Watendlath, Dock Tarn and Great Crag

Walk Date – 4th December 2016

Distance – 9 miles

Weather – dry and sunny, cold wind on top


Last night’s forecast predicted an overnight frost followed by a good sunny day, so we decided to walk up to Watendlath Tarn and then on to Dock Tarn and Great Crag. Would the frost have been severe enough to form ice on the tarns? We’ll just have to wait and see.



01 Derwentwater from the car park

A chilly view across Derwentwater from the little parking area at the bottom of the Watendlath road. The sun isn’t above the fells behind us yet so we’ll be in the shade for a while as we walk up the lane to Ashness Bridge.

02 Setting out up the lane to Ashness Bridge

As we start walking up the lane we’re heading towards the south, which allows a little more light into the camera, but the sun is still below the fells ahead of us so its a tad chilly to start off with. The chill soon wears off though as its all uphill for quite a way and we soon begin to get comfortably warm.

03 Ashness Bridge and the Skiddaw fells

I wasn’t going to take yet another shot of Ashness Bridge, after all, how many photos do you need of the same bridge? As you can see my good intentions vanished when we arrived here. We’re still in the shade but the Skiddaw fells are bathed in sunshine and surrounded by cloudless blue skies, let’s hope it stays that way.

04 Ashness Farm below Dodd

We continue on up the Watendlath road passing by Ashness Farm below the little rocky top of Dodd. Walking along here needed care and attention because much of it was icy and very slippery. We took to walking on the grittier parts of it in the centre which gave a better footing, although we did have to keep hopping over to the side of the road every so often to avoid the numerous cars which kept coming up and down it. As we kept seeing the same cars going up and then coming back down after a very short while we assumed they had all gone up to Surprise View to take a few photos and then returned home again. There were so many that after a while it began to become very irritating.

05 A look back to the Skiddaw fells

Stepping to the side of the road once again to allow yet another car go by, I took a look back at the Skiddaw fells, still hanging on to a few snow patches, while I was waiting.

06 Maiden Moor and Catbells across Derwentwater

We arrive at Surprise View and, as we thought, here were the cars which had been passing us on the way up here. There didn’t appear to be what might be called, ‘serious photographers’, amongst the folk up here. Nobody with tripods and an array of equipment, just people whipping our their mobile phones, taking a few snaps and then going back to the car and driving back down again. The sun still wasn’t high enough to show the water at its best, and on the opposite bank a layer of cloud was just getting in the way of an uninterrupted sunny view of Maiden Moor and Catbells. There’s a thin film of ice over this southern end of Derwentwater so the reflections on the opposite side are a bit truncated.

08 Looking along Derwentwater from Surprise View

Looking along the length of Derwentwater from Surprise View, the film of surface ice stretching quite a good distance along.

09 We take the right hand path for a walk through the woods

From Surprise View we continued up the road, now traffic free all the way along, and turned off to the right at this junction to take a walk through the woods and, eventually, alongside Watendlath Beck. We are beginning to see hints of sunlight appearing so our time in the shade will soon be at an end.

10 Morning sunlight gilding the rock outcrops

It was lovely walking through here, a crisp, frosty morning, leaves scrunching beneath our feet, and the sun making its presence felt as it lights up the outcrops, branches and leaf litter ahead of us.

11 A look back as we walk through the woods

I know the Met Office have taken it upon themselves to decide that the first of December marks, for them, the meteorological beginning of winter, but I’m having none of it. For me, winter begins with the winter solstice, around 21-22 December, so I’m not looking at a winter scene here. This is England in late autumn, the ground is littered with crisp, dry leaves, some trees have lost them completely while others have yet to lose theirs, the bracken has died back and turned a rich copper brown, the shadows are long, your breath hangs in the air and it is all topped off with a piercing blue sky. Yes, its autumn alright and its a grand day to be outdoors enjoying it all, we even saw a couple of red squirrels.

12 The bridge is repaired and back in use

The woodland path leads on to a gate in the wall where we take a right turn and follow the wall down to this bridge across Watendlath Beck. This was damaged during Storm Desmond but is now fully repaired and back in use.

13 A crisp frosty morning.

The view along Watendlath Beck from the opposite bank, the white frosty ground just visible as the sun makes a partial appearance through the trees.

14 View of the bridge from the other side

A view of the bridge from this side of the beck with the woodland behind in full sun, and a rich copper sheen on the beck, the colours were fabulous in the strong sunlight today.

