Walking the Birketts, Great Wood to High Seat

7th July 2018

After last weekends epic climb on Jack's Rake I'm returning to reality with this Birkett gem. As ever I'm following the original route which starts in Great Wood situated just outside Keswick, it's a place as far as I'm aware I haven't started from before although I have passed through on the odd occasion.

One of the main reasons why I chose this particular route was because part of it crosses one of Lakelands boggiest ridges 'the Central ridge' after weeks without rain I thought it would be perfect to carry out this walk although I must note Birkett put some thought into dividing two walks across the Central ridge both of which avoid the notoriously boggy Pewits, a area of the ridge fit for Wellington boots and determination only!

In some strange way it was quite sad to walk part of the ridge without so much as getting the caps of my boots wet but in others, a splendid way to spend a morning on the fells before returning home in time to watch England beat Sweden. My day couldn't have been more perfect which started funnily enough, at Castlerigg Stone Circle.

The Complete Lakeland Fells
By Bill Birkett

-Ashness Bridge A photo of the stone-arched Ashness Bridge over to Derwent Water with Skiddaw floating behind is hard to resist.


Ascent: 1,940 Feet - 592 Metres
Birketts: 3, Walla Crag - Bleaberry Fell - High Seat
Weather: Hot. More Humid Than of Late. Highs of 24 °C Lows of 15°C
Parking: Great Wood Car Park, Borrowdale Road, Keswick
Area - Group: Central - W/DER
Miles: 6.6
Walking With: On My Own
Ordnance Survey: OL4
Time Taken: 3 Hours 50 Minutes
Route: Great Wood - Cat Gill - Walla Crag - Top of Cat Gill - Bleaberry Fell - High Seat - Ashness Fell - Dodd - Ashness Bridge - Path below Falcon Crag - Great Wood

Parking Details and Map: Great Wood Car Park, Borrowdale Road, Keswick
Nearest Post code: CA12 5UP
Notes: Found on the Borrowdale Road just under a mile and a half out of Keswick Great Wood is large National Trust Pay and Display Car Park. Charges start at £4.00 to £5.70 for all day parking, National Trust Members park for free.


Map and Photo Gallery


Castlerigg Stone Circle 07:10am 15°C
i was a few minutes ahead of schedule so I stopped off at Castlerigg Stone Circle, at this time of the morning and at this time of year I was amazed to find I had the place to myself.

Blencathra from Castlerigg Stone Circle.
It's a little hazy this morning but what a place. Castlerigg Stone Circle dates back an amazing 4,500 years making it one of the earliest Stone Circles in Britain and possibly Europe.

Looking North towards Skiddaw Little Man, Lonscale Fell and Latrigg from Castlerigg Stone Circle.

Blencathra again from the East side of the Stone Circle.
Not a cloud, fantastic!

That's Bleaberry Fell in the distance with Walla Crag seen far right, I'll be over there soon.
Time to leave Castlerigg now and make my way over to Great Wood via Keswick.

Great Wood car park 07:30am

After driving through a virtually deserted Keswick I soon arrived at Great Wood car park, the official starting point to todays walk. I was spoilt for choice for where to park so I chose a spot close to the path I'll be using which vanishes off into Great Wood seen over on the right. It's not very often I pay to park in Lakeland so last night I had a quick look on the National Trust website which stated it was £4.00 for four hours which I thought isn't bad value considering how much I'm going to take out of this walk.

I think it was Mountain Rescue who stated this week that during the heat wave to only pack the essentials and to leave any extra layers behind, I thought this was good advice which notably lightened my pack thus I'm not exerting unnecessary energy - don't worry folks it won't be long until the extra layers go back in if British Summers are anything to go by so lets enjoy while we can.

Great Wood.
With my car locked I followed the sign posted 'Ashness Bridge' and entered Great Wood, a path rises steadily and it wasn't long before I could feel a trickle of sweat beading down the front of my neck, the Wood is trapping the warm air leaving the start of the walk feeling pretty humid, up ahead I came across two signs, one of which read Walla Crag (this path leads deeper into Great Wood towards Rakefoot) followed by the second sign which read 'Walla Crag via Steep Graded Climb' that's Cat Gill and the route I'll be ascending by.

Cat Gill ascent.

One bead of sweat turned into many as the path rose steeply surrounded by beautiful Birch Trees alongside an otherwise dry Cat Gill. I've used this path in both ascent and descent (take care during descent and avoid if possible when wet) and I was pleased to reach the tree tops leaving the steepest of the ascent behind me where I was met with the lightest of breezes, it wasn't much but just enough to help keep me cool.

Here looking back over Derwent Water towards Cat Bells and Maiden Moor.
Pheww-weee it's hot, hot hot.

Views towards the top of Cat Gill.
The path continued to rise steeply before suddenly plateauing out at a fenced gate. Cat Gill branches off to the right as the path flanks left through Bracken for Walla Crag. Bill Birkett recommends after summating Walla Crag to head back to the top of Cat Gill to take in the views which are some of the best to be found in the District.

Derwent Water from Walla Crag summit.

I reached the summit just as two fell runners were about to leave leaving the summit to myself, the views, despite the haze were just incredible here looking towards the Coledale, and Lord's Seat fells.

Time taken to reach Walla Crag from Great Wood, just 32 minutes.

Cat Bells seen with the North Western Fells from Walla Crag.
The two wooded Islands are St Herbert's Island (centre right ) and Rampsholme Island (centre foreground) The rocky Island (centre) is Scarf Stones. Be a grand day to be out on the water today.

The Skiddaw group seen over the Vale of Keswick.
With Latrigg seen far right.

