The Central fells

“The central part of mountainous country might generally be expected to contain the highest peaks,” wrote Wainwright in 1958, “but that is not so here”.

And that is shown by the different challenges of the central Wainwrights and the central Hewitts – there are 27 of the former, but the precise height-plus-prominence criteria of the latter mean that there are just four.

These include two of the Langdale Pikes, so they are hardly without interest, and I picked them up in a single eight-mile round.

Jump to the Northern fells

The path to Pike o’Stickle

Tuesday 2 October 2018. The central Hewitts, eight miles.

This is somewhat a walk of two halves, the blander pairing of Ullscarf and High Raise followed by two of the dramatic Langdale Pikes, Harrison Stickle and Pike o’Stickle.

From my base in Ambleside, I took the bus out to (nearly) the head of Thirlmere, and briefly touched Ullscarf Gill before reaching its eponymous top.

It’s an easy plateau stroll from here before the two craggy Stickles and the sharp descent from the second into Langdale, and the bus back (via a quick pint in the Old Hotel).

Another time, I’d do it in the other direction, so that the grandeur of the Pikes can be enjoyed in ascent. It would have been kinder on my ageing knees too. But I didn’t want to risk a long wait for the bus at the other end, with no pub and just  a few sheep for company.

The bus dropped me off at the Amboth turn. I had a short road walk with a few doubts, as there was a ‘road closed ahead’ warning on the Thirlmere side-road, but I rightly guessed that this would be further ahead than I was going, and in any case would probably not apply to pedestrians.

Soon after turning onto the hillside, I was clambering up beside a broken wall (left picture), but this bit of agony did not last long and I was soon out in attractive open country, with a good view of the green path ahead (right picture).

The path would take me up, on continually easing gradients, to the top of Ullscarf (2382ft, left picture). It’s no great shakes as a hill, but the ‘ridge’ south is attractive enough, over a few outcrops and never dropping below 2000ft until the final climb to High Raise (2500ft, right picture). With a bit of haze around, conditions weren’t great for photography, but it was good to gaze out towards the Helvellyn group.

Continuing south, there’s a very different, and it has to be said rather odd, prospect ahead: from here, the Langdale Pikes are bumps on the way, rather than the dominating ramparts that are seen from Langdale. No matter; let’s press ahead. There was at least a bit of brightness (left picture) after dropping down from Harrison Stickle (2415ft) en route to Pike o’Stickle (2326ft), which would be reached a rocky staircase. The Pike was a good place for a retrospective to Harrison Stickle too (right picture).

To make my way back, I returned to the dip between the two Stickles and then turned right for the Thorn Crag route into the valley. It’s a popular path, and one that has been granite-pitched to spare the fells from excessive erosion from fell-wanderers’ feet. I’ve never much enjoyed coming down such paths, however necessary they may be, and it wasn’t long before first my right then my left knee locked out. It was a slow and careful descent thereafter; thankfully, the knees unlocked when the steep slope was over, and I was still in time for a pint before my bus back to Ambleside.

The Northern fells

My first visit to this grouping was back in summer 1992, on a family holiday to the Lakes.

I was allowed out on my own for one day (as Barbara was heavily pregnant with Adrian and had a four-year old Matthew in tow, that was quite as much as I could have expected), and took myself up Blencathra (2848ft) by the classic Hall’s Fell ridge. I returned by Blease Fell and walked back to Keswick where we were staying.


Blencathra from the old road, near Scales

The three of us also climbed little Latrigg together – from the car park nearest the top – but at 1207ft it’s a touch short of Hewitt status. It did qualify though as Matthew’s first hill.

That left the Skiddaw massif and the so-called ‘back o’Skiddaw’ fells.

The latter came first, thanks to a quick two-day trip in 2017, with an overnight at the Great Lingy Hut bothy; Skiddaw and its neighbours had to wait till 2023.

Wednesday 16 August 2017. Carrock Fell and High Pike, nine miles.

It was a bit unfortunate that Adrian and I could not complete all we wanted in our sojourn at Keswick two weeks before (link coming soon). The plan had been to finish with the two days that I undertook solo now, using Great Lingy Hut bothy for an overnight. However, an opportunity soon presented itself, and the two days showed how a little ingenuity can fashion a great little trip to the hills for a (then) Londoner.