15 Continuing along the beckside path

Further along the beckside path and the sun is so low and strong I’m having to hide it behind branches and tree trunks to be able to take any photos at all.

16 One of the footbridges white with frost

One of the footbridges, frosted white, which we crossed along the route, and it creaked rather ominously as we did so.

17 Looking back along Watendlath Beck

Further along the path I took another look back along Watendlath Beck and the glorious colours which were on display. I’m sure you can understand why there are no pictures looking ahead of us, the sun was so strong that we couldn’t see unless we shaded our eyes with our hands, so the camera would have stood no chance of dealing with it. I began wishing I’d brought my baseball cap so I could have pulled the peak down over my eyes and given my aching arms a bit of a rest. I did have sunglasses but all they were doing was making the dark shadows even darker so I gave up on them after a while.

18 Reecastle Crag

As you can see, the path isn’t just a flat, straightforward walk beside the beck, there are plenty of up and downs, and twists and turns adding interest all the way along to Watendlath, and its more fun than simply walking up the road.

21 Up to the gate in the wall

Alongside the wall are a series of steps leading up the slope to the gate in the wall. Although the steps are flat and level care was still needed as there was a coating of ice across them. It wasn’t noticeable until you put your foot on one so the deer fence on the wall came in handy as a bannister, just in case.

22 The view back along the path to Ether Knott and Brown Dodd

Up the steps and through the gate without any slips and we continue on the rough stony path. We’re back in the sunlight so I took a look back in the direction of Ether Knott and Brown Dodd.

23 Watendlath Beck tumbling down the valley

The little hamlet of Watendlath is just around the corner from these falls. I tried to get a better shot of the falls from lower down but the grass and rocks were just a bit too icy to be safe so I had to be content with taking this shot of the point where the beck starts tumbling down into the valley.

24 The temporary bridge now out of use

The temporary crossing, which was very quickly installed after Storm Desmond damaged the stone bridge behind, is now out of use, although I suspect it may be left in place until the spring, just in case any more storms come along.

25 The old bridge has been repaired and is back in use

The old pack horse bridge has been carefully repaired and is back in use. Its good to have it back, many thanks to the repair team for all their hard work.

26 The hamlet of Watendlath across Watendlath Tarn

On the other side of the tarn are the very few buildings which make up the hamlet of Watendlath. I would have liked a shot looking along the tarn from this point but the sun was directly over the southern end so that was that. The net strung across the outflow stops the fish in the tarn migrating down the beck and setting up home in Derwentwater.

27 A look back to the tarn on the way to Great Crag

The path runs alongside the tarn for a short distance and then begins to climb up and away from it. This was a good vantage point to look back and take a shot of the tarn in its lovely setting, even lovelier on such a good day as today. There was no-one around at Watendlath while we were there, neither are there any walkers on the path we are on so everything is very peaceful today.

29 Four herdies giving us the once over

We weren’t quite alone however, this little group of Herdies preceded us up the path for quite a way until they decided to break off to the right of the path and give the pair of us the once over. They do stare at you very intently and you can’t help but wonder what’s going on in their heads. We can’t be the only walkers who actually talk to sheep, can we?

30 Great Crag straight ahead

We should be walking in sunshine but some cloud has built up so we’re back in the chiller for the time being. This path goes up to Dock Tarn, and if you turn off it to the right a little further on you will end up on Great Crag, that’s the fell in the centre of the shot. The path isn’t that brilliant normally but today it was quite treacherous and you definitely had to watch where you were putting your feet. Where you could see water it was obvious that it was iced over and easy to avoid, it wasn’t quite so easy to see the slight film of frost on the rocks which make up sections of the path. It wasn’t obvious white frost so to begin with the rocks looked as though they were dry and usable, but after a couple of steps and near slips we realised they weren’t and took to using the rough grass instead.

31 A look back from the gate as the view begins to open up

The views behind us are opening up as we pass through the gate and continue to climb.


We passed below Great Crag and made our way along the very rough and icy track to Dock Tarn. The path along to the tarn was hard going. There are lots of rocky bits to clamber over which normally adds a bit of fun to the walk, but today all the rocks were covered in the same film of invisible ice that was on the path, so getting a handhold and foothold proved to be a bit of a bind at times and made it harder work than it should have been. There was a chilly wind along here, note the ripples on the water, so we found a sheltered spot and got out the soup and sandwiches. It was still chilly though because the band of cloud I mentioned earlier was still overhead and once again I was driven to grumbling about clouds being over Dock Tarn every time I’m up here. We were just packing everything away when the cloud finally thinned and sunshine broke out over the tarn, at last a sunny shot of Dock Tarn looking towards the southern end of it. I got so carried away I took a few more …..


