The cottage we chose for our week in Cumbria this autumn is Latrigg View: a whitewashed former farmhouse owned by the Fisher family of local mountain rescue pioneers. It sits on the edge of the tiny village of Applethwaite, with nothing but farm fields and woodland between the little stone terrace and the fell which provides the most accessible panoramic view of Keswick. We’d deliberately chosen what I’d call a dream cottage, because this is our fifteenth wedding anniversary trip away, and the eighteenth anniversary of that first kiss in a kitchen in Scotland.
Given the name of the cottage and the beckoning view of tiny little hikers on top of the fell as we ate a late breakfast on the little stone terrace, it seemed foolish not to take advantage of the ramblers’ path leading past the gate at the bottom of the garden. We packed rolls, crisps and chocolate, ensured that we had our waterproof gear in our rucksacks, and headed out across the fields.
A favourite television programme — which is very gentle indeed — is Winter Walks. The premise is the simple, minimal recording of a pleasant walk, rather than a more strenuous hike up a big hill. The first section of our walk brought such episodes to mind, as we passed along a tree-lined, acorn-strewn path; past disinterested Herdwick sheep grazing in the neighbouring fields; chatted with a farmer about an unusual cross-breed; and along a country lane leading to the bottom of the steep path up the fell.
More regular walkers seemed to find the path less taxing than we did, but we did fine, taking the gradient one bit at a time and enjoying the cool air and lovely smell of late-stage bracken. Once we’d covered the main part of the ascent through the forest, we found that the gate to the direct, very steep final section of path had been padlocked: presumably to allow the muddy slope to recover a little. We therefore carried along to the edge of the forest and out onto a logger’s track, heading across the southern slopes of the fell which appear to have been deforested recently. From there, an unofficial, ankle-straining pathway up through dense bracken and gorse led us to the fell proper. A last push across a short grassy incline with obligatory pebbly sheep droppings brought us to the gate on the eastern end of the Latrigg ridge. The indicated time for the initial route was around an hour, and we added another 45 minutes or so to that by taking our time and enjoying the details along the way.
The wind was colder and more direct on the exposed fell, so we wrapped up in waterproof jackets and headed along the top of the ridge, over the tiniest of rocky bumps in the path which indicates the 368-metre summit, and down to the fell side next to the well-known bench. We hunkered down a little on the leeward side of the slope, keeping out of the wind, and ate our lunch whilst talking about the pros and cons of walking up the Skiddaw path, which clearly and visibly scrapes its way up to Little Man. The cons — mainly the straight slog up 560-odd vertical metres of ascent along a relentlessly-straight track from the car park — outweigh the pros for me.
From our viewpoint, it was downhill all the way. We elected for the zig-zag path down the western side of the fellside of Mallen Dodd and through Bruntholm Wood, which joins up with the small road down to Ormathwaite. Near the end of our walk, just before the posh spa set in a large complex of slate buildings with a view to Braithwaite and Keswick, we caught sight of a wonderful Imperial stag: a male red deer with seven points to each antler. He stood and watched us as we watched him, while his hinds looked on. Due to the small size of the woods, we expect that they are captive, rather than wild animals. But the experience was no less impressive for it.