Watermillock Common

Walk date – 28th December 2020

Distance – 4.4 miles

Weather – dry with some sunshine, not a breath of wind


We have become so accustomed to waking up to a thick grey blanket of low cloud every morning that we hadn’t planned anything for today. This morning was no different but things changed mid morning when the grey blanket thinned out and eventually disappeared, leaving behind a clear blue sky streaked with thin wisps of white cloud. We had already postponed a walk over Watermillock Common twice in the last couple of weeks so we decided to give it a go today. Its not too far away from us and, as the fells now have their full winter coat, we thought it might just be high enough for us to have our first snow walk of the winter. The ground conditions ranged from muddy quagmire to frozen solid, paths running with water or thick with ice, and fell sides covered in deep powdery snow. Interesting conditions, especially for legs which have not climbed anything remotely challenging lately. The meteorological conditions were constantly changing too, as you will see from the photos, and, although it was only a short walk, it was full of interest from start to finish. It was good to get out again.


Dockray – Round How – Terrace path above Glencoyne Park – Swineside Knott – Common Fell – Dockray

On the A66 shortly before we turned off for Dockray. Blencathra looked absolutely fabulous in its full winter coat.

A better shot of Blencathra when we left the A66 at Troutbeck and dropped down towards Dockray.

To the right of Blencathra is the snowy skyline of Bannerdale Crags and Bowscale Fell. Souther Fell below them was practically indistinguishable.

We were lucky to find one parking space left in the little parking area by the bridge over Aira Beck, which had probably been recently vacated by a dog walker. Here’s a look back towards Gowbarrow as we began our walk across the Common …..

….. and a look ahead towards Common Fell, the highest point on the Common.

After negotiating the mush, slush and general wetness of the lower ground we eventually reach the snowline. We’re only dealing with a gentle incline here but the grass is long and the snow is deepish so more of that sinking feeling follows, at least we’re sinking into something a whole lot less wet than we had been so far. The snow is fine and powdery and gives way easily, all too easily which hinders rapid progress. Thanks to the gaiters at least its not finding its way into our socks.

We reach the path by the wall just below Round How where I took a look back towards High Row from the gap we’ve just walked through.

From the same spot a look at the route ahead with Common Fell over on the left.

Gowbarrow Fell on the skyline and Round How to the left of the wall from where I took the previous two shots. The ground steepens a little from that point as can be seen but there’s nothing really difficult about it under normal conditions, but slithering and sliding on the soft powdery snow with a bright sun directly in our faces made it warm work today. You don’t expect to be having to mop down shiny faces when the temperature is hovering around zero.

A peek over the wall for a view of Ullswater and some of the sunny far eastern fells. Is that an icy film on the surface of Ullswater?

Another face mopping stop. Crikey, we are now getting seriously warm and there’s absolutely no air movement to provide a cooling breeze. Jackets get unzipped and gloves come off just to get rid of some heat. I’d have liked to remove my gaiters too but temptation was easily resisted by the thought of sodden trousers flapping round my ankles.

Looking towards the head of Ullswater and the surrounding fells. A bank of high white cloud in the sky and ribbons of mist continually drifting in and around the fells made for some very atmospheric views. On the left skyline is Place Fell followed by Thornthwaite Crag, just the tip of Ill Bell, Stony Cove Pike, Caudale Moor, St Raven’s Edge and Red Screes.

Looking ahead to Swineside Knott with a glimpse of one of the bumps of Brown Hills just behind it and Sheffield Pike over to the left. We’ve reached the level section of the route and the easier walking gives us the chance to cool down a little.

Another ribbon of mist drifts below Saint Sunday Crag and Fairfield …..

….. and the high bank of white cloud has floated closer towards us.

A look back across Ullswater towards the far eastern fells where the clear blue skies are still present.

A look back at the summit of Common Fell where a bank of low cloud/mist is growing by the minute. There was nothing but blue sky over there five minutes ago.

More mist/fog/cloud has gathered around the head of Ullswater and the conditions were now changing constantly.

A little further along and even the sun just about disappeared leaving Sheffield Pike looking distinctly ghostly.

All change again when, just as quickly as it appeared, the fog disappeared and we had a very clear view of Gray Crag /Thornthwaite Crag on the left and Stony Cove PIke / Caudale Moor on the right. There was even a glimpse of Hartsop Dodd over to the right below Caudale Moor. Everything was flat calm on Ullswater.

