Smithy Beck and Dodd Wood Trails

Forestry Commission,

Helvellyn Street, Keswick,

Cumbria

Smithy Beck Forest Trail

At end of unclassified road through

hamlet of Croasdale 2 miles north east

of Ennerdale Bridge at Bowness Knott

carpark

Map reference: NY108155 (Bowness Knott car park) Approx 2i-mile trail through Ennerdale Forest with spectacular lakeland views. Some steep sections Dodd Wood Forest Trail On A591 miles south of Bassenthwaite village, 31 miles north of Keswick Map reference: NY235

11-mile trail through woods on the foreslopes of Skiddaw with footpath access to the summit if feeling energetic. Some steep sections – good shoes essential

Illustrated trail guides: car parks

The Lake Disti ict is a compact 900-square mile National Park of stunning beauty which not only includes breathtaking lake views – it also has some of the highest mountains in England. There are almost sixty stretches of Stillwater within the Park’s bounds, nestling among peaks like the monarch Scafell Pike (3210ft), the rounded flanks of Helvellyn, Skiddaw and Great Gable. The major lakes divide naturally into those of the southern Lake District such as Windermere and Coniston, most popular for their ready access from the M6, and the more northern lakes towards the coast and around the major centre of Keswick. It is to Ennerdale and Bassenthwaite in this northern group, a little out of the way of the heavy crowds, that the walker can find two lake, forest and fell trails which show off both the scenic beauty and the Lakes’ varied wildlife.

Smithy Beck Forest Trail combines an en-joyable walk along the Ennerdale Water shore with a climb through a varied forest with breaks in the trees that reveal superb views of the high fells surrounding this most westerly of the major lakes. Climbing through woods of Japanese larch and Scots pine you will also see some of the more natural trees of the Lakes -the sessile oak, mountain ash, birch and hawthorn. Under the dense cover of trees, the light level is low and the predominant plants are simple mosses and liverworts which thrive

on high humidity and relative warmth. You see clumps of moss in the wetter parts and mares tails of and are two common species of fern-like plants found here.

If at Dry Beck you hear the sound of water and yet can see little moisture, you will understand its name. Here and there the water emerges but it actually trickles down through rock clefts for most of its journey to the lake. There is a good place here for a natural break in

tops of Iron Crag topping 2000ft and Lank Rigg

(1775ft).

The beck is named after the small iron smelting works once to be found at the mouth of the stream. The smithy forge would have been heated by charcoal made locally in the traditional turf-covered firing hearths otherwise known as pitsteads.

The path continues by crossing the beck and climbing higher above the older trees to the damp moorland under Gale Fell. The plants here reflect the poor nutritive value of the rain-leached soil – typical examples are purple moor grass, bog asphodel, and deer grass. At the path’s furthest point from the car park are the remains of a medieval settlement. There is another viewpoint on the way back to the lake shore which enables you to see over Ennerdale and, to the west, up the valley towards Pillar (2927ft) and the stack of Pillar Rock.

The forest trail and walks of Dodd Wood are through woods on the foreslopes of Skiddaw by the Derwent’s inflow into Bassenthwaite Lake (’thwaite’, a common suffix in the Lakes, is from the Norse for a clearing in woodlands). Dodd has been a man-made woodland since the late 18th century, when Thomas Story of the Mirehouse estate first planted conifers such as the silver fir and European larch. Some of these trees remain at the foot of the Skill Beck valley through which the trail climbs. Water from the beck was dammed in the mill pond which was used to power wood-cutting machinery.

Douglas firs here, planted in about 1930 have grown to as high as one hundred feet in the favourable conditions of the lower wood. Further up the track you will see the same aged trees some forty feet lower in stature due to the exposure on higher slopes. The tall trees are used as seed-bearing stock to improve trees for the future. The natural rock of the area, exposed at various points along the path is the Skiddaw slate widely quarried and used for road-making.

When the older trees are felled at about forty-five years of age, they have been replaced by the ubiquitous Sitka spruce which withstands the poor conditions on high ground a lot better. Japanese larch is mixed in to the new trees at random to provide a little visual contrast with its russet twigs – it is an unusual deciduous conifer.

Animals of these woods are not present in large numbers – but most of them are not at all common and will be a delight if you do actually see them. Rarest of all is the rapid-climbing pine marten and the red squirrel is still here in depleted numbers. Roe deer graze on young tree shoots and they are excluded from young woodlands wherever it is possible. Badgers and

foxes will rarely be seen, but they are here. Overhead birds of prey are prominent – you may be lucky enough to see the buzzard plummet for small mammals or birds. The kestrel can take small birds while on the wing. Nocturnal hunters are the tawny owls which can occasionally be seen by day.

At the trail’s furthest point from the main road it meets the Skill Beck where you may like to rest and observe the life of the wetter regions of the stream banks. Mosses and liverworts such as and are in water-splashed pockets, and rushes abound. Along the beck, some non-commercial trees such as rowan and oak have been left to vary the wildlife habitats of the valley. You walk back along a track on the opposite side of the valley.

Bassenthwaite Lake below Dodd Wood is owned by the Lake District Special Planning Board as a leisure amenity. It has good stocks of trout, perch and pike and there is a salmon run. It can be fished with locally available permits. On nearby Derwentwater, and the short stretch of the River Derwent between these lakes, Keswick Anglers’ Association control some fishing rights and visitors can obtain

tickets. If you are a small boat sailor you can sail on both lakes but no powered craft are allowed on Bassenthwaite. Fishing Ennerdale water is more tightly controlled – the Calder Angling Association have a limited number of permits.

The Lake District is a paradise for lovers of the great outdoors. Campsites abound in both the north and south of the area – handy for the two trails are sites at Bassenthwaite, Braithwaite, Troutbeck and Cockermouth. To avoid the almost inevitable traffic jams at holiday peaks you can hire a bicycle from centres at Cockermouth and Keswick.