All the Fells: Kirk Fell

Kirk Fell – The Western Fells 2,630′ (192)

Date: 5 June 1994

From: Wasdale Head

For all that it’s a prominent, spacious, great grassy lumpish wodge of fell, thrusting itself out in front of Great Gable yet still managing to be overshadowed by it, Kirk Fell is a difficult fell to climb. At first glance, it seems as if it should be easy from Wasdale Head (from Ennerdale Head it might well be another fell entirely), but the only path on this side of the fell is one that goes straight up, literally, that Wainwright describes as unremittingly steep, and in other terms that permanently inoculated me from the urge to take that route. It’s there, it’s big, it’s green all over, but there’s something about Kirk Fell that makes the eye slide off it to more photogenic fells, namely, everything else you can see. Denied that route, any ascent I attempted of Kirk Fell, would have to be from either Black Sail Pass or Beck Head, and again Wainwright’s descriptions of the stringent routes involved, steep, rocky, requiring skill, experience and caution, did not seem conducive to attempting the fell from either side as part of a longer expedition. Funnily, I remember Kirk Fell appearing in an ITV TV Play titled ‘The Mosedale Horseshoe Club’, about a party of middle-aged walkers, two men, two sisters, who met each year to walk the titular Horseshoe, only to fail for varying reasons every time: that was either very-late Sixties or very-early Seventies, and I wouldn’t mind seeing it again, if it still exists. So when it came time, with the number of Wainwrights winding down, to account for Kirk Fell, I took it as a separate walk, driving up from Manchester one Sunday morning, to a Wasdale Head darkened by loose clouds that drifted around the higher tops. It was going to be up one way and down the other. My usual instincts kicked in and I headed anti-clockwise, towards Sty Head on a path I’d not taken in twenty-five years, before cutting off to head for Gavel Neese, which is every bit as arduous route as it looks from Down-in-the-Dale. Despite some glorious ravine scenery on the Kirk Fell side of the gill, I was glad to bear left on an easier gradient to Beck Head itself, for a breather. Then I tackled the spiny, rocky scramble onto Kirk Fell’s top, traversing the littered ground from one top to another as the cloud line danced only a short distance ahead. No point hanging round, or searching out the view down to Wastwater: another stony, loose, careful scramble, this one a little more severe to get me down to Black Sail and a descent back to the Wasdale Head Hotel that was much more familiar than anything my family would ever have imagined, to be followed by a Sunday evening drive home and work on Monday morning.