The highest mountain in England, is Scafell Pike in the western Lake District. With a summit height of only 978 metres or 3,209ft, it is quite short compared to its European neighbours, with a non-technical ascent route to the top. However, due to its proximity to the Irish Sea; poor visibility due to clouds forming around the summit plateau can often occur. Furthermore, many people only experience Scafell Pike whilst taking part in the gruelling ‘Three Peaks Challenge’. However, these issues can be avoided and a relaxing day in the great outdoors can be had by avoiding the madding crowds and bad weather.
Here below, is an account of my climb from Wasdale via Lingmell Gill to the summit. Then a longer return via the rugged beauty of the ‘Corridor Route’ and the Wasdale Head.
The start of the walk begins in the small hamlet of Wasdale Head, which is far away from almost anywhere! When exiting the nearest motorway, at Junction 36 of the M6, you will still have over 50 miles or two hours of winding narrow roads. Therefore, I would strongly recommend staying locally to avoid being tired or too late on the mountain. The last ten miles from the nearest main road alone, has to be driven slowly for all the blind narrow bends that make up the route.
When you are drawing near, you will not be able to miss the large lake on the right-hand side called Wast Water. At 79 metres or 258 feet deep, it is the deepest lake in England. Passing along the shoreline, there are numerous laybys with idyllic pebble beaches looking out over the lake; yet camping is strictly prohibited by the omnipotent owner, the: National Trust.
As you reach the far end of the lake, your view starts to become obscured by hedges and trees. Not long after this, there is a turning on the right signposted as a car park for climbing Scafell Pike. Although this car park is closer to the easy ascent route I have taken, the National Trust charge you £10 for the pleasure.
If you want to save money you haven’t got, or for a celebratory half in the Wasdale Head pub. Then do not turn off but continue along the narrow single-track road. You will soon reach a wide grassy area where you can park for free on the side of the road. However, this means you have a longer walk across fields before beginning your climb. Furthermore, in summer and on most weekends between spring and autumn, this road and parking area maybe very busy. Therefore, try and arrive as early as possible.
A third alternative would be to stay at the National Trust campsite by their car park. Or the Wasdale Head pub or a few other nearby hostelries.
From either car park, the route to Scafell Pike is clearly signposted. Leaving from the free roadside car park, you can begin climbing on the hill in front of you. Or follow the river to the National Trust car park. Going this way, you will soon cross the bridge in the photograph below. Looking up and to the left in the picture; you can see the wide gentle valley in which you will gain most of the altitude.
A gentle climb by the babbling Lingmell Gill
Crossing the bridge, the path passes a lone house surrounded by trees, whilst following the right bank of the stream. Not long after this, a wooden bridge takes the path to the left bank of the stream. Here, the climb begins in earnest up a steady staircase of stone. Settling into a rhythm, I stopped often to adjust my rucksack, take off layers and sip from my water bottle. All the while, the babbling, bubbling sounds of the Lingmell Gill stream could only relax me into a more natural way of looking at the world. After being stuck in a car to get to the foot of the mountain; I was now returning to the natural pace of a native.
After approximately 500 metres of steady climbing up a good path, you will come to where two waters meet. Choosing a point to cross the left stream, to follow the right stream up, is for you to decide. Following the line of the path, I would have been crossing water of at least three feet deep. Walking further up the left stream I encountered a kindly China man who was helping his family to cross at a shallower point. He shouted over the noise of the babbling waters that it was best to take off my socks and boots and wade across bare footed!
Realising his sound logic, I gingerly stepped into the ice-cold waters with my poor little pale feet. The water was cold and the current fairly strong. Yet using a trekking pole for balance and instructions of the best route, I made it to the far side. I thanked my fellow traveller for his sound advice and put my socks and Lomer boots on. Whilst crossing the cold water, my heart had naturally pumped warm blood to my feet to try and keep them warm. Now I had my socks and Lomer boots back on; my feet felt so comfortable and warm. Happier still for achieving this little challenge and sharing a joke with a kindred soul.
I soon gained height on this well engineered path of smooth rock. Every so often, I would pause to rest or sip some water, whilst looking back on the changing views of Wast Water. A beautiful view of a wild but wonderful place which my words will never really be able to describe.
