Clough Head and the Three Dodds

FIVE Wainwright circular walk: Hart Side, Stybarrow Dodd, Watson's Dodd, Great Dodd, Clough Head

Walk Rating:⭐⭐⭐

Time: 7 - 8 hours 

Parking: At the Park Brow National Trust Car Park (Grid Ref: NY 397205; £7.50 daily rate).

Clough Head and the Three Dodds from Nest Brow

On the main road from Keswick towards Thirlmere, it's hard to miss the line of high fells stretching southwards towards Helvellyn. One of them, Great Dodd, at 2807', is in the top twenty 'Wainwright' fells by height. Yet these "Three Dodds" and Clough Head, at the northern end of the ridge, receive far fewer visitors than they deserve.

The route I have described allows a hiker, one who is happy to set out on a full day's walk of more than 20 km, to complete a circular route to all of these peaks. It also includes the awkward-to-reach peak of Hart Side, a return hike along the 'Old Coach Road' to Matterdale and, if time allows, a visit to Aira Force as well.

Strava estimates a walking distance of around 23km

1. Arrive early, both for a long walk and to grab a spot in the small car park at Park brow (if you're lucky there's also room for a couple of cars to park for free in a lay-by on the road itself. Then head across the road and take the signposted path, over a stile, into the woods of Glencoyne Park. The path can be a little overgrown by bracken but is easy enough to follow across the hillside. To your left, there are unbeatable views down over Ullswater.

Looking down to Ullswater from Glencoyne Park

2. Head through a gate in a wall, up through the trees to a gate in another wall, then continue left, traversing around the hillside above this wall, heading into clearer ground. Again, the views over Ullswater are worth taking in.

Ullswater from higher on the path

3. The path reaches a long wall coming down from the top of the fells to your right. Cross the wall and then turn right and make the long climb up through the grass alongside the wall until you reach the grassy knoll of Birkett Fell.

Looking back to the long wall and eastern Ullswater

4. A rather out-of-place tablet naming the hillock as "Birkett Fell" is built into its little summit cairn. Wainwright explains that it was erected in the 1960s to commemorate Lord Birkett of Ulverston who successfully opposed the Manchester Corporation using Ullswater as an additional source of water supplies.  

Two locals guarding the memorial plaque on Birkett Fell

5. From the plaque, it's a short walk westwards across the grass at the top of the fells to the actual Wainwright summit of Hart Side. There's a small cairn and, on careful examination, the outline of a now eroded ditch connected with the former Greenside Lead Mine (its buildings are now the 'Helvellyn' Youth Hostel below Sheffield Pike).

On the top of Hart Side

6. From here, it's a long but easy walk across grass, heading south-west then west on a gradually curving route above the valley of Deepdale, towards Stybarrrow Dodd. The path skirts below the intermediate hill on your left of Green Side / White Stones. Great Dodd lies across the valley to your right.

Head across the grass to Stybarrow Dodd

7.  The path curves round the hillside before climbing up to the grassy summit of Stybarrow Dodd (2770').

Looking down towards Thirlmere from Stybarrow Dodd

8.  If not dry at the time you visit, there's also a small tarn on top of the ridge.

9.  From here, it's a short walk across the curving grass ridge, to the next summit of Watson's Dodd.

Walk along the ridge to Watson's Dodd

10.  There's a summit cairn at the outer corner of the flat top of Watson's Dodd (2589'). The summit area gives excellent views westwards from this viewpoint, as it protrudes slightly from the main line of the ridge of fells.

Looking out towards Skiddaw from Watson's Dodd

11. The ridge path now curves back to the north-east and then climbs up the grassy slopes to the highest point of the walk, Great Dodd (2812') . At its top there's a summit cairn and, a little way to its south, a larger cairn formed into a wind shelter.

The wind shelter on Great Dodd

The Great Dodd summit cairn

12. The route continues down the grassy slope from Great Dodd to the small intermediate knoll of Calfhow Pike, about a mile to its north-west.

Looking back at Great Dodd ...

... and over to Grisedale Pike from Calfhow Pike

13. It's now about another mile northwards, upwards across the grass, to the top of the final summit of Clough Head.

The long walk up Clough Head from Calfhow Pike

14. The summit is another grassy pasture, this time with an Ordnance Survey column at its top. 

The summit of Clough Head

15. Clough Head isn't only a grassy dome, however. Adventurous descents from  the summit can be made over the crags on its western flank to Wanthwaite and St John's in the Vale.

The western crags of Clough Head from St.John's in the Vale

16. Our route off Clough Head is to the north-east, following the ridge as it drops down to the rocky outcrop of White Pike.

Head north-east to the outcrop of White Pike

17. From the cairn on White Pike, there are views north towards Blencathra and, to the east, across the largely featureless expanse of Threlkeld Common. The line of the Old Coach Road, that you will be taking as your return route, can be seen winding away to the east.

Blencathra from White Pike

18. From White Pike, carry on descending across the grass to the Old Coach Road. Look for an old railway goods wagon being used as a shed below you. If you head down to its left, you should be able to find a gate. If you come out further east, you may need to find a good spot to climb the fence before you can walk along the road. The onward route is obvious - just walk towards Dockray along the road!

The Old Coach Road and Wolf Crags from White Pike

19. It's still about another two hours back to the start from here, although the surface allows for a good pace to be set. There's enough to keep your interest - crossing Mariel Bridge over the Mosedale Beck, then looking at Wolf Crags up to your right and the Barbary Rigg sheepfold to the left of the road. There are also some intriguing fenced-off areas in the land to the left, probably linked with the "Thornsgill Beck, Mosedale Beck and Wolf Crags" Site of Special Scientific Interest. Towards the end of the old road, it fords the Groove Beck, although there is also a footbridge to the left of the road if you want to be sure of dry feet!

Sheepdogs playing in the ford

20. Soon after the ford, when the road passes an area of dense conifers on your left, you can be reassured that you are nearly at the end of your moorland traverse. 

Approaching the end of the Old Coach Road

21. A gate brings you out to a car parking area and a junction of tarmac roads. Head straight across, following the minor road down into Dockray. 

Follow the road down into Dockray

22. In the village, you can turn right to return to the start by walking along the main road or, if you still have the energy, go straight across, along a track, to follow the Aira Beck as it descends over its well-known falls as a final flourish to end the day.

Why not visit Aira Force on your way back?

Worth knowing: The old coach road from St John's in the Vale to Matterdale is an ancient route that has been used for centuries to move people, livestock, mining and other materials. 

Otley's Guide to the Lakes of 1834 describes how "Ullswater may be visited from Keswick on horseback or on foot; leaving the Penrith road a little beyond the second mile-stone, crossing the vale of Wanthwaite, and passing over a bleak mountain side to Matterdale".

As an unsealed road, it has suffered from erosion and was particularly badly damaged by 'Storm Desmond' in December 2015. Thanks to crowd-funding led by the Cumbria Trail Riders Fellowship (CTRF), the road has been repaired and its new culverts should also help protect it from further flooding.

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