Blencathra via the Hall’s Fell Ridge

12th January 2012

Its been less than a week since I was last in Lakeland & right now I can only count myself lucky, for this is a walk I’ve had penned for quite some. Today I am joined by fellow walker Shaun Church, a Catholic Priest from West London, (Shaun’s surname kind of gives it away) No he didn’t change it by deed poll, it really is Shaun’s surname.

I first met Shaun back in September 2011 while on a ascent on Scafell, & although I only shared the last 500 meters or so to the summit with Shaun, I knew – despite the fact that Shaun lived over five hours drive away, he also like me, was transfixed by Lakeland. Shaun is no stranger to a good thorough long distant walk, as today will come in as training for his sponsored Coast to Coast solo trip he has planned in June of this year. 

So back to the walk….

After a few emails pinged back & forth this week, and as Shaun is spending a week away from the concrete jungle & residing with friends in Carlisle, we came up with two suggestions, the first being a walk from Hartsop to take in around four Far Eastern summits, the second choice was this one, Blencathra via The Hall’s Fell Ridge, this of course was weather dependable.

But anyone who knows me knows I’m a stickler for a ridge walk.

This is the kind of walk that sets the butterflies going from the start, it did with me months ago when I first penned it – only the bad weather has kept me away, as we finalised our route the Wednesday evening, those butterflies came flooding back…

And that can only be good for the soul.

Wainwright Guidebook
The Northern Fells

- The Hall’s Fell Ridge :

For active walkers and scramblers, this route is positively the finest way to any mountain-top in the district.   It is direct, exhilarating, has glorious views, and (especially satisfying) scores a bulls-eye by leading unerringly to the summit cairn.


Ascent: 3,674 Feet, 1,120 Meters
Wainwrights: 3, Blencathra, Mungrisdale Common & Great Calva
Weather: Overcast & Blustery am, Turning Bright & Sunny Midday, Highs Of 8° Lows Of 6°
Parking: Roadside Parking, Threlkeld Village
Area: Northern
Miles: 10.5
Walking With: Shaun Church
Ordnance Survey: OL5
Time Taken:  

Threlkeld – Hall’s Fell Ridge – Blencathra – Mungrisdale Common – River Caldew – Great Calva – Skiddaw House – Blencathra Centre – Threlkeld


Map and Photo Gallery



The Hall’s Fell Ridge.

Its 8:38 & a rather mild 6° as we park up in the sleepy village of Threlkeld. Myself & Shaun arranged to meet up at the Little Chef on the A66 at 8:00am – here we finalised our decision to climb the ridge & soon found ourselves at the designated CP.

We kitted up under the watchful gaze of school children waiting at a nearby bus stop & got our selves more acquainted. Shaun asked “waterproof trousers” yeah Shaun I answered, there wasn’t any rain forecast today, but per norm, the wind was howling & as I & Tim had recently found out, a pair of waterproof over trousers sure takes the bite away.


Crossing Gate Gill.

As we made our way across a very squelchy Bridleway, our boots & waterproofs giving way to deep mud not five minutes into the walk, we soon cross Gate Gill, here we get the first real profile of  Hall’s Fell Ridge, it distinctively has a natural curve along its narrow edge as you will see later, the peak you see at the top of the ridge is Hall’s Fell top & the summit of Blencathra.

But that is a while off yet.

We pick up the path at the bottom of the fell side off to the right, this path in sections is somewhat steep yet of excellent pitch, no sooner have you gazed upon Threlkeld Common & St Johns In The Vale did we find ourselves at the start of the ridge walk.


An uninterrupted long distance view towards Great Mell Fell & Little Mell Fell.

I’ & we, are a little concerned at sporadic gusts bouncing in between Blencathra’s buttress’s, at points along the lower flanks of the fell we momentarily stop & let the gust howl past. This however is short lived as the higher we got, the more secluded the ridge became.


And a little closer.


The start of The Hall’s Fell Ridge.

It became more & more apparent, the higher we climbed the more light we was losing. The cloud was rushing in & out of the fell side becoming more intense, but in the same breath, we were thankful that Gategill Fell sheltered us from the main gust.


Looking down on Doddick Fell,  Doddick Gill & Scales Fell from the ridge path.


Shaun gets to grips on one of many scramble points along the ridge.

I admit conditions weren’t perfect for a ridge walk such as this, wet & greasy rock meant careful footings, there are paths that flank the little scrambles such as this, which tend to swap over the ridge first, from the right then over to the left, or if that little adventure in you creeps out such as it did here,

Go right over the top.