Climbing further still, the higher slopes of Scafell Pike loom into view over a grassy ridge. However, there was a lot of cloud cover that rolled slowly over the summit plateau. Shortly after reaching the point shown in the photo below, a smaller path forks off to the right. Ignore this path as it would take you away from Scafell Pike to the neighbouring Scafell or over a pass to the southeast; from which there is no safe access to Scafell Pike.
Taking the path that forks to the left, I passed over the boggy headwaters of the streams below. The path is still very clear to follow here, with many other walkers appearing like cairns in the distance. Shortly after this, the gradient eased as I entered into a grassy plateau. With the cloud covered Scafell Pike and the rounded peak of Lingmell on my left; I was now stood in Lingmell Col. At this point, if there are too many people climbing Scafell Pike for you to feel comfortable; then Lingmell is a worthy substitute. With sweeping views from Great Gable to Wast Water and beyond.
The higher slopes of Scafell Pike
When reaching Lingmell Col, the clouds began to part, and a beautiful view opened up to the east. I could clearly see Great Gable across the valley, Sprinkling Tarn on the route home and even Helvellyn in the far distance. I found it is amazing, that every time I stopped to rest, or the clouds parted; a new view would appear before me.
Taking a moment to let a large throng of organized walkers pass by; I noted the path heading straight forward, towards what is known as the ‘Corridor Route’. This would be my way home, so I made a mental note of what to look for after ascending to the summit of Scafell Pike. Relaxed and free from tailgaters; I began the climb of the bare rock summit ridge. Although the path was clear and marked with the occasional cairn; this part of the route may become difficult in heavy rain or fog. Taking care on stretches of smooth rock; I made my way upwards.
Following the well-worn path, I slowly gained height. The air was noticeably colder here as I reached the base level of the clouds that lingered around Scafell Pike. Here I encountered many more fellow walkers; yet patiently waited for those navigating a difficult step or politely asking to pass slower walkers heading the same way. I know some people are obsessed with the fastest times on Strava and try to beat their own shadow up the mountain; yet I was here to relax and enjoy my natural pace.
Taking it steady I soon saw figures of people on the misty summit. After the First World War, the mountain was donated by the landowner to the National Trust. As a way of remembering the local men that fell in France; a large cairn was erected on the summit. I will not show any photos of this cairn for I think you should climb Scafell Pike and see for yourself.
I understand that due to the remote and difficult location, that any elaborate memorial may be difficult to erect. Yet this cairn saddened me. For a start it was built over the summit, which to me signifies that some man thinks he can go higher and conquer the achievements of Mother Nature. Secondly, if the memorial was for the fallen men of the Lake District; then would a simple stone cross been more respectful? Maybe with the names of each man chiselled into a memorial made from the summit stones? The National Trust are happy to take money from their monopoly on car parks. Yet it seems they truly fail to respect a very large and meaningful gift?
The return via the Corridor Route
After the obligatory summit selfies and ham sandwich; I retraced my steps down to Lingmell Coll. As the ground levels, you will clearly see the path leading to the right. If it is a clear day; you will see the same view as in the photo above. This is the start of what is known as the Corridor Route. A path that descends over bare ledges of rock towards Seathwaite in the east.
The upper slopes are fairly gentle with grassy areas. Ideal for a picnic and even pools of water for a summer swim! Descending below the base level of the clouds felt good too. As the visibility meant I could enjoy the views and see the way ahead.
We walked past pools of clear fresh water; in which the sky could clearly be seen in its reflection. It was also an opportunity for our labradoodle Bonny to do a spot of wild swimming. The air was still after the windy summit plateau, and I felt happy and relaxed in this serene place.
Descending further, the ground started to fall away on our left into a deep ravine. This ravine is known as: Piers Gill and is shown clearly on an Ordnance Survey map. The jagged and twisted rock formations were just as impressive as the numerous waterfalls that fell between them. Here the path became very narrow as it found a way along a steeper rock face. There are no sheer drops near the path; yet prudence is needed, especially in bad weather or leading young children.
