LESS IS BEST
LESS WEIGHT. MORE COMFORT.
ride; this route definitely pulls its weight.
There was actually an interesting poo, as well – in case you thought I was making that bit up. Discovered on Whin Ben – a shoulder beneath the skywalk of Gasgale Crags (Nope? See...) – was an oily grey pellet, which caught the eye of photographer, Tom. “Maybe a peregrine pellet. Let’s see…” “No, no, don’t do…” “..hmm, fresh!” “…that. Ugh.” “Aha! Look.” Tom raised the pellet to eye height to reveal a find both gruesome and informative: it was neatly inlaid with the ring from the leg of a carrier pigeon.
I didn’t want to imagine what that had been like to digest, let alone jettison. But I could fully imagine a peregrine haunting this place. By the time we found the pellet Liza had already started to reveal some of its magic. From the road we’d first climbed a steep, grassy nose above a gorge, then out onto a flank where spurs of vegetated, crumbly sedimentary rock provided some dodgy scrambling. Depth was already starting to assert itself in the valley beneath us – for the western Lakes, this felt Scottish-sized.
Whin Ben was a fine place to take in the surprise that had just spilled into view – the high, crag-ringed Gasgale Gill. This deep-cut waterway is created by the Liza Beck as it descends from the head of the horseshoe at Coledale Hause. And there are waterfalls up there. The whole lot feels impressively unspoiled.
Up and up onto Whiteside we went. Yet again, here was something unexpected. A wonderful skywalk ridge running level from Whiteside forming the northern arm of the horseshoe – but what was beneath really caught the eye. Descending precipitously into the valley below are a procession of rock spurs. Later on, viewing it at distance from the other side of the horseshoe, its form would become recognisable as Gasgale Crags – a kilometre-long scratch of tongue-and-groove gullies and ribs and surely one of the most remarkable mountain features in the Lakes. Again, hardly anyone sees it. Again, everyone really should.
The next section was magic. After Whiteside’s inauspicious 707m summit, striding along the ridge that continues east you crest a higher, nameless top at 717m before the ridge begins to lift and sharpen. Soon we were eyeing up Hopegill Head, a pyramid of north-facing crags and a fine summit. If you’ve spent any time travelling the A66 between Keswick and Cockermouth and wondered what the spiky bit is on that impressive battlement of fells to the south, I’d like to introduce you to Hopegill Head.
We’d fancied having a play on the north ridge of this peak, but spring snow was hanging thick and it all looked a bit slippy. Vowing to come back in summer, we carried on up Sand Hill, the lump that marks the head of the Liza Round.
We were now on shared territory with the Coledale Round. The Hause – an old Cumbrian dialect word for ‘neck’ or ‘throat,’ appended in the hills to a narrow passage between mountains – is the point where the two routes shake hands and show off their prospects: east down Coledale towards Keswick and to those walking the more popular route, the only glimpse west. It’s fascinating to look at how valleys interconnect over land passes – and incredibly rewarding to walk between them over passes like this.
So the principal motivator for doing this horseshoe, and doing it this way round, is you get to climb Grasmoor. You can do it on the Coledale Horseshoe too, but like Hopegill Head it’s a bit of an optional tack-on – one that comes slightly later in the game when you’re starting to smell the log fires in the villages below and an extra 2km of out-and-back might not be so appealing.
But on the Liza Round, Grasmoor is the route. And, you climb it having looked at it properly.
Grasmoor doesn’t sound promising, I’ll admit. Even its name is lacklustre. But this mountain is an absolute star. For starters, it’s monstrous: taller than High Street, St Sunday Crag and The Old Man of Coniston. Yet it sees a fraction of the footfall.
It’s a complicated devil, too – to all outward appearances it’s no more than a burly lump with a flat top. But the nose dives down to Crummock Water and hides an array of terrifying gullies, tucked into the wrinkles of the steepest summit-to-ground drop in the Lakes. And, as you walk along Whiteside’s ridge watching the mountain unfurl, Grasmoor slowly spills its most impressive secret: its north face.
Tom and I had been remarking on it all morning. It has some amazing rock architecture – principally the cupped valley walled by Dove Crags, where a little flattening beneath, high on the northern wall of the mountain, looked like a great spot for a wild camp. “Great spot for a wild camp.” “You always say that. Do you ever actually go and camp in any of them?” Tom was studying the compacted snow built into the shadow of the face. The whole summit was shelled with a dome of snow, and the face was impressively corniced. If gully climbing was your thing, this was a good day for it.
We arrived on the 851m summit of Grasmoor as the light was just starting to fade into a soft, cold evening. What a great time to be high in the Lakes on an impressive hill – unique of character, noble of form, and with a bloody great big drop off the front.
Thankfully, our route didn’t toy with the drop. Though this was where we did come a little unstuck. The sensible way off would have been to scoot around and down the steep but civilised prow of Lad Hows; but the lure of an early bath and a disproportionate amount of food in a Buttermere inn caused us to take a more direct route down the scree of Red Gill, so named for its iron-rich rock. I wouldn’t recommend this; it’s like trying to walk down a broken staircase covered in smashed crockery, and at its foot is the worryingly named Fall Crag. But we did it without too many a yelp and before long were trotting easily beneath the great prow of Grasmoor and back to the car.
So there you go: take a bow, the Liza Round. Sometimes it pays to look behind the scenes, beyond the big-name acts – because you might find something special waiting in the wings.
Unveiling the Liza Round's secrets, between Whiteside and Hopegill Head. Near the summit of Hopegill Head – the spiky bit between Keswick and Cockermouth.
High on Grasmoor – nothing lacklustre about these views.