Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Five Favourite Lake District Fells

Impossible to choose?

With so many stunning fells around, how on earth do you start the process of choosing your favourite? Well over the many hours we've spent wandering up and down the fells we've come up with three key criteria for rating them:
1. Looks - how gorgeous is it to stand back and look at?
2. Views - how spectacular are the views from the flanks and the summit?
3. Interest - how interesting is the hike?
I accept that many people will disagree with me and many will rate some fells more highly because of a personal event or special connection, but I've tried to keep this as objective as I can. That said, beauty will always be in the eye of the beholder so, with that in mind, let battle commence!

Blencathra



Wainwright wrote more about Blencathra than he did about any other fell and that's probably because there is so much to say about this magnificent mountain. At 868m high this is the 14th highest of the Lake District fells and stands guard over the A66 just to the north east of Keswick. So how does it stack up in each of the categories?
Looks: Some of the best views of the fell are from Clough Head opposite or Raven Crag at the top end of Thirlmere (where the above photo was taken from). There are also stunning views as you approach along the B5322 through St John's in the Vale. The crenulated ridges sweep from the summit to the valleys below and whichever angle you approach it from, there is always a dramatic view.
Views: One of the striking things about Blencathra is the variety of views from the summit ridge. To the west is Skiddaw while to the south is the broad valley of St John's in the Vale and the ridge route from Great Dodd to Helvellyn. Below you the A66 winds its way eastwards and away towards Penrith but to the north the views are quite different; gone are the high jagged fells, replaced instead with gentle rolling moorland towards Caldbeck. If it's variety of view you're after then Blencathra has it in spades.
Interest: Blencathra is of course home to "Sharp Edge", a narrow ridge of smooth rock, exhilarating to cross in good conditions but best avoided at all other times, which isn't a problem because there are so many other options to choose from. Halls Fell Ridge is a dramatic if energy sapping route rising from Threlkeld directly to the summit or, if you fancy something a little less challenging how about a stroll along the narrow valley of the River Glenderamckin and then on to the summit via path to the left of Scales Tarn? No wonder Wainwright had so much to say about it.
Great Gable

Possibly the first fell I fell in love with. I can clearly remember hiking up Scafell Pike and gazing across at Great Gable as we made our way up around Sprinkling Tarn. It also has a fascinating history; in June 1924 a group of men and women from the Fell and Rockclimbing Club gathered to dedicate a bronze plaque to all its members who had been lost during the "Great War". The survivors had raised the money to buy 3000 acres a land, the deeds to which were presented to the National Trust as a living memorial to those lost. Each year on Remembrance Sunday a service still takes place on the summit. (There's more detail on that history here.)
Looks: It's just the right shape for a mountain, when kids draw mountains, they look like Great Gable. It sits, imposingly beautiful, at the head of Wast Water slap bang in the middle of "Britain's Favourite View". As looks go, this one's a stunner.
Views: It's no slouch in the views department either A 360o panorama of most of the famous peaks in the Lake District surrounds this fell and stretching away below you to the south west is Wast Water, one of the most remote lakes in the region. What makes the view down over Wast Water so stunning is the simplicity of it all; no rolling hills or farm buildings dotted around, just peaks, screes and water.
Interest. I must admit I'm very fond of the route through Gillercomb and over Green Gable, especially when Sourmilk Gill is in spate, but honestly, can there be any other choice than the approach from Wast Water with the fell looming ever larger as you approach, almost daring you to climb it. And for the more adventurous/ properly kitted out there are an assortment of craggy climbs to the summit. Whatever your mood there'll be something to suit.
Place Fell

This one had been on my list for a long old time before I got around to climbing it, and what a perfect day we chose for it too. Sitting opposite Helvellyn at the south end of Ullswater it's easy to be lured away towards it's more famous neighbour, but that would be missing a real treat.
Looks: Just look at the picture; it's a stunning fell. Driving down Kirkstone Pass it draws your eyes and imagination as you picture yourself making your way towards the summit. Seen from Ullswater it doesn't disappoint either, rising dramatically from the water line to the summit 657m above.
Views: Sometimes you don't appreciate the full beauty of the high fells from the bottom of the valleys; what you need is a medium sized fell to give you a better perspective and Place Fell is perfect for that. From its summit you are ideally placed to admire the sweep of the Helvellyn range to the west & south whilst below you Ullswater wraps itself around and draws your eyes away to the north and Penrith away in the distance.
Interest: Perhaps Place Fell doesn't have quite the same number of routes criss crossing its flanks as some fells, but what routes there are, are well worth the hike. The steady rise of the routes from Deepdale Bridge or along Boredale Beck contrast sharply with the steeper hikes from Sandwick towards High Dodd. And once you're done with the summit the lakeside path back to the car is the perfect way to end the day.
Helvellyn

