From the front of the Three Shires Inn, the fells of Wetherlam and Swirl How are the two high fells that are easiest to spot to the south west (weather permitting, of course). They are such a feature of the Little Langdale landscape we named two of our rooms after them.
This route describes an energetic loop of about 9.5 miles from the Three Shires over the fells and back to the door. This is a route with some very steep climbs and rough, boggy, loose and rocky ground, requiring all the appropriate equipment for the conditions. The way can be indistinct, especially in bad weather, and a clear path is not obvious on the ground for significant sections. The route described is only a guide and you’ll need to have the confidence to navigate and find your own way.
From the Three Shires to Greenburn
From the Three Shires Inn turn right and walk a short distance to the tarmac lane leading left, downhill, where the old fashioned black and white road sign points towards Tilberthwaite. Head down the lane until you reach a small set of steps and wooden gate on the right, with a signpost pointing across a field to Slater Bridge. Go uphill through the field to another kissing gate and then down a well-trodden path to the beautifully crooked and ancient bridge across the beck.
On the other side of the bridge follow a path to track below a wall of slate slag and turn right. Follow the track to where it turns quite steeply uphill passing the white Low Hall Garth mountaineering hut. This track begins as tarmac but soon becomes quite rough as it turns right and contours along the hillside.
You will pass a junction where a path leads uphill (signposted to Tilberthwaite). Ignore this and continue on the track (signposted to Fell Foot). Continue until the path forks again and bear left heading up the valley, with Greenburn Beck on your right until you reach a gate and wall.
Greenburn to Wetherlam via Birk Fell
The section from Greenburn to the top of Wetherlam can be a bit confusing, so you’ll have to get your map out and do some navigation. The way described is only one variation.
On an Ordnance Survey map a path is marked that appears to go directly from the gate diagonally up the fellside. However, this path is not always very clear and it seems it may be covered in bracken during the summertime. If you can see the path and follow it, it should provide quite a direct and steep approach to the summit of Wetherlam.
However, the alternative described here is to turn hard left at the gate and follow the wall steeply up following a rough path. This is a good pull (especially if you’re running!). After an initial steep climb you will reach a little saddle with a stile over the wall on the left and a beck coming down the hillside.
Stay by the wall and take another steep climb that rises above the little valley dropping down to the beck. At the top of this rise look out for a vague little path that heads around the head of the beck towards a fence. Follow the fence and cross a stile and you’ll find yourself in a little bowl of land with the fellside, broken by craggy outcrops, leading steeply upwards towards Birk Fell.
Head up here (be prepared to take a bearing in poor visibility as there is no path) until you emerge onto the top of Birk Fell.
From here you should be able to pick up a clear path to the south west which heads across to a steep climb that winds up to the summit of Wetherlam.
Wetherlam to Swirl How
You now have the pleasure of following a well worn path that undulates gradually from the top of Wetherlam down towards Prison Band. On a clear day there are magnificent views north towards the central fells and the vista south over Coniston Water isn’t too bad either. Is there anything better than striding along on a good path, up high, with such an outlook?
The path eventually drops steeply down to Prison Band where the path down to Levers Water heads off to the left. Ignore this, follow the ridge to the summit of Swirl How for more good views and a well-deserved breather. You may be glad to hear it’s mostly downhill from here.
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Swirl How back to the Three Shires
From the summit of Swirl How head north towards Great Carrs.
En route you will pass perhaps the most poignant spot in the Lakeland fells. On October 22, 1944, eight airmen lost their lives when Halifax bomber LL505 crashed into the fellside. Some of the wreckage can still be seen by the path, with a cairn built over it topped with a memorial cross and poppies.
When the accident occurred, the crew were on a night navigation exercise from RAF Topcliffe, Yorkshire. On board were Pilot John Johnston, 27, Navigator Francis Bell, 33, Bomb Aimer Robert Whitley, 20, Flight Engineer Sgt Harvey Pyche , 21, Wireless Operator / Air Gunner Sgt Calvin Whittingstall, 20, Air Gunner Sgt Donald Titt , 19, and Air Gunner Sgt George Riddoch, 20, all of the Royal Canadian Air Force. Flight Engineer Sgt William Ferguson, 19, from Caldercruix, North Lanarkshire, was the sole Briton on board.
It is believed they became lost in thick fog and descended hoping to get a visual fix on the ground. However, they came down too low over Great Carrs and hit the hillside.
The summit of Great Carrs is a short distance from this spot where, in clear weather, the ridge of Wet Side Edge can be seen swinging down back towards Greenburn. A path from the top of Great Carrs follows the ridge as it descends, but is indistinct in places, boggy and rough so you have to keep your wits about you, especially in poor visibility.
The path keeps on dropping all the way down to Greenburn Beck and a good footbridge across it that leads to the initial gate, wall and track you came to before beginning to ascend Wetherlam.
It is then just a matter of retracing your initial steps back to all the welcome refreshment and comfort of the Three Shires Inn.