Hen Comb

Published 12 April 2020

Cairn of Comb?

Tucked in the far western corner of the Lake District, Loweswater is a delightful spot with some lovely fells to wander over. On a Sunday in September, I tackled four of them. The first three – Burnbank Fell, Blake Fell and Gavel Fell are all connected. But my fourth fell of the day was a solitary one. That fell was Hen Comb.

There are five fells clustered to the south of Loweswater and the village of the same name. Three fells – Burnbank Fell, Blake Fell and Gavel Fell – have a ridge running between them. The other two, Mellbreak and Hen Comb, stand isolated. Whilst they sit next to each other, to walk between them requires going down to the valley floor and back up again.

Hen Comb’s not that far from Gavel Fell, and I’d already made up my mind to visit it next. Continuing on to Mellbreak, I was less sure about. There were two routes between them. A direct one that went down and up some steep slopes. Or an indirect one that would be more gradual, and also looked like it would be much nicer. It would be a route with some far superior views as well as being easier on the legs. But to walk down Hen Comb and back up Mellbreak that way would take about five times as long. Given I had a long drive home to do when I’d finished, that was an important consideration.

Floutern Cop, seen from the path to Hen Comb

I ummed and erred. And looked at my guidebook where the author had declared that Hen Comb was

“Not an exciting walk, but pleasant enough on a sunny day for anybody who doesn’t want to get excited.”

Hmm.

I pondered the options as I came down the boggy path from Gavel Fell, and joined a slightly less boggy one that went by the name of Floutern Pass. It runs between the Loweswater Fells and Great Bourne. There’s a tarn there. If it wasn’t so wet, it would be quite a nice place, in a wild and windswept sort of way.

Approaching Hen Comb from the South West

I still couldn’t decide as I crossed over a stile on the southern flanks of Hen Comb. I say stile. There was a stile there, but it was all broken and you couldn’t get over without putting your foot on the ladder. And this was one of the better fence crossings of the day. Most of the time there hadn’t been any stiles, leaving walkers to clamber over the wire fence any way they could. This no doubt left landowners to wonder why their fences were always broken.

There was a track on the other side of the fence. I say track. It was more a series of boot sized imprints in the soft ground, making their way up the hill. They led to a small but artful cairn, at a spot that was the highest point of the hill.

Buttermere seen from Hen Comb

There was a nice view. Off to the north lay Loweswater, but there would be plenty of time to admire that on the way back down to the valley floor. To the south was something different that drew my eye more. The glorious sight of Crummock Water and Buttermere , framed by fells, basking in the light, misty gloom.

And there opposite me stood Mellbreak. And as I stared at it, my decision was finally made. Even if I went the most direct route, it would still take me a couple of hours to get down Hen Comb and then up the 500m or so to the top of Mellbreak. Nah. I would save it for another day. No point in rushing. It would be a nice fell to do in a couple of hours or so. Why rush? And if I didn’t need to rush, well I could spend a bit more time admiring that view towards Buttermere.

Mellbreak seen from Hen Comb

If you asked me, I don’t think I could actually tell you why I liked it so much. Grassy fells, a patch of water, and a bit of mist. Not that exciting surely? But even after spending the last couple of days in the area, I couldn’t take my eyes off it. It just worked. Okay?

Eventually I peeled myself away from the view and began the make my way downhill. It was everything the map promised. Gradual, grassy and with a fine view of Loweswater and the fells that surround it. Fells that had dominated my day. The perfect ending really.

At least until I reached the drystone wall at the foot of the hill. The wall that separated the wild grassy hillside from the tendered fields of the valley. For here the path just seemed to stop. The map showed it abruptly end at the wall. No way to get over it. No way to carry on if I scaled it myself.

Loweswater, seen from the descent of Hen Comb

I’d been expecting it but had still hoped the map would be wrong. But I could see nothing. With a sigh I headed east, squeezing through a narrow gap between unruly gorse bushes and the stone wall. Based on the boot prints in the ground, I wasn’t the only one to have been there.

There was a path shown about half a kilometre away. If I could reach it, all would be fine. All I had to do was not get tangled up in gorse, make my way over another drystone wall, and somehow ford the gushing water of Whiteoak Beck. No problem. Sorted.

The wall didn’t pose too much of a problem as part of it had given way, perhaps under the stress of many climbers over the years. On the other side though, the gorse was even thicker. A very narrow, muddy path went steeply down to the Beck, which was wider than I’d hoped it would be, and with few stepping stones.

There was nothing for it. I’d be getting a bit wet. But at least I could see the path I was heading for. And the ground conditions were a bit better too. With only a few cuts and bruises I made it over, rejoiced at joining a decent track, and made my way the final kilometre to the muddy car park where I’d parked up some hours earlier.

It’s the remains of a tree. In a field.

Taking my boots off as I sat in the car boot, I mused it was over. Had to go to work the next day. So now it was time to head home. But I’d enjoyed my Buttermere visit.

The previous three days had introduced me to the wonders of the Western Fells. An area I had never been to before. And it had been great. True, excellent weather had helped, but the scenery and the fells had been brilliant too. I may have been about to drive south, back to Manchester. But I knew I’d be back.

And I couldn’t want to do so.

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