We left the terrace path beyond Swineside Knott and climbed up to some stones where we decided to sit and take a break. From our perch we had this view of Saint Sunday Crag and Fairfield on the left and Heron Pike/Sheffield Pike on the right. The snow was rather deeper up here.

The view straight ahead from our stone perch where Place Fell has been hidden by the bank of fog which we noticed building up over Common Fell about five photos back. We thought we would be enveloped by it but it drifted over Place Fell instead.

The sun, now hidden by the high bank of white cloud, casts an eerie light over the fells and …..

….. in the other direction the large bank of fog continues to drift from Common Fell, across Ullswater and over to Place Fell.

Also from our stone perch a look back over my left shoulder for a view of Swineside Knott where a lone walker has just appeared. She was still viewing the cloud drama when we eventually got to it.

The summit of Place Fell appears above the bank of fog as we begin to climb the rest of the slope and make our way over to the path across the top of the Common.

Once atop the hill there’s a view of Hart Side and Birkett Fell. J waits patiently for me and my little legs to cross the hummocky stuff and catch up with him.

Blencathra, swathed by ribbons of mist, almost looks as if it’s floating above Matterdale Common.

Here’s a longer view of Blencathra with Carrock Fell, to its right, peeping up above the cloud.

From the same spot here’s a look back, from left to right, to Helvellyn, Helvellyn Lower Man, White Side, Raise and Green Side. We have the same eerie light as the sun is now blocked by the cloud. Below them mist is rising up Glencoyne.

We left the main path and made our way over to Swineside Knott where we had a chat with the lady walker who we had seen when we took our break on the hillside directly beneath where I’m standing. The sky has a golden hue but its nowhere near sunset time. The sun directly behind Saint Sunday Crag makes it stand out very clearly, meanwhile the ribbons of fog continue to build and drift hither and thither.

Banks of fog drifting across Ullswater temporarily obscure our view as we watch the show from Swineside Knott.

Another view from Swineside Knott, looking across Brown Hills towards Place Fell with Saint Sunday Crag and Fairfield over on the left. Absolutely fascinating to watch as things appeared and disappeared within moments. The main path coming across from Glencoyne is over on the right so its only a very short distance from it over to where we are now. It was well worth the short diversion today. Here’s a few more views taken from our vantage point …..

….. Hart Side and Birkett Fell …..

….. Place Fell, the tip of Catstycam, Helvellyn and its Lower Man, White Side, Raise and Green Side …..

….. looking across Brown Hills to Saint Sunday Crag, Fairfield and Sheffield Pike.

Leaving the spectacular cloud show behind we made our way back to the main path and headed across to the summit of Common Fell over on the extreme right.

Another look at Blencathra and some of the northern fells as we make our way across …..

….. and then, moving the camera slightly to the right of the previous shot, on the left are the foothills of the northern fells below which a large expanse of fog stretches all the way across the vale to Great Mell Fell. The A66 runs below the foothills of the northern fells but there’s nothing to be seen of it in the dense fog which didn’t lift for the rest of the day.

An enjoyable snowy tramp over to Common Fell summit.

A closer look at Blencathra and some of its neighbours.

Looking back at the fog increasing over Ullswater and Glencoyne …..

….. and then over to the right to the Helvellyn group and Hart Side/Birkett Fell.

Looking across to Gowbarrow Fell and Little Mell Fell from the cairn on Common Fell.

A final look back at the golden skies and the billowing fogscape before we leave the summit and lose the view.

The bank of fog creeps up from Ullswater as we begin our descent …..

….. and by the time I reached J we were totally enveloped by it. We were soon joined by a young man and his dog who had reached the summit just a few minutes after we left so we tramped down through it together chatting about this and that, as you do.

Obviously I didn’t take any photos while we were in the fog bank but when it eventually thinned out I was able to stop and take this shot while man and dog went on their way.

The fog had thinned enough for us to be able to pick out where we wanted to be. Round How is the rocky hump immediately below and that’s where we need to be. Once down there we picked up the path and made our way over the saturated grassland path back to Dockray.

So here we are, crossing the squelchy, sodden ground again as we approach the little hamlet of Dockray with Great Mell Fell as its backdrop. No snow down at valley level anywhere at the moment but you don’t have to go very high at present to have a very enjoyable snowy walk, the swirling fog and the blue and gold skies turned out to be icing on the cake.