From Penrith station, the Keswick bus dropped me at the Mungrisdale road end. Not walking to walk all the way to the village by the road, I took a path through marshy ground from just below the bus stop.

It wasn’t easy to follow though, and from Blakebeck farm the path wasn’t evident, so I did divert to the road, though soon swapping by a track to the quiet lane on the west side of the River Glendramacklin.

Mungrisdale has a super pub, the Mill Inn, and I wasn’t going to pass by without popping in. We had a chat about what I was planning to do, and they warned me that the local fell runner had been up there earlier and said it was “rough on the tops”. That was no surprise; the tail end of a storm was passing through, with gusty winds down in the valley and the threat of rain later, so I wasn’t expecting a picnic.

Bowscale Farm

Bowscale Farm, just north of Mungrisdale, with Carrock Fell behind

The path up to Carrock Fell (2175ft) starts nearly three miles up the valley just beyond the farm of Stone Ends. From here a path slants up through the bracken to where a beck forces a way through a rock band guarding the fell. Like I do sometimes, I thought I could short cut a bit but the progress through the bracken was slow until I gained the path proper; not a sensible thing to do. Reaching the beck, I filled my water carrier with the two litres I would need overnight, stepped just a little higher, then was nearly knocked off my feet by the force of the wind.

So progress to the summit was not quick, with the need to steady oneself from time to time. The cloud was high though, so there was no problem working out where I was going. Carrock Fell is an interesting hill, a former hill fort, with plenty of evidence of mining, too, in the valleys south and north.

Carrock Fell

Carrock Fell, summit, looking towards High Pike

There are good paths towards the next hill, High Pike (2159ft). At the col is a hush, a reminder of some of those mine workings. A bit of rain started to come down, but it was dry at the summit. There is a bench here, not typical summit furniture, and a splendid view north beyond Caldbeck.

High Pike

High Pike, summit

Turning south, and not only was I in the teeth of the gale, but the rain came hard into my face. But there was only a mile to the bothy. I passed a couple of runners who had just popped into Great Lingy Hut – quite a relief to know it was still there! A relief too to the Mountain Bothies Association, who were about to take over maintenance of the bothy from the National Park. I settled in for the rough night. Not even earplugs were going to make this a quiet sleep!

Approaching Great Lingy Hut

Approaching Great Lingy Hut bothy

Thursday 17 August 2017. The Caldew Hewitts, 12 miles.

I did sleep quite well nevertheless. On a brief resurfacing at 4am, I wondered where had the wind gone: where previously it was a jet engine outside the ‘window’ (more like a glazed aperture), now all was quiet. I’d expected an easing, but not to stillness. On proper waking, beautiful sunshine greeted me; a wondrous transformation.

The bothy

The bothy with Blencathra in the background

The hut is somewhere around the 1900ft contour, and with today’s four hills in the low 2000s, I had a good advantage on the day. There was a little dip to Grainsgill Beck before the first hill, Knott (2329ft), and I was pleased to note that despite the overnight drenching the fells weren’t quite as wet as I feared they might be. It was good not to have to concentrate too much on puddle-hopping, with grand views south-west to Skiddaw and south-east to Blencathra dominating the skyline, as they were to do all day.


Knott, with Skiddaw behind

Great Calva (2264ft) followed without difficulty, before the day’s major challenge, the crossing of the River Caldew. This involves losing more than 1000ft of height, and it was bad enough descending, through heather – an initial thin path did not take me all the way to the valley. It’s easy enough in the valley, following the track used by the Cumbria Way, but I had to make a crossing opposite where Blackhazel Beck came down.


Heather on Great Calva

This is a notorious river crossing for there’s no bridge anywhere close and the river can rise quickly after rain. It was clear this wasn’t going to be a swift little hop so I looked for a good crossing place and tested it with a trekking pole: roughly knee deep in what looked as if it would be the deepest place, so achievable. Boots and trousers safely stowed, I carefully lowered myself in. It was cold, but quite fun. Inching carefully across, I was soon at the more shallow waters on the far side, and time to dress again. An important little practice; you can never be too skilled at river crossings, especially solo, and with no-one else around.

