Clough Head

Date: 18 Nov 2019 Weather: 1’C, sunny, still
Height gain: 1,991 ft Distance: 6.0 miles
Time taken: 4 hours Wainwrights: 111 of 214

Route:  From layby at side of road at Wanthwaite Bridge taking the Old Coach Road before turning right at second gate to take steep path up the hillside and right again at White Pike for the last 300ft to the top and back the same way.


A weather window opens up and the forecast for today is for sunshine and light winds, although the temperature will be around freezing all day.  We decide on Clough Head which is out on its own up towards Keswick.

We wake up to glorious sun, great air clarity and frost covered ground.  As we load up the car to set off our next door neighbours are doing the same, but they have a week off work and are heading to Buttermere for a few days – good planning as the rain should hold off all week according to the BBC forecast (Weatherline is a little more cautious).

We take the A591 through the Lakes so we can stop off in Ambleside for food.  The drive is straightforward with only a short stint behind a tractor to slow us down.  There are plenty of cars parked up in the walking spots as people take advantage of the weather but there are far less holidaymakers on the roads at this time of year.

We arrive at Wanthwaite Bridge and tuck ourselves behind one other car in the small layby on the B5322.  The car tells us its -0.5’C as we get our boots on, but with the full sun and virtually no wind it doesn’t feel as chilly as Loughrigg in the wind a few days ago.  We are wearing a lot of clothes, though – the full set of thermal base layers have their first outing of the winter.

We cross the road and easily find the footpath past Hilltop Farm and onto the wide and stony Old Coach Road.  The air clarity really is superb today and everything around us looks stunning.  I look back towards Lord’s Seat and Grisedale Pike as we start to gain height:

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The real delight on this route is the proximity of Blencathra and Skiddaw on our left all the way up – their shapes and contours look stunning in the clear light:

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I will confess that I get them the wrong way round, though, thinking the wide triangles of Belncathra is the back of Skiddaw and the circular ridges of Skiddaw are Blencathra – it’s not until I consult Wainwright at the summit later that I realise my mistake when I can’t make them appear in that order on AW’s drawing.

Although stony the wide coach road is easy to walk on and gains height gradually with some flatter stretches along the way.  We gain 1,00ft of height over 2 miles and I’m feeling great and like I could keep walking uphill forever.  I think to myself that I’m finally developing some hill fitness – and I like the feeling very much.

After 700ft of ascent we see a path going steeply up the hillside which a lone walker is making his way down.  I don’t remember the path being that long or that steep from our first ascent in 2014 and S confirms that we carry on the Old Coach Road for a bit longer until we reach a second route up the hill.

We soon reach that second path and go through a gate and onto the hillside.  This also looks a steep climb but not quite as daunting as the previous path.  It’s all on grass and as we turn the sun is in our faces but the grass is still all frosty.  We start uphill and it’s very steep straight away.  My apparent hill fitness immediately desserts me and I’m having to stop every 50ft or so and am finding it seriously hard going.  How can I be feeling great one minute and terrible the next?  Maybe my hill fitness has a gradient limit.

We huff and puff up the grassy, frosty hillside knowing we have 900ft of this to get through.  It seems to take forever and when we reach the top of a steep bit there’s more steep hillside behind it.  We plod on and eventually reach the top of the shoulder with the craggy mound of White Pike to our left.  We turn right and can see the top of Clough Head yet another 300ft above us.  We trudge on – not quite so steep now but still feels hard going.

Finally, we reach the top:

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We’ve made it in two hours and six minutes – S tells me we did it eight minutes faster in 2014 and I feel disappointed that a year of regular hillwalking hasn’t speeded us up.

But the views up here are stunning so timekeeping is soon forgotten.  We decide to flop down on the remains of the wind shelter and have lunch before taking our photos.  As we sit a man arrives at the top, hands in pockets, and I notice he has a very large pack on his back.  He heads to the edge of the summit and starts throwing bits of grass off and watching how they move.  Surely he’s not going to go paragliding when there is so little wind?

Another lone man then arrives at the top and starts taking photos with his phone.  We’ve finished eating so we put our food bag and water bottles back into our rucksacks so his summit shots don’t all feature the luminous orange of a Sainsbury’s bag for life.

The views north west to Blencathra and Skiddaw look stunning – here they are without the OS column in the picture:

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A little bit of cloud has bubbled up above Skiddaw and stays there all the time we’re on the summit – it’s gone again by the time we start to descend.

The ridge of hills from south to west are stunning, although better in real life as the photos are into the sun:

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The ridge runs from Consiton Old Man on the left and takes in Crinkle Crags and Bowfell, the Scafells, Great Gable, Kirk Fell, Pillar and comes across as far as Eel Crag and Grisedale Pike on the right.

Watson Dodd is directly behind us to the south with Helvellyn peeping out behind it’s right shoulder:

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As we spend time scampering around the wide grassy summit taking our photos the walker who was taking photos is still enjoying the views and the man with the big pack does seem to have decided to go for it and is unpacking his parachute:

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As we walk past him I ask if he’s really going to jump and he seems quite keen to talk about what he’s planning.  He says the wind is behaving quite strangely today and pulling towards Skiddaw and I ask if it’s ok to paraglide with so little wind.  He nods happily and says yes, but he’s most likely just to float straight down to the bottom without the advantage of thermals to keep him in the air for longer.

I’d love to see him take off but know from previous experience of watching paragliders that people very sensibly take their time preparing everything carefully that he’ll be a while, and I wouldn’t want to risk him feeling rushed by being watched.  We leave him to his preparations and decide to start heading back down.

The descent down the steep frosty grass is a lot easier than the ascent and we bound down, sticking to the fluffy, sticky grass rather than risking the narrow path that is quite icy.

We quickly reach White Pike again and the views down towards Great Mell Fell and Little Mell Fell are looking really interesting.  There’s cloud covering the valley floor and in the distance behind the two puddings we can see a snow capped Cross Fell.  I’ve zoomed in the photo to try and capture it all but it does look a little blurry:

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We turn left at the Pike to head down the next steep 700ft of hillside – I try and take a photo but it doesn’t do it justice, especially with the distracting shadow of the mountain down at the bottom:

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Again the going is easy and we bounce down quickly despite the steepness and reach the wide stony Old Coach Road with it’s easy gradient:

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As we’re passing Blencathra on the way down we hear a helicopter and soon see it overhead.  I always think Mountain Rescue when I see a helicopter around here but it seems to be too high to be heading for either Blencathra or Skiddaw.  However, once past the mountains it doubles back and descends and starts hovering above Blencathra.  I watch for a few minutes while still trying to walk downhill but it disappears behind the summit and I don’t see it again.

I check out Keswick Mountain Rescue’s website later that evening and it was indeed a mountain rescue – a 70 year old man taken ill with chest pains on the summit of Blencathra who was airlifted to Lancaster Hospital – I hope he makes a full recovery.

The rest of the descent passes uneventfully and we arrive back at the car.  It was great to see such spectacular weather after so much grey and rain and on such a cold day we appreciated the lack of wind.  It’s not the most exciting route but it’s straightforward and the views on the ascent and at the top definitely make up for any lack of excitement on the way.