Bowfell from the top of the Band
The upper slopes of Bowfell, as seen from the plateau at the top of the Band

Date completed: 25th November 2016.

Weather conditions: See for yourselves. Superlative. It is a cliche, and usually exaggeration, to say things like ‘there was not a breath of wind all day’ and ‘not a cloud was to be seen all day’. In today’s case both these things are solid facts. Not just one of the best days of weather I’ve ever had in the Lakes, but one of the best ever, full stop.

The Band
The Band. illuminated by the low afternoon sun. Crinkle Crags is (or are) in the background.

However, as you can see, it was snowy above 1500 feet, and below that, very icy: the path up and, more importantly, down the Band was lethally slippery in places.

Summits bagged: Just one Wainwright today: Bowfell (2960 feet above sea level, number 82 of my second round). This was previously visited on walk 34, in March 2011.

Start and end points: Started and ended at the Old Hotel. Dungeon Ghyll, Great Langdale. This can be reached by a #516 bus from Ambleside, which runs all year.

As I have observed before, while this makes for an excellently timed start to the day, allowing one to start walking from the Old Hotel at 10am, the problem with this service is that there is then no return bus on most weekdays between the 14:01 departure from Dungeon Ghyll and the 17:01.

In Great Langdale
In Great Langdale

I managed to fit the walk, with 10 minutes to spare, between that 10am start time and the 14:01 — but that is a schedule that doesn’t allow for much hanging around, and not everyone will be comfortable with it.

Distance walked: 6.25 miles approximately.

Total ascent: 2700 feet approx.

Pub at end: The Hikers’ Bar at the Old Hotel, Dungeon Ghyll. Sooner or later everyone ends up here at the end of a walk. I only had time for a single pint today, but it was Old Peculier, and those who know that beer know that’s something worth walking for.

Climbing up from Three Tarns
Climbing up from Three Tarns

Route: This is a classic walk, one of the best. It could be easily extended, by going on from Bowfell to either Crinkle Crags (which I probably would have done, had it not been snowy) or Esk Pike, and either returning thereafter to Langdale or descending into Eskdale or (from Esk Pike only) to Borrowdale. But it stands up perfectly well on its own, too, being a relatively straightforward ascent to a magnificent summit with one of the best views in England.

The route is not a hard one to describe; let Wainwright’s pages Bowfell 5 and 6 be your guide. I didn’t actually need the OS map I brought along with me, but it is worth having a good look at those Wainwright pages in advance, particularly if you intend to try the more adventurous ways up.

View towards the Duddon
View from the summit, towards the Duddon valley

From the bus stop head down the lane a short way and go through the gate marked ‘Stool End’. Head through this farm yard — the path clearly signposted — and at the junction you pass, turn right to begin the ascent of the Band. And that’s all you need to know for a while: just keep climbing. This is a straightforward ascent, not overly steep, on a generally very good path, although it was dangerously icy in places on the day I did it.

As the slope levels out into a grassy plateau, you need to decide which way you will go up Bowfell. The principal path bears left, heading for Three Tarns, but I chose to go up by the ‘Direct Route’ (see the Wainwright ascent diagram). This heads up the rocky ridge to the right. The point of bifurcation was not clear on the ground in terms of paths, but that was because of the snow, so I do not know how clear the path is in normal weather — in any case the junction is marked by two big cairns. This climb is steep in parts but still not all that arduous.

Langdale and Lingmoor Fell
Looking back to Langdale from the ascent. Lingmoor Fell on the right.

At the top of this stretch, you round a corner and see the Climbers’ Traverse heading off along the base of the crags.  You thereby have another decision to make at this point — see page Bowfell 6. I did think about doing the Traverse and then coming up the side of Flat Crags, but in the end decided against it. It wasn’t so much that I was worried about the Traverse itself in the snow, but I really wasn’t sure how easy it would be to come up the gullies afterwards. I had an ice axe with me, but no crampons. With hindsight, had I gone via the Traverse there’s also no way I would have made the 14:01 bus. So I ducked out and took the ‘Walkers’ Route’ instead. But if I ever come this way again then the Traverse looks worth a try for the adventurous.

