Scafell Pike, from Great End

Scafell Pike, from Great End.

Date completed: 19th May 2012.

Weather conditions:  One of those rare days that improved as it went on. Dry and fairly still throughout; grey and dull until about 3pm, but by the time I arrived in Langdale it was sunny and pleasant.

Fells climbed: Seathwaite Fell (1970’, no. 173), Scafell Pike (3210’, no. 174), Great End (2984’, no. 175).

Calf Cove

Calf Cove, below Great End. The Langdale Pikes are just visible over the shoulder of Esk Pike.

Distance:  12.47 miles

Total ascent: 4167 feet

Start and end points: Started at Mountain View, just before Seatoller on the route of the #78 bus from Keswick (the summer-only #77 also stops here).  Ended at Dungeon Ghyll, the terminus of the #516 bus route from Ambleside.

Pub at end:  I have realised that I will never make the New Hotel at Dungeon Ghyll; not when it’s a mile or so further to walk than the Old Hotel.  Why go further after that trug down Mickleden, when there is good beer and atmosphere there: and a bus stop at the end of the drive?

Scene above Stockley Bridge

Scene above Stockley Bridge, near the start of the walk.

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 56: The summit of England

Route: As it climbs to the highest point in England, you should not expect this to be an easy walk – though nor is it appreciably harder than some of the others I have done. (Pillar, Scafell and that real little bastard, Yewbarrow, were all tougher walks.) The main problem is the terrain underfoot between Scafell Pike and Great End, which is awful, really: great care is needed on these inescapable boulders. The ravine scenery around the Corridor Route is very impressive. But in the end, the main reason you do this walk is because you reach the highest point in England. Which is why – a final bit of general advice – you don’t go on this walk expecting peace and quiet.

The final climb to Scafell Pike

The final climb to Scafell Pike, from Lingmell col. Those seeking solitude should be elsewhere.

Seathwaite Fell adds noticeably to the effort required (as is clear from the Route Card) and could be omitted by anyone not on a pure Wainwright-bagging run: although the view of the Seathwaite valley is good from the summit, there isn’t much other reason to do it.

Either way, start the walk from Mountain View rather than Seatoller to avoid having to walk a mile of busy tarmac: the lane to Thornythwaite and then on to Seathwaite is signposted and clear. After that, take the main path up the valley (following everyone else) but instead of turning left at Stockley Bridge, up the Grains Gill path, keep going up to Sty Head.

Should you then want to climb Seathwaite Fell, bear left, up the bank of the stream you cross a few hundred yards up from the last wall; the route up to the skyline is fairly clear, though there is not really a path. The summit should be easy enough to find: remember that in this case, the ‘official’ summit is not actually on the highest point of the fell but sits overlooking the valley below.

Ill Crag, from Great End

Ill Crag, one of Scafell Pike’s subsidiary summits, from Great End

Make your way through the hillocks and tarns on top of the fell by heading for Great End ahead until Sprinkling Tarn comes into view. Bear to the right of the tarn to join the main Sty Head – Esk Hause path, and go downhill a little way until you reach the bottom of the Band (the shoulder sticking out from Great End on your left), where the Corridor Route heads off to the left. (Should you not have done Seathwaite Fell but stuck to the main Sty Head path, you will approach this from below, and it will be on your right.)

The Corridor Route then heads off across the face of the Scafell Pike range and its many impressive ravines. The only point at which advice should be needed is after crossing the first one, Skew Gill; look for the path slanting diagonally upwards, don’t take the more obvious one heading along at the same altitude as this will lead to difficulties later – see the advice on Wainwright’s page Scafell Pike 16. You will eventually come out at the top of Piers Gill (see picture) and then just follow the multitude of cairns – and people – up over Lingmell Col and then up the stony face of the Pike itself.

The top of Piers Gill.

The top of Piers Gill. I remember being a bit disappointed by this back on walk 20b, for some reason. Not today…

Once you get to the top, you won’t find a quiet place to rest, so don’t try. The ‘path’ (a line of cairns across boulders) back to Great End and Esk Hause heads over Broad Crag ahead, which is quite the stoniest place in England, I reckon: take care here and don’t think that you’ve somehow missed a path – there isn’t one. It does get easier once off Broad Crag, except for one more final passage of stones just on the shoulder of Ill Crag.

The path then slants down to the right out of Calf Cove, but if you want to add Great End to the day’s summits, bear left up its grassy back side; it’s not much extra effort and probably worth doing. Look for the impressive entrance to Central Gully just below the summit, though don’t assume that what you see here is a way down. The only way off is back the way you came, to Calf Cove and back down the main path.

Lingmoor Fell and Mickleden

The final stages: looking down Mickleden to Lingmoor Fell in the distance.

Follow the path (and all the people) down to Esk Hause and then turn right at the shelter for Angle Tarn and then Rossett Gill. The descent should cause no problems, but it’s a long one; five miles from Great End to Dungeon Ghyll. Distract yourself with the views of Bowfell above and Mickleden ahead, get to the pub eventually, and have a well-earned pint. You deserve it: you have successfully climbed the highest mountain in England.

Culmination commentary stuff: When this project first really came together, in autumn 2009, I decided that I would leave Scafell Pike until the end, making it what I thought would be a suitable climax to the project of doing the 214 without using a car.

