High Tove

Published 15 November 2020

A mega sized cairn for a barely visited fell.

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. I had started the day with the delightful High Seat. Now it was time to visit it’s neighbour, High Tove on a route that apparently you wouldn’t want to wish on your worst enemy.

Truth be told, I had not done much research into the walk I was doing. In fact the extent of my preparation consisted of me going “right, I need to go for a walk, where can I go? Ah, here are two fells near Borrowdale. There’s a ridge walk between them. That will do me.”

If I’d done a little research I would have spotted a comment by Lake District fell guidebook writer Alfred Wainwright. He had something to say about the ridge walk between High Seat and High Tove.

“This is not a pleasant walk.”

True, this was better than his view of the walk in the opposite direction from High Seat to Bleaberry Fell.

“This is a walk to wish on one’s worst enemy, especially after the rain.”

Do I have a worst enemy? I am not sure I do. But should I ever get one, I will tell them to do that walk, with my best wishes.

The Path from High Seat to High Tove

Why this ire towards these two routes? The answer is simple. Swampy ground. Wainwright noted of the walk to High Tove that

“The hags of rich deep peat may be wonderful stuff for growing rhododendrons, but seem singularly unattractive to walkers with soaking feet.”

Well, personally I grow my flowers in peat-free compost, but anyway…

I think old Wainwright had a bit of a downer on High Tove. He started High Tove’s chapter in his guide to the Central Fells by saying

“It is hard to imagine that anybody feels any affection at all for High Tove, apart perhaps from the sheep whose natural heaf it is.” And that no doubt explains by no television station has ever sent Julia Bradbury up there with a film crew.

Now I’m sure that more than once Wainwright has been a bit negative about a fell that I’ve been to and thought was rather pleasant. Although don’t ask me which. Having done over a hundred of the things, I’ve rather lost count. So I did wonder. Could the walk to High Tove be all that bad?

Well it hadn’t rained much recently. I suspect if it had, my views may have been stronger. But it was clear that this was a hillside that was like a sponge. It soaked up all the water it could, and only released it from its clutches when you squeezed it. Every time I put a foot down, a large puddle surrounded my boot.

Peaty pools worth sending your worst enemy to.

Most of the time, it was clear-ish looking water. Perhaps a little brown, but nothing more. But on occasions there were chunks of soil and pale green grass that stuck to my boots, giving the impression that someone had vomited on me. Quite enchanting really.

I slurped my way along, hoping that my recent efforts to re-waterproof my boots would be effective. I always have that little fear that when I put my foot down on boggy ground, I’d find myself up to my knees in water. It does happen. It happened twice on High Tove alone.

I looked around, and noted that whilst High Seat had been rather busy, I was the only person who had chosen to go this way. Why was that? Did people not like seeing large puddles of water shimmer in the afternoon sun, or something? Had that walk to Bleaberry Fell been more enticing?

It was only a mile between the two Highs. It felt longer. Still, the closer I got to the top of High Tove, the drier I got. By the time I arrived at it’s oversized summit cairn, far bigger than it needed, or deserved, to be, it was pretty dry underfoot. I could sit down on a pile of heather, bask in the sun and get up again without a wet behind.

Peace and quiet – time to stretch the legs out then!

From the summit of High Tove I did have the option of visiting a third fell (“not recommended,” declared someone called A. Wainwright). But two, with time for a good sunbathe, felt more than enough for the day. And it was a good sunbathe. One only interrupted by a beagle who came over to give me a good sniff. And, I was grateful for, nothing else.

My rest completed, I set off for Watendlath, one of those tiny, remote and rather narrow valleys the Lake District has. One where a road goes down, before abruptly ending at a farm next to a tarn. Although because this was the Lake District, there was also a large car park, toilet block and a tea room. After all, you have to have a tea room, don’t you?

I pondered the idea of a cup of tea and – oooh, gosh – perhaps a scone. It was tempting. But then I was still a bit full from the large cooked breakfast I’d had some nine hours earlier.

Big tarn, quite big car park nearby too.

I’ve never been to the Watendlath valley before. It’s not on the main bus or road routes, so it’s easy to not even notice it exists. And that is a shame as it’s quite beautiful. A narrow valley hemmed in by craggy fells on both sides; enough room only for a narrow road, a stream, a path and a field or two. I may never have heard of it, but plenty of people had. The path was busy with a parade of people aiming for the tarn and – presumably – the tea shop. Scones and cappuccinos all round!

But that was nothing compared to what came next when the path ended at a place called “Surprise View”. An elevated viewpoint looking out on Derwent Water, Surprise View is well named. One minute you’re walking through the trees. Then you’re looking out over the lake and to Catbells, the water glistening in the sun. (N.b. glistening water and sun not guaranteed.) It was an amazing place that could only have been better if it hadn’t had a large, well occupied, car park. You may think that sounds a bit snobbish. But Surprise View would be far more of a surprise if no one knew it was there, wouldn’t it?

Even so, it was a beautiful spot; a perfect place to sit and celebrate the climbing of a fell. Even if it wasn’t one of the Lake District’s best kept secrets.

Next time: day two would feature three of the North Western Fells. Starting with Robinson.

Surprise View – not as surprising as it could be


Vic Flange

15 November 2020 at 10:02 am

Good stuff. Re Surprise View / Watendlath: yeah, as a committed public transport user, it’s really quite noticeable how the car dominates and ‘invades’. For me, the best places are often those furthest from a road or a car park.
Looking forward to the write-up of Robinson. I visited that one back in 2017 but it wasn’t the plan when I set out that day. The bus from Keswick to Buttermere overheated on the climb of Honister Pass and terminated at the slate mine visitor centre. So, I improvised by climbing Dale Head, Hindscarth and Robinson followed by a couple of pints at the Fish in Buttermere (it was a very hot day).

Andrew Bowden (Rambling Man editor)

16 November 2020 at 9:03 am

Hi Vic – The Fish has been rebranded Buttermere Court Hotel. The bar’s has had a repaint. I confess I’m not massively keen on the colour choices but the beer selection’s good! And I know what you mean about the places furthest from a road or car park. Much as I love Langdale and Buttermere, places off the beaten track have generally those I have enjoyed the most.

Vic Flange

16 November 2020 at 6:12 pm

Thanks for the update on the Fish.

… but the beer selection’s good!

That’s probably the key thing. :-) It was certainly a good watering spot on my visit.

Re off the beaten track, High Cup Nick springs to mind: it’s enough of a hike from Dufton that you need to be reasonably committed to reach there. Or just happen to be walking the Pennine Way as we both have done in our time!

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