Calf Crag, Gibson Knott and Helm Crag via Greenburn

Walk Date – 18th November 2019

Distance – 7 miles

Weather – cold and dry, sunny, no wind

After a severe overnight frost a deep crust of ice, glittering and sparkling in the dazzling morning sunlight, had taken up residence on every available surface and, as it had developed a particular liking for car windows, several minutes were taken up with the usual spray and scrape routine before we could get under way. The Eden Valley was shrouded in thick fog, as it often is at this time of year and in these conditions, but generally once up onto the A6 it is left behind and things become clear again. Not so today and we didn’t leave the fog behind until we had almost reached Blencathra which suddenly appeared, in startling clarity and sporting a thin line of snow just below its summit, about half a mile ahead of us. Having spent most of the drive thus far peering into the gloom of the fog and keeping an eye on the tail lights of the vehicles ahead of us it was a very welcome sight, as was the view ahead. Not a cloud in the sky and all the fell tops, a few with a dusting of snow, clearly visible. Thirlmere’s surface was smooth as glass with no sign of any temperature inversion having taken place, no slender ribbons of mist clinging to its surface, no lingering wisps slowly dissipating, nothing but absolute stillness. The deep shade cast by the Dodds and the Helvellyn group was left behind as we breasted Dunmail Raise and pulled into the lay-by in bright and eye-watering sunlight. A couple of ‘unforeseeens’ during kitting up slowed things down for a few minutes, the wrist loop on one of my gloves decided to come unstitched so a make-do solution had to be improvised there, and after that was sorted out I realised that I hadn’t re-attached a small strap to the camera which enables it to be securely clipped on to the camera holster on my pack. Another scrabble around in our packs searching for anything which would do the job turned up a small carabiner and a looped toggle thingy which solved the problem and at last we could get on with our walk.


A591 lay-by – Town Head – Helmside – Greenburn Dale – Greenburn Bottom – Pike of Carrs – Rough Crag – Calf Crag – Pike of Carrs – Gibson Knott – Helm Crag – Helmside – Town Head – A591 lay-by

(The data on the gps wouldn’t download onto the laptop so a ‘home made’ route map is the clunky alternative. The return leg is shown in blue.)

A short walk back up the A591 leads us to the lane between Town Head Farm and the Easedale Road in Grasmere. No chance of taking any views to the south so here’s a look across Town Head Farm with Steel Fell behind it to the right and Gibson Knott over on the left. The cluster of white houses below Gibson Knott is where we’re heading and once beyond those we’ll enter the Greenburn valley.

We follow the lane around the farm passing Town Head Cottages and continue down the hill to Ghyll Foot where we turn sharp right …..

…. and carry on up the steep hill passing the cottages at Helmside along the way.. In the deep shadow cast by the trees its feeling more than a little nippy as I take a look back across the sunny slopes of Seat Sandal towards Great Rigg.

Right behind me is the gate at the top of the lane where we leave the tarmac and the chilly shade and enter …..

….. the sunny warmth of the Greenburn valley. A pair of walkers who walked up the lane just ahead of us have turned off to the right to follow the path up to the summit of Steel Fell, on the right, where another pair are already making their way up about a hundred yards ahead of them. We keep to the valley path alongside the wall.

Gibson Knott on the opposite side of the valley which we’ll be crossing over on the return leg of our walk. Surprisingly the grassy path we were following had hardly any frost and in many places was very soft and muddy.

A look back from the waterfall just above the footbridge across Green Burn, this is where we will emerge after our descent of Helm Crag on the return leg of our walk.

By this point I just had to stop because I was becoming much too hot, off came the mid-layer, gloves were stowed away, jacket left unzipped and then a quick mop of the face to wipe away the sweat. I don’t think I would have been too uncomfortable if I had de-layered right down to my t-shirt because with the sun blazing down and not a hint of a breeze it really was very warm through here.

From the same spot, a look ahead as the path climbs gently alongside Green Burn. In a few places along the route running water had so completely taken over that the path almost seemed like a mirror image of the beck.

The gently rising nature of the route is evident in this view back along the length of the dale as we reach Greenburn Bottom, with Great Rigg, Stone Arthur, Erne Crag and Heron Pike on the skyline …..

