Hopegill Head

Published 13 January 2019

Me sat on the summit of Hopegill Head
Sitting down on Hopegill Head

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 was Hopegill Head

I hadn’t actually intended to include Hopegill Head in our version of the Coledale Horseshoe. I knew I was likely to pass near by it on another walk in the future, so thought we could skip the summit and continue on from Grisedale towards Coledale Hause and then Crag Hill.

But that was a plan drawn up the previous day. At a time when we didn’t know the weather conditions. And so, at the last minute, it got thrown into the mix.

The reason was simple. To bypass Hopegill Head’s summit would mean taking a minor path off to the left. But with visibility being pretty poor, we weren’t entirely sure we would be able to find it. Better to head to summit proper and then pick up the main path to Coledale Hause, went the logic. As we sat looking out from the summit of Grisedale Pike, it felt like a sensible plan.

Hopegill Head in the cloud
Hopegill Head in the cloud

There was something else concerning besides visibility. The wind.

We had felt some gusts as we’d climbed Grisedale Pike. Nothing serious. It would blow strongly for a bit, then stop. More chilling than anything. And we hadn’t felt much from it whilst we’d sat on Grisedale Pike. But we could hear it. Howling and moaning behind us. It was a little disconcerting.

Gamely though, I stood up and prepared myself mentally for the mile long walk to Hopegill Head. Less enthusiastically, Catherine followed and we set off for our next Wainwright.

We’d barely walked a couple of metres before the wind was doing its absolute uttermost to blow us over. If that sounds like I’m over-exaggerating for dramatic effect, well please be reassured that everything written here is absolutely true. It was absolutely amazing how quickly we left the serenity and peace of the spot we’d randomly chosen to sit down at. It was flabbergasting how difficult it was to walk in a straight line down the path.

Keeping ourselves as low as possible, we stumbled and staggered our way along the path, the wind fighting us with every step. Neither of us were blown over, but was a close run thing. Progress was slow, but eventually we lost enough height that we escaped the worst of the gales, and could at walk normally again.

Again the cloud cover meant we could see next to nothing ahead of us. Only a dim outline of the hillside. All we could do was trust we were following the right path, and hope for the best.

The tiny cairn at the summit of Hopegill Head
The summit of Hopegill Head. Yes, that really is it.

It felt like ages, but eventually we arrived at Hopegill Head’s simple summit. The cairn was identified, swiftly photographed and soon we were on our way again. For whilst I am firmly of the opinion that each summit should be treated with reverence and respect, it was cold, windy and – if we’re blunt – rather miserable. Stuff reverence. Stuff respect. Just get off here as quickly as possible. Post haste.

And that’s what we did, walking on for a kilometre over Sand Hill. It’s merely a secondary summit of Hopegill Head so its presence didn’t matter much. Although it did have a massive cairn. And you know what they say about secondary summits with big cairns…

The summit cairn of Sand Hill
A few strides on from Hopegill Head, and not a Wainwright, so let’s not worry about it too much.

We carried on down to Coledale Hause, where the ridge path met up with the paths to the valleys. Coledale to the east, and towards Lanthwaite on the west.

And it was here that we made a decision.

Crag Hill – known as Eel Crag to Wainwright – was supposed to be our next fell on the horseshoe. It wasn’t that far away from where we were stood. But we couldn’t see it.

The mountain weather forecast had given a 70% chance of cloud free summits, but it was clear the weather itself hadn’t listened to the forecast. This cloud wasn’t going anywhere. And then there was the wind. Oh so much wind. Crag Hill was due to be our highest Wainwright of the day. Hopegill Head sits at 770m above sea level. Grisedale Pike 791m. Crag Hill comes in at 839m. If the wind had been awful at Grisedale Pike, what would it be like at 48m higher up?

Sometimes the key to fell walking is know when to cut your loses and run. And that’s what we did. Braithwaite lay three miles or so down the Coledale path. It would be a good easy path to follow, and we’d escape the worst of the cloud and the strong winds. It was a no brainer.

Heading down Coledale
Heading down Coledale

The descent to towards the valley was swift. Within minutes we’d lost much of the height we’d built up over the morning. Within minutes we could see far and wide. Within minutes we felt quite safe whilst walking along. And within minutes we could see we weren’t the only ones to have made the same decision. A steady stream of walkers were now descending into Coledale.

We sat down on the side of the path for some lunch, and watched the throng of walkers coming down off the hills. And as they did, I skimmed through my copy of the Pictorial Guide to the North Western Fells to see what it had to say about Hopegill Head. One sentence stood out as I read it.

“This summit is a generous reward for the effort of reaching it.”

Wainwright, presumably, visited on a far nicer day.

Next time: Outerside

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