Crinkles from Dungeon Ghyll
Crinkle Crags, seen from Dungeon Ghyll

Date completed: 12th May 2018.

Weather conditions: Still, dry, fine, warm but not hot — ideal for walking, in other words. More cloud in the afternoon, but that is normal, and just stopped everyone who was out today (and there were many) from going too pink.

Summit bagged: Just one Wainwright today: Crinkle Crags (2816 feet above sea level, number 145 of my second round). This was previously bagged on walk 64, on 23/8/12, a much less clement day.

Walkers and Pike o'Blisco
Walkers on the Hell Gill path. Pike o’Blisco behind.

On the other hand, there are a profusion of Birketts defined in this area, including (in the order visited today) Shelter Crags (2,674 feet, #45 on this list by altitude); Gunson Knott (2,697′, #43); the fourth (2,730′, #36) and third (2,756′ #33) Crinkles, the ‘south top’ (or first Crinkle) (2,736′, #35) and, on the way down to Red Tarn, Great Knott (2,283′, #147). Including the Wainwright summit, a.k.a. Long Top (#24), one therefore picks up seven Birketts on this walk.

Start and end point: The Old Dungeon Ghyll hotel. Great Langdale.

#516 buses to Dungeon Ghyll seem to have been retimed. Whereas there used to be no bus back to Ambleside between 14.05 and 17.05, the 14.05 has now been shifted back an hour to 15.05. The old time made it very tight timing to do any proper walks (like up Bowfell: see walk 121), and I would not have completed today’s walk in time, but I was in plenty of time to catch the 15.05, having started at about 10am when the first bus of the day came in from Ambleside. It is nice to see someone finally paying attention to this kind of timetabling issue, whatever the reason. (Postscript: sadly, it didn’t last.)

Sheep in Langdale
Sheep in Great Langdale on this rather pleasant morning

Distance walked: According to Wainwright, 8 miles, but my phone pedometer, while admittedly often underestimating distances on rough ground, showed rather less and the walk did feel shorter — usually they seem longer. I would be prepared to suggest an approximate figure of 7 miles for this one.

Total ascent: Add a bit to Wainwright’s figure for the final ascent of the northernmost Crinkle and the estimated ascent is therefore around 2,700 feet.

Pub at end: My umpteenth visit to the Old Hikers’ Bar, Dungeon Ghyll: nomenclature that is becoming ever more appropriate for me as time passes. End your walk with a pint of Old Peculier, which is always available, although don’t say I didn’t warn you about its potency.

Oxendale cascade
The cascade in Oxendale, below Hell Gill

Route: This is one of the Lake District’s classic walks. You will not be doing it alone, at least, not on a Saturday of nice weather. But it’s certainly worth the bother, and the crowds. Wainwright calls Crinkle Crags “Lakeland’s best ridge-mile” and it’s a very interesting route, although I don’t put it at the top of my own personal ranking (see the commentary). Note, though, that the top of Crinkle Crags would be a confusing place in bad weather if you didn’t already know it.

From Dungeon Ghyll there are several possible routes up. I ascended via the Hell Gill route, which Wainwright recommends as a “pleasant change” for walkers already familiar with the usual route up The Band (see walk 121) while also admitting that it “lacks the airiness and views” of that path.

Hell Gill and Bowfell
The ravine of Hell Gill, with Bowfell behind

To reach this, take the farm road from Dungeon Ghyll to Stool End and follow the ‘footpath’ signs through the farmyard. Once through the gate onto the open fell, don’t take the prominent path on the right — this climbs The Band — but follow the lower path past the sheepfolds. Then, ignore the footbridge (this is the Red Tarn path, which you will be coming down in a few hours), and head straight on along the stream.

This is a fairly straightforward ascent offering intimate views of the huge Hell Gill ravine. The only difficulty comes with the crossing of the stream, Buscoe Sike, just below the ravine’s bottom exit. In the revised edition, Chris Jesty notes that this is a crossing in which you are likely to get your feet wet — as I found out — but he makes this warning only in the Bowfell chapter, not Crinkle Crags’.

Rock pool at Three Tarns
Rock pool at Three Tarns

At the top of the ravine, there is a plateau which has some patches of soggy ground. I did look at the escarpment of the Crinkles rising to the left and wonder if there might be a scramble up, at least to the rock tower visible at the southern end, but there seemed little to be gained from this so I simply stuck to the path as it ascends to the Three Tarns col. The count of the number of tarns here really is a matter of definition: there are only two sizeable ones, but several other small bodies of water (including the nice little rock pool pictured). Ahead, the view opens up to take in the highly impressive sight of Scafell and Scafell Pike separated by Mickledore.

View through Mickle Door
View through Mickle Door, the walkers are on the path coming up from Red Tarn.

