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Northern Fells 3 days / 36 miles (57km)

OS Route Map → Map Route file →

Date: 17 Apr 2011
Start / Finish: Keswick.
Maps: Explorer OL4 & OL5: English Lakes NW & NE or Harvey Superscale Lake District.

Day 1Skiddaw & Lonscale Fell11.8miles / 3913 feet (19.0km / 1192m)
Day 2Great Calva to Bannerdale Crags14.8miles / 4305 feet (23.8km / 1312m)
Day 3Sharp Edge & Blencathra8.8miles / 1775 feet (14.2km / 541m)
Sharp Edge

A fine 3-day mountain circuit in the Skiddaw and Caldbeck fells of the northern Lake District.

The outward route heads along the Derwent valley to ascend past the osprey viewpoint in Dodd Wood and climb Skiddaw via the Ullock Pike ridge, a better and more interesting ascent than the laborious direct line up the south face of Carl Side, then leaves the multitudes to head out to Lonscale Fell and the Burnt Horse ridge.

The second day traverses the Caldbeck Fells from Great Calva to Carrock Fell and crosses the Caldew valley to ascend to the Blencathra massif via Bowscale Fell. The route ends with an excellent easy scramble up Sharp Edge to the main summits, returning to Keswick via Roughten Gill and the Cumbria Way along the flanks of the Glenderaterra valley.

A high pressure zone signalled another chance to slot in a Lake District backpack just before the Easter weekend, although the holiday had aready started for some and a few spots were relatively busy, notably Skiddaw but that's par for the course. The conditions changed from a cold brisk wind at the start to calm, hot weather at the end with a very thick haze.

Day 1 - Skiddaw & Lonscale Fell

I was determined to approach Skiddaw on the Ullock Pike ridge, despite the shorter and clearly popular direct line up to Carl Side. This route begins on the Cumbria Way (CW) where the A5271 crosses the river Derwent, heading westwards to Stormwater Bridge. Crossing the footbridge, I turned northwards for the hike up the flat plain of the Derwent following the Allerdale Ramble, a trail that seems to crop up everywhere on the map but which I've not seen mentioned by anyone in the literature. The route crosses large open fields and I kept a close eye on the map, arriving at the scruffy High Stock Bridge and a track up to the A591.

A short way NW on the road past White Stones there is a signed and well maintained path that enters the woodland and parallels the road for a while, then a forestry track takes over and climbs to the Osprey Lower Viewpoint, a popular attraction with mounted spotting scopes and attended by a guide. An attractive woodland trail with numbered osprey quiz boards leads down by Skill Beck to the Mirehouse car park.

River Derwent & Skiddaw
River Derwent & Skiddaw (17 Apr 2011__09:27:12)
The Osprey Lower Viewpoint
The Osprey Lower Viewpoint (17 Apr 2011__10:42:26)

I crossed the footbridge over Skill Beck and turned left on another woodland track that climbs to cross Sandbeds Gill and joins the path to Ling How, the foot of the Ullock Pike ridge. Thick grey high cloud had overcast the sky and muted the views, and the wind was fresh and really chilly, time to put on the windshell. I saw quite a few people higher up on this ridge, nothing like the hordes on the Jenkin path of course but more popular than I remember it from years ago.

Traversing Ullock Pike and the first Nuttall top of Long Side, I made the short ascent to Carl Side, the top of the direct broad highway from the south. The area around the diminutive Carlside Tarn is a major crossroads and a couple of walkers expressed their concern about the path that slants up across Skiddaw's western face, pointing out the tiny figures toiling upwards or, more often than not, standing still and apparently struggling. I said that it isn't as bad as it looks, but admittedly from this perspective the upper section would seem formidable to the inexperienced. It starts steep and gets steeper, there is no technical difficulty at all outside winter, it's just bloody steep!.

I knuckled down for the upward grind and finally topped out on the busy summit ridge, leaving a short walk to the trig point, which was not really busy and for a good reason: everyone had taken refuge from the cold wind part way down the eastern leeward side to eat their butties with a modicum of shelter. The couple I spoke to earlier did make it to the top a little later.

Approaching Skiddaw on the Ullock Pike ridge
Approaching Skiddaw on the Ullock Pike ridge (17 Apr 2011__12:22:07)
Ullock Pike ridge
Ullock Pike ridge (17 Apr 2011__12:35:49)
View to Blencathra from Skiddaw
View to Blencathra from Skiddaw (17 Apr 2011__13:52:47)

Descending from the main summit, I diverted onto the lesser highway to ascend Skiddaw Little Man, normally a terrific viewpoint but the views into the heart of Lakeland were decidely dull today. There was a quite good prospect across the slopes of Skiddaw to Carl Side and Long Side.

On the Jenkin path, which is so wide and pronounced that from a distance it literally resembles a road in parts, I passed one walker plodding upwards with what I presume was a GPS in his outstretched hand, his penetrating stare fixed firmly on the screen. A cheery hello failed to divert his gaze by so much as a degree and he passed by in grim silence. Scenarios like this are increasingly common and I find them really bizarre. Well ok, he may just have been practising its use or checking its accuracy, but I don't feel inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt, particularly when it turns them into misery gutses who won't acknowledge a simple greeting!.

