Sunday 21st September – Old Dungeon Ghyll to Bowfell and Scafell

A bit of a change from the usual Yorkshire Dales walks this week. Not that there is anything wrong with the Dales; a beautiful area with some wonderful scenery and decent pubs too. The only downside is that it isn’t in Lancashire, however, despite that shortcoming, it won’t stop me going over the border – or ‘defecting’ as someone put it once. Now, defecting is a word you have to be careful with, and not to be confused with defecating, which is a wholly different thing – keep an eye out for the spellchecker ‘cos if it adds an extra ‘a’ you are in the ****!

This week I went up to the The Lakes, or “t’lakes” as I probably pronounce it. I was with two friends, Steve and Colin. Colin spends a lot of time out of the country, and when he is here is very active with family commitments and other stuff, so trying to pin him down and commit to a walk is a feat in itself – think of audience with the Pope and you are on the right path. Steve is a different animal; mention the words “walkies” & “lakes” in the same sentence and all previous commitments magically vanish – a bit of a pavlovian reaction in my opinion, but at least I do know where his priorities lie which makes walk planning easier. Colin and myself had been saying for well over six months that we should get together and do Scafell Pike, and about three days before we drove up there we came to the conclusion that Sunday would give decent weather. Steve didn’t get consulted, only a text message two days before to say “Scafell, walkies, Sunday????”…Not being a chap to mince his words, he came back with a “YES!”, the capitals and exclamation mark confirmed the seriousness of his commitment, so that was that.

The aim was to do Scafell from The Old Dungeon Ghyll, however as you’ll read, if you get that far without falling asleep, this did get changed whilst we sat at Bowfell summit.

Steve lives quite close by, so I went and collected him a 7:30am on Sunday morning. I never knew Sunday had two 7:30’s in it! We met up with Colin just off the motorway outside Bolton as he had come from the other side of Manchester, and he very kindly offered to drive up there. We put the rucksacks etc into the boot, and piled into his motor. As I had done the breakfast before setting out, of a couple of rounds of bacon & sausage sarnies each , I retrieved these from my rucksack before we set off to consume on the way up. As the roads were quiet we made good progress up to Jct 36 of the M6, and then through Ambleside to Skelwith Bridge and then up through Langdale before parking at the Old Dungeon Ghyll.

Distance: 11.24 miles
Ascent: 5,240ft
Sandwiches: Ham salad, Brie and cranberry
Soup: None.. too warm, no cold tinnies either.

Route Profile from ODG to Scafell, via Bowfell
Map of route from ODG to Scafell Pike via Bowfell
3D View of route

The weather was glorious as we parked up, with clear blue skies and dry ground underfoot. We had had only 10% of average rainfall for September so it had been a good month to get out. We changed our footwear, put the rucksacks on, and I pondered whether to take my camera bag or not. In the end I just took the camera in my rucksack and a couple of useful lenses instead of the whole shebang. I was trying to save weight and didn’t fancy lugging the camera bag 10 miles or so. The rucksack was heavy enough.

We exited the car park and crossed the stone bridge over Mickleden Beck and walked on the macadam road in the direction of Stool End Farm. We passed through a kissing gate and ambled along the easy farm track leading to the farmhouse, taking in the glories of the Langdale Pikes along the way. We passed through the farmyard to arrive at the footpath which would lead us up the steady climb of The Band.

Looking up Mickleden with Pike of Stickle and Loft Crag to the right

We started up the well marked path, and noticed a few other walkers who were ahead of us. The climb would be constant for the next two hours or so and this meant a number of pauses to take in the views – nothing to do with getting my breath back, mind, just admiring the vista. Honest! Usually I can get into a walk as soon as I get out of the car, but on this occasion it just wasn’t happening. I also felt that I had no energy at all and this made the ascent more of a trial. Colin, though was the opposite; he was off like a rabbit out of a trap and was soon marching off into the distance at an astonishing rate. He is a keen, and regular skier, and had underplayed his fitness hand on the drive up. I’ll tie his boot laces together next time – that’ll learn ‘im!

We made slow progress up the band, and took time to enjoy the ever increasing view down the valley of Great Langdale. There was a bit of haze around which reduced the distant horizon to nothing, but the bright, warm sun made up for the slightly reduced visibility.

Steve pausing to turn his back on the view just below White Stones, with Great Langdale in background

We continued upwards, puffing and panting, heaving and wheezing…or maybe it was just me?! Going past the area marked as White Stones on the map the path thankfully levelled out a little and gave me a chance to catch my breath. Soon enough, though it increased again and my breath soon left me. 

The path leading up to Three Tarns and Bowfell from just above White Stones

We continued a cycle of walk up, pause, look around… walk up, pause, look around, and several other groups of walkers were doing the same thing. We kept overtaking them, them overtaking us or walking together. We eventually arrived at Three Tarns after a two hour climb, and decided that we should sit and have a sandwich here and take in the view west over to the Scafell range. I had camped here about twenty years ago one winter and the view from the tent whilst cooking breakfast in the morning was superb.

The Scafell range from Three Tarns

It was good to take the pack off, and my overshirt too, so I could sit there in my T-shirt base layer and feel the very slight breeze wafting over me, cooling me down. I lay back and stretched out on the grass, savouring the sandwiches that Steve had made and my legs enjoying the short respite, prior to starting to ascend the side of Bowfell Links to Bowfell summit. As we sat there we noticed that there was the odd fluffy cloud floating around now, whereas earlier on in the day it was a clear sky. Could there be more to come in? From past experience, you can never predict what will happen up here, you just place your bets. The day was very still, with hardly a breeze to be felt which was rare. We packed away our lunch and reluctantly stood up and hauled our packs back on. We walked back past the Three Tarns and took the obvious path to the side of Bowfell Links, and started the ascent up the pitched stone path that lead to the summit.