Mickleden in frost
Looking up Mickleden: Pike o’Stickle prominent.

The Walkers’ Route is not easy to see from the bottom and had there not been footprints in the snow to follow, I probably would have struggled to find it, but basically it heads up the rocks to the left just at the point when the Traverse path takes a first, small dip downwards. It involves a bit of clambering up rocks but eventually levels out and joins the Three Tarns path just at the top of a steep rise (which you will be going down shortly).

At this point, turn right for the final climb. Check out the Great Slab to your right, push on to Bowfell’s very rocky, spiky summit, and once up there, sit down and enjoy a truly magnificent view. Although the Western Fells are mostly hidden behind the Scafells (which compensate by showing their most impressive side), the whole rest of the District is visible, with the valleys of Eskdale, Langdale and the Duddon curving away through the mountains.

Bowfell summit
Bowfell summit (gear being that of the couple with whom I shared a lunch break)

Don’t hang around too long if you want to catch the 14:01 bus though: I suggest you need to be leaving the summit no later than 12:15 to have a shot at it. Return the way you came, via the top of the Great Slab, but then keep going down the slope to descend to Three Tarns, then bear left onto the path which will lead you to the top of the Band: after that you surely don’t need any more route advice.

November wonderland commentary: If you were to ask me which was my least favourite month of the year I would definitely say November.  It’s always a busy time of year, it invariably gets darker and colder and wetter throughout without even the mild pay-off of Christmas at the end. I have had some good days’ walking weather in November — particularly walk 27 (10th November 2011) — but they have definitely been the exception rather than the rule.

Icy path
The path up the Band. Ice ahoy…

On the other hand, today was booked in as a day off from work weeks ago. I’ve been doing a lot of Sunday working recently (five of the last six), and I’m working this coming Sunday as well. Normally I am teaching at uni on a Friday morning, but not this week, and Joe’s school was not open today either. All in all then it seemed the sensible thing to do. But would I get a walk in? At this time of year I reckoned the chances were low of it being a decent day, even lower still considering the weather earlier this week (Monday 21st, particularly, was revolting).

But…. blow me down. I mean, just look at the photos. If you can spot a single cloud on them, anything more than a general haze on the horizon, sue me. This really was one of the best. Despite the snow, the total lack of wind meant it wasn’t even really that cold, although the areas where the sun hadn’t shone all day (and by the descent, wasn’t going to) were terribly icy: at one point in particular I was doing one of those cartoon falls where the butt of the joke just repeatedly finds his feet slipping away from underneath him, four or five times until he finally goes down — only here that wouldn’t have seen me just plonk down on my tush, but more likely break something significant as I tumbled down the steps of the Band. I saved myself only by grabbing the nearest undergrowth in time. After then I avoided the steps and clambered down the grass beside the path.

Slight Side from Bowfell
Another view from the summit: Slight Side and the Irish Sea

But this is the only mild complaint, and even that was nowhere near enough to spoil the glories of the day. And Bowfell is an excellent mountain, well worth coming back to. I hadn’t really done any of the Lakes’ big players on my second round except for Blencathra, and perhaps Ill Bell, but Bowfell certainly ranks among the very best. There is more still to explore, too; the ascents from Eskdale and Langstrath, and the Climbers’ Traverse (which I mildly regret not trying, but it was the sensible decision bearing in mind the conditions). Regardless of how I play this project in the future, this is a fell to come back to.

OK, that might be it for 2016: there is a possible opportunity around Christmas, but despite my recent good run we can’t depend on the weather to necessarily co-operate, so let me just see how it goes. There have been some very good walks this year though, and much as I did enjoy 2013-15 (the Outlying Years) it’s been great to get back into the heart of the Lakes. Bowfell is as near that heart as any other candidate fell — so go do it. You won’t regret it.

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