….. and a look forward across the drumlins of the squelchy Greenburn Bottom towards the head of Greenburn. We’re about to leave the sunny side of the street at this point because just a short distance to the left …..

….. are the stepping stones across Green Burn which we need to cross to pick up the path leading up to the ridge path between Gibson Knott and Calf Crag. The stones were ice free but we crossed with care anyway, a careless slip into that icy water would have been very unpleasant. Once across the beck and into the shade the chill factor began to kick in so jackets were zipped up and hats and gloves put back on again.

From the stepping stones the path gradually makes its way upwards, with the occasional terraced section along the way, but its never particularly steep anywhere along its length. Naturally there was much more frost on this side of the valley which gave rise to some very satisfying crunching under our boots. I had hoped to get a shot of the triangular sheepfold which is situated not too far from the stepping stones but it was smothered in bracken and without fighting my way through the stuff to get higher up the fell side I couldn’t manage a decent view of it, so I didn’t bother.

Across Greenburn Bottom and basking in the sun is Blakerigg Crag on Steel Fell …..

….. but no such warmth on this side as the frosty path begins to rise once again towards the crags around Greenburn Head.

The view over Greenburn Bottom, and its remarkable colour contrasts, as the path leads us up towards the ridge line.

A short distance back from here the path becomes a little less distinct as it passes through quite a marshy area but it doesn’t last long and the grassy path soon turns up again. The ridge line is tantalisingly close now and the thought of reaching rays of warm sunshine spurs us on …..

….. to climb out of the chill cabinet and feel the sun on our faces again. However, the sun is much too bright to take a look behind me so here’s a view across the drumlins of Greenburn Bottom once again to Steel Fells’s Blakerigg Crag.

Just behind Steel Fell’s lower slopes is Seat Sandal and behind that, complete with a dusting of snow, is Fairfield and the long ridge line down to Great Rigg.

With views to the west being very limited by the bright sunlight the best that could be achieved was this view from the ridge path down through Far Easedale.

A view to the south east towards Gibson Knott from the ridge path. The Herdwick was far more interested in eating than she was in us and never gave us so much as a glance. We had better luck with a couple of girls who came by with cheery greetings and telling us that they had taken a day off work to enjoy the lovely weather, and who could blame them for that.

Looking northwards now from the same spot towards Pike of Carrs where we are off to next. However, it was so warm, sunny and still we decided it was a grand spot to stop and get the coffee out, so we did and had a ten minute break enjoying the coffee and the abundance of views.

Coffee break over and we carry on over the path heading for Pike of Carrs, here’s a retrospective view from the climb.

A little higher and behind Steel Fell the Helvellyn range appears …..

….. and so does the snow topped summit of Saint Sunday Crag, wedged between Dollywaggon Pike and Seat Sandal.

Another look back along the Gibson Knott/Helm Crag ridge from the top of Pike of Carrs …..

….. together with another look along Far Easedale towards Grasmere. There was nothing by way of views to the west today, just blinding sunlight with total blackness below it.

From Pike of Carrs we made our way over towards Rough Crag to take a few shots from there …..

….. looking north from Rough Crag across the nameless tarns above Greenburn Head to Nab Crags, with Clough Head and Great Dodd over to the right …..

….. and looking over the Wythburn valley towards Green Combe and Ullscarf.

From Rough Crag we made our way across to Calf Crag, the second outcrop along. On the skyline immediately above Calf Crag is Long Crag and rising up from it the summit of High Raise.

I didn’t notice it at the time but a pair of walkers, also heading for Calf Crag, walked into the edge of the frame and photo-bombed the shot. We can see about four other people already up there so we opt to wait before walking up to the summit and find a quiet spot in the sun where we can have a spot of lunch.

Our sunny spot just below the top of Calf Crag where we took our break. The long flat top of High Street is just visible behind the High Pike ridge line.

Gradually the summit area cleared so we nipped up to take a few shots. Here looking across the nameless tarn to a sunny Greenup Edge and the frosty lower slopes of High Raise.

J at the summit cairn with Ullscarf beyond …..

….. and the view east from the summit of Calf Crag. A few wispy clouds have drifted over which adds a little bit of interest to the clear blue sky.

From Calf Crag we begin to make our way back to Pike of Carrs …..

….. where I take another quick shot to the south east …..

