Black Combe – The Outlying Fells 1,970′
Date: 29 August 1974
When Alfred Wainwright completed his legendary series of Pictorial Guides in 1966, it unleashed a flow of letters from his eager followers requesting Book 8: The Outlying Fells. With his eyes on the Pennine Way, Wainwright turned his fans down, but in 1974 he complied with their wishes, producing a guide to all those hills and fells that fringe the Lake District he defined for the Guides. The number of tops thus incorporated is slightly nebulous, including as it does a dozen nameless points that some indexers include and some overlook. By either count there are over one hundred. Given that, alone and en famille, I and we were always directed to the ‘real’ fells, it comes as no surprise that my count of these never got out of single figures, but no real account of ‘All’ is properly titled All if it leaves these out, so this brief coda will sweep up these other walks.
The Outlying Fells appeared in 1974 and we bought it more or less immediately, and used it to climb the second highest fell in its pages, Black Combe, one of the most prominent fells in the Lakes, however you define it. It lies in the extreme south western corner, just across the estuary from Barrow-in-Furness, a broad, sprawling rounded fell impossible to overlook. To get to Ravenglass, and points beyond, we had to drive round two sides of it, there and back. Anyone travelling the coast road passes beneath it’s bulk. Because of its isolated position, and its prominent elevation over any fells between it and Eskdale, it commands one of the widest views in the country. It might not look elegant, and Wainwright may have ruled it out, but it was a commanding destination and we decided to climb it. The easiest route was from the Whicham valley, through which we passed every time we headed for Ravenglass. Not far short of its terminus at the coast road, the route passed a derelict school at the foot of the walk (it’s toilets were, surprisingly, still functioning, which was handy as this route obviously had no concealment for miles). The path was firm and continuous the whole way, at first ascending the confines of Moorgill Beck steadily, and then easing the gradient in sweeping curves across the upper thousand feet. There were no complications, nor, to be frank, excitements. Everything was there to be seen, all the way to the cairn, and down again by the same route, there being no alternative options, though we did visit the edge of the nearby combe that gives the fell its name before descending. It was a warm summer day with not much of a breeze which was a shame: the view might be outstandingly broad but there aren’t that many days when it was on show, and this wasn’t one of them. Haze limited the vista. Still, we had added our name to those of the millions who have climbed Black Combe, and it was our most successful family venture into the Outlying Fells. Our next trip would be far less pleasant.