Taken from Narrow Edge, looking down on the Curve I spoke about earlier, this is when the real fun begins.


Looking back down Hall’s Fell Ridge as the cloud starts to get thicker.


Blencathra’s summit & circular Trig Ring.

The camera had been put away for two reasons, one I needed to concentrate on the ridge & two, there really wasn’t anything to see which is such a shame. The last section of the ridge was blanketed by swirling cloud which added to the drama of the ridge walk, it was kind of eerie as we walked the backbone of Halls Fell not really knowing when the summit will just pop out in between the thick cloud, which is exactly how it happened.

The Hall’s Fell Ridge is a fantastic alternative to Sharp Edge or even Striding Edge, take it all in because before you know it, you’ll be at the summit pondering just as I did, I want to do it again!


The Saddle, Blencathra.

As we reached the summit one thing became instinctively apparent, the strong gusts were back, so here we both reach for the gloves & hat & make our way across to the top of Foule Crag, but first; I wanted, as I always do while on Blencathra’s summit…

Do some stone cross spotting.


The Stone Crosses of Blencathra

The first Stone Cross over to the left can be found just after leaving the summit while making for the path that strides the left hand side of the summit. The second Stone Cross in the middle is situated just after passing Blencathra Tarn. The third Stone Cross is more or less to the right hand side of the second – this being the first time I have seen it, I have only limited origins of two of the crosses, I was quite taken back when Shaun spotted the third, here is what Wainwright wrote about the Stone Crosses on Blencathra.

In view from the summit is a landmark that has aroused the curiosity of visitors for a great many years: a collection of white crystallised stones of high quartz content, laid in the grass in the form of a cross on the easy rise to the top of Foule Crag, north of the Saddle.

This cross (picture two) owes it existence to the industry of Harold Robinson of Threlkeld. Formally there was a very small cross here (locally ascribed as a memorial to a walker who lost his life on a rough slope adjacent) and Mr.Robinson, an enthusiastic lone hill wanderer who has climbed his favourite Blencathra hundreds of times, collected more stones (veins of quartzite occur in the native slate nearby) and extended the cross to its present size of “16 by “10 during a succession of visits from 1945 onwards.

A much smaller (picture one) but similar white cross on the southern slope of the Saddle is more recent, and the work of persons unknown.


Foule Crags.

The wind is high as we leave the summit here & take a left down a worn gravel path & Mungrisdale Common bound, you cant help but fall in love with its vast expanse.


Mungrisdale Common.


Ahead, the top of Great Calva from Mungrisdale Common summit cairn.

The path from the top of Foule Crags to Mungrisdale Common, is up there with one of the most solitary approaches to a summit anywhere in Lakeland, its a special place to me & to walkers alike.


Heading for Great Calva.

With the sun on our backs we now make our way over the grassy heathers & tussocks of Mungrisdale Common, its a steady descent, all the while I have my eye on a place to cross the swollen River Caldew.


Skiddaw remains defiant.


Crossing the River Caldew.

This was far harder than first thought, we are now amongst the Skiddaw Forest, it is a wild place & non more so – was the the River Caldew. I spot a stone beach whilst descending Mungrisdale & make for it, yet as we approach the swollen river the beach is at a wide part of the river – crossing here & making it to the beach on the opposite side of the bank would mean a wade through four feet of water, this of course we did not want.

I had read that the River Caldew can be jumped by means of a hop, skip & a jump, not today, the river snakes through the terrain, while the edges of the river bends may appear shallow, we are met by at least two/three feet of fast flowing water, admitingly not enough to bowl a man over, but enough to ruin his day.

We search the bank for a safe crossing, first we head west towards Skidda, only finding more swollen river & sometimes collapsed river bank, we turn around & head east, we continue along the river for five to ten minutes skirting swollen bog until we come to a severe bend in the river, its now or never, our entrance would be shallow, but we can see the opposite side of the river bank is much deeper, I turn towards Shaun, smile & say “do you have spare socks mate”

Shaun grins as I share my plan, Shaun – I’m just going to go for it – least splash, least wave, I’m not going to stop half way & pick my footings, I have my eye on a huge rock, its flat & it also has a foot of white scrawl bubbling over it…

I’m going for it, Shaun smiles as I say “you ok with this” yeah mate he replies.

One, two, three… IM IN!!

