Steeple, from Scoat Fell

Date completed: 6th September 2018.

Weather conditions: Considerably colder and rather more cloudy than the previous day (walk 152a). There were several moments of threatening skies that promised drizzle but in fact there was only about ten minutes of this, on the final descent from Scarth Gap.

Summits bagged: Steeple (2687’ above sea level, number 164 of my second round), Scoat Fell (2760’, no. 165), Pillar (2927’, no. 166).

With there being 330 Wainwrights in a full round (including the Outlying fells), Scoat Fell marks the halfway point of my second round. Thus, I am three-quarters of the way through the whole thing (a double round).

Ennerdale YHA
8.30am at the Ennerdale YHA, High Gillerthwaite; the walk’s starting point.

Steeple and Scoat Fell were last bagged on walk 43a 1/9/11. Pillar was last bagged on walk 16, 31/5/10.

There are three additional Birketts, as well: Black Crag, between Scoat Fell and Pillar (2,717′, #39 on that list by altitude); Lingmell, an insignificant hump at the top of the drove road (1,401′, #418); and Looking Stead, on the way down to Black Sail Pass (2,057′, #202).

Start and end points: Started at the Ennerdale YHA, High Gillerthwaite (pictured). This is not on a public transport route (nor anywhere particularly near one), hence why this had to be the second day of a two-day hike, after walk 152a. Finished at Buttermere. Buses run from here back to Keswick, but only in the summer (Easter to late October).

I started the walk at 8.35am from the YHA and it took me seven hours, thus I arrived in Buttermere in time to have a leisurely pint and catch the 16:24 service back to Keswick — in theory. (For the reality, see the commentary.)

Great Gable from Steeple
View of Great Gable, from Steeple summit

I could have finished it a little earlier, in Gatesgarth, which would have saved the last couple of miles of walking and also allowed me to catch an earlier bus, leaving Gatesgarth at 15.20 roughly. The reason I didn’t do this is that I really needed a beer, and there is no pub in Gatesgarth — just a mobile refreshment van. Once you get to the bottom of the Scarth Gap path, it is therefore up to you.

Distance walked: 14 miles approximately. Between 11.15am on the day before, and 3.30pm today then, I did around 30 miles, which I make as 1.05mph even while asleep. No wonder I was tired at the end. (And I had a laptop in my pack too.)

Total ascent: 3700 feet approximately.

Pub at end: To keep it democratic between the two Buttermere pubs, I went into the Fish Inn today. Both the pubs are perfectly fine places and serve decent beer, but the Fish just doesn’t feel as cosy as the Bridge.

Pillar and Steeple
Pillar (left) and Steeple, from the top of the drove way

Route: Walk 152a, all 16 miles of it, was done largely to get me in position to do this walk; but was itself long and tiring, so adding on this steep and rocky 14-miler the following day totally wiped me out. I was knackered even by the time I was coming off the summit of Pillar, and that was noon, so only just the halfway point time-wise.

Be aware then that though this is an exceptional walk scenically, with lots of interest both near at hand and in terms of the views, it is a significant expedition. There are no dangerous sections, but there is plenty of climbing to do, some of it over boulders. Some passages will prove worrying for those with a fear of heights (particularly the traverse from Steeple to Scoat Fell). But it is certainly worth it. The walk takes in some of the best scenery that England has to offer.

It would be nice to just be able to hop over the River Liza below the YHA and save half an hour at least, but alas, there’s no bridge nearer than the ‘Irish Bridge’ which I came over yesterday evening. So the walk must start by going in the wrong direction, down-dale, for half a mile then recrossing the Irish Bridge and turning left once the plantation is reached.

Steeple, final towers
The final stages of the ascent of Steeple

Cross the next bridge then look for the ‘drove way’ on the right, a strip of land without trees, but with a reasonably clear path heading uphill. This is, apparently, a way to bring sheep down off the fell, but I wouldn’t fancy getting them through the tangle of heather and rock which oppresses the path for a few hundred feet. Now I’ve done this climb up, I wouldn’t fancy it in descent, either. Anyway, once at the top bear left alongside the fence. Steeple (and Scoat Fell, of which it is an inseparable part) are rising obviously ahead and the way is fairly clear. The ascent of Steeple from this point is steep but never awkward. There is surprisingly little rock underfoot until the summit is neared.

The crossing of the arete to Scoat Fell is safe and short, but it does have some vertiginous moments. Once up on Scoat Fell, bear in mind the large cairn you reach first is not the actual summit; this lies east (left) along the summit wall, which you should also cross.

