The first snow of winter on the Back O'Skidda Fells

21st November 2015

Featured north of the mass of Skiddaw the Uldale Fells, more commonly known as 'the back O'Skiddaw Fells' are Lakelands frontier fells, they certainly don't share the same popularity of Skiddaw or Blencathra, walkers who visits these fells usually are only after one thing that these fells provide, quiet and solitude which is why I reserved this walk for a good weather day.

This walk had been lying in waiting for almost five weeks, but, with the terrible weather Cumbria has experienced over the last few weeks holding this walk for just another few weeks just seemed the right thing to do, however frustrating it was.

Today I am joined by David who mentioned that his last visit to the Uldale Fells was two years ago, after a wait like that, strange things start to happen to a man, the only cure is to plan a re-visit. It was also David who came up with the idea to make this walk a linear walk which would shorten the route, not by much but enough to free up a little spare time due to an evening engagement that I had.

It's not very often you can time a walk as good as todays with the first snow of winter, something of which, made it that bit more special.
Wainwright Guide Book Five
The Northern Fells


Binsey occupies the extreme north-west corner of the Lake District. Beyond is the coastal plain, then the sea, then Scotland; nothing intervenes to interrupt this sweeping panorama. What a domain, and what a throne to view it from.


Ascent: 2,914 Feet - 889 Meters
Wainwrights: 6, Longlands Fell - Brae Fell - Great Sca Fell - Meal Fell - Great Cockup - Binsey
Weather: Bright to Start With Sunny Spells, Highs of 4°C Lows of 2°C Feels Like -12.6° Across The Summits
Parking,using x2 Cars: Roadside Parking, Binsey Cottage / Roadside Parking, Longlands
Area: Northern
Miles: 9.3
Walking With: David Hall
Ordnance Survey: OL4
Time Taken: 5 Hours 30 Minutes
Route: Longlands - Longlands Fell - Top of Charleton Gill - Brae Fell - Little Sca Fell - Great Sca Fell - Meal Fell - Trusmadoor - Great Cockup - Orthwaite Bank - Orthwaite - Overwater Hall - Binsey

Map and Photo Gallery


First light with Longlands Fell ahead and Skiddaw in the distance 08:38

With todays walk being a liner we had arranged to meet at 07:45 at Binsey Cottage, this however wasn't to be the case as I arrived late due to having to take my time along the A66 where black ice had formed over much of the carriageway from leaving the M6 all the way to Keswick leaving me feeling frustrated due the roads not being gritted.

There was nothing I could do except take my time and arrive around ten minutes late which isn't much, but when you like to think your a good time keeper it does leave a bad taste of frustration. David as expected was already there as I swung my car around before swapping my gear into Davids car, the skies above our heads changed in colour from a pale to deep blue, only the brightest of stars still remain through a crisp clear, and not to mention bitterly cold air.

Having already experienced a howling wind back home whilst taking Holly on a early morning dog walk the last thing that I expected was the total lack of wind in one of Lakelands most exposed areas, it was confusing seeing that it had been forecast, mind you with that bitter air, we weren't complaining. With my car locked we headed out to our second destination of Longlands where we would leave Davids car close to the bridge which crosses the River Ellen, here there is room for around four, maybe five well parked cars and seeing that we arrived here first, David parks respectively.

All that was left was for us to kit up which was done quite quickly, the thought of kitting up with no rain forecast boded well even though it wasn't spoken of, for the first time in a month I am able to shoulder my camera instead of having to keep it in its bulky weatherproof case. Only a quarter of an hour has passed since leaving Binsey Cottage but the light was changing every minute despite the sun still being low it's now starting to feel like dawn something of which I have only ever experienced whilst being sat behind a desk as of late, it just seemed to feel so good to be outdoors this morning during the cusp of the winter months. We strode out onto the Cumbrian way over a thin layer of powdery snow, underfoot the ground is frozen, so much so our walking pole tips do not penetrate which just goes to show how rapid the temperatures have dropped causing the recent sodden ground to freeze over recent nights.

We follow a solo set of boot, and paw prints in the snow over the sound of dogs barking as we pass one particular exclusive cottage that has the backdrop of the Uldale Fells in its back garden. Our path rises steadily towards the foot of Longlands Fell north ridge as we head towards a shortcut which cuts through a patch of bracken, today made more visible, outlined by the recent snowfall.

Binsey and Over Water seen over Longlands.

it was during the time when we joined the lower ridge path did we start to feel the effects of the chill made more apparent to the skin by a westerly wind as we started to gain in height.

Our route ahead was largely in shadow due to the slow rising sun at this time of year, although every now and again a show of light would appear with the more height we earned.

Looking back down the path over Ireby and Snow Hill.
Every now and again we would stop to witness the morning light slowly starting to spread across the fields below, with distant views over the Solway Firth and the Scottish Hills.

