High Seat

Published 8 November 2020

High Seat was all about the classic Derwent Water skyline viewpoints.

It’s September 2020 and after a year full of lockdowns, cancelled holidays and just general chaos, I rather unexpectedly found myself having a week of carefree fell-walking in the Lake District. And the first day started by visiting two fells with names starting with the word “High” near Borrowdale. High Tove came second, but first was High Seat.

The first fell of the year is always the hardest. It’s when you realise that no matter how fit you’ve kept yourself over winter month, climbing up a hill is now really hard.

But that’s fine because it’s April or May or something, and everyone is in the same boat. Well, except those people who climb big hills in the snow. The rest of us need to dust off the cobwebs, and regain that fell climbing ability.

Except it’s 2020. And whilst I was setting off on my first big hill climb of the year, it wasn’t April, or May. It was September.

Apart from climbing Kinder Scout in the Peak District the previous week – which is hardly taxing – I hadn’t gone up a mountain, or even a big hill, for nearly eleven months. The winter, followed by the National Covid-19 lockdown had ruled out doing anything big for the first half of 2020. And barely had the country been released from National lockdown, where I lived found itself under new, “targetted” local Covid-19 restrictions.

There was a four year old and a seven year old who needed educating and entertaining. Their parents needed to work. With no school, no ability for grandparents to help, we were a family of four together pretty much all the time. There was no relief. No chance to unwind and relax. Certainly very few options for dropping everything and spending the day alone. So months had passed. And then it was September.

The schools reopened. And at last came the point I could leave the family and have some time to myself. So I had leapt in the car, driven up the M6 and was now climbing my first Wainwright of the Year. High Seat in the Central Fells. The first fell of – hopefully – many during six blissful days in the Lake District by myself. A chance to finally rest, unwind, and discover just how unable to climb a fell I was.

Ashness Bridge – a beautiful spot to start a walk up High Seat

Not knowing what time I’d arrive in the Lake District, I’d planned an easy first day of walking. Two Wainwrights, both starting with “High”. There are 12 Wainwrights starting with that word, and here I was about to do 17% of them in one day.

My plan was to tackle High Seat and High Tove in alphabetical order. Mainly as High Seat was the closest to Ashness Bridge, just off the road to Borrowdale, where I’d parked the car. Indeed, I’d planned the whole day based on the fact that I was staying the night in Borrowdale youth hostel, so it would be an easy drive once I’d finished. Two fells just on the way from where I was going to be going anyway? Well it made sense.

The car park was heaving, and based on how many people were admiring and photographing Ashness Bridge, I guessed most of them weren’t there for High Seat. But then it was a lovely looking bridge; a small, narrow, simple yet elegant creation made out of stone. Very photogenic. I was tempted to sit there myself taking loads of photos of it myself, but someone had set up a tripod in the middle of the stream that ran under it. They were in it for the long haul. No doubt trying to get the absolute best photograph they could. Probably with a long exposure so that the flowing water looks like strands of silk. They’d ensured they had the best vantage point possible, and sod anyone else.

The Bark House Mountain Base – just near Ashness Bridge

Vaguely tempted I was to stand in front of it, I made do with a quick snap from an inferior – but still good – point, and relaxed in the knowledge that I wouldn’t be wasting half a day in search of Instagram perfection. Besides, there would be better viewpoints further on up, of that I was sure. After all, somewhere behind the trees near me was Derwent Water.

And the higher I climbed, the better view I’d get of the third largest lake in the Lake District. There would be cracking views towards perennial favourite Catbells, over to Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England, and a lot more.

Beautiful sky, beautiful scenery, on the way up High Seat

It didn’t take long for that to be proved true. A steep path, surrounded by bracken and heather, going up a hillside can only mean one thing. Views come very quickly. And they were superb. So good I kept having to turn round and gawp in wonder. Which helped as after fifteen minutes I was feeling knackered, and kept needing to rest.

After I while I came near to a stream gushing down the hillside. This was Ashness Gill and it had waterfalls and everything. I sat on a rock near one. Not a particularly high one, but rather beautiful. It was an idyllic spot. I sat watching the water flow, listening to it bubble and gurgle.

The stunning view of Derwent Water from Ashness Gill

It was almost hypnotic. I sat watching it flow for ages, not wanting to move. I hadn’t even taken my rucksack off. It was still firmly hanging from my back. It was like a spell had been cast over me. A spell only broken many, many minutes later when a man and a woman arrived, and also sat down a short way off.

I began to realise how much I needed all this. A chance to empty my brain of all the stress, the worry, the hassle the previous six months had brought into my life. The franticness, the fact it had been like a never ending treadmill, the, the, the, well, the complete absence of any real time to relax.

After all that time, I had some catching up to do.

High Seat not exactly looking its best as you get closer to the top.

No sooner had I started walking again and the path left Ashness Gill. Away from flowing water, High Seat seemed to lose a bit of its charm. Next to the gill it had been a bit craggy; interesting to look at, beautiful to admire. And if that ever got boring, you simply had to turn round and look at Derwent Water and sign at how beautiful it looked in the September sunshine.

Now there was no stream to watch, and the mighty Derwent Water was now hidden from view. What had replaced it was a rather featureless fell top. Mounds of heather, bits of grass, and that was about it.

At least the path was clear and easy to follow. Well, mostly. The solid stone path would, on occasions, turn into a stretch of marsh. But follow the trampled bog and the muddy footprints, and you’d be okay.

The two candidates for the highest point on High Seat – the trig point, and the mound of rock known as ‘Man’

And then there it was. The top of High Seat, marked by one of the Ordnance Survey’s finest rock built triangulation stations. And a short distance a way, a rocky knoll marked on the map simply as “Man”.

Which was the true highest point of High Seat? Who knew? Most people seemed content with having their photograph taken next to the trig point. So many that there was a queue. But to me “Man” looked higher, so I went there as well. Just in case. That’s the kind of thing you just have to do.

Although the sun was shining and there was barely a cloud in the sky, there was a rather chilly wind, and I huddled out of the way of it and once more, simply sat for ages as I admired the view. The view was great. But it didn’t really mattered. What mattered was how much I needed this time to relax.

And with my back against a rock, that’s exactly what I did.

Next time: to the second High of the day – High Tove

‘Man’ – one of the summits of High Seat


Vic Flange

8 November 2020 at 1:11 pm

Glad you got out and had superb weather too. Great for the soul as well as the lungs.

I’m curious how the hostel operated: did you have to book a room to yourself? I assume the dormitories would each only be for hire by one group of six (or fewer)?

Maybe next year I’ll get back to the Lake District. Or anywhere. I’ve not been more than two miles from home for over eight months now. I had hoped to do two or three National Trails this year (Pembrokeshire Coast Path, South Downs Way plus one other, most likely Cleveland Way). Next year…

Andrew Bowden (Rambling Man editor)

8 November 2020 at 1:28 pm

Hi Vic – those hostels that were open (and only a handful were in September) were only doing private rooms. I got hold of one of their two bed rooms for something like £80, although there were bigger rooms available at a higher cost. I was there just after the Rule of Six was introduced and the YHA was refunding people who couldn’t travel because of it. There were a couple of groups there but I don’t recall how many there were. And you could have got round the rules by having multiple rooms I guess.

The other big difference at the hostel was the “closure” of communal areas. Although whilst the website said the dining room was closed, you were allowed to eat in there during my visit. I don’t know if this is common across all hostels, but at Borrowdale you also had to book your shower in advance!

Here is hoping next year is better. I don’t know how much better it will be but you never know!

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