Dovedale and the Priest's Hole

THREE Wainwright circular walk: Dove Crag, Little Hart Crag, High Hartsop Dodd 

Walk Rating:⭐⭐⭐

Time: 5 - 6 hours 

Parking: At the Cow Bridge car park by Brothers Water. 

Looking into a wintry Dovedale from Hart Crag

The complete round of the 'Fairfield Horseshoe' is a classic Lake District walk, and one well worth doing. However, to add some more varied scenery to this long ridge walk, I have suggested some routes that break up the horseshoe into separate circular walks, beginning from different starting points below the ridge.

The route described here climbs up through Dovedale and, with due care and attention, takes you to the 'Priest's Hole' below Dove Crag, then continues up to the Fairfield Horseshoe ridge before completing the round of Dovedale via Little Hart Crag and High Hartsop Dodd. 

Strava estimates a walking distance of around 12 km

1. Take the track behind the car park that heads south through the trees above Brothers Water towards Hartsop Hall, a farmhouse dating from the sixteenth century.

Starting out besides Brothers Water

2. Passing to the right of the the farm, one possible route then goes up right, into the woods, but I recommend continuing straight along the farm track into the valley of Dovedale.

Head into the valley along the farm track

3. The track takes you to a footbridge over the Dovedale Beck, after which the path heads right, above the beck, up towards waterfalls that you can then see, and hear, to your right.

The Dove Falls

4. The path winds up the valley of the top of the beck. Ahead of you, the impressive rocky side of Dove Crag appears, crags which are unseen by walkers crossing the grassy top of the fell via the 'Fairfield Horseshoe'.    

Dove Crag rises ahead of you

5. As you get nearer to the crag, you may be able to work out the position of the 'Priest's Hole' cave, towards the top of the rock face.

The position of the Priest's Hole

6. The path ascends up the well paved "Gully Staircase" to the right of the crag.

Climbing up the "Gully Staircase"

7. At the top of the paved staircase, the path then climbs more gently up to the ridge between Dove Crag and Hart Crag. However, before, doing so, if the weather is dry and bright, and you are a confident walker, you could take a detour to the left of the main path to climb up to the 'Priest's Hole' cave - see below. 

The main path climbs to the 'Fairfield Horseshoe' ridge 

The same view in wintertime

8. The Priest's Hole is a great spot to find but, if you are in any doubt, leave the visit for another day. The correct path up to the rocks and then along the ledges towards the cave is becoming clearer through increased visits but still isn't entirely obvious.  As the Patterdale Mountain Rescue Team leader has warned"The Priest's Hole is not an easy place to find and it sits high on the face of Dove Crag, an overhanging cliff. The route in and out can be dangerous and the start of the path can be difficult to locate, even for experienced walkers who know the location".

On the ledge to the Priest's Hole

9. If you take your time and locate the correct route, it traverses the crags to come out just below the cave. A clear path then takes you up the last few yards to the low but wide cave, which goes back just a few metres into the rockface.

The route across comes out below the cave

10. The views from the cave on a clear day are breathtaking.

Looking out from the Priest's Hole

The main path is far below you, under the crag

11. The cave is used by some walkers and climbers as an overnight shelter but arriving or leaving this spot in the dark is ill-advised. A fall above the cliff face a few metres to the side of the cave would only have one outcome.

The cliffs of Dove Crag

12. Back on the main path, having reached the top of the grassy ridge, you can look down into Rydale, surrounded by the Fairfield Horseshoe.

Looking down into Rydale

13. Heading northwards takes you along the ridge towards Hart Crag and Fairfield (see pictures above) but, for this walk, continue south along the ridge wall over the top of Dove Crag (2598'). However, the dramatic crags below are not visible from the summit, just a few rocks in the turf.

On top of Dove Crag

14. When you reach a broken fence, take a path leading left (east) off the main ridge towards Little Hart Crag. Don't go left again back down into Dovedale but follow the path down into marshy ground, heading towards Scandale Pass. Before you reach the small Scandale Tarn, you should leave the path and go left up to the rocky knolls at the top of Little Hart Crag.

Looking back towards the top of Dovedale

15. Continue along the grassy ridge north-east towards High Hartsop Dodd.

Continue along the ridge to High Hartsop Dodd

16. High Hartsop Dodd is really just the end of the ridge, which then drops down steeply down to Brothers Water. It's also not actually as 'high' as Hartsop Dodd, across the valley.

Looking down from High Hartsop Dodd

17. Go down the steep path down the grassy ridge back into the valley bottom. 

Looking back at the descent of High Hartsop Dodd

18. Walk across the grass to a path that crosses the Dovedale Beck and brings you back to Hartsop Hall. Return via the original track to Brothers Water.

Sheepdogs at work at Hartsop Hall farm

Worth knowing: Sheltered Brothers Water provides beautiful reflections and even has water lilies growing at its southern end. Old maps confirm that it was originally known as Broad Water but was then renamed as Brothers Water.

The reputed reason for the change of name is owing to the drowning of two brothers in its waters. It appears that there is good evidence that such a tragedy did indeed occur, with records confirming that two local teenage Atkinson boys died here in January 1786, having fallen through ice as they walked across the lake. Indeed, there may have been another similar event at an earlier date also remembered in local folklore. So it seems that the name of 'Brothers Water' is not just a fable but serves as a beautiful memorial to these drowned young men.

The evening sun reflected in Brothers Water

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