A Day on Blencathra

Last Saturday I was over in the Lake District in Threlkeld, a small village outside Keswick. Our family own a small cottage on the slopes of Blencathra that my father in his infinite wisdom bought in 1971 and I was doing the changeover. Threlkeld is great, the two pubs fine but dominating it all is my favourite mountain, Blencathra (or Saddleback to the uninitiated) which towers above the village in a series of sharp arêtes and deep riven valleys.

The weather was lovely, a spring heat that is not stifling but perfect to enjoy. I always make a point of climbing Blencathra every year – sometimes in high summer, sometimes in the snow and last Saturday just proved irresistible. From Threlkeld the best route by far is up the ridge of Halls Fell (Narrow Edge) which makes a bee line for the summit. It was about 2.30 when myself and Mist set off up the steep wooded lower slopes of the mountain. The car park was full to bursting and I met my first walkers descending in the woods, sweaty but very pleased with themselves – they at least had the sniff of beer in their nostrils.

The route takes a right turn after the trees and skirts the lower slopes of the wonderfully named Knott Halloo before arriving at a 2nd mountain stream above the kennels at Gategill. Here the climbing really starts and a zig zag path heads up the bracken coated fellside. More people were coming down, one stopped to advise me that I should be careful as the ridge above was dangerous (it is not) but most just stopped as they were being assaulted by an over friendly collie (Mist) who wagged her entire back end in a greeting for one and all.

I was testing myself a little as I had not done so much hill walking in the winter and not as fit as I would like to be, particularly as I have a number a 3 Peaks guiding days in the pipeline. Sweating profusely (me not Mist) I soon reached a marginal less steep bit of ground and stopped to look across the ridges to the east and Sharp Edge. Sharp Edge is a challenge and certainly in wet weather should be taken with extreme care but on a day like this would have been simply great fun.

However I was on Halls Fell and that is also great fun. I took to the crest of the ridge and with Mist scrabbling around ahead of me scrambled on. It is certainly possible to slip and badly hurt yourself and I know it can feel exposed but really the rock is great. A few years ago I took my then 5 year old daughter up and she loved it, fearless and sure footed. The trouble is that ever since then every other walk is ‘boring’ unless it involves some type of rock scramble!

One of the great things about this walk is the surprise and pleasure of landing exactly on the summit and the quite extraordinary view that suddenly presents itself to you. Narrow Edge actually becomes steeper in the last few hundred feet until suddenly you are up and in wide open spaces. No big cairn presents itself and the O/S pillar has been taken down, only the final few inches peeping up from the ground.

You could set up a cricket pitch on the summit area, flat short grass so typical of this area of ‘Skiddaw Slates’ offers plenty of places to sit and ponder the world. That is exactly what I did, with views to the south down St John’s in the Vale and the Helvellyn range, to the west across Derwentwater to the main Lakeland fells whilst to the north an empty wilderness of rolling hills and valleys (including probably the most pointless Wainwright of them all, Mungrisedale Common) such an amazing contrast to the sharp rocks and deep valleys through which I had just climbed. My thoughts went back to the times when I have camped on the summit and watched the sun come up over Cross Fell, to the many, many people I have climbed the fell with and to the time I climbed in darkness after a night in the Horse and Farrier – memories a little hazy on this one. Mist meantime had no such thoughts and was bust ingratiating herself with a party sat in the sun in an effort to steal their sandwiches.

The walk west from the summit along the high ridge is just pure pleasure. The views brilliant, the wide open spaces to the north contrasting to the cliffs to the south and the short grass offering comfort to sore feet, you could walk along here in bare feet or slippers. Mist nearly chased a bird off the cliffs but soon we were starting to descend the wide track down Blease Fell. Blease Fell is the easy route up but to me lacks interest as an ascent but as a descent it is spot on and as easy on your creaking knees as any descent.

The walkers on the fell were to a person happy and contented and why would they not be – one couple were sat on the fellside and had decided not to go for the summit – why not I asked, ‘We are too tired and want to just soak in the view before heading back south’ Well done them, the summit is not everything and certainly as time passes it is not everything for me.

Ever since completing the Munros and Tops I have been less bothered about ticking and have enjoyed many lower level walks. Having said that when the weather was so perfect, the mountain so full of interest there can be an added satisfaction of achieving a goal..I had climbed Blencathra.

Now for that pint of Jennings in the beer garden of the Horse and Farrier…..

Comments

  1. Darren says:

    I agree! Hall’s Fell ridge is a wonderful walk. Very under-rated fortunately.

  2. Chrissie Hossack says:

    Thank you so much for your reveiw of Blencathra. I have been wanting to do this walk/climb for a long time. I adore the Lake District and visit often with my border terrier Pip, who always accompanies me on my walks/climbs.

    I am now sorting out dates to do my walk soon. Thank you again.

    Chrissie and Pip

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