One of the great joys of Lake District fell walking is the lie of the land. A typical scene is a horseshoe of hills huddled around the head of an ice-riven combe which as often as not contains its own lake or tarn. It is generally accepted that it is this combination of fell, rock and water that gives the district its particular charm and it is such a configuration that offers the hill walker an added advantage. After the initial ascent you are able to maintain your height, spending the rest of your day wandering along the ridges that connect the summits of your choice. Once you round is complete, a quickish descent lands you in the bar of the inevitable inn for a well deserved pint of whatever pleases.
The first occasion that such a walk demanded official attention was in 1864, when the Rev. J M Elliot completed a round of Wasdale starting from Scafell and ending at Stirrup Crag. He ticked off nine separate summits which at the time was regarded as some sort of record. The challenge was out and over the years the number of fells ascended within 24 hours gradually increased until in 1932 it reached the limit for most mere mortals when Bob Graham set out from Keswick and, in the allotted time span, returned to his starting point having completed the ascent of 42 peaks.
Our expedition is somewhat more modest but the round that includes Blake Fell is such an outing in miniature. You leave the sunken car park at Felldyke (NY086198) and take the rising track through a meadow. As you climb the scene reveals itself. The great mass of Knock Murton on your right is followed by a semi-circular sweep of fells to the summit of Blake Fell itself. Within these sheltering arms lies Cogra Moss, once flooded to provide fresh water for neighbouring Alecdon. It is no longer used as such and apart from the short dam at its western end it appears as natural a lake as any of its more famous neighbours.
The track continues towards the head of the lake where a less distinct track veers off to the right. The “Donkey Trod” winds it way up the side of Murton Fell at a gentle canter until it reaches the ridge proper. If indeed donkeys did tread this way it was not for pleasure but rather in the service of the local search for haematite and iron ore. Because of the proliferation of pretty picture postcards you tend to forget the Lake District was once a major producer of a variety of minerals and in this case there was sufficient supply of haematite and iron ore in the hills you are climbing to justify the construction of the Rowrah and Kelton Fell railway line to transport the spoils into the coffers of Scottish Iron Masters, William Baird & Co.
The Trod lands you on a forest road and if you cross this and turn left at a gate, the path running parallel to the fence takes you over High and Low Penn to the summit of Blake Fell itself. The ridge itself is a fine walk but its real value lies in the views it offers. To the west Cogra Moss shows itself to its best advantage and, beyond, the Cumbrian plain rolls out to the sea. But it is the panorama to the east that catches the eye. Once out of the trees Anglers’ Crag on the far side of Ennerdale Water becomes visible and the higher you climb the more the view unfolds, so that by the time you reach the intermediary summit of High Penn much of the Western Fells, dominated by the great mass of Grasmoor, becomes visible. Melbreak, perhaps the most distinctive of the Loweswater hills, first catches the eye but it’s the flash of blue to the south east that is the more intriguing. If you let your eye continue in the same line the unmistakeable shape of Fleetwith Pike hovering over Honister Pass confirms that what you can see is indeed the tip of Buttermere. Once the summit shelter is reached, it is worth stopping a while and taking in this unusual view of the heart of Lakeland.
Leave the top in the direction of Sharp Knott and the well trod path leads steeply down the banks of Wiseholme Beck. Once the conifers are reached look for a narrow path on your left which soon joins the main rides of the forest allowing you to wind your way through young larch and mature woodland back to Cogra Moss. Follow the banks to the dam which is crossed to give access to your original track leading back to the car park. The route covering 6½ miles and climbing around 1500 feet could, by no means, be described as a big walk but for me it felt like one. Perhaps a new category is called for. “Little Big Walks” seems to fit the bill.