Rosthwaite, Eagle Crag, Sergeant's Crag and Black Moss Pot

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Start: Rosthwaite Distance: 7.1 miles (11.4 km) Climbing: 660 meters
Grid Ref: NY 25775 14844 Time: 4-6 hours Rating: Hard
GPX Route File Google Earth File About Eagle Crag
Start: Rosthwaite Distance: 7.1 miles (11.4 km)
Climbing: 660 meters Grid Ref: NY 25775 14844
Time: 4-6 hours Rating: Hard
GPX Route File Google Earth File
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map (1:25,000)

Summary: This walk begins from the popular village of Rosthwaite in Borrowdale and initially follows Wainwright's Coast to Coast route into Stonethwaite before cutting off to the right at the confluence of Greenup Gill and Langstrath Beck to access the east flank of Eagle Crag, undoubtedly one of the most attractive mountains in the Lake District. Thereafter follows a tough climb to the top which is rewarded by great views, Most notably back down the Stonethwaite valley and also along the Langstrath valley. After an airy walk from Eagle Crag to its little sister Sergeant's Crag a steep descent to the Langstrath valley leads to a return journey via Langstrath Beck and Stonethwaite village. The end result is a completely satisfying walk in the midst of beautiful and isolated high country.

The Walk:

Rosthwaite on a chilly winters morningRosthwaite on a chilly winters morning
Climbing through the Stonethwaite valleyClimbing through the Stonethwaite valley

It was a chilly early February morning as I set off from Rosthwaite in the Borrowdale valley to take on Eagle Crag. I had first clapped eyes on this most attractive of the Wainwright Fells in May 1994, during my first Coast to Coast walk and had passed it by a few times since then. Always admiring its beauty but always on another journey of discovery. But not this time. I had determined to climb my object of desire at last. And I was so thrilled to be at last heading in its direction, without detour, with eager anticipation. What I did not know as I walked up the Stonethwaite valley, a pretty approach in its own right, is how I would make the climb. I had two options, which I will come to in a minute, but for now I was unsure. It was not long before I made my mind up.

Footbridge over Greenup Gill at Smithymire IslandFootbridge over Greenup Gill at Smithymire Island
Climbing the sodden path into LangstrathdaleClimbing the sodden path into Langstrath

Forty five minutes after setting off I was at the point of decision. Would it be Wainwright's route B, the easy way up, continuing up Greenup Gill and around the back. Or would it be the more exciting option, Wainwright's route A, straight into Langstrath and turning left towards Eagle Crag via Heron Crag. I think I knew right from the start. Of course, it had to be the exciting option. I would never forgive myself otherwise. So, across the footbridge over Greenup Gill at Smithymire Island I went, wetting my boots with every step on the walk into Langstrath as there was the proper beck to my right and a mini beck flowing along the footpath. No avoiding that. And anyway, it was a wet job crossing Galleny Force on the Greenup Gill path anyway. Winter walking is for the tough boots.

Working out my way up to Eagle CragWorking out my way up to Eagle Crag
F15 Eagle flying up the Stonethwaite valleyF15 Eagle flying up the Stonethwaite valley

Wainwright had described what lay ahead of me. I will come to the technical bit further on. For now he starts "Eagle Crag seems well nigh unassailable, a continuous rampart of crags defending the crest above other steep rocks rising in tiers from the lower slopes. The crags are undoubtedly repelling (the main cliff is quite vertical) and a direct straight ascent is out of the question, but there is just one line of weakness on this front by which the top may be gained by ordinary walking: tracing this line amid its impressive surroundings is enjoyable and interesting". I will go along with most of what he says but I question 'ordinary walking'. The climb up from Langstrath was lung busting from the first step. It is steep, very steep in part, even on the climb of the first, supposedly easy and nontechnical, half. I was jiggered by the time I reached the wall which heralds the technical part. At the base of Heron Crag I had to sit down for a breather. It was so much of a relief to rest. And so peaceful. And then it happened. That unforgettable moment. First I heard the rumble and then, before I could react, two jet fighters flew up from Rosthwaite, up Stonethwaite valley, in exactly the route I had taken, then disappearing from my view, continuing up to Greenup Edge. "Wow" I thought to myself, albeit slightly disappointed I had not had time to react and get a camera shot. Haranguing myself for that I then picked up a second rumble. This time I had time to pick up the camera and with good fortune I managed to capture one of the second pair of jets flying up the Stonethwaite valley. And this time, virtually in my eye-line, they turned into Langstrath, flying directly past me. As soon as they had passed me they accelerated into a vertical climb. I could see their jets flame red with the boost of energy. It was awesome. (Thanks to Aiden Wellock for telling me the jets were US Air Force F15 Eagle fighter aircraft out of RAF Lakenheath).

