Seat Sandal

Published 23 September 2015

Going down hill from Seat Sandal, towards Grasmere

The final fell of a four fell walk taking in Helvellyn, Nethermost Pike, Dollywagon Pike and Seat Sandal.

“So we’re going to do Seat Sandal then?” asked Catherine as we stood on the summit of Dollywagon Pike.

“Seat Sandal?” I replied, “Where’s that?”

“It’s that Wainwright over there.”

I probably hadn’t been paying attention, else I would have spotted that Wainwright gives a ridge route from where we now stood, to the big mound in now in front of me. In fact, I probably would have noticed the big mound now in front of me, too.

Seat Sandal and Grisedale Tarn, from the side of Dollywagon Pike

My assumption was that we’d simply head down hill, pop into a nearby hostelry and admire a few pints before hopping on the bus back to Ambleside to pick up our son from his doting grandparents. It was an appealing notion; slightly more so than the thought of dragging my feet up another fell. For, if we’re totally honest, describing the route as a ridge walk was rather over egging the pudding. It was pretty obvious there would be a huge trip down hill, and not an insubstantial up to do straight after.

On the other hand, Seat Sandal was there, and we were nearby. It was even (roughly) on the way to the pub; a small detour off the route I’d anticipated us following to the village of Grasmere. But the most convincing argument was that if I didn’t go up there now, I’d have to make a special trip just to visit it later. I’d now done most of the fells in the Fairfield and Helvellyn range, with just one other remaining. I could either spend an hour of so bagging it today, or spend several hours doing it at a later date.

It was a no-brainer really. The trouble is, as many parents will understand, the chance for a couple of pints in a child-free scenario is not one to be sniffed at. But what do you do? There’s a fell there. And, well, it just has to be walked. I guess.

Fence post on Dollywagon Pike, marking the start of the ridge route to Seat Sandal

Despite Wainwright’s ‘ridge route’, there’s no proper path between Dollywagon Pike and Seat Sandal. Instead the Master Chronicler of Fells tells his followers to head to an old fence post and head down hill, following an old wall.

It’s one hell of a descent, and the walker is expected to drop 300m in height in barely a kilometre, along a hillside that’s often boggy from the rain. Hardly an easy traverse.

With our feet sloping downwards at an alarming angle, neither of us could wait to get to the bottom. It was so steep that my automatic reflex to start running, kicked in. Ever had that where a descent is rapid and you feel you’re moving too fast and your feet want to start running? Or is it just me? Cos it happens to me all the time. Several times I just couldn’t stop myself, and some of the distance was covered in a half jog as I bounced over the grassy tufts and boulders.

By the time we got to the bottom, near Grisedale Tarn, our legs and ankles were aching like mad. I’d arrived first and swiftly collapsed on a narrow bank, exhausted by the exertion. And all the time, Seat Sandal sat there looking at me going “yeah, see when you’ve done that, you’ve STILL got to go uphill to get up here.”

About to start the ascent to Seat Sandal’s summit

“Do we REALLY have to go up there?” I panted, looking up at the slope in front of me that was Wainwright’s suggested route up. “Isn’t there another way?”

But there was none. The map didn’t offer any better-looking options. There were no detours with shallower gradients or proper footpaths; just another horrible and steep looking narrow track next to another tumbledown wall. No steps, no easy going.

After a few minutes reviving ourselves, we reluctantly set off again, finding out that thankfully Seat Sandal’s bark was far worse than its bite. The path was tough, but nowhere near as hard work to ascend as Dollywagon Pike had been to get down, and it didn’t take long before we were standing at the top.

The summit cairn at the top of Seat Sandal

From below, Seat Sandal hadn’t looked much: just a nuisance that had to be climbed. However at the top itself it was clear that those that climbed it did get a reward. Helm Crag stood dominating the skyline whilst down below was Grasmere looking resplendent; toy cars, buses and coaches drove along the roads so far away whilst Rydal Water glimmered in the sunshine. And Sarah Nelson’s shop was so close that I could almost smell the gingerbread baking there.

Well, something like that anyway. Okay, okay, Grasmere wasn’t that close. To go and get some of that utterly amazing gingerbread would require a further two miles of walking to be done. It would take one industrial size oven for the smell to travel that far, and Sarah Nelson’s is a far humbler affair.

A little bit closer though was the Travellers Rest pub, sitting a mere mile and a half away at the edge of the village, and conveniently close to a bus stop.

Wainwright described the trip down to the valley as one of the quickest descents in Lakeland, and there was no denying that it was speedy. There was still no path to follow, however it wasn’t like the route down was so complex that we needed it. Just head south-west and look for a gate. Forty minutes later we were toasting a good day’s walking with a glass filled to the brim with ale.

And it had been a good day. Well, for the most part anyway.

View all 57 of my Helvellyn and More walk photos on flickr

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