Wetherlam has two fine, north eastern ridges. Steel Edge is used for the ascent, and Wetherlam Edge for the descent. They are best characterised as short, steep, very rough, and skatingly slippery when wet. Less frequented than other more famous ridges the paths are faint and may be lost in conditions of poor visibility. And you're almost certain to have them to yourself.
In the 1800s this would have been very busy with many mines and quarrying, along with processing mills powered by a waterwheel with the water taken along the fell side by a leat. In the deep cleft of Tilberthwaite Gill levels were driven into the rock. One of the levels under Horse Crag is nearly a kilometre long and some shafts drop over 700 feet. A walkway in Tilberthwaite Gill was later used by the Victorians to view the waterfalls.
Before you go exploring any of the open levels, just bear in mind that these tunnels are not maintained. They may have rotting false floors hidden by water and gravel indistinguishable from a solid rock floor. There are deep vertical shafts and ceiling collapses do occasionally occur. It's rather safer to peer in from the outside!
The walk starts at Tilberthwaite, just outside of Coniston on the road to Ambleside. A narrow road with occasional passing places, and lots of sheep, winds along above Yewdale Beck to a parking area overlooking the valley at the foot of Tilberthwaite Gill.
Walk height profile
note that gradients are usually grossly exaggerated
Facing the parking area take the steps on the left hand side beside the information board and donations box, climbing steeply to a wide path. Turn right, and follow it between old quarry holes and spoil heaps. Yewdale Beck is to your right. Climb steadily and where the path splits at a ruined building take the left fork. This keeps to the right hand side of Penny Rigg, narrows at a small waterfall, and then goes straight up a rocky step. Make for the two cairns visible ahead.
Bearing right keep on the path as it traverses above Tilberthwaite Gill where waterfalls and cascades can be heard but rarely seen. As the ground opens out at the top of the Gill, bear right and ford Crook Beck. Big stepping stones might give you a dry crossing, but they are a stretch for short legged people.
On the other side of the ford bear right on a soft, boggy path to a wooden footbridge. Do not cross, but turn left up grass and bracken slopes, a faint path ascends next to an old level. Try and keep with the path as you climb and swing left to the crest of the ridge ahead.
Once on the crest the game is just beginning. It rises in 3 distinct phases. The early section, which you are on, is grassy knotts and outcrops of grey rock. Then a curious grass ramp. With a finale of a loose scramble up the steepest section of scree, wet grass ledges, and polished gullies to limit the sense of exposure as you near the top. There is no escape from the ridge to either side.
At the bottom of the last section much of the rock is slippery from water seepage from above. Once past it, in dry conditions, adhesion to the rock improves greatly.
Tight zigzags climb amongst outcrops of rock and short tongues of scree provide a little amusement. If above someone try to avoid dislodging rocks down onto them. Hand and footholds in the higher gullies seemed to be mostly firm if smoothed by the passage of time and boots.
At the top of the ridge bear right and cross boggy ground past the tarns to join the Lad Stones path.
Reaching the wide grassy path along Lad Stones, bear right. The path is clear and unambiguous until nearing the top of Lower Howes, where the ground become steeper and more rocky. Only a few, occasional cairn confirms the route to the observant walker. Even when reaching Lower Howes the cairn you think might be the summit of Wetherlam across a shallow depression, is not. The summit lies a little further beyond it.
A precarious cairn sat on the highest rocks at Wetherlam's summit when we visited, but its unlikely to stand for long last unless some bright spark has glued the stones together!
From the summit cairn bear right, heading north east. A sketchy, faint path leads onto the descending Wetherlam Edge, and remains mostly on the left hand side of the crest.
Large boulders make the crest of the ridge difficult to scramble down so, having picked up the widely scattered path, stick to the general line. Don't hurry this bit, it is much easier for a simple slip to escalate badly when descending.
Dropping carefully, you may be lucky to pick up what remains of the path and cairns mentioned by Wainwright, which appears lower down on the Greenburn side.
Cross Birk Fell Hawse and climb the much easier path ahead to the summit of Birk Fell. Seemingly there are two cairns, the second one, across a shallow gully is the official summit.
From the summit of Birk Fell, return into the gully and turn left, to swing under the summit rocks on one of those 'disappears over the edge into thin air' paths. Closer examination reveals a straightforward path hidden below.
Under the summit bear right to continue descending steeply, but rather more easily. Stone pitching is soon encountered. Descend through an area of levels to a small collection of incongruous trees. Bear left at the large cairn and continue dropping down a steep pitched path to a track.
Turn left on the track and then keep right to swing round the perimeter of this boggy expanse to Dry Cove Bottom. Bear left alongside Tilberthwaite Gill once again and descend the track to a gate above buildings. Go through and turn right, pass below the buildings, and at the road turn right to return to the car park.
If you like this walk then why not try one of our other nearby walks:
|A visit to Cathedral Cavern from Tilberthwaite||10m (11 yards) away|
|Tarn Hows, Black Fell, Holme Fell||2.5km (1.5 miles) away|
|A stroll around Tarn Hows||2.5km (1.6 miles) away|
|Great Carrs and Grey Friar||3.4km (2.1 miles) away|
|Tarn Hows from Coniston||3.4km (2.1 miles) away|
|The Old Man of Coniston, from Coniston village||3.4km (2.1 miles) away|
|Cold Pike and Pike of Blisco||3.4km (2.1 miles) away|
|Wetherlam, via Lad Stones ridge and Black Sails||3.4km (2.1 miles) away|
|Cumbria Way - Coniston to Dungeon Ghyll||3.4km (2.1 miles) away|
|Coppermines Valley above Coniston||3.4km (2.1 miles) away|
|Blea Tarn above Langdale||3.5km (2.2 miles) away|
|The Old Man of Coniston||4.3km (2.6 miles) away|
|Waterfalls and the Cathedral Cavern, from Elterwater||4.3km (2.7 miles) away|
|An Elterwater Stroll||4.3km (2.7 miles) away|
|Dow Crag and Goats Water||4.4km (2.7 miles) away|
|The Old Man of Coniston, Brim Fell, Swirl How, Wetherlam||4.4km (2.7 miles) away|
|Walna Scar, White Maiden, White Pike, with a visit to Blind Tarn||4.4km (2.7 miles) away|
Unless otherwise stated the text in this walk is the copyright of Hug Solutions Ltd trading as The Hug and the photographs are the copyright of Elizabeth Oldham. Hill data is derived from Database of British and Irish hills which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. Maps contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011 and paths © OpenStreetMap Contributors,CC-BY-SA, 2011