A Wet Sleddale Round

Walk Date – 29th May 2016

Distance – 8.25 miles

Weather – dry, warm and sunny


Its Sunday on a warm and dry Bank Holiday weekend. There’s nothing wrong with that is there? No, but it will probably mean that car parks and parking spaces will be overflowing and the popular fells will be crowded. With all that in mind we decided to stick close to home and take a walk somewhere we know its not likely to be very busy.


So here we are, five miles from home at Wet Sleddale reservoir where our car is the only one in the parking area, which is just out of shot on the right of the photo, and starting out for a walk across some of the remote Shap Fells. There is absolutely no-one around, not even a duck or a goose on the water, and all you can hear are the curlews, its wonderful.

A bit of re-cycling here as old concrete drainage pipes have been used to create a crossing over one of the many becks.

Never saw one all day, should we look out for subtracters too?

Didn’t see any of these either, so wild life was obviously keeping a low profile while we were around. Why does the notice have the Yorkshire Dales logo on it?

As you can see this isn’t a place where you’ll find the big ‘in your face’ fells. Its uninhabited, wild, open moorland so you are probably wondering why there seems to be a road of sorts stretching across it. That line of structures starting over on the left of the photo should give you a clue …..

….. as they are grouse butts, which varied in style and appearance. This is the basic model, three bits of wood and some corrugated sheeting, does the job but a bit on the utilitarian side, you could think of it as tourist class if you like.

A little better than tourist class, as it will accommodate two very comfortably and you do have some protection from the winds on either side of you, but its not quite the de luxe model …..

….. which this type definitely is. Solidly constructed of thick wood, plenty of wind protection, roomy and not in danger of imminent collapse. How these various butts are allocated on a grouse shoot I have no idea, numbers out of a hat, greasing a palm, pistols at dawn? Whatever the method you can bet your boots that the shooter who gets the basic model will probably do some under the breath muttering about it.

Now this is a bit sneaky, providing a bridge crossing for any animal who doesn’t like getting wet looks like a kind gesture until …..

….. until you examine the bit in the middle which is the business end of the crossing, although it doesn’t look as if the trap has been set. There was another one of these somewhere else just lying on the grass and completely rusty so perhaps they aren’t in use any more. I think they were intended to trap stoats and weasels.

No traps for the unwary at this beck crossing. More re-cycling of concrete drainage pipes, this time on the vertical to support the wooden footbridge.

This is the reason for the road, providing access to a big shed with a fence round it, named rather grandly on the OS map as ‘lunch house’. The grouse shooting parties will arrive in their 4×4’s, park up, shoot some grouse, have lunch in the shed, shoot some more grouse and then go home, no doubt having paid through the nose for it all.

We couldn’t have our lunch in the lunch house as it was all locked up, and it was a bit too early for lunch anyway. Given what you have to pay for a day’s shooting I suppose the shooting party’s lunch would consist of something a little more up-market than the humble chicken sandwiches and sun softened Mars Bars that we have in our packs.

From the lunch house we carry on up to Gray Bull. A huge lump of pink granite with its base in a deep and dark green pool of water, where who knows what was lurking amongst the slimy looking plant life, all topped off with a sporty light green hair style. Given that there is nothing much else to see in the photo you can understand why it forms a useful landmark when navigating across here.

From Gray Bull we made our way over to Sleddale Pike which is not very high and not very steep, but what this area lacks in height and steepness is more than offset by the nature of the ground. We weren’t off-path here because there is no path, that ended at the lunch house. So huge clumps of tussocky grass, heather and sphagnum moss have to be negotiated. A misplaced foot on tussocky grass will throw you off balance, trying to step between the tussocks will have you knee deep in the stuff, the heather does its best to snag on your socks, tie itself to your bootlaces or create a lattice work of scratches on your legs, and as for sphagnum moss, which can soak up more than eight times its own weight in water, you  can imagine what that’s like to walk across. All in all it takes a heavy toll on the legs, I think its as difficult as walking in deep snow.   

The leg muscles were given a breather on Sleddale Pike while I took some photos, this is the view, looking eastwards, of Wet Sleddale reservoir from Sleddale Pike.

Now looking south west towards our next objective, Great Saddle Crags on the centre skyline. The ground in between is that same mixture of tussocky grass, heather and sphagnum moss. Come on legs, let’s get going.

We came across plenty of pools walking across here, this one was particularly sneaky since what looks like a nice green lawn in front of it wasn’t that at all, it was just tangled vegetation floating on the surface inviting the unwary to step on it and end up who knows how deep in water.

Its a bit like doing one of those dot to dot drawings walking across here, as you look for the next dot of dry and/or level ground to step on but we’re making slow and steady progress. I took a look back at Sleddale Pike just to convince myself that I had actually covered some distance as it certainly didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere at all.