The path was busy, and at one point we stood to one side to let a large group of teenagers pass us on their way down. Steve was convinced a bus had pulled up somewhere above us and dropped them off as there were so many of them. The going underfoot was quite difficult as the path snaked upwards and it was littered with small stones and rocks, with the addition of sporadic stretches of pitched stone paving done by the conservation volunteers. After a time path started to level off a bit as we got to the “Great Slab” and Steve went off and clambered up a small rock face to investigate it, as he had seen it mentioned in a Wainwright book (and it is also noted on the OS map). He came back with the confirmation “Yeah, it’s like a big rock slab sort of thing” – good to know AW and the OS were on the ball.

A “Big rock slab sort of thing” on Bowfell with Pike of Stickle in background

We progressed upwards to Bowfell summit. At this point Colin came back into view, sat up there on his lofty perch taking in the panorama, looking like the master of all he surveyed. Getting to the summit is akin to walking through a quarry, and careful placing of the boots was required. The summit mound is just a pile of shattered rocks, and is more of a scramble than a walk. When we finally got there is was like being on top of the world. It is the sixth highest peak in the Lake District and Alfred Wainwright listed it as one of his ‘best half dozen’ Lakeland peaks.

The summit was busy with walkers and a number of fell runners too. I take my hat off to fell runners and really admire their stamina to run up those hills, just walking them makes me tired. I did also notice that fell running seems to have undergone an image makeover. Twenty years ago it was confined to very wiry men with beards and well worn Ron Hill running gear; now it is all Lycra, Camelbak hydration packs and GPS/heart monitors predominantly carried by young female fell runners, and not a beard to be seen anymore. Beards seem to be worn by hipsters these days, and I can see how fell running wouldn’t be a lifestyle choice in Hoxton.

The view down to Three Tarns and Crinkle Crags from Bowfell summit

We sat on Bowfell summit for around fifteen minutes, just drinking in the view. It really is spectacular from here. As we sat, we noticed the clouds gathering out to the west and beginning to encroach on the Scafell range. This didn’t bode well for the remainder of our route.

The Scafell range from the summit of Bowfell

The clouds started to gradually encroach on Scafell Pike, with misty clouds clinging to the gullies, and the lowering sky was beginning to engulfed the summit. We decided we should take a detour from the route we had agreed upon. Why schlepp around to Scafell to walk in the mist, when we could just as well drop down to Three Tarns and do Crinkle Crags instead? It sounded like a good plan.

Lingcove Beck and Moasdale from Bowfell summit

After agreeing on our revised route, we said farewell to the summit of Bowfell and descended the rough path back to Three Tarns. We arrived at the col, and took the path straight over it passing the tarns, and started to climb up back to the ridge high above Shelter Crags. The path here then took us along the Crinkles.

Bowfell Links from Gunson Knott

The name Crinkle Crags reflects the fell’s physical appearance as its summit ridge is a series of five rises and depressions (crinkles) that are very distinctive from the valley floor. This was the first time I have done it from North to South, I have always done it the other way around, and this time missed out the ‘Bad Step’.

Mickle Door from Crinkle Crags

We continued along the until we got to Long Top where we stayed for several minutes chatting to a married couple from Windermere and discussing what we could see in the view to the west.

Looking south west to Hard Knott from Long Top

We then took the easy path that descended steadily above Great Knott and took much enjoyment in the brisk progress that could be made. The path here was littered with large bags of boulders which we guessed were for the use of the conservation groups to make pitched stone paving for erosion prevention, and obviously dropped off by helicopter. We arrived at Browney Gill, the beck that forms the outfall from Red Tarn and started the steeper descent down a long series of very well made pitched stone steps. I was pleased to have brought my walking pole as this helped a bit, but after a while it did take its toll on the knees. Steve had to stop and knock back a couple of painkillers to assist with his descent.

We eventually got down to Oxendale Beck where Colin was sat next to the beck waiting for us to appear. He had gone on ahead of us and had spent the descent chatting to a chap who had run a marathon the day before, and had just come back that week from doing the GR20 in Corsica, a walk that is ranked as one of the worlds toughest hikes. Just what you need to highlight your own inadequacies is a fanatical athlete telling you how good he is.

Looking down Oxendale and Great Langdale from Brown How

We shuffled our way along Oxendale and back to Stool End Farm. We hobbled back through the farmyard which we had so easily strolled through earlier in the day and made our way back to the car at the Old Dungeon Ghyll. This last mile seemed to take forever. It seemed ages before the car came into view, and when we got to it, we changed our footwear again and headed to the ODG for a pint prior to making the journey back home.

We sat outside the pub as the sun gradually started to set with our drinks in hand and we agreed that we must come back and do Scafell. This next time we would stay over and do it from Wasdale, nevertheless, we all agreed that it had been a great day and we should make a point of doing it again in the not too distant future.

3 thoughts on “Sunday 21st September – Old Dungeon Ghyll to Bowfell and Scafell

  1. Great write up, great route and great pics. I'm really going to have to get one those fancy filters for the old box brownie as your cloud scapes really pop out 🙂


  2. Thanks Steve! Filter, what filter?? A bit of sandwich cling film, with graduated HP sauce remnants strategically held over the lens ;>)

    In all honesty I just do bracketed shots when out, rejig as a quite subtle HDR image and then fettle with a bit of post work in Lightroom.


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