Red Pike
Red Pike, with Mosedale below and the Scafells behind

The ridge from Scoat Fell to Pillar is a very good one, with spectacular views of Red Pike, Yewbarrow and Scafell, but it is very bouldery in places. Sight of the final ascent up from Wind Gap elicited a groan from me, but it doesn’t last long. The summit of Pillar is, bizarrely, as flat and grassy as a bowling green; on the summit, take a sharp right turn, as the cairn straight ahead marks the descent via the top of Pillar Rock, which would certainly be an exciting way down. (See walk 16.) Myself, I’d take the longer route via Black Sail Pass, a fairly gradual descent, though still with two or three steep bits.

Descent into Ennerdale
View from the descent back into Ennerdale. From left, Brandreth, Green Gable, shoulder of Kirk Fell.

At the top of the pass, turn left. Black Sail Hut will be passed in due course but unless you’ve had the foresight to book in for a second night out in Ennerdale, one must continue on. The nearest bus from here is in Gatesgarth — the nearest pub, Buttermere. Either way one must put in a last effort to ascend Scarth Gap and then drop down into the Buttermere valley. When the head of the lake is reached, Gatesgarth can be seen to the right; to reach the village, follow the lake shore to the left.

The still-long-and-even-harder Thursday commentary: I slept well enough in the Ennerdale YHA. There were only seven people staying there, and I was the youngest, at 49 — so much for the notion of a ‘youth’ hostel. It’s a very pleasant spot, decent food, the kind of place I could spend a week if it came to it. And in fact I plan to do just that next year, albeit not here, but in the Wasdale Hall YHA to the south.

Sheep on the Scarth Gap path
This flock of sheep were driven past me on the way down from Scarth Gap, in the day’s one bout of drizzle

There are a few walks that just can’t be done otherwise, including Haycock which after today still remains as an unbagged second-round notch in the Ennerdale ridge. That was a possibility for the walk out, but in the end I wanted to go up Steeple properly, and am glad I did, it’s a spectacular ascent once you get going on it, one of the best in the Lakes. It is fully in view from the YHA (see this picture below) and the approach up from the valley, once it levels out at the top of that ‘drove way’, provides an excellent view of the mountain and plenty of time to survey the ascent as you approach. A series of rocky towers as you approach the summit feel adventurous, the views down into the coombes on both sides are spectacular, and it can all be done without any sense of danger (though the subsequent ridge to Scoat Fell is a bit more awkward).

Steeple from the YHA
Steeple, as seen from the garden of the Ennerdale YHA

Of course, Steeple isn’t a ‘real’ fell at all; any objective measure of its status would simply recognise it as the most prominent of several rocky pimples on Scoat Fell’s north ridge. But no one ever said the Wainwrights were an objective fell list. They were the man’s choice, as subjective as it could be. And one can see why Steeple felt worth including, even if, as with Thunacar Knott (which has its only feature of note amputated from it in the form of the Pavey Ark chapter), Scoat Fell might feel somewhat aggrieved.

Another attempt to depict the rather good view down into Wasdale, from Pillar

Yes, this was a great climb, even if I didn’t really get to see Pillar Rock properly at all today. But I was tired, tired, TIRED. I think the steep haul up to Pillar’s summit from Wind Gap was what finished me off, and I still had half the walk to do by that point to get down to Buttermere and civilisation (and buses). I said after the first round that the Western Fells had the toughest walking both in terms of terrain and distance, and I stand by that after these two days. Hard but good today though. Superb scenery near and far. But what the guy who I passed on the way down to Black Sail, who was hauling his mountain bike up on his shoulders, was thinking he was going to do with it, I have no idea.

Looking east from Pillar
Looking east from Pillar, over Looking Stead and Kirk Fell to Great Gable

One final wrinkle was provided by the closure of the Whinlatter Pass road, a sealing off of a crucial Lake District thoroughfare that I had no foreknowledge of until getting on the 1624 bus at Buttermere and being told that it was going only to Lorton. The next Keswick bus was at 1715. So I ended up in Buttermere for an hour and forty minutes — had I finished the walk at Gatesgarth instead I would have been back in Keswick two hours earlier. Like the Butterfly Effect, my desire for a beer (and the Fish did serve Old Peculier…) caused escalating delays on the journey home.

It’s been a good two days but I need to get some rest and I need to do some work. There probably won’t be another walk until October now. t’s time I caught up on some Outlying Fells. Scoat Fell marked the mid-point of the second round (it’s a mild shame I didn’t manage to make this Middle Fell), but I’m still only 42% of the way through the OFs (49 of 116, after Ponsonby Fell yesterday) and that’s the volume I’m now most behind on.

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