Cumbria Scenes – 26.3.12

Blencathra, with its batwing sweep, its shattered yet symmetrical southern face, presenting across the wide Keswick-Penrith Gap, demands the eye, and once it has the eye, the attention is overwhelmed. Few who aspire to walk can look at its majestic aspect and resist the urge to ascend its heights.
In addition to its magnetic appeal, there is that beautiful ancient, sonorous name, yet, when I was young, it was close to forgotten: ignored, an afterthought in minuscule type appended to the name used by the Ordnance Survey, and the vast majority of the public; the utterly prosaic Saddleback.
The name comes from the eastern aspect of the fell, seen best in the early part of the approach from Penrith, and it tripped off the tongue, alliteratively, in company with the other half of the south-facing fells in that isolated region north of Keswick: Skiddaw and Saddleback.
Thanks, naturally, to Wainwright and his Guides, Saddleback is rarely heard. Walkers flood towards its summit every day, from all angles of the compass, but mostly from one of the many routes up that southern face.
Blencathra is a wide-angle lens fell, sweeping across the skyline between two mirror-image sweeping grassy outliers, Blease Fell and Scales Fell. Between, some gigantic hand has gouged four parallel channels down the face,hooking outwards to leave narrow gills near the base, separated by three steep buttresses: Gategill Fell, Hall’s Fell and Doddick Fell. Five fells, with five tops, the centre of which, Hallsfell Top, being the summit, four gullies, rough, steep and stony. No other fell has such a choice of ascents. Whilst Blease and Scales Fells are easy, grassy rambles, the inner seven routes are walks demanding strength, agility and stamina.
My favourite – and the most direct route to a summit in the Lakes – is by Halls Fell: a steeply contoured ascent for the valley bottom leading to a narrowing ridge, straight as an arrow, arriving on the top a yard from the cairn, and sufficiently stiff a walk that the massive view behind will come as a revelation because there will have been no dawdling and looking back on this climb.
The final ascent above Halls Fell itself is known as Narrow Edge: not so severe as Helvellyn’s Striding and Swirral Edges, nor Blencathra’s own Sharp Edge, about which I wrote shortly after the beginning of this series on CiFUnderground. But there is this stretch where, in order to progress, you must set your boots to this groove along the side of the ridge, whilst holding on to the crest for balance. Not too difficult, even with my stomach, but ladies and creatures under 5’5” may find it challenging.
The picture above is taken from the Castlerigg Stone Circle, above Keswick. It doesn’t show the southern face in its glory, but it does remind me of the climb described above: I descended via Blease Fell, prominent in this picture, headed towards Keswick, but turned off for the Circle on a whim. Stood in the middle of these ancient stones, staring up at Blencathra, where I had recently been, I was astounded to realise that I had been on the summit only one hour previous to that moment.

2 thoughts on “Cumbria Scenes – 26.3.12

    1. Hi fing, and thanks for the nice words.

      I hadn’t seen the link and the photography is fascinating. There was another Lakes feature this week on the Guardian: 10 of the best walks, of which only one comes anywhere near that standard. Very disappointing.

      All’s well here, and I’m going to be busy today, trying to get a new book into print.


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