All roads lead to Mungrisdale Common

The Tongue of Bowscale Fell by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerBlencathra is a fantastic hill, so much variety and so many ways to get up and down but being relatively isolated you have to work hard to make a full day's walk. One way of making a full day is to climb it twice which I have done before but today I thought I would try and include some of the surrounding fells in a varied route.

I left the car on grass by the side of the road at Mungrisdale. The weather was clear and bright so I decided to wear shorts for the first time this year even though it was cool enough to have to wear a thin fleece top.

I walked up the road towards the Mill Inn where a footbridge gets you across the River Glenderamackin. Through the car park and turn left to follow the small road going south and after a few minutes walking there is a gate across the road. I went through the gate and immediately afterwards there were signs of a footpath on the right that I followed on to the open fell.

View of Bannerdale Crags from Souther Fell by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThe map showed footpaths going south aiming towards the summit of Souther Fell but I let the footpath take me in the opposite direction following the contours until I reached the footpath going up the ridge. So another change of direction takes me up a steep green slope but the grass is like a lawn so the walking is relatively easy. Initially the view is of the brown and grey of Carrock Fell and the shapely looking spur of Bowscale Fell called The Tongue.

Like many of the lower fells what Souther Fell lacks in height in makes up for in bulk and when the gradient eases you have quite a long walk across the extensive plateau. The view of Bannerdale Crags from this direction makes it look very inviting, there is an interesting looking ridge that I will have to look at one day.

View of Sharp Edge from Mousethwaite Comb by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerSouther Fell's summit cairn is unremarkable but further along is a much more significant cairn slightly off the main path indicating the best viewpoint, the saddleback shape of Blencathra is obvious from this direction. Return to the path and follow the path down to Mousethwaite Comb, as you get closer to Blencathra you are drawn to the view of Sharp Edge and Foule Crag.

I had to stop at Mousethwaite Comb to put on a bigger jacket and gloves, it was still bright and sunny but there was a cold breeze. As tempting as it is, Sharp Edge will have to wait for now. I started walking up the steep grassy path towards Scales Fell but turned left to follow the contours around the base of the fell. The base of the fell here is still quite high above Scales Farm and the ground falls away suddenly beneath the path.

Scramble on Scaley Beck by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerFollowing the easy path you gradually lose height until you come to Scaley Beck, by this time I was warm enough to be walking in tee shirt and shorts. There is a small rock scramble on either side of the beck, the scrambling isn't difficult but needs a bit of care, the rock is still hard if you fall off it. I somehow managed to make it difficult for myself by climbing straight up and not taking enough time to find the best way up. The walking is fairly level now, crossing Doddick Gill is no problem and you eventually reach Gate Gill which you do not cross.

The way is up and a long way up it is, I was beginning to wish I hadn't taken two and a half hours to get this far. Oh well, Halls Fell Ridge here I come; it isn't too bad, the path is rough but feels easier to climb than grass. The first part of the climb is a stony path through grass and heather then you reach a wide ledge with a cairn overlooking the road far below. The path becomes much more rocky from here but it is still a path and then you get to the ridge itself, rock all the way to the top. Time for jacket and gloves again as the cold breeze reasserts itself and I don't want to be changing clothes whilst hanging on to a rock.

On Halls Fell Ridge by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThere is a path you can take that keeps you off the top of the ridge but it is loose and the ground falls away steeply below it, I think I feel safer on the ridge, just make sure you don't fall off. The rock is dry and sound, plenty of good footholds and it is steep enough to lean forward and hang on with both hands when necessary. There are many variations but in good conditions I like to keep strictly to the top of the ridge.

On Halls Fell Ridge by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThe summit of Blencathra is directly at the top of the ridge, reached ninety minutes after starting from the bottom of Gate Gill. The views are still good at the summit but the weather is changing, it is much colder than it was and there is a lot more cloud around. From the summit if you make a beeline northwards to the other point of the saddle you will pass the tarn, three crosses made out of stones laid in the ground and a number of cairns, makes you wonder why the path bypasses them all.

At the northern point of the saddle is a cairn at Atkinson Pike and it really is downhill from there, the sight of Sharp Edge below is very intimidating. I put my long trousers on at this stage, I didn't want to become too cold whilst I was having to hang on to rocks later on. The descent down to the start of Sharp Edge is almost as intimidating at the edge itself, steeply down over eroded rock and then you find the rocky gully.

