Around Oxendale

Footbridge over Oxendale Beck by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerI have enjoyed walking along the ridge of Crinkle Crags several times and assumed that the corrie wall at the head of Oxendale would be too steep or rough as a way of getting to the ridge. Wainwright describes a couple of possible routes but he is typically less than enthusiastic about them all the more reason to go and see for myself. When I parked near the Old Dungeon Ghyll hotel it was a lovely warm and sunny morning but strangely quiet for the time of year; I suspect many people were travelling home after their annual two weeks in the Lake District.

As you walk out of the car park and reach the road, turn right to go through a gate and walk along the tarmac road to Stool End farm. It was warm enough for me to walk in tee shirt and shorts, the sheep were lazily grazing in the lush green fields on either side of the road but the breeze was strong enough to sway the branches of the trees. The well signposted path takes you through the farm yard and out through a gate onto a rough track; shortly afterwards you pass the start of the footpath up The Band but I kept going along the track.

View of Langdale Pikes from the ascent of High Bleaberry Knott by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerOxendale opens up before you now; follow the wide track through a gate and then through a walkway by the side of a sheepfold. Oxendale Beck is one of the widest stream beds I have seen; it is a causeway of boulders with a built-up bank supporting a narrow footbridge that takes you across a trickle of water. Wide bridges don't get built because of a trickle of water so I'm sure there are times when the beck can't be crossed without the bridge. The track isn't quite as well made once you pass the bridge but it is still very obvious as it leads you into the unspoilt beauty of Oxendale.

As you start to gain height the path becomes rough and rocky as bracken takes over as the ground-cover vegetation; there is an awkward little stream to cross that could cause problems if it was full of fast flowing water but you just have to be careful to keep off the mossy rocks. The beck here is probably still called Crinkle Gill and it runs through a small canyon after making its way through boulders a little higher up. Crinkle Gill looks intriguing as it winds its way down from the head of the corrie but I'll save that for another occasion; I want to discover more about this place before I explore too much.

The Bad Step of Crinkle Crags by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThis is an area of bracken-covered, undulating moraines through which the streams have carved wide stoney passages; the only trees are the occasional Silver Birch and Rowan (in full berry) on the banks of the stream. Just after the confluence of the main streams the path crosses another trickle of water by a substantial footbridge at the base of Whorney Side. Now, the less obvious of two paths goes up on the left through bracken along the shallow ridge of Whorney Side. It is a bit of a plod but not steep and the path finally disappears as the gradient increases; bracken gives way to grass again and Whorney Side becomes Low Bleaberry Knott. That breeze was getting to be quite cold; after trying my pertex jacket I was not warm enough and had to put on my full-sized jacket and a pair of gloves.

I was going to have to find my own way from here; High Bleaberry Knott ahead was rock with grassy terraces that I hoped would take me upwards without getting into trouble on crags. The ground was definitely steeper at this stage but I managed to stay on grass for most of the time; the rocky skyline of Crinkle Crags didn't seem to be getting any closer and it was impossible to judge which bit of the ridge I was heading for. I seemed to be further away from Crinkle Gill than I had intended; I had probably not taken the route I had originally planned although to be fair I seemed to be following a safe, natural route upwards.

View of Bowfell from Shelter Crags by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerEventually I reached the top of High Bleaberry Knott where there was a brief respite from the steepness; the final climb to the ridge was not as far away as I feared it might be but it was steep enough. The massive rock outcrop on the right was what I hoped would be the summit Crinkle and I could see people walking across the top of it; I found a path at this point, eroded but obvious and heading for the ridge. After a steep but not difficult pull up to the ridge I was rewarded with a great sunny view of the Scafells either side of Mickledore and congratulated myself for getting where I wanted to be.

I turned right and walked along the obvious path looking forward to the Bad Step but it didn't take long to realise I wasn't quite where I expected to be. The large outcrop I could see earlier was Gunson Knott and I had joined the ridge on the north side of the summit of Crinkle Crags. I wasn't going to miss the Bad Step so I turned round and walked back to the summit of the second Crinkle. Just after the summit cairn a faint path goes off to the right and after a short while you can see an obvious path going a shallow gully on the left. That eroded path takes you downwards and around to the left before climbing again to the col between the first and second Crinkles where you will see the Bad Step.

