Beautiful St John’s in the Vale is a small valley between Keswick, Threlkeld and Thirlmere. High Rigg is a sleeping giant in the valley, being small in stature but huge in footprint. On one side of the valley the huge smooth sides of the Helvellyn range dominate the scene, to the south, the wooded slopes on the side of the Thirlmere reservoir.
High Rigg holds its own amidst the dramatic scene. Only 357m at the highest point, the wide craggy fell has formidable craggy and steep sides meaning you can only climb it by one or two breaches in the rock. It has fantastic airy views that belie its diminutive stature.
A circular walk in St John's in the Vale will reveal the true and charming character of this valley. This particular walk goes along the river, through the wood, across the craggy tops, by the pretty church and past a charming tearoom.
Find parking by the church. A road sign indicates that the road is not suitable for cars but this is beyond the parking so you don’t need to worry. As this is a circular walk, you can choose to go clockwise or anticlockwise. I will detail my preferred route as this means the tearoom is near the end of the walk rather than the start.
A fingerpost will direct you over the gate to Tewet Tarn, the first scenic stop on the walk. There is a practically perfect view to Blencathra from here and often a herd of cows can be found lolling around to make things really photogenic.
A grassy path appears uphill towards Low Rigg. Look out for the fell ponies here. The path goes over the shoulder of Low Rigg, so to climb the craggy top you need to leave the path, taking no more than five minutes. From the top of Low Rigg, you will be able to see St John’s Church to the south, which is the next point in the walk.
St John’s is a beautiful little church, tucked into the fellside with a tiny churchyard. It is full of snowdrops in the spring. It is worth exploring the churchyard to find the ancient well in the far corner. A church has existed here since the 1500s.
The walk continues to the right of the church. It is a broad grass path so you can choose to walk where you like. There are so many interesting rocky knolls to explore you could be up there all day.
The ‘official’ top of High Rigg, according to the OS map is a high point of 357 metres. Eminent writers Wainwrights and Bill Birket have different opinions on what part of the fell should bear the name High Rigg.
What Wainwright describes as the summit of High Rigg is called Naddle Fell by Birkett. Birkett then gives a summit un-named on the map the title of High Rigg. In addition, Birkett names Wren Crag as High Rigg. According to the OS map, High Rigg is applied to the whole fell and the traditional name of Naddle Fell has disappeared. Wren Crag is also named. Confusion reigns! Take my advice and stand on all the tops, regardless of what they are called. They are all worth climbing.
As you climb from the church, there is a cairn atop on outcrop of rock to your left. The path from the church leads to a saddle in the rocks. Make the short climb to this particular summit to be rewarded with a wonderful panorama of all the major peaks – Helvellyn, Blencathra, Skiddaw and the Coledale Fells. You can also see Bassenthwaite Lake and Thirlmere. Tewet Tarn where you passed earlier now looks tiny in comparison.
High Rigg is one of my favourite walks because, despite its size, you can stroll around for hours having a good explore. To merely walk across the top, misses out the character of the undulating terrain, the rocky hummocks and gentle knolls.
Several walls bisect the top of the fell. There are stiles and gates in the walls, allowing you to cross where you wish, and explore the entire top. If you continue south towards Thirlmere you will eventually come to Wren Crag, the final high point on the fell and the point at which you can descend to St John’s in the Vale.
Before you go down hill, take in the view of the valley with the Helvellyn range looming large to your left. It is a tranquil valley with a lush carpet of fields dotted with sheep and cattle. The edge of Thirlemere is thickly wooded though you can make out the bare stone top of Raven Crag. There is a small rocky protuberance on the side of Watson’s Dodd, almost directly opposite. This is Castle Rock, a crag long favoured by local climbers. A huge crack has appeared in recent years, leaving a section of rock threatening to break off completely. Castle Rock was the subject of a poem by Sir Walter Scott, the Bridal of Triemain and is often called Castle Rock of Triermain.
As you descend, into the woods, take the path to your left and follow the course of the river. The path starts to turn back along the side of the fell. On a sunny day there is welcome shade as you make your way through the trees. After about 3/4 of a mile you will arrive at a clearing in the woods where you will find Low Bridge End Farm. There are free range sheep and goats, and until very recently, a large turkey!
Low Bridge End also has a small tearoom, a very casual and friendly affair with drinks and homemade cake served in the conservatory. The tearoom is not always staffed and at these times, the owner supplies a kettle and tea/coffee making facilities. Help yourself to cake and drinks and leave payment on the side.
Leaving the tea room and continue on your way. The wide ancient path meanders back to the church and was used for hundreds of years by valley folk on their way to morning prayers.