Walker and dog on Bowscale Fell summit
Walking couple, on the summit of Bowscale Fell. Blencathra is prominent behind.

Date: 15th June 2021.

Weather conditions: Some cloud around at times, but otherwise, a near-perfect day, including a reasonable breeze that kept the temperature comfortable.

Summits bagged: As stated in the walk title — Bannerdale Crags (2241 feet above sea level, number 276 of my second round) and Bowscale Fell (2306’, no. 277).

Both were previously bagged on walk 21, which seems a very long time ago now (July 2010).

Sheep and High Pike
Today’s Formal Sheep Portrait, with High Pike in the background.

The walk also includes the Birkett of Bowscale Fell’s subsidiary summit, a.k.a. Tarn Crag, at 2,182 feet.

Start and end point: Began and finished at Scales, which is served by hourly X4 or X5 buses linking Penrith and Keswick. There is no bus stop sign in the vicinity but it is an official stop, and I have had this confirmed by drivers. To hail a bus heading back to Penrith, stand at the layby to the west (Keswick side) of the hamlet and indicate clearly that you want it to stop.

Distance walked: 9.5 miles approximately.

Total ascent: 2,100 feet approximately. All walks around here benefit from elevated starting points: Scales is 740 feet above sea level. But you do lose some height on this walk descending from Mousthwaite col.

Climbing the east ridge
Looking back down the east ridge. (The walker overtook me not 10 minutes later — see also the picture at the bottom of the page.)

Pub at end: Today was the first time since October (walk 185) in which I have managed to locate an open pub at the end of a Lakeland walk, and in minor compensation for this, today one can double up.

At the very end, there stands the White Horse in Scales. Some years ago now (January 2012) this place served me one of the largest meals I have ever had. It would be rude to not also stop off for a pint at the Mill Inn in Mungrisdale, which you walk right past. Both are good pubs and hopefully when you do this walk, Paranoia of some kind or another will not have waved its leprous hand and arbitrarily closed them.

View to Skiddaw
View over to Skiddaw.

Route: This is a very good walk with almost no defects. About the worst that could be said of it is that there’s one, five-minute period of awkward descent into Mungrisdale, and the final stages along the Southerfell road (nearly three miles) outstay their welcome somewhat — then again there’s a fine pub at each end of this stretch, which ameliorates the problem. The views of Blencathra (rarely seen from this angle), Skiddaw Forest and east to the Pennines are very fine.

A highlight is Bannerdale Crags’s east ridge, an excellent climb that is neither as difficult, nor as long, as it might look. Note one thing though — in bracken season (June to October) my ‘shortcut’, up the back of the east ridge, will not be possible. I just about made it on June 15th but the usual growth of this weed may have been retarded by a cold spring this year. In the summer, then, another mile or so of walking will be needed, and this detour will increase the risk of encountering swampy ground, which I avoided today (another plus point for the walk).

Souther Fell and Mungrisdale
Souther Fell, and Mungrisdale village, seen from the descent of Bowscale Fell.

From Scales, if you’ve got off the bus from Penrith, cross the A66 with great care, and take the narrow lane heading up past the side of the White Horse as far as a signpost on the left that points to ‘Blackhazel Beck’. This path takes you up the deep hollow of Mousthwaite Combe. Ignore the path that branches off to the left, which is for Blencathra.

At the top of the Combe, head right a short way then drop down the path that slants down to the infant River Glendaramackin below. Cross this by the footbridge (nothing will be gained by attempting a short cut), then turn right, along an easy, level path that traverses the southern end of Bannerdale Crags.

The Glendaramackin valley
In the Glendaramackin valley — and its bracken — below Bannerdale Crags.

Outside of bracken season, there seems little point heading all the way along this to the foot of the east ridge. A shortcut up the slope ahead is practical. However you arrive there, the upper towers of the east ridge do look a little intimidating at first, but it turns out to be a straightforward climb, with an obvious path almost all the way up. I would say it’s less hard than, say, Fairfield from Deepdale Hause, or the nearby Roughton Gill on Great Sca Fell, to name a couple of possible competitors. But nor is it disappointing in any way, being just rocky enough to be fun, and offering excellent, widening views.

