Watermillock Common

Walk Date – 31st December 2018

Distance – 5.5 miles

Weather – overcast, but mild and dry, very strong wind across the top


New Year’s Eve dawned with overcast skies everywhere and it didn’t look at all promising with all the forecasts of low cloud covering the fell tops for much of the day. We’re still not fully back to normal after our bouts of ‘flu, although it does feel as though our defence mechanisms are beginning to get a grip on the stubborn after effects, so with that and the cloud in mind we decided to stay low and just have a steady stroll over Watermillock Common. We weren’t expecting much by way of views and weather but at least we would get some exercise and fresh air on our last walk of 2018. As things turned out we were pleasantly surprised.


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

We parked up in the small lay-by opposite the green hut at Dockray with two cars already parked there. The occupants of one of them were still getting themselves organised and we exchanged the usual ‘good mornings’, the occupants of the other car were nowhere to be seen. By the time we were ready to go the remaining two had walked up this rough track and disappeared from view., never to be seen again, well not by us anyway. We followed suit, gazing up at the bands of heavy cloud as we walked and hoping that the little patch of blue up ahead would continue to develop.

We leave the rough track and cross the boggy ground making our way over to the wall on the left of the shot. The cloud cover is different this morning, yesterday’s smoky grey blanket has gone and today we have long lines of steely grey bands with occasional small breaks giving hints of brightness here and there.

A quick peep over the wall when we reach it where Gowbarrow is looking very sombre beneath the heavy cloud. Everything may look dull and dreary but it was quite mild and along here there wasn’t a breath of wind. Another break in the cloud gives a hint of brightness over in the east.

Looking ahead towards the crags below Bracken How. The path keeps company with the wall although it does veer away from it from time to time to avoid outcrops and boggy areas. The roughish route across here was very wet in places which gave rise to a few slithers and curses.

Looking back at Great Mell Fell as we squelch our way through the tough grasses.

Gowbarrow Fell on our left with the clouds  above it rapidly scudding eastwards, continually creating breaks and closing them just as quickly.

The view ahead of us as we walk across the undulating lower slopes of the common with the rough grasses gradually petering out and the shorter grass taking over.

There’s a bit of heavier lifting ahead if you were heading straight for Bracken How as there is a trod to the right which rises up towards it, but we continue to keep the wall on our left and follow the path between the wall and the crags and skirt around them. Our plan is to visit Bracken How on the return leg instead.

Looking across the A5091 at Parkgate Farm on the lower slopes of Gowbarrow.

Even though we skirted around the crags there was still a stiff climb, which had us breathing hard, to reach this flatter section below Bracken How. We pause for a quick breather, remove our jackets and get the tissues out, this virus we’ve had seems very reluctant to leave so noses are still needing attention. Looking ahead at our route now that we’ve skirted around Bracken How we can see Round How just ahead and beyond it is the summit of Common Fell. There are paths all over the place on Watermillock Common so plenty of walkers must come here although we only met three of them today. Above us we now have a patch of blue although the sun over to the left is too low to be shining through it. Never mind, its still lovely to see a very welcome patch of blue once again.

On we go with some lovely views of Ullswater for company even though the long band of cloud is doing its best to kill the light. Behind Place Fell on the left a break in the cloud allowed the sun through and the burst of brightness lit up the whole area beyond. There’s another break over in the direction of Saint Sunday Crag although the sun isn’t getting through it just yet.

We pass below the top of Round How, just out of shot on the right, and continue along towards Common Fell. The wall begins to rise and I begin to remember the last rising wall I walked beside on Christmas Eve when we walked up Birkhouse Moor. I don’t feel quite so feeble today as I did then but even so you can’t help wondering if your leg muscles will be up to it.

A look back to Gowbarrow and the long lines of cloud, interspersed with plenty of breaks, above it. The gaps between the clouds just weren’t quite large enough to provide more than a glimpse of a sunny scene. A fell would be lit for a few seconds and just as rapidly it would all be gone.

A look back along Ullswater where there is just a hint of light on Hallin Fell and the lower slopes of Place Fell.

Here’s one of those brief glimpses of a sunlit fell I’ve just mentioned with Little Mell Fell on the right bathed in a golden glow while Great Mell Fell on the left gets none of it.

Ahead of us the cloud break over Saint Sunday Crag has drifted across the sun so everything from Birks to Fairfield gets a big dollop of sun. Any walkers across there would have welcomed that. We’re still waiting for our patch of blue sky to let some sunlight in though.

The climb over the slopes of Common Fell is now behind us, the legs weren’t running on empty either which is an encouraging sign, and we have a stretch of level walking ahead of us over towards Swineside Knott. During the climb we met our first walker, a young man who was coming down the path towards us. As is the case when you’re driving on a narrow lane, you meet another car at the very narrowest point of the lane and one car has to give way, so it was with us and him. But it was one of those times when you both decide to give way at the same time, I was in front so I stepped up, he stepped down, both of us leaving an empty path for a second or two before we sorted ourselves out and got under way again.