Carl Side & Ullock Pike from Little Man col
Carl Side & Ullock Pike from Little Man col (17 Apr 2011__14:23:15)

Descending the SE side to the main path, I gratefully departed the human hullaballoo and set off for a lovely grassy walk out to Lonscale Fell. The sun had suddenly cleared the thick grey cloud and the views were excellent, giving a fine prospect over St. John's in the Vale to the Helvellyn range.

The view from the summit cairn is limited by the flat top, but continuing a short way further there is a lower cairned rise on the edge of the eastern crags which gives a superb view into the Glenderaterra valley far below and across to Blencathra. The route ahead northwards is also well seen from here, a colourful landscape comprising the Burnt Horse ridge and the heather-clad Great Calva.

Almost disappearing among the folds of the hills is the green dome of poor old Sale How, a Nuttall hill with not so much a bad reputation as no reputation at all. It is seldom mentioned let alone climbed, except by baggers and then only once. The astute will notice that I didn't visit it either on this backpack, but only because it would involve a tortuous detour from the natural line.

Helvellyn massif from Lonscale Fell
Helvellyn massif from Lonscale Fell (17 Apr 2011__14:59:03)
Blencathra from Lonscale Fell
Blencathra from Lonscale Fell (17 Apr 2011__15:09:35)
Burnt Horse & Great Calva form Lonscale Fell
Burnt Horse & Great Calva form Lonscale Fell (17 Apr 2011__15:10:22)
Skiddaw and Sale How from Lonscale Fell
Skiddaw and Sale How from Lonscale Fell (17 Apr 2011__15:10:49)

From the edge cairn a thin vague path contours around the edge and slants down to join the fence which plunges steeply down to a dip and traverses Burnt Horse ridge. The path shows that this lovely little ridge is walked, but only by a few and there is a sense of isolation here to accompany the fine views. From the northern end Skiddaw House can be seen below.

This was the natural break point I had planned and I made a very good pitch, relaxing in the late sunshine and sheltered from the cold breeze admiring the view from the tent door.

Pitch on Burnt Horse
Pitch on Burnt Horse (17 Apr 2011__16:42:06)

Day 2 - Great Calva to Bannerdale Crags

The day dawned very hazy as I packed up and descended to join the CW, a good track that crosses Salehow Beck where I saw another tent pitched, and ascends to Cumbria House. The CW divides here into the low and high level choices, I turned NE for the latter which crosses the infant River Caldew and took me easily around the lower slopes of Great Calva to Wiley Beck. The southern and western slopes are uniformly badass heather, but turning into the Wiley Beck valley and crossing the fence there is a path ascending the mainly grassy eastern face. This was a long and tiring climb today and a good rest was in order at the summit, although the views were very thick and the photo needed careful processing.

Salehow Beck
Salehow Beck (18 Apr 2011__07:54:20)
Salehow Beck & Great Calva
Salehow Beck & Great Calva (18 Apr 2011__07:54:43)
Hazy view of Skiddaw from Great Calva
Hazy view of Skiddaw from Great Calva (18 Apr 2011__10:03:11)

Heading NW across the often wet moor to a gate in the fence, a peaty path contours around and descends to a saddle above Hause Gill, continuing as a grassy path to the cairn on the flat summit of Knott. I couldn't remember this area well at all, and I sorted out the picture of shallow hills ahead with the unmistakable point of High Pike in the distance. I made a beeline towards Great Lingy Hill, briefly finding a very vague bit of a path through the wet tussocky Miller Moss which quickly disappeared, leaving an easy trackless ascent to the broad top.

The next summit Hare Stones looks even less like a distinct top, but the walking improved when I rejoined the ascending CW track that runs within a few yards of its summit. There were quite a few hikers in the vicinity of High Pike, including one group paused below its summit which lies a short walk north from the track.

Knott from Great Lingy Hill
Knott from Great Lingy Hill (18 Apr 2011__11:27:08)

I descended past the old mine workings and joined the path along the ridge to Carrock Fell, looking quite imposing ahead. These hills have been described as deserted but maybe that was a long time ago, at any rate they were fairly popular today. There is some wet ground to weave through before the rocky heathery environs of the summit cairn are reached.

Mine workings & Carrock Fell
Mine workings & Carrock Fell (18 Apr 2011__12:04:12)
High Pike from Carrock Fell
High Pike from Carrock Fell (18 Apr 2011__12:44:00)

I had planned to take a long arc back across the southern slopes to descend via Poddy Gill, the pathless line we followed on one of our ascents years ago, but on my approach today I feared that the route would be difficult to execute in reverse and I would run into very steep and difficult ground if I got it wrong. I decided to follow the most popular path hereabouts which descends into Mosedale and walk back along the valley road: this was easy to follow but was horribly eroded and very steep in the lower section and I reached the road with considerable relief, particularly since this eastward extension was off my printed map sheets.