The awkward bit of Sharp Edge by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThe gully is about the safest way down but it doesn't mean it is easy, at least four points of contact are required at times. At the bottom of the gully you have to clamber over rocks to get to the start of Sharp Edge.

Then Sharp Edge itself, if you keep to the ridge there is an outcrop to clamber over first before the notch in the ridge. The gap looks worse than it is, there is not really any problem with walking across it, then you step up on to the sloping slab of rock made shiny by the endless procession of walking boots. The slab is probably quite safe to walk over but the exposure going downwards is very obvious, I feel better hanging on to the top of the vertical outcrop of rock beside it.

The easy bit of Sharp Edge by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerFrom then on it is a question of getting along the ridge as best you can, even five points of contact doesn't make you feel really secure. I have done this several times but going downwards still exhilarates the living daylights out of me, the exposure on both sides is extremely obvious. I suppose the fact that I am the only person on the edge makes me feel a bit more nervous, this is usually a very busy place.

The easy bit of Sharp Edge by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerI always feel a sense of relief when I get to the bottom, feeling glad that I did it again. Of course the natural thing to do now is to climb back up again, it feels much less threatening going upwards which probably explains why most people only go that way. As I got to the end of the edge there were one or two stronger gusts of wind that made me wobble a bit, I'm glad that didn't happen on my way down.

The climb up to Atkinson Pike is also easier than when coming down, the rock gully offers lots of footholds but you have to feel for some of the handholds. Back on the top of the ridge all I have to do now is get back to the car, in a round about sort of way though. There is a path downwards starting at the cairn in the direction of Mungrisdale Common, at the bottom of the path is yet another cross made of white quartz stones set into the ground.

Mungrisdale Common by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThe day's biggest challenge I suspect will be to find the summit of Mungrisdale Common, there are traces of a path visible ahead but it feels as though there is no path through the rough grass. I am heading for the highest point if a slightly rounded dome has a point, even from a mile away I think I can see the cairn, there are no other rocks or any other features visible on this fell.

The weather is getting worse, the strong wind is battering me from the south west as I head towards what I hope is the cairn. Was it worth the effort to find this cairn, I don't know if was even difficult to find, but the surprise is that that are faint footpaths radiating from it in all directions.

The summit of Mungrisdale Common by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerI took one of those faint footpaths in the direction of Bannerdale Crags, getting battered by the wind again. The only features on the path with it being close to the water table were the numerous pools and swampy areas around the springs where the spongy fell was drip feeding its contents downwards.

The path lead to the col between Blencathra and Bannerdale Crags which is also a watershed between Blackhazel Beck and River Glenderamackin. I didn't take the path going down to the right and where the path splits again shortly afterwards I took the right hand branch. The walking to the summit of Bannerdale Crags is relatively easy and the wind isn't quite as strong.

View from the summit of Bannerdale Crags by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerFrom the summit carry on ahead and the path takes you along the top of the crags at the head of Bannerdale and the way up to Bowscale Fell is obvious. Also obvious was the bad weather that was going to overtake me, the were a few snowflakes and hailstones as I climbed up the easy slopes to Bowscale Fell.

I have been to Bowscale Fell twice before, both times in mist and I thought that the shelter cairn at the top of the slope was its summit. It was quite a surprise to see that I had quite a bit further to walk, twenty minutes later and I wouldn't have seen it again. As I was heading towards the real summit of Bowscale Fell the weather really caught up with me.

Not the summit of Bowscale Fell by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThe wind was so strong that I had to walk at an angle and occasionally I was blown off course, the rain and hail coming in horizontally hard and fast was getting in through every gap. I didn't hang around at the summit and Bowscale Fell didn't get its picture taken, fortunately the path on the other side was well marked by cairns.

I have to say I was really annoyed by the weather, I had settled for a final easy descent but now I was having to struggle in the wind and I was getting cold and wet. The wind didn't hear me telling it to stop or it just took no notice of me. Then a final test, a steep path down what used to be grass but eroded to soil made for a final uncomfortable five minutes before getting back to ground level.

At least I was back at Mungrisdale not far away from the car. Eight and a half hours, the pedometer says just over eleven miles but it doesn't know about Hall's Fell Ridge and Sharp Edge.

Andy Wallace 17th April 2004

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