Looking towards the head of Ullswater where the golden glow is still going on behind Place Fell. A launch was battling the wind and chugging up towards Glenridding so I took a closer look …..

….. where a couple of hardy souls were braving the wind at the front of the boat while most of the other passengers were taking shelter at the back or in the saloon.

We’re beginning to feel the wind too now that we have gained some height so we stop and put our jackets back on. Looking back across Glencoyne Park I noticed that Hallin Fell still has a hint of brightness and Little Mell Fell has another full on golden glow.

A closer look across the water at Hallin Fell’s hint of brightness and below it another launch is heading towards Howtown.

The break in the cloud above Birks and Saint Sunday Crag suddenly passes across the sun and gives us a wonderful light show as it does so. A better camera and a better photographer might have done it more justice though.

I take a closer look as Birks gets the full treatment.

The longer view from the path as we pass below Swineside Knott. The bright patch above Sheffield Pike is the one we’ve had in front of us from the start of the walk and its gradually making its way over in the right direction. The strength of the wind along here has increased too and its now eye wateringly keen.

The light show leaves Birks and is now landing on Glenridding, out of sight behind Glenridding Dodd.

There’s a grand view of Place Fell from Brown Hills, it would be even better if someone had switched a light on but you can only take a shot of what’s on offer and that was as good as it got across there today.

Just moving the camera a little to my left for this long view of Ullswater with the long ridge of far eastern fells rising up to High Raise and beyond on the distant skyline. Heughscar Hill, in the distance on the left, is very close to where we live and we took a gentle stroll up it one afternoon a few days after Christmas. I didn’t take the camera so there is no walk report but the photos wouldn’t have been very good anyway since everywhere was blanketed by thick cloud. Ullswater was clear to see but all the fells beyond were completely obliterated. It was a grey dull day but a walk up there is always enjoyable.

The rays continue to land on Glenridding and here we turn away from the path beside the wall to begin climbing up over Brown Hills and we walk straight into a wall of ferocious wind giving us a good old battering and knocking the breath right out of us.

I can hardly stand upright at this point so with J acting as backstop I stop for a quick shot of Sheffield Pike followed by …..

….. this one looking across to Glencoyne Head with some very ominous clouds hanging above Raise behind it. We sweated up that path alongside Glencoyne on a very warm day in October when the sky was blue and cloudless, it doesn’t look quite so inviting today.

The light show continues as we fight against the wind and battle our way up the hill …..

….. where I eventually stumble across this little cluster of stones which I’m assuming marks the high point of Brown Hills at 550 metres, although I could be completely mistaken in assuming that. However, those stones have been specifically placed so they are marking something and I can’t think what else it might be. Having turned up the hill the wind is now coming at us sideways so I stagger back to the flatter ground to the left of the shot to follow the path over to …..

….. Swineside Knott and the expanse of moorland to be crossed to reach it. The wind is coming directly at us from the west but we are getting no protection from the higher fells around us and its quite a battle to walk across. Jackets hoods are on and pulled tight but everything is flapping and rattling against our heads, bodies, arms and legs. Dangling pack straps are blown horizontal and hanging on to our walking poles and keeping them vertical becomes harder and harder.

I turn full on into the wind to take look towards Birkett Fell and my hood is immediately wrenched clean off my head, despite the close fit, my hair takes on a horizontal direction and I’m practically throttled by the hood’s draw cord which is now being blown back tight across my neck. Once again J acted as backstop otherwise I might have ended up in Ullswater.

In other circumstances the walk across to the top of Common Fell would have been very pleasant …..

….. even though it does have a few peat hags and quite a lot of squelchy areas. The soggy sections were the least of our problems today, staying upright was the order of the day and could only be achieved by leaning leftwards into the wind and hoping for the best. We must have looked like a couple of drunks as we walked at such an odd angle and staggered this way and that all the way across.

Now that we’re on top of the common all the scenery is pretty much on the windward side so risking life and limb once more I turn into the wind for this shot of High Brow and Rush Gill with Blencathra right behind them. I’m thinking how much windier it probably would be on the summit of Blencathra today, I’m just pleased I’m not up there. On the green patch above Rush Gill are a couple of paths leading into Deepdale and out of sight below Rush Gill is Dowthwaite Head. We walked one of those paths heading for Stybarrow Dodd in March 2016 and the walk beside Rush Gill was lovely.

A little further to my left where Great Dodd and Randerside are occupying the skyline …..

….. and a little further left brings Birkett Fell back into view with Great Dodd now behind it.

Ahead is the summit of Common Fell and at last our little patch of blue sky has wandered across the sun’s position and the whole of Watermillock Common suddenly bursts into light with the entire scene being beautifully emphasised against the dark skies beyond. Its one of those special occasions which just stops you in your tracks. Its exactly 12.15 pm so we’ve had to wait just a little over two hours for that first patch of blue sky we saw when we started out to make its way eastwards and give us a little brightness. We met the only other two walkers of the day along here as they were heading towards Swineside Knott.