I walked through Mungrisdale and located the start of the bridleway that climbs at a very civilized angle to Bowscale Tarn, a path I recalled from memory. Back on-map now, this is an excellent track that gives good views of the Caldew valley and leads directly to the tarn, and I noticed that I had avoided the steep climb up from the Roundhouse footbridge on the original plan. From the tarn there is a steep zigzag path up the headwall onto the corrie rim.

Bowscale Tarn
Bowscale Tarn (18 Apr 2011__15:27:33)
Bowscale Tarn
Bowscale Tarn (18 Apr 2011__15:38:12)

I joined the grassy path onto a deserted Bowscale Fell, where Blencathra came into view, and I continued to join the path around the edge of the quite impressive face of Bannerdale Crags with grand views of Bannerdale below. It had been a hard day and I made another great pitch here with the tent door facing Blencathra, a relaxing evening I reckoned I'd earned.

View to Blencathra from Bowscale Fell
View to Blencathra from Bowscale Fell (18 Apr 2011__16:18:24)
Bannerdale Crags
Bannerdale Crags (18 Apr 2011__16:43:53)
Bowscale Fell from Bannerdale Crags
Bowscale Fell from Bannerdale Crags (18 Apr 2011__16:52:33)
Pitch on Bannerdale Crags
Pitch on Bannerdale Crags (18 Apr 2011__18:12:08)

Day 3 - Sharp Edge & Blencathra

At dawn the chilly breeze had died and the sun rose through an even thicker haze than yesterday. I set off early towards the head of the Glenderamackin valley with Blencathra looming ahead, taking the flanking path towards Scales Tarn as the temperature quickly rose in the still valley air and I was soon down to a base layer. It would be a perfect day for a solo on Sharp Edge, although on my approach I had seen a lone walker and his dog silhouetted on the arête but they would soon be gone. A very warm plod up the pitched path and I arrived at the deserted tarn.

Approaching the head of Glenderamackin valley
Approaching the head of Glenderamackin valley (19 Apr 2011__07:11:06)
Scales Tarn
Scales Tarn (19 Apr 2011__07:40:52)
Scales Tarn
Scales Tarn (19 Apr 2011__07:41:39)

Another warm ascent leads to the foot of the arête. As arêtes go, this is as easy as they come I would think, with a veritable plethora of good foot placements and jutting lumps of rock for handholds with only mild exposure, putting it near the easy end of Grade 1. There is an avoiding path on the right side in the lower part, but like so many of its kind, it briefly makes things easier but delays the difficulty for later - far better to stick with the spine.

The view back down the arête was directly into the sun, but the photos yielded to some deft processing and came out as the best I've taken here.

Sharp Edge
Sharp Edge (19 Apr 2011__08:01:48)
Sharp Edge
Sharp Edge (19 Apr 2011__08:08:24)
Early sun on Sharp Edge & Scales Tarn
Early sun on Sharp Edge & Scales Tarn (19 Apr 2011__08:16:38)

Reaching the top I veered right for the lower top of Atkinson Pike and a thick view over Mungrisdale Common, continuing past the white quartz memorial cross to the main top of Blencathra. The air was almost still but cool up here, perfect walking conditions. The path continues over Gategill Fell Top to the last outpost of the Saddleback skyline Blease Fell.

Hazy view across Mungrisdale Common
Hazy view across Mungrisdale Common (19 Apr 2011__08:23:22)
Blease Fell
Blease Fell (19 Apr 2011__09:10:04)

I descended the trackless but easy grassy slopes northwards to a small stream and veered NW to approach Roughten Gill whose lower reaches surrounding the small waterfalls have been fenced off and planted with tree saplings. A gate has been provided in the fence at the lower end for those wanting to visit the falls. The eastern crags of Lonscale Fell are impressive from here and my viewpoint of a couple of days ago looks distinctly lofty.

I picked up a thin grassy path well above the gill that became a tractor track leading easily down to the main surfaced track along the flank of Blease Fell, where I saw a large party of walkers approaching in the distance. Quickening my pace somewhat I crossed the footbridges over Roughten Gill and Sinen Gill and took a grassy track slanting up to join the main CW track that contours along the valley, a splendid walk with the towering crags of Lonscale Fell above, the river far below and Blease Fell opposite.

Descending Roughten Gill towards Lonscale Fell
Descending Roughten Gill towards Lonscale Fell (19 Apr 2011__09:54:19)
Glenderaterra valley from the Cumbria Way track
Glenderaterra valley from the Cumbria Way track (19 Apr 2011__10:20:58)
Blease Fell from the Cumbria Way track
Blease Fell from the Cumbria Way track (19 Apr 2011__10:37:23)

The CW turns out of the valley and provides an easy return to Keswick. It crosses the ravine of Whit Beck and reaches the Jenkin Hill car park, stuffed like sardines today with a bit of dodgy parking by latecomers, and a grand view of the Jenkin path snaking up the mountain dotted with walkers. It continues at a fingerpost a short way down the road, descending around the flank of Latrigg passing many more walkers and strollers, and crossing the A66 at a bridge to arrive at the Spooney Green Lane road, which was also nose-to-tail parked cars today.