This is a lovely walk to blow away the ‘cobwebs’ and relieve the pressure of writing all those cards, buying and wrapping presents, and worrying if you’ve bought enough food. Much of the walk is dry underfoot and the views are superb. At first I missed the trees, but once becoming accustomed, I enjoyed the open fell slopes. Nature will soon hide the ‘litter’ on parts of the old plantation floor.
Park at Oxen Fell High Cross, grid ref 327018, on the A595, Coniston to Ambleside Road, where there is hard standing for several cars on the west side of the road.
1 Cross with care and walk, south, towards Coniston for a few yards, to take a wide signposted track on the left. Continue climbing gently and, where the track divides, take the right branch. Ignore the unsigned gate on the left and carry on to ignore a gate on the right that leads to Tarn Hows. Keep ahead on the track signed for Iron Keld and Hawkshead to climb steeply. Pause as you go to enjoy the superb view, through larches, across the Arnside Intake to the Langdale Pikes. Stroll on the curving track where it levels. Ignore the well-signed gates into Iron Keld Plantation (most of the trees have gone) and walk on the lovely way, with a splendid view, on the right, of Tarn Hows, until you can go through a clearly signed, gated entrance on the left.
2 Ignore the sign for Black Crag and go ahead through the rather eerie clear-felled hillocks. At the next signposted gate, stride in the direction of Sunny Brow, walking a wide grassy way, with a hill to your left. Press on through the hillocky ground, with the cone-shaped Iron Keld to the right, to take the left turn for High Arnside. At the three-armed signpost dawdle ahead to a large farm gate and pass through the kissing gate beside it.
3 Bear acute right on a good path and follow the cairned way across the fell slopes, with ever increasing spectacular views, until you reach the foot of Black Crag (1084feet/332m). It is only a little hill but the final path is steepish and bouldery; go round the far side for an easy ascent to the National Trust’s cairn and a fine view. Beyond, ignore the ladderstile however appealing it looks. (Unless you wish to take a few steps along the ridge to enjoy the view from Great Cobble.) Instead look west towards Windermere to see another cairned hill with a sturdy cairn atop. To visit it, descend a path to a narrow valley and up the other side to stand on it for more superb views.
4 Return to the foot of Black Crag and then along the cairned way to the farm gate and kissing gate. Do not go through either. Turn right to walk a very good gated track that descends steadily – enjoy more splendid views as you go. Pass through another gate and follow the track as it winds left. After passing through the next gate, generally open, you approach a Y-junction and a waymarked post. A few steps along is a signpost where you take the left branch, which soon gets lost in a fine grassy sward. Go on with the wall to your left and where it winds downhill, you wind left too to reach a waymarked gate.
5 Continue down and down towards the valley on a rather wet rough path. It makes a grassy arc half way down then continues its wet bouldery way to woodland. Do not pass through the gate but climb a dry slope, wall to right, to stroll a short but lovely track through larches. This, all too soon, reaches the Coniston road. Walk a few steps, left, before attempting to cross well above the blind corner. Walk on along the grassy verge to a kissing gate into pasture, keeping the wall to your left, to reach a narrow road, just beyond your vehicle, over the wall. Turn left and left again to return to the parking area.
Distance: 4 miles
Time: 3 hours
Terrain: Generally good tracks and paths. The track down Hollin Bank can be tiresomely boggy.
Map: OS Explorer 7
NB: Restrictions on space mean that this article provides a general summary of the route. It is advisable for anyone who plans to follow the walk to take a copy of the relevant Ordnance Survey map.