27th May 2012

Walking the Lakeland Passes - Walk 17 - Grassguards and Birker Fell


Walk Overview
Time 07.45 to 17.05
Duration 9 hr 20 min
Distance 19 mile
Ascent 2900 ft
Walking with Jennifer
Brotherilkeld - Jubilee Bridge - Grassguards - Seathwaite - Duddon Valley - Ulpha - Ulpha Church - Birker Fell Road - Forge Bridge - Eskdale - Eskdale Church - Low Birker Farm - Doctor Bridge - Brotherilkeld
Fells visited
Directory places visited

Starting Point Information Centre
Roadside parking, Jubilee Bridge, Hardknott Pass

Hardknott Pass has got to be one of the steepest and most difficult roads in the country. In fact, many people make the effort to drive all the way around to this part of the Lake District just to face the challenge. I should point out that this road can be extremely dangerous during the winter months and is best avoided altogether if the weather is at all frosty. I was caught out myself on one occasion when using the route as a shortcut over to Cockley Beck. Just above the steepest of the bends the road turned into an ice rink and I had no alternative than to reverse back down until I reached a convenient turning place; not an experience I'm keen to repeat.

The car park has room for about ten cars, but should you find it full, there is usually room a little further along the road into Eskdale.


Route Map

The two passes on today's walk are not actually named as passes, but they do offer the quickest and easiest routes between two neighbouring valleys. According to several different sources they have been in use for centuries which to my way of thinking warrants their inclusion. So, here you have a walk that takes in Grassguards Crossing and Birker Fell Road.
As good as it is to get high up, the highlight (no pun intended) on this walk was definitely the long sections through Duddon Valley and Eskdale. On a day like this they were absolutely gorgeous.

The whole place was lovely today, but Eskdale especially so. Not a cloud in the sky and yesterdays gale force winds seem to have got rid of the haze. The last section of the route would see me walk from Forge House to Jubilee Bridge which is arguably the entire length of the valley.

A diagonal path runs up the side of Harter Fell and offers superb views over to some of the Lake Districts higher fells.

"Do you get paid to stop that tree falling over or it it just a hobby"

Despite the hot conditions and the lack of any recent rain it was still quite wet and muddy along some of the route leading down to Grassguards.

"It looks bone dry to me"
"Yes, I know this bit looks dry it was the other bits weren't, and I didn't think you want to see a picture of mud and water we had to walk through"

Grassguards Gill.

Grassguards in front of Harter Fell.

It must be hot, Jennifer is down to short sleeves and didn't even bring a jacket today.

We used the gate !! and once again that's Harter Fell behind.

Next to Wallowbarrow Crag is this farm house, I think It's called Low Stonythwaite. It's a nice house in a stunning location, I just don't know how they actually get up here; unless there's a road / track on the other side of the house that I don't know about. Surly they don't have to drive along the track we'd followed from Grassguards.

Walking down the side of Wollowbarrow Crag.

Difficult to photograph because of all the trees but this is Memorial Bridge.

Bluebell woodland near Seathwaite.

Seathwaite Church. The first sit down of the walk and the first quick snack.

and just down the road from the church is the Newfield Inn.

This is a nice country scene. If it weren't for the car in the background you'd think it was from a bygone era when life was at a much slower pace than it is today.

Looking across the fields to Wallowbarrow Crag.

The route through the valley took us past some lovely cottages and farms. And, according to the local news about 50 homes (that's about all of them) in Duddon Valley will loose their broadband connection in June. The area was connected in 2008 at a cost of £500,000 but Cable and Wireless now considers it to be "not commercially viable". So, despite the government pledging that by 2015, 90% of homes in Britain will have access to the internet, somewhere that has already had half a million pound spent on having it installed, is getting it taken away.

Well, this just confirms my thoughts that the world really has gone mad.



Inside Ulpha church. It was nice and cool in here.

And now outside the church. It was nice and hot out here, , , best of both worlds today.

Ulpha road sign.
We've walked 3 mile from Seathwaite, we're 24 mile from home and we're heading to Eskdale, which doesn't seem to be worth pointing out the distance for.

Now we're heading up a steep hill with bends for 3/4 of a mile called Birker Fell.
At least you can't complain about the lack of information.

Over there is Caw, the prominent pointed fell, and on the far left is Dow Crag.

This is Crosbythwaite Bridge, above the steepest part of the road and but not quite at the highest point along the Birker Fell road.

Lunch with a view of, , ,
the side of Hesk Fell, the trees at Woodend, Seat How and lots of space.

There must be hundreds of these old boundary stones dotted about the Lake District. This one is easily visible next to the Birker Fell road.

Looking across to Green Crag and behind that is Harter Fell. Over on the left is Bow Fell and Crinkle Crags.


Time to be heading down to Eskdale now and it was getting hotter and hotter. This is a long time to be walking in the sunshine without a scrap of shelter.


Down we go into Eskdale.

And looking back up.

Walking past Milkingstead Farm.

A meadow view.


Following the track between Trough House Bridge and St Catherine's Church.

I was on my own by this point, Jennifer's feet had had enough and it was scorching hot so she made her way to Dalegarth Station and waited for me to pick her up as I drove past after the walk.

St Catherine's church Eskdale.

This is interesting. It looks a bit too substantial to be just a walkers foot bridge so perhaps we have simply adopted a much older bridge which was used to transport iron ore from the nearby mines. The mines were abandoned in 1884.

Perhaps a bit sad looking but I've included this picture of Tim's Tarn because it really is in a lovely spot and apart from that, I don't seem to get here very often.


Wha House Farm in front of Harter Fell.


Not far to go now and this picture shows the way into Upper Eskdale with Bow Fell and Crinkle Crags in the background.

This is a very dry looking Hardknott Gill which flows into the River Esk near Brotherilkeld farm.
Now, hopefully Jennifer is actually waiting where she said she would be.

David Hall -
Lake District Walks