I make each rock as a target, as intended – the next thing I hear is Shaun right behind me, he does not hesitate & within seconds & what felt like minutes, we are on the opposite river bank.

We are not unscathed, the water made it knee level & despite me still having the waterproofs on, my socks are wet.

Next we had a more enduring 200 metre trek across swollen bog & deep heather ditches, this is a little exhausting, I’m now thinking that Shaun’s thinking why the hell (well maybe he wouldn’t have used that particular word) but why did I agree to accompany Paul!! he’s a blithering idiot! the guy doesn’t shut up, even when he’s buried up to the top of his inside leg, the guy never shuts up!

Well, I have my reasons, because in tow – I have a catholic Priest of whom I have just made him (yes made) him dredge himself across a rapidly swollen river, & now, to add insult to injury, he is in my footsteps drenched up to the eyeballs in freezing water & now, we are negotiating thigh high tussocks with trenches so deep they can make a man disappear.


One of six circular sheepfolds found within the Skiddaw Forest.

I again, am compelled to share the thoughts of Alfred Wainwright.

The Sheepfolds of Skiddaw Forest.

In these decadent years of easy money and overmuch leisure, of easy consciences and slipshod work, it is refreshing to come across craftsmanship of the highest standard and to be reminded of the days when even the humblest servant took pride in his work and when hands were most skilled of all tools.

Such a man, a common hireling, built the circular dry-stone  sheepfolds, six in number that are a unique feature of Skiddaw Forrest. (Elsewhere in the district rectangular shapes are favoured). They are all within easy reach of Skiddaw House and within the forest fence. All are built to the same sturdy pattern, and although probably over a century old have hardly seen a stone out of place even today. These sheepfolds are beautiful, works of art.

The man who built them lived a hard life, working for a few pence a day, having to collect the stones he needed from the fellside and often sleeping rough on the job at nights. He did the task he was hired to do, and did it well. When, in due course, he passes away from this life he left no name behind him. Only his work remains. Just an unknown labourer………. but how many of us today, with far greater opportunities and education, will be remembered by our work hundreds of years after we are gone? Few indeed!

Idleness builds no monuments.


The steep climb up Great Calva.

After our river crossing we make it to the Cumbrian Way, were here the wet belongings get stuffed into our packs. The sun is at her highest as we break open our lunch packs.

This is good, the sun is so warm I endeavour to the fact that this is January, this feels like spring, the sky is blue & the sun is hot-we make our way to a crossing where the River Caldew joins up with Wiley Gill.

I spot a bridge over Wiley Gill & think why here?


Bowscale Fell & Wiley Gill from the ascent.


The Trough, uniquely seen from Great Calva.


Into the wild we wander…


Great Calva summit cairn.

We are met by high gusts as we reach the summit & my intrepid thoughts of spring are soon diminished, we make no haste in making straight for the stone shelter situated on the other side of the wire fence, here we can rest a while as Shaun takes out a Mars Bar & picks off the summits he has climbed that week.

I am impressed by Shaun’s feats, Later that week as I learned, Shaun completes all summits on the The Northern Fells.


The descent from Great Calva back to the Cumbrian Way is domineered by Lakelands unique Trough.


Is this really January?

The path soon turns to heather patches & more grassy tussocks, here I fall into more peat ditches than I care to remember & although we are grateful for the sunshine, underfoot it is still winter.


Approaching Skiddaw House & the Eight mile mark.



Approaching the Glenderattarra Valley as Lonscale Pike is lit up by low evening sun.


The North Western & Central fells silhouetted cannot escape the afterglow.


High Rigg & Tewit Tarn are still inline with the Trough, the fells you see in the background are that of Great Dodd (L) & Steel Fell & the Thirlmere Fells on the (R)


Clough Head & The Dodds over Threlkeld Common & St Johns In The Vale.

Somebody not so long ago commented that I was due some good weather on the fells, I never really gave it any thought up until today, Yes we wasn’t as lucky in the earlier part of the day but boy the sun on our backs in January sure made up for it in the latter of the day.

Lakeland fell silent to one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen, I know this because I witnessed this from the car on my journey home. If ever you would wish to be stuck on the M6 in between Jnct 40 & Jnct 36 this was that evening, watching glorious deep reds turning to deep orange while Lakeland falls under the stars for just another day.

I am at one with Lakeland after today, I can’t fall out with your blistering hail & vengeful winds, because on days like today, amongst my favourite fells and with good friends, Lakeland is so easily forgiven.


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