A nice little hike with Ella up Wainwrights smallest fell. Castle Cragg.

October 27, 2015  •  2 Comments

Hi Folks,

As its half term, I really wanted to have at least one day off work to spend with my 7yr old daughter Ella in the fells. She was keen to conquer a new fell too as she has been hiking with me many times and managed to summit eight Wainwright fells along the way, but only 5 seperate ones. (Hallin Fell, Loughrigg, Haystacks, Pike O Blisco and Cold Pike). I also wanted to choose a route that could incorporate more fun and exploration aspects than just a hike alone and came upon the idea of doing Castle Crag and a hunt for the "secret cave" in the woods on its flank. The cave of course being Millican Daltons cave.

I didnt want anything too hard as she had done Cold Pike with me two days earlier and I didnt want this one to feel a chore as there are usually a couple of weeks between her hikes and I dont know what her recovery time is like yet. With Ella excited to go... I started to make plans.


Here is our final route in GPS format using Viewranger.

(This map is active so you can scroll around and zoom etc)


And the same route as logged by my Suunto Ambit 3 peak and converted to view in Google earth.

Unfortunately, I couldnt actually get the day off work totally as I had a rally car to calibrate on the dyno but it suited him for me to do it in the evening, so I had to be back in Blackpool for 6pm. This meant an early start so we left Blackpool early and were putting our boots on at about 10am in Rossthwaite Car park in Borrowdale, just up from Derwentwater. Its a National Trust car park too so as a member its free parking for me. Always a great start to a hike... and there are toilets there as well, very useful when out with the kids.

The walk immediately takes you through a part of the gorgeous little village of Rossthwaite. There is a lovely little tea room right here too which would be nice to visit, but unfortunately Ella has a lot of food intolerances that mean she cant generally eat anything in cafes as they (understandably) cant cater for her so we didnt visit it ourselves but it looks very nice and I will visit next time I am here alone.

There is a farm along the path... Ella loved the big tractor and went over to see its huge wheels.

I point out Castle Crag to Ella so that she can see our destination and she points it back out to me for this image. Castle Crag is the smallest of the Wainwrights and doesnt even quite make 1000ft but Alfred Wainwright included it in his guides due to the beauty of the area and the amazing views from its summit that are quite incredible considering its modest height.

Our route takes us over the River Derwent. As you meet it you are faced with these stepping stones. There is nice safe a bridge further up but Ella wants to do the stones. As we near the middle of the stones she is quite scared as the steps between them are quite wide for her little legs and the river quite deep and loud, but with a bit of teamwork we get across and she really enjoyed it. Her smile says it all...

Looking across to our left, this is Lingy Bank with High Scawdel behind it. The weather is fabulous, its very hard to believe that this is the last week of October. We have been blessed with great weather for hiking this month.

A nice little bridge is always welcome on our routes.

That path continues on, roughly following the River Derwent to High Hows wood.

Naturally, we stop for a paddle or two along the way.

You will remember earlier that I mentioned a cave. Well Ella has been excited to find this cave since I told her of its existence and that many people never find it, which I know to be true as I know quite a few hikers who have had a cursory look around and not come across it on their travels. Here is a little background to the Cave and its previous occupant. (Some info is Courtesy Wikipedia and mountainmere)

Back in the early 1900's, a gentleman by the name of Millican Dalton gave up his life in the city of London and at age 36 moved into a large split levelled cave on the eastern flank of Castle Crag in Borrowdale. This spacious cave had two 'rooms' and a constant supply of water through a fissure in the ceiling. The transition from suburbanite to caveman had well and truly been made. Unsurprisingly he received a considerable amount of publicity for his alternate choice of home, which he called "The Cave Hotel".

He seemed as much a part of Lakeland as the rocks themselves. Dalton's bearded, craggy face, topped by a battered Tyrolean hat, grew increasingly to look like a landslide on one of the fells. His distinctive home-made dress and gangling figure meant that he was instantly recognisable, and he became one of the sights of Keswick. He was a man well ahead of his time and lived a life of stoic simplicity. Millican was a socialist, pacifist, vegetarian, and teetotaller, who grew his own food and sewed his own clothes.

