The Great Slab, Bowfell

The Great Slab of Flat Crags, on Bowfell. Langdale Pikes behind.

Date completed: 19th March 2011.

Weather conditions:  Not as good as was promised, both via the weather forecast, and a glorious sunny morning in Keswick (see picture below). Generally cloudy for most of the way round and, on the tops, still pretty wintry and at times these were plunged into full mist. However, Langdale was quite springlike.

Fells climbedEsk Pike (2903’, no. 105), Bowfell (2960’, no. 106).

Distance:  8.87 miles.

Sunny morning in Keswick

A sunny Saturday morning in Keswick town centre.

Total ascent:  3145 feet.

Start and end points:  Started at Mountain View, which is the stop before Seatoller on the #78 service (and in summer, the #77 also serves it) – grid reference NY251137 (what’s this?). Ended at the Dungeon Ghyll Old Hotel in Langdale.

Pub at end:  Obvious from above. Save being a couple of orders of magnitude more busy, it was much the same as at the end of walk 29.

A word of commendation also to the Sandwich Shop on the market square in Keswick, which might have an unoriginal name but supplied some very nice grub for a packed lunch, and for a reasonable price too (under a fiver for a big and tasty baguette, crisps, a big bottle of orange juice and an apple).

Route card: Click here to download a route card which includes an elevation profile (how hilly the walk is), waypoints with grid references, and a summary map. Route card for walk 34: Esk Pike and Bowfell

A crow at Esk Hause

The King of Esk Hause. This crow (or is a raven - I can't tell) was keeping a close eye on the Esk Hause shelter...

Route: There shouldn’t be any real problems routefinding here, mainly because so many other people have done this climb before and are going to be doing it with you. The paths are all clear except perhaps on the ascent of Bowfell from Ore Gap, where there are large numbers of cairns to guide you; though this is less true on Esk Pike which also lacks obvious paths, so this fell might prove tricky in poor visibility.

I should also point out that Esk Pike and Bowfell are both substantial fells in terms of altitude and effort required. This walk will be too much for young children or the less-than (or no-longer) fit. You are also going to be climbing to nearly 3000 feet, at which level the weather will be unpredictable regardless of what it’s like down in the valleys, so go prepared, with decent clothing, particularly at any time outside high summer.

Don’t stay on the bus to Seatoller as this then commits you to a mile of walking on a tarmac road that will probably be hideously busy with the cars of walkers who don’t feel like using the regular bus service. Get off at Mountain View and take the lane marked ‘Thornythwaite’ and ‘Public footpath to Seathwaite’, which heads off left into the fields before reaching the farm. It’s a good way to start the day, although a bit muddy.

Seathwaite scene

Seathwaite scene.

After leaving Seathwaite the only point at which you need to pay some attention to the route is immediately after crossing Stockley Bridge, an important junction – the right-hand path heads up to Sty Head, but your route lies to the left, immediately behind the wall. This heads remorselessly up the increasingly impressive valley of Grains Gill; impressive both for the ravine of the gill itself, the widening vista of Borrowdale behind, and most of all for Great End ahead, which looks extremely dramatic (see picture below).

Once things level out a bit, below the cliffs of Great End, turn left (away from Great Gable). It then matters little which path is taken as far as Esk Hause; though the left hand one (junction at NY231086) is a slightly longer way round, it has the advantage of leading you to the shelter which is a decent place to sit down – the other path is shorter but has no such comfort. Once at the true Esk Hause (see the advice here given on Wainwright’s pages Esk Pike 3-4) the route up Esk Pike is not obviously blessed with a path but I guess the best plan is just to keep going up.

I think the descent from Esk Pike to Ore Gap would be difficult in poor visibility; there do not seem to be many cairns to guide you. The opposite is true on the climb up from Ore Gap to Bowfell, however, which is blessed by more cairns than I’ve ever seen anywhere, there is literally one every 20 feet or so, and seeing as I did this climb in the cloud I can attest to their usefulness.

The cliffs of Great End

The snow-filled Central Gully splits the huge cliff of Great End into two.

Bowfell’s summit is covered in boulders in enormous profusion, and is thus the spikiest summit I’ve been to so far, so be careful up there and don’t break your ankle. Routes down are then fairly obvious – just see where everyone else is going – it’s steep, but not too bad, down to Three Tarns. After that things get much easier and the walk down The Band is a decent descent, not too steep, not too stony, and great views. Walk through the yard of Stool End farm at the bottom and then head for the pub/hotel, with its bus stop just at the end of the drive.

Headliner commentary: Following yesterday’s opening act of the High Spy and Catbells ridge, I stayed over in Keswick and finish off the double bill today by bagging two of the highest fells in Lakeland, Esk Pike and Bowfell. The latter being the sixth highest mountain in England at 2960 feet, or just over 900 metres. Well, it was about time I bagged some of the bigger ones, it’s been a while.

The most noticeable thing about the day was quite how many walkers there were who felt the same way. If Catbells had grabbed the record yesterday for the busiest fell, today’s walk surpassed it. Once into Seathwaite – the lane to the farm packed with dozens of cars even at 9.45 am – I was part of a continuous stream of walkers heading up to Esk Hause. Though the majority of them then swung right on the path up to Scafell Pike, leaving Esk Pike less busy (though not deserted either, not by any means), once Bowfell was reached the crowds came back in full force.

