Archive walk: Borrowdale and High Spy

High Spy with my little eye

Keith Wood combines a riverside stroll with an airy ridgewalk to see both faces of Borrowdale


First published: July 2007
The exterior of The Thornhill Arms, located in Yorkshire's Calverley

Whatever your motivation for walking in the Lake District, be it the sense of achievement of climbing one of the high fells, or to be able to take in some magnificent views or to explore some of Lakeland’s industrial heritage, this walk in Borrowdale has something for every­one.

Starting in the busy little hamlet of Rosthwaite, the route initial­ly follows the Cumbria Way along the banks of the River Derwent, before climbing up on to one of the best ridge routes in the north western fells, ascending to the summit of High Spy at over 2,000 feet before finally descending past the remains of Rigghead Quarries back down to the valley floor to return to Rosthwaite.

Start/Finish: National Trust car park, Rosthwaite (GR: 258149)

Distance: 8.5 miles/14 km

Time: Allow 4-5 hours

Height Gain: 2,400 ft/ 700 m

Terrain:A fairly tough fell walk initially on riverside paths, surfaced lanes and finally high fell paths

Map: OS Explorer OL4 English Lakes north west

Refreshments: Scafell Hotel, Rosthwaite and various teashops in Grange, spoilt for choice in Keswick


1. The first challenge of the day is to find somewhere to leave the car in Rosthwaite. Get there early and you should find space in the car park down the lane from the Village Store. Leave the car park and turn right to walk along the lane towards Yew Tree Farm, now famous for its regular royal visitor, Prince Charles. Follow the slate footpath sign to Grange between the picturesque farm buildings to walk along an unsurfaced lane between dry stone walls down to the River Derwent.

2. Upon reaching the riverside the lane swings around to the right, past a ford over the river, and continues along the riverbank to arrive at New Bridge, a pack horse bridge over the river. Cross the bridge and turn right to continue on the track along the opposite bank towards Grange.

3. From here as far as Grange, the route follows the course of the seventy-mile-long Cumbria Way. Keep to the main path through a copse of oak trees (associated with the meaning of the River Derwent, lit­erally, ‘the river abounding in oak trees’) and so through a gate to enter the woods around the base of Castle Crag, site of an ancient Romano-British hill fort. Pass the long abandoned remains of slate quarrying at the base of the crag, home to the twenti­eth-century ‘hermit’, Millican Dalton, who spent his summers living in a cave high amongst the quarry remains. Proceed through the trees and at a Y junction take the right (upper) fork and twenty yards later turn right again following the Public Footpath sign to Grange.

4. Continue through the woods, passing through a wall and heading back down towards the river. The path now follows the course of the river, using footbridges to cross a side stream, to reach an unsurfaced lane past a busy campsite. At a T junction with a surfaced lane, turn right to walk into Grange. Emerge onto the road through Grange, this is your last chance to stock up on provisions before heading for the high ground. Turn left to follow the road around the south west corner of Derwent Water. Take care on this narrow stretch of road which can be busy in the summer.

5. Immediately past Manesty Holiday Cottages a path veers off to the left signed Public Footpath,which immediately starts to ascend the fellside on a clear path through the bracken. The path branches above Man­esty Woods, where the real work of the day commences. Take the left path steeply ris­ing, heading up to Hause Gate. This well laid, repaired path up the side of Maiden Moor affords glorious views on a clear day across Derwent Water towards Keswick with Skiddaw and Blencathra in the dis­tance giving the excuse to pause frequently for a breather.

Topping out… High Spy’s summit cairn

6. After a stiff climb the path emerges at Hause Gate, the depression between Cat­bells and Maiden Moor where you will no doubt be joined by the crowds heading down from the right from the shapely sum­mit of Catbells. However, our route turns left on the well worn path heading up to Maiden Moor.

7. After another long pull up Maiden Moor the worst of the climbing is over upon reaching a small cairn which marks an impressive viewing station offering out­standing views across to the Newlands Valley and the Grasmoor group of fells. Whilst the main path heads off to the left, for better views take the narrow right hand trod which skirts the edge of the plateau. This gives the opportunity to look down into the valley bottom and across to Hindscarth with the aptly named Dalehead at the end of the valley. Passing the highest point of Maiden Moor, the path rejoins the main path to head up to High Spy. Initially climbing again, for the last time today, the path finally levels off to reach the well-built summit cairn of High Spy.

8. From High Spy simply keep on the main path, marked by cairns to start the descent down to the depression between High Spy and Dalehead, with Dalehead Tarn clearly in view. Just follow the rough stony path, which is steep in places. Keep to the main path until a faint trod appears on the left heading in the direction of Rosthwaite just above a minor tarn, with a cairn about ten yards beyond. The path crosses marshy ground heading towards a fence with a stile over it at the head of Tongue Gill, above Rigghead Quarries.

9. Cross the stile and commence the steep and clear descent down to Borrowdale, walking on the path to the right of the gill. Pass through the impressive abandoned slate mine workings but don’t be tempted to go into any of the open levels. Take the minor path off to the right to be able to fur­ther explore the industrial heritage at Rigghead Hut with the remains of some winding gear for transporting the slate down the valley.

10. From the hut take the path heading down the fell side which quickly develops into a clear grass path. The path forms a T­junction with a section of the Allerdale Ramble at the bottom, with a gate through a wall virtually opposite. Go through the gate and continue down the initially stony track to shortly arrive at the valley bottom and the river. Cross a stile beside one stream, and ten yards later a second stream via a wooden footbridge, to follow the path beside the beck. Cross over a further foot­bridge with the Derwent now on your right. Only fifteen yards further on turn right, it’s back over New Bridge and all that’s left is to retrace your steps with now tired legs back to Rosthwaite.

Looking over Newlands Valley from Maiden Moor with the spoil on Scope End clearly visible

Walking can be strenuous, and it is up to you to approach it with caution and if you are inexperienced to do so under appropriate supervision. You should also carry appropriate clothing, equipment and maps, and wear suitable footwear. The details given here were believed to be correct at the time of going to press but neither the author nor Country Publications Ltd can accept responsibility for inaccuracies.


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