The view from Eagle Crag to Stonethwaite valleyThe view from Eagle Crag to Stonethwaite valley
The view from Eagle Crag to LangstrathdaleThe view from Eagle Crag to Langstrath

After the thrill of my personal air show, no one else being around or indeed in sight all day long, I continued the climb around Heron Crag and up to the summit of Eagle Crag. The technical bit, as described on page Eagle Crag 4 of Wainwright's Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells, Book Three, the Central Fells. Titled 'The upper section of Route A'. Following the guidance I found the wall and cut through the gap of big boulders to reach the low side of Heron Crag. I could not see the wooden fence he described but I could make out the terraces mentioned and the reassuring footsteps of previous walkers. After only one slight error of misdirection which was easily worked out when I had nowhere to go but take the option to fly, I found my way up above Heron Crag to the clear series of terraces leading up Eagle Crag to the summit. A few more heaves, breaks for gasps of air, and more short climbs later, I was up. Enjoying the views from the top. I loved the one back down into the Stonethwaite valley, and despite it being midday, much still in the shadow of the surrounding fells blocking out the low winter sun. Langstrath was the same, it being a narrower valley, probably getting no sunlight on the valley floor during the winter months. Beautiful sights all the same.

Sergeant's CragSergeant's Crag
The path from Eagle Crag to Sergeant's CragThe path from Eagle Crag to Sergeant's Crag

I was on a high standing on top of Eagle Crag. Physically and emotionally. Not only had the feat of finally getting to the top of this much admired Wainwright finally being realised but I was still buzzing from the F15 Eagle fighter jets fly past too. Five Eagles in one, four more than expected. "Flipping fandabidosi fantastic" I said under my breath. Eventually I calmed down though it took some time and only when I had returned to normal heartbeat could I focus. When I had calmed down I centered my attention on determining the route over to Sergeant's Crag which I could clear see ahead of me just 700 metres away due south. It was shining like a beacon from where I stood, the low winter sun now out and illuminating the fells and situated just below the tip of the peak of Sergeant's Crag. As if I had not being granted enough excitement on the ascent of Eagle Crag I now had the ethereal vision of Sergeant's Crag glowing before me.

High Raise as seen from Sergeant's CragHigh Raise as seen from Sergeant's Crag
The way down to LangstrathdaleThe way down to Langstrath

It was an easy undertaking to walk to along the pleasant undulating slightly down and then up path between the two craggy Wainwright's. On reaching Sergeant's Crag I settled down beside a wind sheltering outcrop for lunch which I spent enjoying the quiet atmosphere of having such a lovely place all to myself. After the break for lunch I headed away on the crest leading towards High Raise, veering right to determine a way down into Langstrath. My plan was to head back via the valley and take a look at where Langstrath Beck is squeezed into a funnel at Black Moss Pot. Looking at the options I decided to descend by the series of watercourses heading down from east to west between Lamper Knott and Bull Crag.

Blea CragBlea Crag
Langstrath BeckLangstrath Beck

It was a straightforward descent. I have done many of these steep short descents before; the essential action to take is to go slow, stop for breathers, look for points to aim at in the short distance, work out there is no serious barriers to getting to the bottom further on, to zig-zag, to give each leading foot a rest after a while. Lead with the left for a while and then lead with the right. Again and again. My overriding thought is to never get ambitious and go too far or to take too steep a straight line. Edging down, a bit at a time. Sometimes the imp in the head says "Go for it" and then the wise part of the brain says "Not on your Nellie". If I make sure the side leaning to wisdom wins then I have no problems. Doing just that, in twenty five minutes of concentration I had descended almost 400 metres to safely stand beside Langstrath Beck. And now with the adrenaline rush over, I could enjoy the remainder of the walk back to Rosthwaite at a gentle saunter.