One of the most evocative fell names in the Lake District and the first major fell I climbed. It's also the fell I've climbed most often for a whole variety of reasons, not least of which is the fact that you can pretty much guarantee a free parking space if you're heading up from the Dunmail Raise route. As a child growing up in the West Midlands I'd heard the name Helvellyn and it counjoured up images of dramatic scenery and angry Norse gods.
Looks: Helvellyn may not stand alone but it certainly stands out. Viewed from the Glenridding approach you are greeted by the most perfect glacial corrie with Striding Edge along one side and Swirral Edge along the other; text book stuff. But viewed from the Thirlmere approach it's a completely different place; forested slopes giving way to broad rounded shoulders leading the way to the summit ridge.
Views: Where do I start? If you can name a Lake District fell there's a good chance you can see it from Helvellyn. Well, OK, maybe not all 214 Wainwrrights, but certainly most of the high peaks. They disappear off into the distance in regimented rows all waiting patiently to be climbed next time you pull your boots on.
Interest: There are so many interesting and varied routes to the summit that if this was the only fell you could ever climb it would take you a very long time to get bored. The most dramatic route is via the infamous Striding Edge; a spectacular approach dotted with memorials to remind you to pay close attention to what you're doing. Personally I enjoy the climb along Raise Beck then up via Grizedale Tarna and Dollywaggon Pike as it's usually a much quieter route and is most spectacular in the snow. There's also a much more gentle route up from Glenridding to Red Tarn but beyond that there is a sharp summit scramble via Swirral Edge.

The Langdale Pikes

Yes I know I am cheating massively with this one as the Langdale Pikes are comprised of 4 main summits: Loft Crag, Pike of Stickle, Harrison Stickle and Pavey Ark but look at the photo - how can you separate them? They sit together guarding the western end of one of the most beautiful and popular valleys in the Lake District and it would be a sin to try and separate them.
Looks: The Langdale Pikes are a work of art; perfectly formed, perfectly grouped and a joy to sit back and look at as you enjoy a flask of coffee on a nearby fell. In fact it's worth climbing a nearby fell simply to sit and look back at the Langdales. (Side Pike is a good one, or Pike of Blisco if you're feeling more adventurous and the weather is a little warmer.) The deep gulleys of Dungeon Ghyll & Stickle Ghyll point your eyes towards the peaks above them and there is nothing better on a warm afternoon than a flask of tea and some malt loaf and a view like this.
Views: The Langdale Pikes provide a perfect viewing platform themselves for Crinkle Crags and Bow Fell with Scafell Pike peeking out behind. The fells in this part of the Lake District are craggy and sharp and there is nowhere better to appreciate that than from the top of one of the Langdales. And of course there is the Langdale Valley itself, disappearing off around the bend towards Elterwater; a beautiful ribbon of lush green in contrast to the surrounding craggy fells.
Interest: The climb up along Stickle Ghyll is one of the most popular walks in the Lake District and the large car park at the bottom soon fills up on warm sunny Sundays, If you don't fancy the Pikes themselves then hike up to Stickle Tarn follow the path to your left over to Dungeon Ghyll and descend via Pike Howe. There are more challenging routes up onto the Pikes via Mark Gate or Pavey Ark and there is, of course, Jack's Rake; a dangerous and unforgiving route only to be attempted by experienced hikers with all the right equipment.
Perhaps one of the best things about climbing the Langdale Pikes is the collection of rather lovely pubs around their base, all of which are delightful, though if you want to indulge yourself in a little hiking history and folklore then the Old Dungeon Ghyll is the place to be.

Right, that's me done - over to you - which are your favourite fells and why?  Let battle commence!