Hencomb

Date: 20 June 2020 Weather: 18’C, cloudy
Height gain: 1,437 ft Distance: 5 miles
Time taken: 3 hours 55 mins Wainwrights: 124 of 214

Route:  From Loweswater parking by the old telephone box and following the road passed the pub to Church Bridge parking area and then following the footpath passing Kirkgate Farm then along the base of Mellbreak before crossing Mosedale Beck and heading up the nose of Hencomb to the top and back the same way.


The rain which started after our last walk on 15 June carried on for a few days of wet and muggy weather before Saturday dawned with sunny spells although moderate winds forecast at height.  We are more than ready for a good hillwalk but we don’t want to get too high in the wind and preferably we’d like to do something less vertical than our last few mountains.  We decide on Hencomb – a long drive out towards Buttermere but a beautiful area for a nice day.

The drive goes smoothly and we’re there in just short of an hour and a quarter.  We decide we’ll park at the phone box and find two other cars already there but one space free where we can just about squeeze ourselves off the road.  Boots on and rucksacks heaved onto shoulders we set off down the road and passed a sad looking closed Loweswater Inn – although there are plenty of cars in the car-park and signs up offering takeaway food available for collection (pubs won’t be able to open fully for another two weeks yet).

We reach the Church Bridge car park area, which is where I would have suggested we park, to find it empty and blocked off by very large tree trunks – visitors clearly less than welcome here even though travelling for walks is now ok.  We know we have to pass by Kirkgate Farm so I’m a little nervous but in the event it’s fine – we pass by the farmhouse rather than walking through their yard and we even get a smile from a woman working in her garden opposite the building.

We reach the gate and turn right through the woods following a path which skirts the base of Mellbreak.  I’m very, very glad that we’re not heading onto that terrifying path today – we last climbed it at the end of August 2017 when S had a cold and I thought the direct route would be fine with 20 odd years of hillwalking experience under my belt (I went round the side on my first ascent way back in 1996).  It’s probably the most scared I’ve ever felt on a hillwalk – I’m never doing that route again.

We continue to follow the wall on the pleasant path with its gentle upward gradient.  As we gain height the route up Mellbreak comes into view – that wider path of scree to the left above the bright green vegetation is the near vertical path – and as we walk I keep looking back to watch the impressively good progress of the different walkers who are taking that route today:

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I drag my attention back to our route and the path stretching ahead of us and am surprised when S says that we need to take the gate on our right and head down to and across Mosedale Beck beneath us.  A man and his son are coming towards us and they pause and hang around just beyond the gate.  A few minutes later a woman and her daughter start coming up the path from the beck and when they reach the gate they all set off towards Loweswater together.  We presume they are a family, but can’t work out how they ended up in that configuration.

There are rocks we can use to get across the beck but the water is so clear and the weather so pleasant I decide just to wade through:

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My trousers are wet to the knees but only a little bit of water seeps into my right boot to wet my socks – very refreshing.  The path steepens now as we climb up from the beck and onto the shoulder of Hencomb:

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A family has reached the beck below us and are shrieking and laughing as they cross.  They chatter away to each other as they start up our path but happily they are the family fit and quickly come striding passed us.  Dad and son and daughter adopt serious faces as they charge by but Mum pauses to say hello and as we remark on their good fitness she confides that she’s really struggling to keep up.

We reach the shoulder of the mountain and turn left to head up the nose.  It’s nearly a mile of walking at a nice gradient before we reach the steep final climb.  As we gain height the views behind us start to develop and as I stop to catch my breath I turn back and see a stunning view back towards Loweswater:

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Ten minutes and a couple of hundred feet later the view is looking even better:

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And then it does it again – by the time we reach around 1,000ft Loweswater itself comes into view looking a beautiful blue in the sunshine:

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The walk so far has met our requirement for not being as vertical as our last few but we can see up ahead that the last 400ft are going to be much steeper:

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Despite the gentle gradient we are slow and huffing and puffing – I blame the warm weather, even if it is only 18’C.  As we reach the final steep ascent the fit family from earlier are starting their descent.  The young son has decided to try out his fell running skills and is hurtling down very proficiently, his sister making a half hearted attempt to keep up.  Dad is following at a fast walk and Mum is again trailing behind stepping carefully down the steep path.  We stop to chat to her again – we comment how nice it is to be out again and she agrees – this is their first family outing since lockdown despite them living very locally in Cockermouth.

We say our goodbyes and continue to scramble our way slowly up the mostly grassy but occasionally rocky path until we’re at the top:

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The views are good all around us but while we’ve been mostly protected from the wind on the way up it is very strong right at the top – forecast to be around 25 mph at this height but feels stronger.

I’m distracted by the wind and don’t capture a good photo south where Pillar looks quite majestic – here’s the best I did:

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The prettiest views are down towards Buttermere with Fleetwith Pike the distinctive triangle at the head of the lake :

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I can never keep the name of Fleetwith Pike in my head despite it being such a familiar sight – today I keep looking back at AW’s book to remind myself what it’s called.

The views north east towards the Grasmoor range also look good from up here:

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We descend a few feet from the summit and quickly find a cosy sheltered spot to eat our lunch.  The views from here down our ascent route towards Loweswater look lovely and the sunshine warms us back up after our short stay on the windy summit:

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We take our time munching our sandwiches and enjoying the views and the warmth (and not going uphill) before finally starting to retrace our steps back down.  The initial 400ft is steep and as always is trickier going down than up at that gradient.

It’s not a huge amount of descent though and we soon have only a pleasant gentle grassy descent back down the nose in front of us:

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The ground steepens as we get to the end of the nose and follow the side of the hill back down to the crossing of Mosedale Beck.  The sun is properly out now and the water is sparkling and we spend an enjoyable 10 mins perched on a rock with our boots dipped into the water:

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A final quick scamper up the other side of the beck takes us back up to the path and the final stretch back to the car:

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This was the perfect walk for a breezy day with some not too hot sunshine to enjoy – this really is a beautiful part of the lake district and well worth the longer than usual drive to reach it.