Rosthwaite, High Doat, Castle Crag and River Derwent

This delightful walk, ideal for a half day or summer evening, begins in the hamlet of Rosthwaite, Borrowdale. The route follows a path along a lane and across fields to Rosthwaite Youth Hostel from where the route continues through woodland and then up to open fell, climbing to High Doat. The path then descends to join and follow the Allerdale Ramble path across Tongue Gill to the foot of Castle Crag. This favourite fell of Alfred Wainwright is then climbed to enjoy the stunning view from the summit across Borrowdale to Derwent Water, Keswick and Skiddaw. From Castle Crag the route leads down to join the Cumbria Way path by the side of the River Derwent which leads back into Rosthwaite.

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Statistics and Files
Start: Rosthwaite Distance: 4.4 miles (7.1 km) Climbing: 362 metres
Grid Ref: NY 25810 14849 Time: 2-3 hours Rating: Moderate
GPX Route File Google Earth File About Castle Crag
Start: Rosthwaite Distance: 4.4 miles (7.1 km)
Grid Ref: NY 25810 14849 Time: 2-3 hours
Climbing: 362 metres Rating: Moderate
GPX Route File Google Earth File
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map (1:25,000)

Introduction: Alfred Wainwright said "Castle Crag is so magnificently independent, so ruggedly individual, so aggressively unashamed of its lack of inches. It conforms to no pattern. It is an obstruction in the throat of Borrowdale. Its abrupt pyramid, richly wooded from base almost to summit but bare at the top, is a wild tangle of rough steep ground, a place of crags and scree and tumbled boulders, of quarry holes and spoil dumps of confusion and disorder. But such is the artistry of nature, such is the mellowing influence of the passing years, that the scars of disarray and decay have been transformed in a romantic harmony, cloaked by a canopy of trees and a carpet of leaves. There are lovely copses of silver birch by the crystal-clear river, magnificent specimens of Scots pine higher up. Naked of trees, Castle Crag would be ugly; with them, it has a sylvan beauty unsurpassed, unique"

The Walk: The rain was hammering down when I had arrived in the Lake District. I had travelled south from Crianlarich on a fine late Spring morning after a week of walking in Scotland and with three days of my break left I had booked accommodation in Penrith with the intention of finding a walk in the Eden Valley and a couple in Lakeland. As it was early afternoon when I had crossed the border from Scotland I made my way into Lakeland with the intention of finally bagging Castle Crag and reached Keswick by 2.00pm. Plenty of time to walk yet, six hours of daylight remaining. However as I passed Keswick and drove alongside Derwent Water into Borrowdale clouds which I had noticed bubbling up as I had driven past Blencathra suddenly erupted. The sky darkened quickly. People walking around Derwent Water, and there were lots of them, were hurriedly putting on raincoats and dashing for cover. Soon there was a deluge. I reached Rosthwaite and parked up for an hour. There was no recovery. I gave up.

YHA Borrowdale near RosthwaiteYHA Borrowdale near Rosthwaite
River Derwent near SeatollerRiver Derwent near Seatoller

The next morning I woke from my slumber in my Penrith Digs and opened the curtains to beam with delight at a beautiful blue sky. I hastened to get ready for breakfast which I took as soon as I possibly could. Soon after I was on my way to Rosthwaite, this time arriving in a fresh and bright Borrowdale. I parked up in the village car park and after getting ready for the off I chatted with a National Trust chap who was stationed in the car park with hope of encouraging new membership. "I am already with you" I told him, pointing to the sticker in the car. continuing in conversation I said "What a beautiful day it is" and then I added "A perfect one for getting out on the fells". "Yes indeed it is. Go and enjoy yourself" he replied.

I walked through the few streets which make up Rosthwaite and then headed south across a couple of paddock fields to the hamlet of Peat How, typically a terrace of houses and a farm. From the hamlet I crossed a stone bridge spanning the River Derwent and followed the access road to Borrowdale Youth Hostel. The building is functional rather than beautiful. I waved to a gardener working in the grounds as I walked on by. Next came a stretch of beautiful woodland walking on the edge of Johnny Wood and beside the Derwent. New leaf, young green and fresh, gave the woodland a gorgeous aura. I loved it, as always.