Meanwhile, the years and the decades flowed by, but Dalton's uncompromising lifestyle remained unaffected by the advance of old age. He continued to sleep rough in all weathers, until his final demise in the artic conditions of 1947 when life within his Gypsy tent became too hard to bide. Millican Dalton died aged 79.


Having already been here with my wife previously, I had a pretty clear idea of where the cave was and knew we would have to ascend up off the river path some 300ft to find it. So we did that and came across a cave very quickly. Ella was very excited as she was back in "Commander Ella" mode again (See my Cold Pike blogg for what that means) and was leading the hunt. Sadly, I had to tell her this first cave isnt the one, which I knew from having been there before of course.

The hunt continues and Ella is sure this might have once been his garden wall...

We came across this rather bizzare rock arrangement which was an interesting twist to the route.

Heading up from the path into the slate quarry area.

And as is always the way when following commander Ella... we are totally off the path. I could see a much easier way, but I love and favour letting Ella find her own way. Its the best way for her to learn how to navigate terrain rather than follow paths.

Another cave... another dissapointment.

Onwards we go... this looks promising! I know immediately that this is it, but I previously explained to Ella that it has two levels, one being his bedroom, so she knows we have to go inside to check it out.

Its a great looking cave. Quite tricky to get inside without getting wet from all the water running off the overhanging rock. This amused Ella as she managed just fine and I got wet.

Its a lot darker than the photos make it look and Ella was a little scared, griping my hand tightly. I suggested she wears my head torch to help her look around, and that totally changed the dynamic for her. Now she was "Commander Ella - the underground cave explorer" You can see her hot breath misting up in the cold cave in this image thanks to the headtorch.

There is a twist to this story. Millican allegedly scribed an interesting message into the wall above his bed. The problem is, lots of visitors have also scribed many messages into the walls making it virtually impossible to find. However, having seen an image of it I know it looks almost machine made and certainly nothing like the scratches left by tourists. I have searched with my wife Mandy and found nothing, but this was all part of my days itinerary for Ella and I loved watching her search every inch of it by torch light.

Ella scrambling up to the second level of the cave.

This level is a lot lighter in places! Ella is stood where he allegedly slept.

The search continues...

Suddenly "I Found It" echoes round the cave. I go over and take a look, wondering what she has found that she thinks is the mystery message, but low and behold, she really HAS found it!!

The message reads "Dont Waste Words - Jump To Conclusions" and its etched really deep into the slate. Ella was so pleased with herself and that really made my day. She didnt stop reminding me about her excellent exploring skills all day. In fact, she has proclaimed herself an "Expert Explorer" having now found both the cave and the message.

In fact, she had me make a video immediately...

Whilst most may well think Dalton Millican must have been a bit mad to do what he did. Its hard to argue with his front room view... I know I would love to wake up here, but I think I would miss electricity too much. Ha Ha.

When we left the cave, Ella acted out how he must have looked when he woke up in the morning and had a stretch, looking out on his view.

Onwards... we are getting hungry now and I have a lunch spot in mind. We pick our way back down to the main path and follow the sign towards Grange.

Its a lovely well made path and the Autumn colours are beautiful.

The path soon picks up the river Derwent again.

And just beyond this rock, lies our lunch spot.

We strip off our rucksacks and get out the flasks and food. Ella takes her boots and socks off too as she said her feet were on fire. lol

We stopped here for maybe an hour. Eating, drinking and skimming stones in the River Derwent. It was a great lunch break in great weather at a beautiful place. Absolutely perfect.

But its time to go... I have got a long night shift ahead so we really need to make a move as I am sadly on a deadline to get back to the car. We arent rushing, but I am becoming conscious of the time since we havent started the ascent yet.

From here its ascent all the way.

After this nice little bridge the terrain quickly changes.

It becomes rocky and more mountainous.