….. before beginning the descent towards the ridge path and making our way over to Gibson Knott. Just a smidge of High Street is still in view now.

The path across the ridge keeps mainly to the Far Easedale side as it twists and turns …..

….. and rises and falls …..

….. over the many humps and bumps all the way along, but there’s nothing to stop you going ‘off piste’ so to speak and keeping to the top of the ridge line if that takes your fancy.. The couple in this shot and the previous one had left Calf Crag while we were having our lunch break but we’ve somehow managed to catch up with them. We weren’t walking very quickly either so we hung around for a couple of minutes so they wouldn’t feel as if we were snapping at their heels.

On Gibson Knott now from where there’s this dizzying view down into Far Easedale …..

….. and beyond the summit cairn some of the fells to the east. We could still see the couple just ahead of us so once again we spent a minute or two just looking around before setting off once again. A solo male walker came by, gave us a quick ‘Hello’, and then headed off in the direction of Pike of Carrs.

Looks as though we didn’t wait long enough though and the lady walker seemed to be having difficulty dealing with one or two of the more awkward descent spots along the path. She didn’t look to be limping so maybe she was just taking things rather more carefully than her male companion.

Even though its only 2.30 p.m. the shadows seem to be lengthening as we make our way down to Bracken Hause for the short out and back up to Helm Crag. The two walkers just ahead of us seem to be slowing down once again.

The path up Helm Crag is fairly narrow so we waited a couple of minutes at Bracken Hause to allow enough time for them to get a good way up it before we make a start. I took a look over to the Helvellyn range, Seat Sandal and Fairfield while we waited …..

….. and a look back towards Gibson Knott and Steel Fell. Out of shot to the left a chap was also taking a break and as I was putting the camera away he came by us, looked up at the Helm Crag path and, with a sigh, remarked that “This is a bit much at the end of a walk!” and then up he went.  Yes, its on the steep side but at least it doesn’t last long ……

….. and there’s a good view back along the ridge.

The afore mentioned walker was sitting out of shot to the left and enjoying a tea break when we reach the top of the path. I don’t think he was planning on climbing to the top of The Howitzer, and neither were we, but we were in good company though because AW never climbed it either.

Another view of The Howitzer perched high above Dunmail Raise on the A591 and the shadows of Steel Fell and the ridge are creeping ever higher on the opposite slopes. Even though it is still only 2.50 p.m. it feels very much like the end of the day. At this time during high summer you’d still have a whole lot of daylight in hand, now there’s only just over an hour left before the sun sets, ho hum. On the plus side though the ‘golden hour’ does arrive that much quicker.

A short stroll over to The Lion and the Lamb and although we saw them climbing the path up Helm Crag there is no sign of the two walkers we’ve been following so they didn’t linger up here.

We retrace our steps, say cheerio to the chap packing away his tea flask and begin the descent back to Bracken Hause where we will pick up the zig-zag path over on the right and make our way back to Town Head and the lay-by.

Gloves on again now we’ve returned to the chilly side of the A591. Town Head Farm is just above the stand of conifers so there’s a bit more to go yet. The strong light has almost obliterated the tops of Seat Sandal and Fairfield.

The fells of the Fairfield horseshoe were absolutely glowing in the afternoon sun and you just had to stop and admire the spectacle …..

….. with much the same effect occurring on Steel Fell as we turn in the opposite direction following the well graded hairpin route back down the steep slopes of Helm Crag. Its a grand walk down and there’s no need for the ‘get into low gear and keep the brakes on’ method of descent, you know you are going downhill but it just doesn’t feel like it.

It doesn’t take long to descend and here we are back at the bridge across Green Burn which I mentioned earlier in the report. Across the way Stone Arthur now looks as if its on fire, so intense are its colours.

Back down to Ghyll Foot and all that’s left to do now is walk up the hill past the farm and from there back to the lay-by. This is a great little walk with plenty of interest, some splendid views and not much by way of very steep climbs and its well worth a visit. The drive home was quite unremarkable until we got beyond Blencathra heading towards Penrith. The blanket of fog hadn’t lifted at all, if anything it had intensified and spread even further so we ended the journey just as we had started it, peering into the gloom of the fog and keeping an eye on the tail lights of the vehicles ahead of us.