Published 27 January 2019

The path to Barrow, with Stile End in front of it
Barrow is the lump at the end, behind secondary summit, Stile End.

The Coledale Horseshoe. A classic round, visiting the fells that surround the Coledale valley. Majestic, wondrous, a delight. Not to be missed. Assuming you go in decent weather that is. Guess what we didn’t have? After starting at Grisedale Pike, our next stop had been Hopegill Head. Bad weather forced us to head down hill, abandon the horseshoe for a bit until getting back on track with Outerside. And now there was just one more fell to do.

It has been said that I am a mine of useless information. For example, I have an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the bus operations of Stagecoach in the Lake District. Want to know what time the last bus from Old Dungeon Ghyll is on a summer Saturday? Or where the 78 open top bus goes? Well I’m your man. Given I live in Greater Manchester, this is not knowledge that gets used regularly. But it’s there, lodged in my brain.

Other stuff I know has remained there for much longer. For example, the knowledge that if a town name ends with ‘ton’, the name probably comes from the Anglo-saxon era. I learned this from primary school, noting as I did the local town names of Denton and Ashton-under-Lyne. Some teacher (their name not being information I retained) told us that ‘ton’ meant town. And that Denton is probably derived from Dane-ton, and that Dane meant valley. Thus Denton is Valley town. Ashton-under-Lyne was most likely called Ashton originally, and meant ‘town near the ash trees’.

Fascinating stuff I am sure you’ll agree. But what does this have to do with a Wainwright in the North Western fells that has a height of 455m above sea level?

Well, I am glad you asked. For places named Barrow are most likely also named in the Anglo-Saxon era. Barrow meant wood, so it could well be that Barrow the hill, a mile and a half from the village of Braithwaite, was named after a wood.

Or perhaps that’s too simplistic. For actually Anglo Saxon burial mounds are usually known as barrows. Perhaps that’s it? Or maybe not, for Wainwright gives a third explanation. That barrow meant hill or long ridge. Which would mean that Barrow is basically called ‘hill’.

Catherine standing on the summit of Stile End
At the summit of Stile End

Basically what we ascertain from all this is that everyone’s guessing, and no one knows for sure about anything. The number of times I’ve sat here writing about fells and thought to myself “Oh, I wonder where that name came from” and wished I knew, well it’s a lot. I mean, where did Sergeant Man come from as a name? Or Watson’s Dodd? Or, to take a name from Coledale, Outerside? Where the blazes did Outerside come from? (And – more importantly – why did I keep typing Outsider every time I wanted to write about it?)

And here I am looking at a fell name like Barrow where all the evidence is that it’s Anglo-Saxon derived. Here’s a fell where its name is much better known than most of the Wainwrights. And you know what? We still know so little about the origin of that place name, despite knowing so much! Basically I should stop wondering about this stuff. It makes life easier that way.

Wherever the name came from (hey, maybe it was named in honour of a two wheeled hand cart!), Barrow’s the last stop on the Coledale Horseshoe. Not that we’d done the Coledale Horseshoe. The weather had meant we had done more of a Coledale Shepherd’s Crook or something. But it was our last stop all the same.

It’s a mile and a half walk from Outerside to Barrow. First there’s a steep descent, along a path lined with medium sized rocks that shake and move as you walk on them, and that make progress rather slow. Especially when your walking partner has a twingy knee.

The path at Barrow Door
Knock knock at Barrow Door

We dropped down out of the wind, and found a place to sit in the heather-topped hillside for the important consumption of cake. And then it was off down again to another summit. Not Barrow, but the secondary summit of Stile End that sits between the two. It’s a nice enough place, with great views, but hey, it’s not a Wainwright so should detain us no further.

Beyond Stile End is Barrow Door, where a path will take you down to the edge of Braithwaite. Should that be something you wish to do without visiting Barrow. Quite why you would want to do this, I’ve absolutely no idea. Nor do I know whether ‘Door’ has any Anglo-Saxon connotations. Please, let’s just not even go there. I don’t have the energy for such things.

It didn’t take us particularly long to get from Barrow Door to Barrow Top. And there we found a cairn to celebrate our fourth Wainwright of the day. The cairn being in contrary to what Wainwright’s assertion that there was no cairn. Whatever. He did add though that on the right sort of day, this was a “grand place for settling down and getting the old pipe out for an hour’s quiet meditation.”

Barrow's summit cairn, with Keswick behind
Barrow’s summit offers a fine view beyond Keswick

He probably didn’t visit during the October half term, and thus didn’t have to share the top of Barrow with two small children and their parents. Hey, if we’d wanted to do that, we’d have brought our own!

Although whilst I could have happily done with the settling down for the quiet meditation, as someone who has never smoked, the pipe element was far less appealing.

The view on the other hand? Exceptional. The village of Braithwaite, and the town of Keswick both dominated. But also very visible, and well worth a stare, was the mighty Catbells. And yes, there were other fells too. But hey, they were covered in cloud. Even Grisedale Pike, the fell that had started our days walk, was still firmly shrouded by the stuff.

At least we’d seen something though. And we had got to see something pretty good. Even if the noise of the traffic on the A66 down below did distract a little, it was still suitably awesome.

Derwent Water, seen from the top of Barrow
Even on a dull and dreary day, the view from Barrow is a sight to behold.

As we walked down to Braithwaite, Catherine wondered how many times I’d been up fells without seeing any views, all day. Funnily enough, I didn’t have the statistics to hand. I was sure though, that it wasn’t that many. I could think of no days when I’d seen absolutely nothing from a summit. And just a handful where I’d missed out on views for much of the day, but had seen something in the end.

Today would fit firmly into that category. The Coledale Horseshoe had been a bit of a disaster in many respects, but we’d been rewarded for perseverance. After all, we could have just given up and gone to the pub instead.

Thus was the lot of the Wainwright bagger. There will always be days when the forecast is cracking, and you’re met with disaster. We’d been told there was a 70% chance of cloud free summits after all. You’ve got to take the rough with the smooth. But if you get at least something, well that can make it all worthwhile.

The path leading off Barrow, towards the village of Braithwaite
Braithwaite and Bassenthwaite. And a bit of Barrow too.

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