The weather was a bit disappointing but only detracted slightly from the dramatic views all around. This was the first walk since Scafell in July last year which has taken me into the heart of the district, the prime walking territory that lies around Esk Hause and Sty Head. Great End is the most impressive object seen on the walk, dominating the ascent of Grains Gill, until reaching Bowfell’s summit anyway whereupon the Great Slab nicks the day’s award; it’s a quite amazing, enormous, flat slab of rock. Two hikers gingerly inching their way down it provide the best picture of the day, shown at the top of this page, although I also grab another one of the path to Bowfell up from Three Tarns which was nice because it was unexpectedly good, I just pointed and clicked. (Here it is.) Otherwise the light wasn’t really great for photography.

Bowfell, path to Three Tarns

Looking back up to Bowfell from the path down to Three Tarns.

I note also the bright yellow helicopter which buzzes around on two separate occasions, first around the summit of Scafell Pike and then up Langdale (see this picture of it in front of Loft Crag). I assume this is Mountain Rescue, and even if I’m wrong I am reminded that I’d committed to sorting out the sponsorship arrangements for this project before I got to the halfway point; which is now only one fell away, Bowfell being number 106 of 214. Mountain Rescue are going to get half of what I raise, the rest is going to looking after woodland near my home in Hebden Bridge. I’ll have it sorted within a couple of weeks.

I have little else to add about the walk itself except to note that Pike O’Blisco looks very impressive on the descent (though I don’t really get a decent photo of it). Back in Langdale there’s time for a pint at the Old Dungeon Ghyll before the bus arrives and starts to ferry everyone home. But on that subject I feel I must add something, and because I don’t want to spoil the good vibes from this two-day double bill, I’ll do this as an appendix.

Helicopter in front of Loft Crag

Mountain Rescue (?) helicopter in front of Loft Crag, one of the Langdale Pikes.

Appendix: Another rant about public transport and the government (optional)
On the bus down to Seatoller I overheard a conversation which basically confirmed some fears i expressed last time about the disappearance of rural and ‘unprofitable’ bus services from the region. Specifically, the gentleman was talking about the disappearance of service 217 which links Ennerdale Bridge and some nearby villages with Whitehaven and Cockermouth. I checked later, and actually it is not disappearing completely – see for information on what buses are being withdrawn across Cumbria – but what remains is just a single Saturday bus, no use to anyone who might depend on the service during the week – and the gentleman talking to his friend on the bus says he knows of a few people for whom this is true. In any case there is now no alternative to getting a car to this remote spot at any point other than Saturday, for visitor or resident, so into our cars we must pile.

Then there is what happened on the bus from Ambleside back to Windermere station at the end of the day. The bus is packed by the time it leaves Ambleside, so that about 12-15 of us are standing  on the lowest level. This is already casting some doubt on the wisdom of the general policy of Cumbria county council, who are cutting subsidies given to bus services. And let’s face it, as petrol prices rise and (you’d like to think) we all start to develop something of a sustainable outlook on life, buses seem a sensible option. And you can relax, not worry about parking, have a drink the pub. The Lakes have been packed for two days, it’s quite understandable a lot of these people might choose to use a bus. The 555 is a good service, it links directly with Windermere train station and a train which goes all the way back to Manchester Airport.

So pity the ten or so people, at two stops (Waterhead, and just north of Troutbeck Bridge) who see the bus pull up and then, when they try to get on, are told by the driver simply that they cannot, that the bus is full. The second time this happens I (not being the type to keep quiet about this kind of thing) raise an objection, saying that actually there is standing room back in the centre of the bus if people want to move back. He says – and I quote – “I’m the driver and if I say it’s full it’s full”.

Scene near Esk Hause

Scene near Esk Hause.

Here’s the world we will have when everything is governed by privatised companies, like Stagecoach, who don’t give a toss about the customer except as a source of revenue and whose boss Brian Souter once donated half a million pounds of said revenue to a campaign to stop the repeal of clause 28 (the fascist and homophobic ruling banning the ‘publicisation’ of homosexuality brought in by Thatcher’s government). His company are the ones who’ve creamed off the profitable services, but all sense of service has gone. No sense of actually trying to help people remains. We are mere cattle, feeding Souter’s pockets.

Meanwhile, the local bus companies who were the ones depending on the council-subsidised services have had chunks of their support ripped away. Never mind that these services are not even printed in the glossy ‘Cumbrian bus services’ booklet that Stagecoach can afford to put together and distribute to tourist information centres as if it is the last word on bus services in Cumbria. You won’t find the 111 service to Burnbanks in there or the 217 to Ennerdale Bridge, which are losing buses (though not disappearing completely, I admit). No wonder these companies are starved of cash, no wonder they have to cut services back and back. With one fell cut of public spending even these remaining scraps are gone and now it’s all owned by the gay-bashing philanthropist who can pay his employees to tell potential paying customers to fuck off and then when a passenger makes a comment about this says ‘I’m the driver, what I say goes’.

This is the world we are being driven towards, do you want it? Did you vote for it?


One Response to “Walk 34: Esk Pike and Bowfell”

  1. Paul Cramo. said

    Excellent page. Really enjoyed the bus service comments. To get along in this day and age it seems you have to ‘perceive yourself as a robot'(Christopher Isherwood) Thanks again, Regards from Cornwall.

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