The path from Three Tarns along the ridge of the Crinkles is not the wide pedestrian highway that its popularity might lead you to expect — which is one reason for novices not to attempt it in bad weather. You need to keep an eye out for the next cairn, certainly on the northern half of the ridge (the parts nearer Three Tarns). The first part, over Shelter Crags, is rather a phoney war, with not much to get excited about, but as you approach the first of the Crinkles proper, a wall of scree rises before you, into which the path disappears for a while: clambering over boulders is inevitable at this point, this is awkward although never particularly difficult or dangerous.

The Bad Step
The Bad Step. Remember, it’s not obligatory.

After this the way is straightforward to the summit. The most impressive moment is the cleft of Mickle Door (not to be confused with the aforementioned Mickledore on Scafell), a deep scree gully up which comes, unbelievably, one of the suggested routes of direct ascent. It’s worth admiring the summit view for a while, particularly the prospect of the Duddon and Esk valleys, separated by the dark bulk of Harter Fell.

Thought then needs giving to the route to the final Crinkle. The route looks clear from the summit but in the way, unseen at first, is the Bad Step. As the picture above shows, this is an awkward little climb and frankly I have never fancied it, although going up does look more inviting than going down.

Path to Red Tarn
On the descent to Red Tarn, looking back to the line of Crinkles

Bear in mind, though, that negotiating the Bad Step is in no way obligatory. It can be avoided if you swing round to the right (as you look at the final Crinkle) and drop down onto a clear path that comes out at the bottom of the Step.

From here the way is simple, up over the final (or first) Crinkle and then down to Red Tarn, below Pike o’Blisco. Here turn left and descend the very red path back to Oxendale and the footbridge passed this morning. Having done this descent a few times by now (most recently on walk 131 last summer) I have begun to find it a little tedious but I suppose it could be worse. From the footbridge, just head back to Stool End and the Dungeon Ghyll hotel where your pint of Old Peculier awaits.

Pike o'Blisco
Another view of Pike o’Blisco. Windermere in distance.

Change of mind commentary: I was all set to do Great End today, straight up the face from Sty Head. I had researched the route, asked more experienced friends for advice, printed out my little page of guidance. I was mentally ready.

But having then decided to start from Langdale rather than Borrowdale, on the way in, I checked my own advice on the Great End fell page and noted that rather than the 90 minutes from summit back to Dungeon Ghyll that I had vaguely planned around, the final descent took me 2:15 last time. Even though the most useful bus from the Old Hotel now leaves at the far more sensible time of 15:05 — hurrah! — this still would have meant ensuring I was off Great End summit at no later than about 12:45 to make this. I was finding this possibility increasingly unlikely.

Crinkles in cloud
The Crinkles in their more common raiment

A finish in Borrowdale would have worked, but on a day that was looking like it was going to be a hot one, the lack of refreshments at Seatoller did not appeal and I was hoping to get home a little earlier seeing as I had a flight to catch on the Sunday morning.

All in all then I began to have doubts about the logistics of Great End. But as the bus pulled into Dungeon Ghyll and the superb dalehead of Great Langdale opened up before me, there, shining in the May sunshine was Crinkle Crags.

Back in about 2000 (pre-Joe, anyway), Clare and I had a weekend at the Dungeon Ghyll and I dragged her up the Crinkles in what turned into lousy weather on the top — and things were not much better on walk 64, the final, soggy, cold act of the lousy summer of 2012. I was NOT, definitely not, going to end up doing this classic fell a third time in cloudy crap, but today it was just sitting there, going, ‘climb me’. So I did. (The fact that by 3pm the clouds had come to cover the top again — see the picture above — shows how readily these fells get themselves obscured.)

Cute lambs
The obligatory cute lamb shot for the time of year

It’s nice to be able to replan at the last minute and I certainly did not regret the choice. However, while CC is certainly a dramatic and interesting fell, I still think there are others that appeal more for various reasons. The ridge winds up, down and around but never gets all that narrow, so there’s not quite the sense of exhilaration as when up on some of the ridges of the Northwestern Fells, for example. Bowfell next door gives you more chance to get up close and personal to the rock scenery. But maybe I’m just being picky. Crinkle Crags is a good walk, for sure, and the view west from the summit is a hard one to beat.

Bowfell from Three Tarns
Bowfell above the Three Tarns (well, one of them anyway).

I should give the Southern Fells a rest for a while, but there are plans to get Joe up Scafell Pike before too much more time has passed — however, that will then see me having already rebagged nearly two-thirds of volume 4, whereas I’m not yet a quarter of the way through volume 7, the Western. I know I keep saying this but it’s time to get out that way. My next walk is planned for 22nd May, as long as the good weather holds. Expect Buttermere and/or Loweswater to feature… although I know I’ve been saying that for months.

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