Back to Blencathra and back

View of Bannerdale Crags East Ridge from Souther FellIt was a sunny morning again as I drove northwards, but when I parked at Mungrisdale village it was still misty on the tops; I started walking in shorts, although I was wearing my full-strength jacket because there was still a nip in the air. You can't use the obvious route up a sloping field behind the Mill Inn, the gate has the usual “private” notice but the field has always been unoccupied. I sometimes use “private” routes when I think the restriction is unwarranted, but not this one because it is shown as not open-access land on the map; I had to use a round-about route, a one-mile short-cut to avoid a 100-yard path across a field.

Looking forward to Sharp Edge and Foule CragI walked along a track, leading away from the Inn and the obvious path, until I reached a rickety stile in the fence; I suppose I should really have carried on further to look for a gate and the authorised route. I carefully crossed the stile and walked across a pathless field to the other side of field, where I had to be even more careful in striding over a barbed-wire topped fence. I turned right on an obvious small path, eventually rising up to a ridge; it had taken 30 minutes to get 5 minutes above the Mill Inn.

Sharp Edge leading to Foule CragThe steep ascent of Souther Fell is more strenuous, and the broad, flat summit plateau is much more extensive than you would think; it was warm work too, and I had change into my lightest windproof jacket. The inconspicuous cairn at the innocuous summit of Souther (pronounced “suitor”) Fell is soon reached, and you can see all the way along the ridge; it is over a mile on easy ground to the other end of the summit plateau. As I walked along the broad summit ridge I could see a more interesting looking ridge route coming off Bannerdale Crags; I walked over to a conspicuous cairn to get a better view of it, and also of the mist retreating up the ridges of Blencathra.

On Sharp EdgeI returned to the muddy ridge path, and shortly afterwards started to descend towards Mousethwaite Combe; I could see the obvious path heading towards Scales Tarn, and a line of walkers on their way up from the A66 parking lay-bys, hopefully I would get to Sharp Edge before the rush. It is an easy, level path to Scales Beck; the mist continued to retreat up the ridges as I walked along, and it eventually cleared from the summit of Blencathra. Once you reach the beck the path up to Scales Tarn is steep and rugged and then a good rising path takes you up to the start of the Sharp Edge ridge.

The ascent of Foule CragThe rock was dry and the mist had cleared, but I felt apprehensive because I didn't think I had quite got my scrambling legs; the problems are really in my head, not my legs. I had no real problems going up the ridge, keeping to the crest except for the narrowest outcrops; I was feeling fairly comfortable by the time I reached the awkward sloping slab and rock step above the “usual gully”. The dryness of the rock meant that I could climb Foule Crag directly up the steep face without having to resort to scrambling up the slightly easier gully route. It was strenuous and occasionally nerve-wracking, but there are plenty of footholds and places to hang on; I enjoyed the climb, especially with being sheltered from breeze.

It was busy on the vast summit saddle of Blencathra, but I saw nobody on my descent of Doddick Fell; after arriving at the top of Foule Crag, a path keeps to the edge of the summit plateau until you reach a cairn. You can also see a reconstructed path below that View of Halls Fell from the descent of Doddick Fellzigzags downwards, eventually to Scales Tarn. After passing just below rugged serrated-edge crags, there is an unlikely, and difficult to find, path downwards on the right; from there you can see a greenish path going down along the crest of Doddick Fell.

Doddick Fell is not as rugged as Halls Fells but it is interesting enough, and steep enough to make a hard climb, which probably why I didn't meet anybody else there. The descent is steep and the faint path is eroded; it is a long way down before the gradient eases temporarily, before steeply descending again on grass to Doddick Gill. After losing all the height I had gained, and after crossing over the gill, there is a level walk above the intake wall until just before you get to Gate Gill, where you have the opportunity to regain all of the lost height.

The ascent of Halls FellThere is a very obvious path upwards to Halls Fell; my legs were complaining at first, it is always the same a after I make a long descent and then start climbing again. Of course it is my head that is really complaining, my legs are strong enough. The climb is steep and long, as you gain height the ground becomes more rugged and eroded before you reach the first scramble on the ridge. At the top of this first outcrop the proper ridge comes into view; suddenly my legs were not unhappy any more because my head had other things to think about. In the good conditions I was able to keep to the crest of the rocky ridge with no passes; the descenders I met tended to bypass the crest, and the ascenders just ahead of me used the path where possible and all-fours on grass where there wasn't a path.

Looking back down Halls FellIt was hard work, but exhilarating and enjoyable; it is definitely one of the finest routes in the Lake District, and it leads directly to Halls Fell Top which is the summit of Blencathra. From the summit, I walked across the saddle, past the small summit tarn, and past the selection of stone crosses inlaid into the turf, up to the cairn on Atkinson Pike.

Close up view of the back of Sharp EdgeI descended the back of Blencathra, using a steep eroded path leaving the ridge just past the cairn; there is an interesting view of the back of Sharp Edge, I didn't recognise it at first from that angle. I walked down to the head of River Glenderamackin; I carried on across the col on an obvious path, contouring right and then climbing more steeply on grass for a half-mile to the summit of Bannerdale Crags. I walked along the edge of the crags above Bannerdale, and then made the long descent on the good path high above the valley, back to Mungrisdale.

Andy Wallace 18th April 2009

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