After a couple of narrow sections as shown in the photo below; the view opened across the Wasdale valley to the mountains of Kirk Fell and Great Gable. The path here consisted mainly of worn flat rock, which created a rough stone staircase over the uneven slopes.
We soon approached what appeared to be a sheer face with a steep path leading down to the left. However, looking at the rock face a faint arrow pointed upwards! Indicating that the best path was up over this twenty-foot cliff. Taking care, I lifted Bonny up to a ledge above my head then climbed up myself. I have learnt that when climbing in this fashion; it is important to maintain three points of contact at all times. In other words, only move your hand or foot when your other three points have a firm hold.
Just before we reached the ‘Bad Step’ a young man marched past without even having the time to say hello. When he reached the Bad Step just minutes before us; he naturally avoided the sheer face and walked down to the left, as shown in the phot below. Take care, this short scramble has been the scene of many accidents. Check out the local mountain rescue website, for details of past rescues. As well as sage advice and a much more professional explanation of the route. https://www.wmrt.org.uk/
After safely climbing the Bad Step, the path and gradient soon became much more civil. With a gentle descent to a plateau called Styhead Pass on the map. In the distance, it looks like someone has left a barbecue high on the mountain side. Yet when you draw near, you can see it is a shelter for storing a stretcher and other mountain rescue equipment. If you turned right here, past Sprinkling Tarn, you would descend into the next valley, to the village of Seathwaite. However, our car was behind us at Wasdale, so we turned to the left.
Back in the valley
Cresting a small ridge, the Wasdale valley opened up in all its glory. Now bathed in the rich colour of evening light; it was like walking into a painting. Although Wasdale still looked to over hours walk, I was relaxed and very happy here. I let my feet and legs find their own pace on this gentle descent. Nearing the valley floor, the stone path was replaced with lush green grass. Allowing gravity to do the work, I allowed myself to rundown over these grassy slopes whilst laughing out loud with joy.
We crossed a wooden bridge over a dried-up stream, where Wast Water came into view once more. Our labradoodle Bonny was covered in thick mud from playing in muddy puddles further up. So, I threw a stick into the clean waters below the bridge where the cold waters washed here coat clean!
Not long after, we reached the valley floor. Walking along a farm track, with fields either side of healthy Highland cattle and Herdwick sheep. Reaching the group of trees shown in the photo below; England’s smallest parish church. St Olaf’s church was first established when Vikings settled here as farmers over a 1,000 years ago! It is open every day, so stop to pay your respects. You can find out more on their website, here: https://wasdalehead.church/
From here, the Wasdale Head Inn is just 100 metres across a field if you want to pay respects of a different kind. If I was to return to the area; I might park at Seathwaite and climb up the Corridor Route to Scafell Pike. Then descend the Lingmell Gill and stay at the Wasdale Head pub for a night. After recuperating in one of their rooms, I would then have the gentle climb back over Styhead Pass to Seathwaite. To checkout accommodation at the Wasdale Head Inn; here is their website: http://www.wasdale.com/
However, this time; I forgot my wallet! So, we walked back across the valley floor to the National Trust car park. Here, although most of the path was over lush grass and through the woods by the campground. In places, the path had been washed away by the wide streams. It was okay to get wet feet at the end of a walk; yet take care and maybe take off your socks and boots to cold feet on higher ground.
Therefore, thank you for reading my account. If you have got this far; I can assure you that climbing Scafell Pike is much easier and much more interesting. I am eternally grateful for my parents showing me the wonders of the Lake District every autumn half term. I have written about other nearby walks and hope to do many more in the years to come. Here are a few that I have enjoyed: Wast Water, Hidden Valley, Burnmoor Tarn & Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway and Wolf Hill.
So come and enjoy the Lake District when you can. Most mountains are safe to walk from spring to late autumn with only the need for warm clothes and stout footwear. Even on a hot sunny day prepare for a thunderstorm and take an emergency Snickers bar or two. Keep checking the weather forecasts and wake early to make the most of the day.
Yet remember that the mountains will always be there for you to relax on and enjoy. So, I finish with the words of Edward Whymper:
“Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are nought without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste; look well to each step; and from the beginning think what may be the end.” – Edward Whymper, in Scrambles Amongst the Alps
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