Great End, from Lingmell col

Great End, from Lingmell col. The line of people gives a good indication of the direction of the Corridor Route, which slants across the bottom left quadrant of this picture.

However, as time has passed, it has become apparent that I will be finishing all these walks in the winter, probably at Christmas this year (2012). But the thought of having to find a good day of weather around that time, not to mention the limited hours of daylight, and the likely feeling of frustration if it doesn’t work out, encouraged a revision of those plans. So here we are. Today’s the nominated day on which Drew, for the first time, attempts to attain England’s summit.

Did I feel particularly ready? No more or less so than I have for some time. I know I can do it physically, in terms of general fitness and aptitude: my left knee is a worry but that’s not going to change. On the map, and in the pages of Wainwright, it looks a fairly tough walk, yes: but not appreciably more so than several others that I have done. Let’s just get on with it.

Derwentwater from Seathwaite Fell

Derwentwater, from Seathwaite Fell. Castle Crag (so dinky!) and King’s How (of Grange Fell) are in the foreground, Walla Crag lit up in middle distance. A rare appearance in the background for Mungrisedale Common, too (between Lonscale Fell and Blencathra).

I would have liked not to have to have done Seathwaite Fell first, but that’s another restriction of the project: unless I feel like coming back and giving up yet another day to do it. The main bonus of this is that it gets me away from the crowds for a while, and for the second walk in a row I get to have my lunch sat by a pleasant, peaceful tarn (Sprinkling Tarn in this case), looking at the hefty cliffs of Great End rising overhead.

The Corridor Route was then a good choice of ascent; not too busy, a couple of challenging sections but nothing major, and some awe-inspiring views of Great Gable, and Lingmell. The latter fell, and its ravine of Piers Gill, looked far more impressive today than they did when I was last around here, on walk 20b nearly two years ago.

At Lingmell col the hordes really do arrive: even Catbells was not as busy as this.  So do the stones.  There have been longer drags upwards, but except perhaps for Skiddaw, not stonier ones. You are always having to look down at your feet to avoid turning an ankle: and ahead, to avoid running into hikers coming down. So many of them look so unhappy. I like the fact that walkers on the hills will usually greet each other as they pass but almost no one does it here.

Scafell Crag

The mist came and went on the summit. Myself and one other lady who had camera ready were the only ones who would have got this shot: thirty seconds later and it had come back down again. Scafell Crag, from the final slope up to the Pike.

At the top, we are in light mist, so there are few views to distract anybody (except this one of Scafell Crag): even if there had been, most of the 50 or so people on the summit (no exaggeration) are more interested in taking photos of each other than of the mountains around. A group of youngsters, Scouts maybe, cluster around a big Union Jack, which I pedantically feel is somehow the wrong flag (we’re at the highest point of England, not the UK), but I’m not going to be the one to point this out. I manage to get myself up to the very, very topmost stones and stand up for a minute, the highest person in England: there is a full-strength mobile signal up there so I send Clare a message to mark the achievement (2.30pm, 19/5/12). But then it’s someone else’s turn, so I just climb down off the main cairn and that’s it.

Bowfell and Rossett Gill

View from the descent of Rossett Gill, looking up to the crags of Bowfell.

The worst is still to come, namely the traverse of Broad Crag: Wainwright does not beat about the bush in his description of its horrors, and nor should he: this is quite the worst ‘path’ in the 560+ miles thus far, and I’m extremely glad I didn’t ascend from Esk Hause as well as having to return that way, thus I only had to cross it once. But Great End’s back side is a lot easier and the summit quiet, with great views north to Borrowdale, and down the fearsome gullies of the crag to Sprinkling Tarn below, where I lunched some three hours and about half a million boulders earlier. (See the picture on the Great End page.)

The sun starts to come out and from Calf Cove all the way down, via Esk Hause and Rossett Gill, it becomes quite pleasant, with some great views of Mickleden and Bowfell. Once I get to Mickleden I am really quite tired and in need of a beer, but the final walk down the valley seems a very long one and I become conscious of the fact that the last bus out of Langdale is at 6pm; I make it to the Old Hotel at 5.40. At least we are staying in Ambleside tonight so I do not have to face the full journey home. Clare and Joe have been entertaining themselves there this afternoon and it was Clare who found us the pleasant B&B of Cherry Garth and its sizeable, comfortable family room.

Sergeant Man from Angle Tarn

Sergeant Man from Angle Tarn (this is the Angle Tarn I passed today, not the one I saw last week; that’s miles away).

I feel tired, though not unpleasantly so; happy that I have made it to the summit of England, but not really able to treat it as much more than just one more walk in the project, three fells bagged, fewer than forty to go now. Ultimately I am glad I did not leave it until the end because it was so busy on the top, with so many other people enjoying their own sense of achievement (and why not), that I think it just would have felt incidental in the end: it would not have been a good space in which to celebrate the end of the 214. And now, it won’t be. I am sure I’ll get up here again at some point – with Joe, say – but it will be left to another fell to serve as the venue for my own celebration. I do have some candidates, but I’m not committing just yet.

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One Response to “Walk 56: The Summit of England”

  1. […] Last weekend saw me (and Clare & Joe) spend the night in Ambleside. I needed to rest in the Lakes after my exertions on Saturday, for I finally made it up Scafell Pike, the highest mountain England, which was the centerpiece of walk 56. […]

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