Approaching Great Saddle Crags and the sight of rising ground gives us hope that the ground will be drier and firmer underfoot than it has been since we left the lunch house track. My calf muscles are now complaining about the work load and the low crags ahead are beginning to assume the proportions of Everest.

The top of Great Saddle Crags. No big tussocks of grass, no heather, no sphagnum moss, just ordinary grass on solid ground. Hallelujah, I think I’ve just reached heaven. When the novelty of standing on firm ground had worn off I took a shot looking back at Sleddale Pike and the bit we have just walked and stumbled over.

It was very hazy today so long distance views were poor, but this close up didn’t turn out too badly. On the skyline is Harter Fell, and over on the right, with the wall running down it, is Branstree.

This is the longer view of the previous photo to include the cairn on Great Saddle Crags.

With the legs rested for five minutes we begin to drop down off Great Saddle Crags to make our way down to Sleddale Beck. The terrain is just the same as before but at least its down hill which makes life easier.

Crossing Widepot Sike. A sike is just a small stream, usually flowing through marshy ground. How true in this case.

This herd of red deer came thundering across the fellside below us, seemingly out of nowhere as we hadn’t had sight of them until now. Sorry about the blur but they were running like blazes and the camera is on maximum zoom.

They had obviously spotted us from wherever they had been hidden, made a dash for it, and finally disappeared behind the slope of the fell side.

Heading down to Sleddale Beck with Tongue Rigg on the left and Sleddale Pike over on the right. The ground conditions on this higher ground have improved so it was easier to get a move on.

On the left skyline is Seat Robert with Tongue Rigg over on the right. We saw lots of these protective plastic tubes and this was quite a large planting area, but as usual it had mostly been a useless exercise. I always look to see how the young trees are doing, and it was the same old story here, not very well. We found two small hawthorns, about a foot high, a very sickly looking holly with two yellowing leaves just poking out of the ground, and something with a few leaves, which looked like beech, which had just managed to cling on to life. That’s not a good success rate when you consider the dozens and dozens of stakes and tubes which were here.

Tod Crags on the left across the valley bottom but we’re heading for the large rock below it for a lunch break. To the right is Widepot Sike which is flowing down to join forces with Sleddale Beck coming in from the left.

On maximum zoom again to show the deer were still keeping an eye on us as we were having lunch.

From our lunch rock, Tod Crags on the left and Seat Robert on the right, with Sleddale Beck between us and them.

From the climb up Tod Crags a look down at the very wet area around Sleddale Beck.

The view down to Wet Sleddale reservoir from Tod Crags.

From Tod Crags a view into Mosedale with some of the far eastern fells beyond.  A wild, remote and unfrequented landscape where, so far, we have encountered no-one else.

From Tod Crags its just a short distance to reach the bliss of the firm, dry path which is coming in from Mosedale behind us. Its just great not to have to watch where you’re putting your feet all the time. We began to meet others as we walked along this path, two men on quad bikes going up to the Mosedale bothy,  a couple who were walking, and four young men on mountain bikes who came whizzing past us, so it wasn’t exactly crowded along here.

As I was taking this view of the fells around Wet Sleddale another walker came along the path towards us. This was a lady, in her 80’s, from Eamont Bridge who stopped for a chat with us. She asked us what route we had taken so far and she grimaced when we told her. She said she had only walked that route once and vowed she would never do it again, too much tussocky grass.  After a long chat with her about all manner of things we continued along the track back towards …..

….. Wet Sleddale reservoir and Sleddale Hall. Here we turn off the main path and take the downhill track you can see running across the foreground. You can see our car from here parked by the right hand side of the dam wall in front of that clump of trees.

Sleddale Hall. If you are familiar with the cult film ‘Withnail and I’ you may recognise it as Uncle Monty’s Crow Crag. If you aren’t familiar with the film just type Withnail into the search box and you’ll be overwhelmed by information.

The once derelict house was bought a few years ago and the owner is renovating it so I climbed up the footpath to see how things were progressing. The owner was there and he came out into the courtyard and invited me over to take a look.

This is the main house with new door and window surrounds, and new windows. The old render will be replaced with a lime render.

The courtyard and some of the outbuildings …..

This outbuilding is attached to the main house and looks as though it has had its coating of lime render already.

The new owner lives in Kent, which, as you all know, is where we used to live so we had  a bit of a chat about that. Its a long drive from there to here and it can’t be easy to find the time to come up and work on the house. Here’s a link if you’d like to know a bit more – https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/film-news/6086994/Withnail-and-I-farmhouse-sold-to-fan-of-film.html

At the bottom of the hill below the house is the old stone pack horse bridge …..

….. with this attractive little set of falls below it.

A close up of Sleddale Hall as we continue on from the bridge.

Back at ground level and walking along the reservoir path to the car which is parked beyond the trees by the end of the dam wall.

Finally, and almost back at the car, a sighting of one of the local residents. The cormorant was far too busy keeping an eye on a noisy group of Canada geese to be bothered by us.