The Route: Dodd via Skill Beck | Distance: 7.5km (4.75 miles) | Time: 3 hours
Ascent: 1,740ft (530m) | Start: NY235281 | Map: OL4 | Date: 24/06/2010
After 5 days in a sunny Lake District you just know it is going to rain! And so it did on our fifth day up in Keswick. The tent windows had already misted up as I sat contemplating my next move. A hike up Helvellyn via Striding Edge was out of the question, a trip over to Buttermere and a crack at Hay Stacks was gone for a burton, so the question was – what to do? The gloomy weather deteriorated further and most summits had become obscured in a sticky hanging mist, so a lower peak now had to be seriously considered. While not offering much excitement, at least it would give the lungs some exercise if only I could find somewhere to spark my imagination.
Barf was a possible, Latrigg maybe, then I chanced upon Dodd! At 530 metres not a giant by any stretch of the imagination, but is was only 10 minutes in the car and according to the pathfinder guide book it offered spectacular views, (should the weather Gods be kind to us later in the day). With its strong connections with the Lakeland poets, a tale of a hermit that lived on its bleak flanks, and a dense pine forest on the lower slopes offering opportunities to see Osprey and Red Squirrels the decision was made.
There once was a time you could not see the top of Dodd for trees but now due to a conscious deforestation program the summit is free of them and now offers up spectacular views of Bassenthwaite and Grisedale Pike not to mention the vista across to Derwent Water and the fells beyond. Dodd is hugely popular but in this weather we hoped to have it all to ourselves.
Popular was an understatement as I had to fight to gain a parking space in the ever popular car park opposite Mirehouse (the 17th-century house which has strong associations with Wordsworth and Tennyson et al.). Having beaten some old dear to the last remaining space and feeling no guilt whatsoever given the chaos and stampede within the car park we finally left the car with rucksacks on backs and headed for the Old Sawmill tea room and the start of the path up Dodd.
We immediately entered dense pine woodland and where at once confronted by a steep climb up a small weaving path through the trees in front of us. With mist now descending on the tress from above we were not hopeful of the skies clearing before we made the summit. Steadily we climbed through the dense forest following the red, green and blue trail posts of the Forestry Commision. Soon we branched left, now following only the red and green posts before us. A while further and after crossing a small wooden bridge we climbed some more until we met a surfaced track. Here we followed the track shadowing Skill Beck below us in the valley. At the col between Dodd and White Stones we bore right picking up the rough track to the summit of Dodd.
The track was tough now and after several false summits and with our lungs being more puffed out that we imagined they would be on a fell so small we finally gained the top. Amazingly the weather Gods had smiled upon us and we were treated to far reaching views in all directions albeit while being buffeted from pillar to post by strong winds which had picked up while we had been trekking through the woods below, oblivious as we were to the weather above cocooned by the deep forest around us, but which had now also blown the rain away for good at the summit.
In the 19th-century a hermit evidently lived on these wild wind blown sides up high here all alone on Dodd. He was a Scotsman by the name of George Smith and according to reports of the time a bit of a local character who became known as the Skiddaw Hermit. He lived up here in all weathers in a makeshift shelter occasionally venturing into town to paint portraits in return for local ale from any landlord that would let him. It’s a nice tale and one which today would be almost unthinkable in such a tourist trap of an area.
However, we had lost the tourists as few ventured up high today. I guess the majority of them were sitting in their tents or maybe shopping or possibly in tearooms scattered throughout the area. Thankful of this we sucked up the fine views and savoured the solitude of a summit to ourselves, being ever thankful for having saved the day and having managed to manufacture a mini-adventure out of a possibly lost day due to the appalling weather.
We sat a while at the memorial pillar which marks the summit and watched the unfolding weather patterns below in the valley. The rain pushed out, the sun came in and the tufts of white surf on Bassenthwaite subsided as the water calmed in the afternoon sunshine.
The descent saw us picking up the Allerdale Ramble route through Thornthwaite Forest. The magical woodland coming alive as rays of sunshine began to break through the canopy. Gentle steam began to rise slowly from the leaves as their surfaces began to heat once more under the sun. The fragrant smell of pine wafted gently on the wind and the tumbling water from Skill Beck could be heard more clearly now as the rainwater washed down from higher up the fell swelled the small brooks’ banks.
We did not see any Red Squirrels and the Osprey hide was out of bounds on that day but we had hiked through beautiful scenery and bagged another Wainwright into the bargain. If you are at a loose end and want a little tester with some great views thrown in regardless of whether the weather is good, or bad, I throughly recommend a hike up Dodd, it has a lot more to offer above and beyond the usual quest for sheer height alone and is a great alternative when pure height alone is just not an achievable possibility.
Some images in this post have been used with the kind permission of Serotoninuk® please check out his Flickr feed via the link.