At the top there is a large cairn near the escarpment, but this is not actually the summit of Bannerdale Crags; that is marked by a smaller cairn about fifty yards away in the direction of Blencathra.

The best way to Bowscale Fell is along the edge of the escarpment, though this path will not take you to the summit, so you need to bear left off it before it begins to descend.

Bowscale Tarn from above
Bowscale Tarn.

From this second summit of the day there are various possibilities for descent. Although not the shortest way down, I recommend my route (‘route 4’ on Wainwright’s page Bowscale Fell 5-6) because it offers a view of Bowscale Tarn, which will otherwise not be seen today. The ridge goes over the Birkett of Tarn Crag and is easy walking until the very final stages, when care is needed at an awkward, steep section that is not helped by the encroachment of gorse bushes. But this does not last long. At the bottom, bear to the right of the old quarry, rather than left, and you will come out into the northern part of Mungrisdale village. The Mill Inn should be easy enough to find, nestling below the butt end of Souther Fell.

It’s a damn shame buses don’t come up this way, but alas not, so after having a pint there is more walking to do. The nearest bus stop is at the point where the main Mungrisdale road meets the A66, but there are no further refreshments here, and so my recommendation would be to head instead along the back road to Scales, where the White Horse can accommodate you.

View towards Lakeland from the Southerfell road
The view towards Lakeland from the final stages. Clough Head is the most prominent peak (as usual in this area).

This lane has several gates on it which deter usage by cars (though expect cyclists to pass you), and good views of Great Mell Fell then, eventually, the rest of Lakeland, but it’s still a longer haul than desired at this point. Allow an hour from pub to pub (I took 55 minutes).

Vaccination commentary: The month of May has usually been a productive one for walking. When I’ve missed doing so in previous Mays (2011 and 2013) it has been because I’ve been out of the country. I even managed one in the otherwise desolate time that was May 2020 (walk 177). But May 2021 passed me by.

This was not due to the Great Fear, but rather the weather, which for most of the month was unusually cold and wet. Where I did have gaps in my work responsibilities, damp greyness, even some wintry weather in the middle of May, put me off. But June has been sunnier than usual, and today was a very good walk in excellent weather.

Towers of the east ridge
Looking up to the towers of the east ridge. The walker proves descent by this route is also practical.

Further deterrence comes via the deterioration in the rail service, particularly the deletion of the former, vital, 8:05 service from Preston to Penrith. There is now a two-hour gap, at peak time, in services and I can’t get to Penrith in the morning before about 10:00, an hour later than pre-Paranoia. OK, there’s still the Windermere option but I prefer not to rely on The Oxenholme Connection entirely.

Today’s walk, being the one I had left to do that was the nearest to Penrith, was not made impractical by any of this (that’s why I did it), but with the various operators on the West Coast main line now insisting that I have to have a reservation to travel on specific (mostly empty) services, this also jacks up the price: I paid £62 for my public transport today. Just as well it was a good walk. But this is not a sustainable situation — in any sense of that term.

Mungrisdale chapel
Mungrisdale chapel.

I walked the day after Our Glorious Leaders decided that the country couldn’t yet be trusted to make its own decisions about risk and health, and kept the vestiges of ‘lockdown’ going for another four weeks. Let me just say this. I have been vaccinated. Clare’s been vaccinated. Even Joe is having his first vaccination, today as I type this. And just as I don’t live my life in fear of polio, say, or rubella or hepatitis B (just to name a couple of the other, much more harmful diseases for which I have received a vaccination at some point), I’m buggered if I’m going to live my life in any fear of this one.

I hope every business that is suffering under these arbitrary and pointless restrictions sues the arse off the government that has forced them to close — and as for the Labour Party, don’t get me started; if Keir Starmer thinks I’m ever voting for his lockdown loving lot ever again he is mistaken. I will not ‘Stay at Home’ again, not now and not ever. What was the vaccination programme for, if not that?

Top of Bannerdale Crags
The top of Bannerdale Crags, from the upper part of the east ridge. Also pictured; the same walker as mentioned earlier, thus demonstrating his superiority over me.

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