Friday, 11 May 2012

Black Combe - the forgotten fell

I very nearly didn't write this blog, I mean, why would I tell everyone all about a spectacular fell when one of the things that made it so great was the fact it was practically deserted on a warm sunny Sunday in May?  But then I thought “what the hell – it’s way off the main routes, plus it’s not a Wainwright, so it will probably remain deserted whatever I say about it”, so here goes. (Although this isn’t one of Wainwright’s 214 fells it is included in his Outlying Fells book)

Black Combe is tucked away in the bottom left hand corner of the Lake District, or at least it’s as tucked away as a 600m fell can be.  It has sea to the south and east, the Duddon Estuary to the west and the fells of the Lake District to the north.  If you’re of a geological persuasion then you’ll love Black Combe’s almost perfect example of a corrie (starting point of a glacier) the feature which gave it its name.

Approaching from the east Black Combe’s gravitational pull kicks in as soon as you crest Kirkby Moor and spot it away in the distance.  The fact it’s so isolated makes it appear even larger than its 600m and it remains firmly in view as you wind your way around the Duddon Estuary.  We’ve passed it a few times on our way round to Wast Water and each time I’ve nearly pulled something in my neck as I crane to see it from every angle.  There are several routes up and we opted for the one that starts at Beckside farm; there’s a layby in front of the farm which can fit 7 or 8 cars if everyone parks sensibly, and there’s usually space available there.

The route winds up along Whitecombe Beck rising at a nice, sensible, Sunday afternoon pace.  The combined forces of Black Combe and White Combe envelope as you climb and at the end of the valley the Duddon Estuary creeps into view as you gradually gain height.   Popping out onto the main ridge at Whitecombe Edge the route up to Black Combe summit is clear and easy to follow.  The very worst thing I can say about this fell is that it’s a little boggy in places and there aren’t many places other than the summit cairns to sit and scoff your sarnies.  We went on a lovely dry day, but on a wet soggy Bank Holiday I’d recommend wellies.  Or maybe even waders.

Here’s a brief list of things you can see from the summit – some will clearly appeal more than others: Windscale/ Sellafield (or whatever it’s called these days), the stunning Cumbrian coastline, the enormous windfarm just off the coast, Walney Island, Peil Island (and castle), Barrow-in-Furness, the Duddon Estuary, the Old Man of Coniston and Scafell Pike & friends.  Wordsworth’s view of the view was “the amplest range of unobstructed prospect may be seen that British ground commands” – though that was probably before they built Windscale/ Sellafield/ Whatever.  On a clear day you can see the Isle of Man apparently but today was a bit on the hazy side so our views stopped at the windfarm, which we found oddly haunting.


To get back to the car we re-traced our steps as far as Whitecombe Head and then headed down over White Combe and White Hall Knott.  If you’re not pushed for time then nip along White Hall Knott to Swine Crag for wonderful views back up the valley.  Eventually, having loitered in every available view point until the tea ran out, we headed back down the car.  Along the entire route we only saw 5 people and they were all in the distance and the last section of the route was pleasingly overgrown and underused; a clear sign that this fell falls off most people’s “to do” list.  Which is a shame in many ways, but a good thing if, like me, you prefer your hikes a little on the antisocial side.