttered sandwich tastes ok on the hillside.

With the wind now mostly behind us and sheltered at times by the mountains the final two miles back to the car are straightforward, although S is suffering with the feeling of something in his eye and has tears streaming down his face.

We’re surprised to find the layby full when we get back to the car – glad we parked so neatly earlier.  There’s a group of men kitting up who are heading to Bakestall – we warn them how windy it is and they say they wouldn’t normally be setting off so late – they made a 6.30am start from Oxford but had a two hour delay on the M6 at Stafford – hugely frustrating for them.  They are here for a week’s holiday in Keswick, a February tradition for the group apparently.  We wish them well and we all agree we won’t be venturing out in the storms forecast for the weekend.

So – Bakestall remains to be done another day.  We’ll certainly pick a calmer day, and maybe a warmer one as it’s a lot less scary a walk than I remembered so we can perhaps enjoy soaking up some sunshine as we walk.

Abandoning mission 150ft from the top is hugely frustrating but that 150ft really did feel insurmountable at the time in those 40 – 50 mph winds.

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