Climbing to High DoatClimbing to High Doat
The Jaws of Borrowdale and Castle CragThe Jaws of Borrowdale and Castle Crag

The climbing had started in Johnny Wood as I had ascended gently from the meandering course of the Derwent to a vantage point on the edge of the woodland looking down on nearby Seatoller. Once out of the woods the climb steepened, slightly at first but certainly as I climbed on a path to a junction of paths on the south side of High Doat. As I was hauling myself up a gentleman with dog in attendance was shimmying his way down the bank. We stopped to chat. Both of us agreed how it was such a beautiful day and more so because yesterday afternoons downpour had freshened everything up. We looked down across Seatoller towards Seathwaite in Upper Borrowdale and both agreeing it was a gorgeous scene to behold. I swear Borrowdale never looked better. It was spring cleaned, so to speak. I bade the gentleman a good day and climbed to the fork in paths. I took the right hand option to scale High Doat.

High Doat is an enigma. It is not the highest fell by any respect, nor is it a stunner. However, High Doat is well worth the effort of climbing it as I would find out. I made my way up High Doat by myself. I had noticed more early day walkers on the nearby paths, most of them, like I, on their way to Castle Crag from Rosthwaite. Not one was heading for High Doat though. Their loss. The summit of High Doat provides a spectacular aspect of the Borrowdale Valley and in particular it is the best place for viewing the 'Jaws of Borrowdale' with Castle Crag in the centre of the frame. I stayed for ages taking in the moment while fixing the picture in my minds eye.

Following the Allerdale RambleFollowing the Allerdale Ramble
Upper BorrowdaleUpper Borrowdale

I had lingered on High Doat for longer than I had planned so when I eventually dragged myself away I fixed on a route down to meet the Allerdale Ramble path at a point below the east slope of High Scawdel. Route determined, I zigzagged my way down with a youthful scamper. I hopped over the small obstacles and swerved around the larger ones. I felt years younger. I will do it when the mood takes me for as long as I can. I reached the Allerdale Ramble path, paused and took a breather to compose myself. Then I followed the good path, hemmed in by High Scawdel and fern on my left and by a winding drystone wall on my right. The left hand side, western jaw of Borrowdale and Castle Crag drew me on. The pristine view of Upper Borrowdale behind caused temporary delays as I often paused and turned around to take more of it in.

Castle CragCastle Crag
The slate staircase of Castle CragThe slate staircase of Castle Crag

Soon enough, and despite the pauses it did not seem long being on the Allerdale Ramble path to reach the foot of Castle Crag. Perhaps it had been the conversations with other walkers while on the path which took the time away. Whatever it was I was at the foot of Castle Crag and excited to be there. "How to get up there" I mused. It did not seem obvious from where I was and so I followed the Allerdale Ramble path a little further than I had imagined. Then, just ass the path begins its steep descent to Borrowdale I spotted a path leading off to the right and up towards Castle Crag. I now knew which way to go and took the path to up and around a crag, then along a flat mid-table plateau to a high drystone wall with a high stile giving access over it.

Once over the stile everything changed. Until then I had been on naturally worn paths, eroded by footfall and some like the ramble repaired and maintained. What I looked towards now was a steep zigzag staircase of loose slate. And if I had wanted to climb it straight away to get to the upper reaches of Castle Crag then I would have to think again. A long line of children were making their way down. An adult led and an adult tailed the group with a couple more adults amidst the line. There were around thirty in the group and I watched them all come down in line. Then I greeted them. Some of the youngsters were very chatty and inquisitive of their environment which they questioned me on with delightful courteousness. I was happy to answer their questions as best I could. I talked with their teachers and supports too. It was a good encounter I will remember well.