….. this is looking towards the northern end of the tarn and where the ripples stop is where the ice starts. The overnight frost wasn’t severe enough to freeze it all over but at least there was some to see.


Note to self – come up here on a sunny day in August when the heather is in bloom and when, hopefully, the place will be alive with colour.

33 A close up of the little island in Dock Tarn

A closer look at the little island surrounded by the ice.

41 Dale Head to the right with Pillar peeping over the skyline

We retrace our steps over the frosty path and begin to make our way up to Great Crag. Over to our left we could see Dale Head over on the right of the shot, and just peeping above the skyline over to the left is Pillar.

42 Ullscarf beyond Dock Tarn

Before we lost the view I took a look back at Dock Tarn, now bathed in brilliant sunshine. I’m now imagining what all those brown slopes will look like when the heather is in full bloom in August 2017. I’ll be back!

45 Watendlath and High Seat

We clambered up the heathery slopes to the summit of Great Crag and were rewarded with this fabulous view down to Watendlath and its tarn, and High Seat, still with patches of snow, high above it.

52 The Skiddaw range from Great Crag

A little further to the left are the Skiddaw fells …..

53 The view across to Grange Fell

….. and moving the camera even further to my left brings the knobbly tops of Grange Fell into view.

54 Still plenty of snow on the eastern fells

To my right and looking eastwards we can see the Dodds to the left and the beginning of the Helvellyn range to the right.

55 The Helvellyn range from Great Crag

I moved the camera over to the right to bring the whole of the Helvellyn range into view. Helvellyn, the highest point to the left, then comes Nethermost Pike followed by Dollywaggon Pike. On the extreme right of the shot is Fairfield.

56 Ullscarf from Great Crag

A closer look at Ullscarf …..

46 Ullscarf and High Raise from Great Crag

….. and then a zoom out to show the skyline view with Ullscarf sloping over to Greenup Edge, which in turn leads over to High Raise.

51 The north western fells across Borrowdale

Views to the south were impossible so the last direction to look towards is west, across the green fields of Borrowdale to the north western fells which are a bit indistinct thanks to the brightness of the sun and a slight haze.

49 Very windy on Great Crag

It was definitely chilly up here in the wind so the hood is up and the gloves are on. Photograph by courtesy of a headless man on stilts.

57 Making our way back to Watendlath

Having spent a good amount of time on Great Crag summit we pick our way very carefully down its icy descent path and make our way back to Watendlath, still glowing with colour in the afternoon sunshine.

58 All is quiet back at Watendlath

Our return route would be down the Watendlath road so we crossed over the newly repaired bridge, that too was glowing in the sunlight. It still looks very new but it will weather down and in a couple of years the difference won’t be quite so noticeable. Once again there was no-one around at Watendlath and the tea-room was closed. Disappointing, especially as its only just gone twenty past two, a cup of tea would have been just the thing to set us up for the long walk back. No good grumbling, its closed so that’s that.

59 The road summit

I didn’t take any photos on the walk back down the valley because the light was so poor. The sun had dipped below the higher fells behind us as we dropped down through the valley so we walked back in deep shade. This was the first spot of sunlight we came across on the way and it just happened to be falling on this mossy rock which tells you that you have reached the highest point on the Watendlath road. It might be the highest point but that doesn’t mean its all downhill from here, there are a number of ups and downs still to go.

60 Back at Surprise View and the sun has dipped behind the fells behind us

Another stop at Surprise View just to see what the light was like. Its pretty much non-existent and its only five past three.

61 Brown Knotts behind Ashness Bridge

Back at Ashness Bridge with no-one around. The very last rays of sun are just catching the top of Brown Knotts as we cross over the bridge. There’s a signpost down there on the left, here’s what the information is …..


The time indicated for walking to Watendlath looks very strange, we’ve just walked that distance in four minutes short of an hour. Whoever timed it must have been going very slowly indeed.

63 Passing a house called The Fort on the way back to the car park

When we reach the house with the intriguing name of ‘The Fort’ we know we haven’t much further to walk to get back to where the car is parked, which is just a a couple of hundred yards beyond the bend in the road. The sun has dipped behind the fells to the south and the light here around Derwentwater is fading rapidly with only a faint glow over the fells to the west of us. We’ve had a grand day of weather and a very enjoyable walk but its time to be heading home.