Another view of Cat Bells with the North Western Fells in the distance.

Bleaberry Fell from Walla Crag.
Having tore myself away from Walla Crag summit I traced back and picked up the path bound for Bleaberry Fell, remember I mentioned that I'd be paying a visit to Cat Gill first? this I can do by turning right at the next cairn seen just around the right bend up ahead.

The top of Cat Gill (far right)
I'll be making up the distance between the top of Cat Gill and the path (seen left) via a well defined path not seen in this photo.

Derwent Water from the top of Cat Gill.
You can see why this view is so popular with views extending as far as Bassenthwaite Lake.

A wider view this time including Skiddaw.
You can see the stone wall alongside Cat Gill just over on the right, it's pretty steep but a short ascent and provides a great alternative when dry underfoot.

Back on track now as I look back on Walla Crag as Skiddaw domineers the distant view.

Bleaberry Fell up ahead.
This was by far the hottest part of the morning as I am passed by a shirtless fell runner carrying his water bottle and to be fair to him, he wasn't holding back either.

Views over Ashness Gill towards Ashness Fell (left) and Dodd (right)
The path I'll be descending by passes between Ashness Fell and Dodd before the sharp descent alongside Ashness Gill, you might be able to make out the path in the centre of the photo.

Bleaberry Fell viewing cairn.
Having approached the steep shoulder of the summit in direct sunlight I was pleased upon reaching the viewing cairn to find the sun had been partially hidden by cloud leaving the cool summit breeze once again, helping to cool me down. I wasn't alone here passing a wild camper who was watching the world go by just prior to reaching the summit, we pass with a Hi before I de-shoulder and take a long gulps of hydration from my water bottle. I'm quite enjoying using bottles now as appose to my Camelbak bladder, I'm not sure how long it will last though.

High Seat seen shortly after leaving Bleaberry Fell.
Well, this is an absolute first, dry cracked, dusty ground underfoot with pleasant walking all the way to High Seat summit.

High Seat summit.
I had spied this couple making their way towards High Seat from the direction of Ashness Fell and with good ground on me they reached the summit first, not wanting to disturb their peace and quiet I left after a quick hello.

Descent via Ashness Fell.
A well defined path traces along the ridge all the way into Ashness Gill, there's some fine walking to be had and not forgetting the grand views.

Bleaberry Fell.
I would imagine this ridge would be pretty marshy after spells of rain with avoidable damp sections often found.

Derwent Water and Skiddaw open out as I approach the shoulder of the fell.
Almost ready to descend into Ashness Gill now.

Cairn at the top of Ashness Gill.
This cairn marks the path at the top of Ashness Gill, a narrow twisting path now descends steeply into the Gill itself.

Descending Ashness Gill.
Having reached the Gill the path now straddles the fell side above Ashness Farm before picking up the grassy ridge seen centre left, the wooded area below is Ashness Wood and close by, Ashness Bridge...which is where I'm heading next.

Gyrocopter above Ashness Gill.
A regular sight in Lakeland during the Summer months.

Skiddaw from Ashness Bridge.

Having descended Ashness Gill I turned right and descended slightly towards a virtually deserted Ashness Bridge with only one family enjoying a picnic close by. It was only 10:30am but I thought I'd treat myself to an early lunch. Minutes later two chaps riding two mountain bikes appeared one of whom while negotiating the rocks close to the waters edge slipped and fell into the water right where you see the greenery to the right of the bridge, he must have still been clipped into his pedals causing his bike to land on top of him upside down, it appeared one of those comical moments at first as his mate burst into laughter but the poor guy was hanging upside down with his bike on top of him "alright mate" his friend says, lets get you out of there! Thankfully the chap was ok with only his ego bruised he left saying he'd only taken the stabilisers off this morning! Some good banter was had which thankfully turned out ok in the end.

With lunch packed away I hydrate once more before taking the path (seen far right next to the pink sign) sign posted Great Wood.

Cat Bells and Causey Pike seen over Derwent Water.
The path can be narrow in places and it wasn't long before I pass a couple who were from the Netherlands, they asked in broken English where are the Cat Bells "is that them?" pointing back towards a cluster of Islands, no I smiled, that's Cat Bells while pointing towards the fell, they thanked me and smiled before each going our separate ways.

The view South towards Grange, King's How and Castle Crag.
With High Spy, Nitting Haws and Maiden Moor over on the right, it looks like it's starting to cloud over but the humidity is still stifling.

Derwent Water.
Taken from the path below Falcon Crag, not long to go now until I reach Great Wood.

Footbridge over Cat Gill.

A rather dry looking Cat Gill.

High Level cloud had formed and although it had taken the heat out of the midday the humidity was still rife. Once over Cat Gill I took the familiar path that I had used earlier back to Great Wood car park as the cars traveling along the Borrowdale Road braught me back into reality as they drove by. 'Made up' paths through the woods provided the access that the kids needed to dart to and from Derwent Water while adults clambered with dinghies and body boards and with still the best part of the day in front of me for a split second it dawned on me was I really putting the fells second to watch England. I guess today I am and its worked out just perfectly.

On reaching my car I drop all the windows then turn on the air conditioning to full blast, there's a guy at the side of me changing into a wet suit but it feels like I'm already wearing mine, I change my T-shirt for one I had left on the back seat and finally add my mid north face trainers to drive home in. The National Trust have set up trying to attract new members next to the parking ticket machine, I get a smile from one attendant as I slowly drive past leaving dust settling in my cars wake. Keswick was quiet and I was able to drive through without so much of a hold up as too was the motorway making it home in plenty of time to witness England progress to the semi-finals.


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