Obscure Corners – The Fellbarrow Range


Crummock Water – a highlight of the view

Obscure Corners exist on the edges, the margins of Lakeland, where the fells decline towards the Cumberland plain, or the Furness District of old Lancashire-across-the-water, or remembered Westmorland.
One such corner, though easily accessible, remains obscure and quiet. This is the low-lying wedge of land lying to the west of the Vale of Lorton, between the Lake District and the Plain, known as the Fellbarrow range from the northerly of the two Wainwright summits it boasts. The Fellbarrow Range, like the entirety of the Northern Fells is geographically isolated: by Lorton in the east, by Loweswater in the south. Wainwright chose to include these two tops in the Western Fells and anyone who has climbed them will know that, in nature and in atmosphere, this range belongs spiritually with the rest of the lowering heights that comprise the Western Margins.
The range is broad and deep, though it only just rises above 1,300′ in Fellbarrow itself, lying in the northern half of the range. There are a  profusion of small tops scattered everywhere, and a tour of the range, visiting each miniature, would admirably occupy a quiet afternoon when morning rain and cloud has put paid to longer expeditions.
Those who prefer a more economical approach, travelling to and from a parked car, are best served by accessing the narrow, quiet road along the western side of the valley, reached from the north by crossing the bridge just below Lorton Village. This is a delightful, little-known route that deserves to stay little-known for its own sake.
The walk starts and ends at Thackthwaite, but the best parking is about 200 yards north of the farm, where there is ample off-verge space in a quiet dip. Turn in at the farm gate, feeling as if you are trespassing, though no-one will pay you any attention, and start up a lane across the fields, towards the green skyline.
Above the hamlet, this opens into fields. Ahead is a double line of trees, flanking what must once have been a beautiful avenue, though only two hundred yards along it is blocked off by rampant undergrowth, and progress can only be made by exiting to the left and following a parallel path towards the intake wall.
This lets out onto a splendid, wide drove road, ideal of gradient. Bear right, around the fold of the grassy fellside, with Fellbarrow coming into view once round the corner. The drove route is an ideal route of ascent on a summer Sunday afternoon, graceful and sweeping, its zigzags carrying you effortlessly upwards and onwards. It’s perfect for ambling strolls or effortless marches, but the only drawback is that it is a route of ascent for Low Fell, the Wainwright of the southern half of this miniature massif.
Very well then, why not follow this route to Low Fell, and return over Fellbarrow? But the ‘ridge’ route between the two fells and the preponderance of the views are biassed to the south, and it is never good practice to walk away from the good views, not when one can so easily walk towards them.
So tear yourself away from the drove road as it starts to swing back towards the south, strike a line over pathless grass towards Fellbarrow, crossing the swampy hollow that lies around the meeting of the two feeders of Meregill Beck, and trudge uphill.
Hopefully, your navigation will be better than mine: the skyline is undistinguished at this point and I got too far north, arriving on a summit clearly overtopped by its immediate neighbour south. This was Hatteringill Head, and the walk back to Fellbarrow was simple.
A wire fence leads south, along a switchback, grassy, slightly damp ridge, over Smithy Fell and a couple of smaller bumps before trending east alongside Sourfoot Fell to meet the drove road at its head The path continues wide, over a distinct number of rises and falls, the view improving by the step, until it reaches Low Fell’s northern (and unofficially higher) top from behind.
Do not leave the summit without continuing to the southern top, which is a magnificent and spacious viewpoint, sited at that exact halfway height that makes the higher fells, such as the adjacent Grasmoor, loom immensely. Eastwards is a spectacular view of the Buttermere Valley, with Crummock Water sparkling all but underfoot, but this is all but equalled by the south-eastern aspect of the view, of Hen Comb, long and narrow and isolated in the rich green of sodden Mosedale, exposed to sight in all its ‘glory’.
Unless prepared for a steep descent and reascent, followed by a long tarmac trudge, which can be provided by heading west to Darling Fell and dropping off from there to the Loweswater road, this is a walk on which a long stretch of trodden ground is unavoidable. But the walk back to, and down the gracious sweeps of the drove road, despite turning away from those superb views, is enough of a pleasure underfoot to make the journey a comfort.
This is Sunday afternoon country, close enough to the popular valleys, but overlooked by all but those in search of th peace and quiet that used to be endemic from the Lakes. And those views over Crummock Water are both icing and cherry to a solitary afternoon.

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