Langstrath Beck squeezing into Black MossLangstrath Beck squeezing into Black Moss
Black Moss PotBlack Moss Pot

On reaching the beck side I had only a few metres to walk to reach the water throttle that is Black Moss Pot. Here the waters of twenty foot wide Langstrath Beck is forced by a projecting rock funnel on both sides into a two feet wide funnel. Therefore the water of Langstrath Beck is literally squashed into a small waterfall siphon and beyond the fall is a natural enclosure of calmed deep water. Look Black Moss Pot up on the Internet and you will see it is one of the most popular spots for wild swimming in the country. Apparently it can be very busy here in summer so I am glad I was here now. Rather than look at a spectacle of happy adrenaline fuelled people diving or leaping into the natural pool or simple swimming I could stand and admire the natural feature of this geological masterpiece. And awesome it was to take in the wonderful wholesomeness of Black Moss Pot in perfect natural silence. After taking my time to enjoy it all I resumed my walk.

Erratics in LangstrathErratics in Langstrath
The way back to StonethwaiteThe way back to Stonethwaite

What happened next is a timely reminder to those of you who have done the same after a tough and fully committed piece of work on a walk. I had worked my way down into Langstrath with hard graft. Then I had stood beside Black Moss Pot for a couple of minutes looking over the water and the surrounding fells of the valley. Simply taking it all in and relaxing. I was now completely chilled, ready to begin my easy walk home. I enjoyed walking along the path down the valley, stepping around erratics and stepping around pools of standing water on the winter path. Yes, I was enjoying myself for sure. Then, all of sudden, one step onto the path saw my leading foot keep going on a slide of wet grass. I could not stop it and I could not bring the trailing foot forward quickly enough. The result of this was that I was involuntarily performing the splits. My word it was painful and to stop me going into full balletic pose I had to force myself to fall. Splash! Over I went, immediately reproaching myself for not concentrating. As I was saying to myself "Don't be so casual. Keep your mind on the job" I did the same again. Splat! this time I was rolling in a puddle and laughing. I was not injured, just wet on the backside, covered in mud and blurting out "Be careful you nitwit!". Looking back, it was five minutes of cartoon comical.

Stonethwaite BeckStonethwaite Beck
Tilly's BarnTilly's Barn

The path between Black Moss Pot and the end of Langstrath Beck at the confluence with Gaping Gill, is an easy one to walk. So long as you keep your feet. Especially in winter. Stretches of grass between rocky path were completely sodden and like a skating rink if care was not taken. Or when concentration lapsed. As mine did, thinking all the hard work had been done. It was not the first time I had fallen in a heap towards the end of a walk and it will not be the last. And conditions do not have to be bad. I have gone over on dry paths in summer as well. Plenty of times. And I am sure I will again. It is part of my walking, always challenging myself.

Back to the walk and there were no more mishaps. At the confluence of Langstrath Beck and Gaping Gill, namely at the creation of Stonethwaite Beck, where I had already crossed a footbridge of Langstrath Beck at Johnny House, I followed the stony bridleway back towards the village of Stonethwaite. For the first time in the day I met other walkers. I presume most had parked in Stonethwaite and were doing a short winter walk to the confluence. There would not be much light left in the day to do much more. During my walk to the village I passed Tilly's Barn, once a working croft and now one of the most remote holiday barns in the Lake District.

The village of StonethwaiteThe village of Stonethwaite
Winter sunlight glinting on Stonethwaite BeckWinter sunlight glinting on Stonethwaite Beck

Ten minutes of walking from Tilly's Barn brought me to the delightful village of Stonethwaite. Home of the Langstrath Country Inn the small compact village has many fine whitewashed cottages, typical of this part of the National Park. I enjoyed walking through Stonethwaite, though I never saw anyone at all during my passage. It was asleep. From Stonethwaite I crossed the back to rejoin the lane I had followed on my walk out of Rosthwaite six hours earlier. The winter sun was dropping below the highest Borrowdale Fells now, just enough still glinting on Stonethwaite Beck as I walked by it to give a reflective kiss of light. It was a beautiful ending to a really special walk which I will never forget for so many reasons. The steep gruelling climb, the tough attention demanding descent, the awesomeness of Black Moss Pot and the hilarious tumbles. All will stay with me. As will the seemingly personal fly past of the F15 Eagle aircraft. That was a WOW for sure. And finally, of course, the accomplishment of finally completing my visits to the summits of Eagle Crag and Sergeant's Crag. There is no more to be said.

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