We spent our few rest breaks doing silly things... Ella asked If I could take a shot that looked like she was flying. This was the best I could do.

The further you go the rockier the terrain becomes.

Looking back... Derwentwater and Skiddaw come into view behind you.

It started to get cold here as the wind whipped up this little valley, so we stopped to get Ella into a fleece. She found a new way to hang Ben off her water bladder tube which pleased her. :)

Eventually, the rocky tower that is Castle Crag comes into view.

The path up to it from this side isnt actually on my OS map, but after a slight detour following a path, it becomes obvious you can go up this way and cut off a corner of my originally planned route.

But its very steep! I think Ellas face here illustrates that. Ha Ha.

Young Ben Nevis the bear has been taking mountaineering lessons today too. Ellas has had him doing various climbing tests.

And he has been looking for his own caves too.

The final path is a zig zig up through what looks essentially like a mountain of slate.

But the views from down here are quite good already. Well, they are when your not being photobombed by a 7yr old!

Moving on... I collect the forgotten Ben from his latest training ground and follow Ella. I think the poor bear had become crag fast.

The view downwards over the side.

The path upwards.

A view looking back down the path as some folk we spoke to descend.

And my favourite image of the day. Ella ascending the slate path with Borrowdale wearing its full Autumn coat below her.

The view across Borrowdale from near the top.

There are a great many little memorials up here. Castle Crag is used as an alternative summit on rememberance day for those who dont wish to climb Great Gable. Ella enjoyed exploring this for a few minutes.

What a view.

We take a break and watch little Ben conquer yet another summit too.

After a very short further climb we reach the true summit which houses the war memorial.

The view back along the river Derwent to Derwentwater and Skiddaw is very impressive.

Ella sets Ben up for one last climb... here he is scrambling over the last ridge onto the summit of Castle Crag.

While Ella plays with Ben and gets out some food, I grab a quick shot of the view uninterupted. I think I will come back here with the DSLR and see what I can make of this view with a decent camera, tripod and filters. Its gorgeous up here and I think my little Canon G7X did a great job for a pocket camera. The little arrow shaped shoreline at the bottom of the river in the image is where we sat and had lunch earlier.

The obligatory summit selfie.

A snap of Ella having a snack and a hot brew, seemingly all alone. Well, alone with Ben Nevis the bear.

The memorial for the men of Borrowdale who lost their lives in the war.

Its time we got going. The suns starting to get low in the sky and sadly I have to get to work too, and its a 2.5hr drive home. The initial descent is very steep indeed and a lot of care was taken.

Ive planned this walk as a circular so we take in fresh terrain most of the way. Ella was pleased to see this ladder stile as she enjoys them.

The return path takes us along the edge of Lingy bank and High Hows wood.

And of course, back across the stepping stones after we drop back onto our original path. This time we got across them very quickly and Ella insisted that she did the last few herself.

A zoomed in view looking back across to Castle Crag from near the car.

And that brings me to the end of my Blogg. We had a great day and I was home just in time for a 13hr shift that saw me leave work at 7am, sleep from 8am until 11am and be back in work for lunchtime. It was a tiring day but worth every second. We may not see weather like that in the Lake District until next spring now. But hey... Thats why I have just bought some new crampons. Bring on the snow!


Some data recorded by the Suunto Ambit 3 peak watch too. Interesting for ascent, descent and mileage etc. (calories are pretty accurate as I wear the Suunto Smart HR monitor too.) 


The Ups and Downs...


Here is a little Suunto movie of the trip, showing the route via Google earth.



Stewart Sanderson Photography
Thanks Val, Ella is starting to really enjoy the hikes and her "Commander Ella" persona is coming on leaps and bounds. Even telling me off for not following her precise footsteps. Usually through unnecessary puddles. LOL
Val Kay-Dunn(non-registered)
Oh how you made me chuckle with this blog. I have a grand-daughter of similar age & Ella does remind me of her. The way they make up little stories & carry them through, preiceless! That bear is very adventurous! Best wishes. VX
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