Cairn viewpoint on Castle CragCairn viewpoint on Castle Crag
On the final climbOn the final climb

After I had zigzagged my way up the slate footpath I came to what I imagine was a site of old quarry workings. Areas of random slate spoil were interspersed with artistic workings. Some areas had symmetrically aligned slate walls. Others had impressive slate cairns, one of which stood at a great vantage point overlooking upper Borrowdale Then in a corner of the workings was a scattering of upright slates fixed into the ground, akin to ancient stone circles. A fitting homage to the redundant slate quarrymen who once industriously worked this small but significant crag. After my admiring looks to the tributes and artistic sculptures on offer I took myself to the final climb to the top.

Taking in the viewTaking in the view
Derwent Water, Keswick and SkiddawDerwent Water, Keswick and Skiddaw

I got to the summit of Castle Crag which is has a generous plateau where people can rest, enjoy themselves and take in the exceptional view on offer, looking due north to Lower Borrowdale, Derwent Water, Keswick and Skiddaw. It is a classic view, much loved by many including Julia Bradbury and the late Alfred Wainwright who verbosely said "Derwentwater, backed by Skiddaw, makes a fine scene". Cumbria magazine in the 70th anniversary list of the finest views in the county rated the scene 3rd of all with David Newton writing "Makes you feel lucky to be able to appreciate such beautiful views. The perfect way to be stress-free". A group of around a dozen were enjoying their lunches and the view with equal aplomb.

The very highest point is a rock outcrop which has been adopted as a memorial to Borrowdale men killed in the Great War. A plaque in tribute to those heroes lost in the futility of war is fixed to the outcrop.

View back to RosthwaiteView back to Rosthwaite
Descending through High Hows WoodDescending through High Hows Wood

I came down from the top of Castle Crag by the same path to the slate strewn artistic section and then down the zig-zag slate path. There is no other way. Then over the high stile I climbed once more. That was it for retracing steps. Now I could make new ones as I followed a path down the east side of Castle Crag through High How Woods. It was a meandering path weaving through the woodland. At times the path allowed me to per over the top of the tree canopy towards my destination of Rosthwaite. Yet though Castle Crag was now a fixture in memory rather than a destination I was in no hurry to get the walk done. I continued my descent at a leisurely amble, unlike the High Doat sprint I had sportingly played out earlier.

Woodland walk near Castle CragWoodland walk near Castle Crag
Walking alongside the River DerwentWalking alongside the River Derwent

I reached the foot of Castle Crag and touched down in Borrowdale once more. A further stretch of woodland walking led me back towards the River Derwent I had left earlier on when near Seatoller. While just over a couple of hours had passed since i had parted with the river it seemed an age. I had enjoyed much fun and taken in so many fine views since then. Before emerging from the woodland to the riverside I spotted a small natural mound with a copse of trees sitting atop it. I went and sat on top of the bank, just a few feet above the path and watched walkers pass by while I enjoyed a Kit Kat and a drink. Refreshed, I carried on my walk, this time ambling alongside the river. It flowed gently by not displaying any aggression I expected from a river filled with the torrential rain of the previous afternoon. The sun shone down bright and it was a warming sun too. It made everyone happy. People smiled as they walked.

Buttercup meadow near RosthwaiteButtercup meadow near Rosthwaite
All done, time for a cuppaAll done, time for a cuppa

I continued my amble back towards Rosthwaite, reflecting on a lovely walk as I approached the village and re-imagining the journey. I was pleased I had climbed High Doat. I had not planned to do when setting off from Rosthwaite, it was a spur of the moment decision when realising the vantage point it would provide of Castle Crag. And the overall views High Doat provided were exceptional, not just of Castle Crag and the Jaws of Borrowdale but of the swing of Borrowdale too. And of the ways leading out of Upper Borrowdale including to Honister Pass. If you walk this way, I recommend you climb High Doat. As for Castle Crag, WOW, it speaks for itself. Wainwright was right, it is a must do despite its diminutive stature. And then there is that final walk home which includes the pleasant section beside the River Derwent. In conclusion, the walk was fantastic. Every step of it.

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