Looking northwards where more breaks in the cloud are beginning to show. On the left is the smoky silhouette of Blencathra and some of its northern neighbours, on the right we can just make out the cairn on the summit of Common Fell.

The wind is unabated so I have to kneel down to take a few shots from the summit. Here I’m looking towards Dowthwaite Head and Rush Gill with High Brow, Randerside and Great Dodd on the skyline behind the cairn. Clough Head is just peeping up beyond Randerside.

A quick crawl and a swivel round on my knees to look northwards to Blencathra and the northern fells. If anyone had passed by they could have been forgiven for thinking I was offering up prayers to the weather gods. I’ve now got wet and muddy trouser knees.

As there was no chance of keeping upright I did a quick crab-like crawl round for a view eastwards towards the Mell Fells and then we quickly crest the summit and drop down in search of some much needed shelter from the wind.

We’ve only dropped a few feet but Common Fell summit is now behind us and immediately we have some relief from the constant battering. We continue on past this lone boulder and drop down even further …..

….. and settle ourselves into this comfy and windless little hollow and its view along Ullswater for a brief refreshment stop. Our gap in the cloud is still providing a sunny spell and it was grand just to be out of the wind and sit in the sun and enjoy the view. I suppose we didn’t really need to stop since we aren’t very far away from Dockray and the car now but it was so much better than eating in the car or waiting until we got back home.

After our stop we continue our descent of Common Fell. I mentioned earlier that there are lots of pathways across the common so you can pick whichever takes your fancy. You don’t even need to follow a path either, all is grassy so you can simply pick whatever line you like the look of. Parts of the common were thick with dead bracken so a beaten path was handy at times, for the most part though we just descended over the open grassland.

Still descending Common Fell and now its the turn of the green fields of Matterdale to get a little sunny spell.

The two Mell Fells in the distance with the tiny hamlet of Dockray just coming into view below us.

Matterdale still enjoying the sunny spell.

On the right is the wall we followed from the start of our walk, and to the left of it is Round How which we skirted around this morning. That’s where we are heading for now.

Bracken How is to the right of the shot and the path up Round How is coming in from Dockray on the left. We round the little slope in the foreground and then cut across to meet the path leading up to the top of Round How.

Its only a very short climb to the top of Round How from where I took a look back at Common Fell above which more blue sky has appeared.

Looking towards the head of Ullswater from Round How and then …..

….. a look across to Bracken How which will be our next port of call. As can be seen its an appropriately named little hill being smothered in thick dead bracken which, at this time of the year, made it easy enough to decide which route we would take through it.

Another short walk and climb and we are on the top of Bracken How with its unusual little cairn, from where I took a look back at Round How and Common Fell.

Place Fell and Ullswater from Round How. There must be something about this little green top that the bracken doesn’t like because not a scrap of the wretched stuff was growing on it.

 The little hamlet of Dockray from Bracken How is much closer now although there is still quite a steep drop down before we get to it. The climb up from Dockray had us huffing and puffing a bit when we started out this morning.

Looking to the far eastern fells from Backen How. I’ve just disturbed J’s contemplation of it by calling out his name to get him to turn round.

Parkgate Farm and the sunny lower slopes of Gowbarrow are back in view as we drop down to join the path alongside the wall and make our way back to Dockray.

We return to Dockray and cross the last bit of soggy ground before setting foot on the rough track leading back to the lay-by and the car. The lay-by is more or less opposite the green hut over on the right but it is quite small with room for about six sensibly parked cars only so sometimes you will be lucky to find a space. The clouds look to have broken up even more and should be well to the south of us by the time New Year’s Day dawns. The next few days are set to be cloud free with some hard overnight frosts followed by cold but sunny days. That’ll do nicely, I enjoy being out on cold, clear and sunny winter days when the frosty fields sparkle in the sunlight and the soggy bits just crunch instead of squelching under your boots. Having said that we have both enjoyed today’s little outing even though it wasn’t a very long walk. The weather turned out to be better than predicted and the walk had plenty of interest, lovely views across Ullswater and the fells beyond, lots of ups and downs and one or two steep climbs, soggy patches, grassy swards, and stony paths, we could have done without the vicious wind of course but you have to take the rough with the smooth I suppose. All in all its a grand little walk, just right for a day like today. Now we’re off back home and, offering our good wishes for the New Year to you all, we’ll take our leave of you, and 2018, with this little Scottish poem –

A guid New Year tae yin an’ a’, an’ mony may ye see,

An’ during a’ the years tae come, O happy may ye be,

An’ may ye ne’er hae cause tae mourn, tae sigh or shed a tear,

Tae yin an’ a’, baith great an’ sma’, a hearty guid New Year.

Here’s to plenty of good walking in 2019.