View of the Scafells from Three Tarns by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerAs I got to the Bad Step there were a couple of other walkers there; they were not confident about climbing it, after all it looks very intimidating. After I had climbed up to the top of the rock step I helped the more nervous of the walkers to get up; I remember how disappointed I was when I failed to get up on my first couple of attempts. Once you get up the big step there is more rock to handle but nothing difficult before you get to the rocky summit plateau. From the summit cairn perched on top of a slabby outcrop it is not easy to see the path; if you descend half-right you should see cairns and an eroded path going northwards.

It would be easy to follow the path and miss the rest of the summit cairns but I made sure I visited the summits of third, fourth and fifth Crinkles. I enjoy the descent from the fifth Crinkle, Gunson Knott; I like finding my own way down the boulder slope there are cairns there on an unlikely looking route. I also visited the next cairn on the subsidiary summit on the left of the path on the way to the summit of Shelter Crags just to the right of a small tarn. The summit of Shelter Crags gives the best view of Bowfell, it has an unmistakable shape and looks magnificent in the sunlight.

The summit of Bowfell by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerAs you follow the path you start to descend over rough ground; you will see a prominent rock tower on the right and even in bad weather you will be aware of it as you pass it. After passing the tower the path splits into two but joins together shortly afterwards and at that point you need to turn half-right; the path disappears for a short distance but if you head towards Three Tarns you will soon find cairns and an obvious path. Even if you lose the path you will know where Bowfell is; pass to the right of the tarns if you come across them and you will get to the foot of the obvious path to Bowfell.

The path is steep and eroded but is more of a problem when used for descent; it was warm work when the sun shone but it felt cold when the breeze was blowing. The final bouldery summit crown of Bowfell is an easy scramble over rock, there are paths but it is easy enough to find your own way up to the top that most deserves to be called a summit in all of the Lake District. This place is a real mountain summit made of rock with Scafell and its Pikes making a fine view. I clambered back down the rocks and retraced my steps for a short while to get to the Great Slab; just before you reach the slab itself you should see a cairn on the left.

Bowfell Climbers Traverse by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThe cairn shows the start of an unlikely path going downwards; there are boulders and loose stones and you need to take care, as with many paths going down is more awkward than going up. From here you can see just how big the Great Slab is and as you get lower down Bowfell Buttress is an imposing object. The rock wall on the left hand side is Cambridge Crag and as you get to the base of it you see the famous spring; even in this dry season there is a good flow of water. The start of the Climber's Traverse path isn't very obvious; you have to go back uphill a little way above the spring and aim for the far corner of the Great Slab moving diagonally away from Cambridge Crags.

There is a faint path over steep broken ground taking you to Flat Crags at the edge of the Great Slab; the Climber's Traverse path is obvious from that point onwards. The path feels safe and easy until you pass through a small rock gateway and then you can see just how steep the slope is as the path clings to it; there are a couple of places where erosion of the path lets you feel just how far down it is. While I was on the path a yellow rescue helicopter came to have a look at me; or so it seemed before it flew off again to land on the top of Pike o' Stickle.

The top of Hell Gill by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerTowards the end of the Climber's Traverse you come across what looks like a scree run; this is in fact a walker's route back to the main path to Bowfell from Three Tarns. There are a couple of cairns and signs of a path until you reach larger slabs of rock; it feels as though you should descend directly to Three Tarns but it is better to continue following the contours to reach the main path for a more comfortable descent. From Three Tarns I wanted to descend to Hell Gill but the start of the path was a bit unclear; starting down the newly constructed path towards The Band you have to look for a grassy path by the side of Buscoe Sike.

Once you see the path you have to work out where to leave the constructed path; the ground is fairly evenly grassed and not too steep so it isn't that important to find the precise route of the path. As you are descending the easy slopes, the stream you are following has been quietly descending into an increasingly deep gully until it spectacularly becomes Hell Gill. Hell Gill is more of a gorge than a gully; it was difficult to get into a good position for a photograph and I was reluctant to get any closer to the edge.

Small waterfall below Whorneyside Force by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThe path gets a lot steeper too but fortunately the reconstructed path follows an easier zigzag route; at the bottom of the new path there is steep, loose ground that would have needed a few desperate steps to get down before it was repaired. There is a pleasant wooded glade just there where you cross the stream; just around the corner in the bottom of the gorge is Whorneyside Force, a waterfall of considerable height. The path is rough and eroded as it descends by the side of the stream in its rocky bed until another waterfall; this one is the more attractive setting with a large pool of crystal clear water on the edge of which a large boulder is balanced.

Soon afterwards you get back to the substantial footbridge and the wide path to walk back down Oxendale to Stool End.

Andy Wallace 12th August 2006

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