Hall's Fell ridge

The Hall’s Fell ridge of Blencathra, leading straight to the summit.

Date completed: 23rd May 2016. A year to the day since walk 97, so I’m just about keeping ahead of the one-walk-a-month minimum target.

Weather conditions: Decent enough. I would have liked a bit more sunshine, but perhaps I’m just being ungrateful.

Derwent Water

Looking over to Derwent Water, from the descent of Blease Fell

Summits bagged: Blencathra (2847’ above sea level). Number 39 of my second round of the 330 Wainwrights.

Blencathra was previously bagged on walk 49, 14th January 2012. That walk and this one have no overlapping territory however, save for the summit itself.

Start and end points: Threlkeld village, served by hourly buses in each direction between Keswick and Penrith. The walk is not a long one — it took me just under three hours — so it should not prove difficult to work out a public transport itinerary to meet your needs.

Distance walked: 4.75 miles approximately.

Total ascent: 2550 feet approximately.

Sheep on summit ridge

Sheep on the summit ridge

Pub at end: The Horse and Farrier, Threlkeld. I suppose I could have tried the nearby Salutation Inn but did not make it the extra fifty yards or so. The Horse and Farrier is OK, although the beer garden is just some tables in the car park, really.

Route: This is a short walk — but a stiff one, and it involves unavoidable scrambling, including a couple of bits that were a little intimidating, so I would not bring any inexperienced fell walkers up Blencathra by this route. It is an excellent ascent though, well worth doing, though I don’t give it the ‘Best in the District’ award that Wainwright seems to assign to it (see the commentary below). The views are spectacular though, and another bonus is that it’s bone dry.

Near the summit

Walkers (and dog) near the summit, looking west to the Pennines

The obvious way to start the walk would be to walk up the lane heading east out of Threlkeld aiming for the farm of Gategill, but a path here has a ‘Closed’ sign on it at the moment, so I ended up starting the walk by taking the public footpath just to the west of the Horse and Farrier. This crosses a few fields before coming out to the farm, where a sign points you up the west bank of Gate Gill for a short climb, before you then have to cross the stream at a stony weir.

The ascent of Hall’s Fell proper, the central buttress of Blencathra’s southern front, then begins. From here to Blencathra’s summit took me an hour and ten minutes, and every step of the way is uphill.

The first part is spent ascending through the heather, before the ridge narrows and the scrambling can begin. Anyone who likes clambering over rocks will enjoy the next section; whereas anyone who does not can easily escape onto a path that runs below the crest, on the eastern side of the ridge.

Tougher bit on the ridge

Hall’s Fell ridge — the scarier bit

If the whole ridge were like this it really would be a frolicsome experience, but after a while there comes a section which is rather more severe (see the picture). There was one point, which I think corresponds to the note on Wainwright’s page Blencathra 17 — “care needed in traversing rock face by horizontal crack” — that worried me too much, and I retraced my steps for a minute or two before taking the easier path below. But note that this does not obviate the need for scrambling altogether. There is no avoiding the handling of rock between this point and the summit and it’s quite steep in parts, so I would not do this with any nervous walkers in the party. It’s not dangerous, but it does need care and attention.

View north to High Pike

View north to High Pike and the Solway Firth

The ridge ends right at the summit. From here there are many options for descent. I took the Blease Fell route, which means turning left at the summit and following the edge of the escarpment westwards, in the direction of Skiddaw, over Gategill Fell top and then down the side of Blease Fell; a relatively easy descent, though still quite steep. When the path divides, after the zigzags, turn left, then after dropping down some more, head left along a grassy terrace onto a path that eventually drops down to the stream of Blease Gill and the ‘pretty wooded dell’ mentioned on pages 10 and 12 of the chapter.

This path drops you down to Threlkeld past the school and then onto the main road through the village. Turn left for the two pubs, there is a bus stop just outside the Horse and Farrier but if you have time I would head for the next bus stop along which is a much more comfortable place to wait.

Gategill Fell top

Looking back along the ridge to Gategill Fell top

Best there is? commentary: He played the ‘irascible old bugger’ role very well, and was not a man given to unnecessary hyperbole. So when, on page 17 of his Blencathra chapter, Wainwright announces that the climb of said peak via the ridge of Hall’s Fell is “positively the finest way to any mountaintop in the District” (emphasis in original) — then that is high praise indeed, so the route has to be worth trying. Once I committed to doing all these fells for a second time, this was always going to be the way I went back up Blencathra.

There are a few other attractive-looking ridge climbs in the vicinity, and back in April, when I was thinking about what my next walk would be, I put six down on a list, then asked the family to roll a dice and see what came up. Without boring you with the details, this won, so I was always committed to bagging it as number 39 of the second round.

View south

South to Helvellyn, Thirlmere and the Naddle valley

It did take a lot longer to get done than I hoped, however. I had a run of possible days towards the end of April but we had some awful weather around then, including a couple of inches of snow in Hebden Bridge on the morning of April 29th. I really didn’t fancy another winter walk. After that, May just got filled up with other commitments, but today, thanks partly to having done a bunch of marking at the weekend, I could go and rebag one of the District’s first team, the first major player to be done a second time (in fact in my life this was the third time I have been up Blencathra).

Mell Fells

Looking towards the Mell Fells

So, is the Hall’s Fell route “the finest way to any mountaintop in the District”? Well, it’s a fine climb, there’s no denying it. From about the 2000’ contour until about 2300’ the ridge is delightful, giving the opportunity for entirely safe, but dramatic scrambling on the crest of the rocks. But there is a more difficult and worrisome section in the middle, it seemed a shame to have to drop off the crest and take what seemed like the coward’s way out here, but discretion being the better part of valour and all that. I’m not saying this spoils it exactly, but it did knock the wind out of the sails slightly.

And in the end, I enjoyed the following climbs more:

Hall's Fell ridge

Looking back down the ridge of Hall’s Fell

Still, everyone should get up Blencathra once, at least: it really is a very fine mountain, and highly accessible too. The view south is surely one of the best in the country. There are still a dozen routes of ascent delineated by Wainwright that I’ve not touched yet and who knows, I may still be back for more before I die.

%d bloggers like this: