Published 20 January 2019

Outerside, seen from Coledale.
Outerside, seen from Coledale.

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. But could we get partially back on track?

Walking down Coledale, we drew close to the Force Crag Mines. Well, when I saw we drew close to the mines, I mean we could see them, but they were half a kilometre away.

The mines opened in 1839. For 27 years they busied away extracting lead from the ground. Then the mine closed. For four years the mines were completely silent, until 1867 when they re-opened with production focusing on zinc and barytes.

And so it remained was until 1990 when part of the mine collapsed. Water and debris built up that couldn’t be removed, and finally – a year later – the mine closed for good. The last working metal mine in Cumbria closed its doors. Although now it’s owned by the National Trust, and does anything really remain closed when the National Trust are involved?

The mine building at Force Crag Mine, in Coledale.
The mine building at Force Crag Mine, in Coledale.

All this was rather ancillary to discussion about Outsider because the mines were dug into Grisedale Pike. But you can see them from Outsider, which is more than most people climbing Grisedale Pike will do.

It was also rather ancillary to what was going on on the other side of the Coledale valley where a decision was being made.

“Are we going up then?” asked Catherine.

“Go on then,” I replied.

And that decided that.

A walker walks towards Outerside
Heading up Outerside

After we abandoned the Coledale Horseshoe before Crag Hill, and headed down into Coledale, something was noticeable. The final two fells on the Coledale Horseshoe – Outerside and Barrow – were both below the cloud. Their summits were clear. Tantalisingly so.

The cloud seemed to be sitting around the 600m mark, and Outerside – with a height of 568m – was just low enough to be clear. Very clear indeed.

Perhaps this explained the steady stream of people walking up the fell’s slopes. It was like they’d all headed up the Coledale Valley, reached the mine, realised there was no point in going to the fell they’d intended to do, and decided to head off up Outerside instead.

Wainwright declared that “visitors rarely tread its pleasant summit.” Well they were going there now! “Here’s a simple climb that few walkers ever bother to do; and by this omission they deny themselves a lot of pleasure” he added on a few pages later. Dude, you were just out in weather that was too favourable for walkers. Head to the fells when the cloud’s hugging the higher peaks and then you’ll suddenly see how popular Outerside can be.

Everyone we saw was heading up a path that went to High Moss. It’s not given much coverage in the Pictorial Guides, although it is briefly mentioned as “a fine route to this splendid ridge.” But he neglected to document it on the page detailing ascents from Braithwaite, instead focusing on routes via Barrow Door and Low Moss.

But whatever. Lots of walkers couldn’t be wrong. Especially the woman in the bright red gaiters. Seriously? Someone makes bright red gaiters? Where can I buy them? And why is it that when I need gaiters, I can only ever find boring ones in black? Come on! Let’s have some exciting colours in outdoor clothing!

We joined the throng of walkers – oh so many walkers heading up to High Moss. As we did, we admired the views of neighbouring fells. Sail? Covered in cloud. Grisedale Pike? Covered in cloud. Crag Hill? Oh let’s not go there. I half expected to get close to Outerside’s summit to find it suddenly covered in cloud. Hey, that would only have been fitting given the day we’d had. But the worst we had to suffer was some cold, blustery winds and we reached Outerside’s heather topped summit relatively unscathed.

The author sat at the summit of Outerside
That tiny pile of rocks on the right? That’s Outerside’s summit.

The tiniest cairn possible greeted our arrival – one large stone with two smaller ones on top. As for the view…

“The view lacks charm,” said Wainwright. And maybe it does in perfect weather. But frankly AW, after spending the morning visiting summits where you couldn’t see a bloody thing due to cloud, it looked pretty good to me.

Next time: Barrow

The view from Outerside. Looking towards Keswick and Derwent Water. In the foreground is another Wainwright, Barrow.
Looking towards Keswick and Derwent Water. In the foreground is another Wainwright, Barrow.

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