River Caldew

Crossing place on the River Caldew

There’s a path above Blackhazel Beck for most of the way up to Bowscale Fell (2303ft), or at least there is until I (probably) lost it. It’s one of those climbs that feels steeper on the ground than it looks on the map; just that gradient where you can’t (or, more properly, I now can’t) keep up a steady pace without occasional pauses. There’s no technical difficulty though, and since it was now afternoon, I hadn’t seen a soul, and the countryside all around was heaven-sent, the occasional pause was hardly a hardship.

There were a few old guys at the summit (I say this then aged 66) and we had a few words before they set off for Bannerdale Crags (2241ft), my last Hewitt of the day and easily reached by contouring round above the eponymous crags. I took a slightly wider line so as to give them some space but still got there before them. There were a few others around now too, but with Blencathra now much closer, it was apparent that the parent hill was far the busier.

Bannerdale Crags

Bannerdale Crags and Blencathra

As I descended to the Blackhazel – Glenramacklin col, I had a grand view of the Sharp Edge route to Blencathra’s summit. One of Lakeland’s classic scrambles, today it was one line of thrill-seekers. I’ve never climbed it, which is a shame, and probably never will now. But for me it was downhill all the way, occasionally meeting up with walkers heading up for the Edge, down to the White Horse at Scales. This is another friendly pub, though alas I was just too late for lunch.

River Glendramacklin

The upper River Glendramacklin, Sharp Edge on the left

It was easy now to get back to Penrith on the bus. If it had been raining I might have put my hand out on the A66 – there’s no official stop, but the barmaid told me that they usually stop with clear warning just a little to the west – but a more certain route, a pleasure on this belle afternoon, was to walk by the old road for a quiet half-hour to the Mungrisdale road end, and hence close the loop to the previous day, 24 hours plus 30 minutes before.

Wednesday 9 August 2023. Skiddaw and its neighbours, nine miles.

There’s no mistaking the bulk of Skiddaw (3054ft) looming above the town of Keswick. No wonder it’s a popular walk for holidaymakers, with a broad and easily-graded route to the summit. 

But you don’t get to attain Munro height without a host of neighbours to keep you company. Rather nicely, they lay themselves out into a good linear walk from the Ravenstone Hotel all the way back to the town, with a handy bus link to the start.

This morning, I was one of four dropping off at the hotel for the hills. The start though is not for the faint-hearted, with a steep bridleway taking you through woods to the open fell. It’s a while before the gradient relents, and you join the imaginatively-named The Edge, one of Lakeland’s better ridges. Its first top is Ullock Pike, which though a Wainwright is not a Hewitt, before Long Side (2408ft), which is both.

Looking down the start of The Edge

Long Side from the ascent of Skiddaw

From here, the ridge drops down to finish at a col containing Carlside Tarn, but just off route rises a second Hewitt, the grassy mound of Carl Side (2448ft). It’s barely ten minutes from one hill to the next, surely a Hewitt-to-Hewitt record.

It was difficult, though, to take my eyes off of Skiddaw on this short traverse. From the tarn, the path rises clearly and steeply, through the slippery slate this mountain is made from. Thankfully there’s some exposed rock on the steepest sections; but in the wet this could be a frustrating climb, with the effort to stop sliding back down.

Although it had been a clement if cloudy day, the high summit ridge of Skiddaw was exposed to the sharp westerly wind – a bit of a surprise to me, and no doubt something more to those who don’t experience a mountain high too often, not least the lad who was climbing bare-chested.

Skiddaw summit in the far distance

Blencathra from the Skiddaw summit ridge

So no great long lingering. I had two more hills to climb, both deviations from the walkers’ motorway coming up from Keswick.

The first, Skiddaw Little Man, is the more interesting, a miniature Skiddaw itself, and at 2838ft hardly lower. It attracted a goodly portion of walkers, unlike Lonscale Fell (2346ft), which is a grassy mound similar to Carl Side, so not a place to excite the spirit. Its lack of footfall does though mean that the path to it is on soft grass, unlike the gravel of the tourist path and the slate and stone abundant elsewhere.

And Lonscale Fell has an easy descent too, by the eastern fence above Lonscale Crags, with views over to Blencathra – not perhaps Blencathra’s most exciting side, but it prompted a few memories. Soon I picked up the Cumbria Way, passing the Latrigg car park, and down the excellent Spooney Green Lane back to Keswick.

Skiddaw from Lonscale Fell

The walkers’ motorway, from the lower slopes of Lonscale Fell