Sunlight strikes through Longlands Fell summit cairn.
In conversation we sooned arrived at Longlands Fell summit cairn, it was from the summit did we first witness the sun as it rose above a distant Blencathra which had been shielding much of its light up until now. We were now exposed to the summit winds which felt raw on exposed skin which made me feel extra thankful for my gloves and beanie hat I was wearing, on the other hand the man who doesn't feel the cold chose not to wear his hat, nor jacket for that matter, I just don't know how he does it.

Here looking back on Longlands Fell as we cross the top of Charleton Gill.

Our decent from Longlands Fell was done in brilliant morning sunlight up until reaching Charleton Gill were we found ourselves under the shadow of Brae Fell, this was a particular exposed area leaving the crossing a cold one to say the least during which, sections of bog that hadn't succumbed to the freeze had to be first negotiated.

We were teased by chinks of sunlight which was now starting to breach Brae Fell summit just ahead of us, I wouldn't say that the cold was affecting us at all, it was just something that as a fell walker you learn to deal with, but the total lack of sunlight during the dark days of November made Brae Fell's ascent a rather hurried one to reach to say the least.

Brae Fell.

We had used the lower of the two paths that cross the top of Charleton Gill hence our boggier moments, but this was all forgotten as we reached the main approach path blessed in brilliant crisp clear light.

With a cold wind striking the face out here on the exposed northern fells I think it is safe to say, that all those dark congested mornings travelling to and from work during the week was instantly forgotten, you can't bottle this type of remedy, you simply have to live it.

Brae Fell summit cairn.
Despite the cold we hung around our second summit if only to take in our brilliant panorama, with walking poles 'dug in' we stood sometimes silently taking in views of our route ahead and the distant snow covered peaks of the Pennine Hills, it sure was a grand day to be out fell walking.

Ahead, Little and Great Sca Fell, Meal Fell and Great Cockup with Bakestall, Skiddaw and Skiddaw Little Man provding a snowy backdrop in the distance,
We now head south before a slight ascent which will gain hand on Little Sca Fell and thereafter Great Sca Fell seen in the left of the photo, from the summit we will descend west towards Meal Fell before crossing Trusmador and gaining Great Cockup seen in the lower right of the photo, but all of that is yet to come, lets for now enjoy the first snow of winter on some much loved fells.

Little and Great Scafell ahead with Knott in the distance.

You can see the path that we had used to cross the top of Charleton Gill over in the lower right of the photo as we now take the snow covered path towards Great Sca Fell seen in the centre.

An ascent on Knott was questioned with maybe a direct descent via Burn Todd down to Burntodd Gill from where we could pick up the path for Meal fell, despite this sounding very 'do able' we choose to stick to our intended route without trying to get too carried away with ourselves.

Crystal views over Bakestall, Skiddaw, and Skiddaw Little Man.

Final ascent on Great Sca Fell.
We had soon crested the lonely but sheltered summit of Little Sca Fell passing a snow covered shelter along the way, thereafter crossing the col before taking on the steady ascent on Great Ska Fell itself, from which we were able to view a solo walker on Longlands Fell summit.

Knott from Great Ska Fell summit cairn.

High Pike (Caldbeck) and Carrock Fell seen from Great Ska Fell summit.
Great Ska Fell marked the highest of todays summits which was noted by the affect of the wind chill which caused eyes to water and noses to run uncontrollably, it was here David took out his metering device to see just how cold the wind made the temperature feel.

Thats a -12.6° windchill.
No wonder our eyes and noses are streaming, despite this and feeling rather surprised we felt safe in the comfort that at least we were not on the summit of Skiddaw where that figure would have reached around a -20° windchill.

Descent of Great Ska Fell with views of Meal Fell, Great Cockup and Binsey.

The western shoulder of Great Sca Fell will always be known for how steep it is and today was no different as a little extra care was taken during our own descent due to the snow covered ground.

Our sixth and final summit in Binsey of the day now seems to be getting a little closer than it was when we were at Brae Fell summit.

Views over Lowthwaite Fell and Longlands Fell from our Great Ska Fell descent.

Across the Col is Meal Fell with its distinctive summit shelter in the centre which is where we're heading next.

Here looking back across the Col towards Little Ska Fell on the left and Great Ska Fell on the right.
I have always found it fascinating how snow can distinguish an otherwise faint path, here you can see a track that flanks the summit of Great Ska Fell, most possibly used as an alternative to the steeper direct path.

Views over Bakestall, Dead Crags and Skiddaw seen over Burntodd Gill.
Had we have chosen to summit Knott today, the path you see in the lower left of the photo would have been the one we would use to descend Burn Todd by, just another case of how the snow can highlight the less trodden paths.

Great Ska Fell and Little Ska Fell from Meal Fell summit cairn.

After a steady ascent we reached the summit of Meal Fell from where we could see two walkers on the summit of Knott, we both noted that despite the joys of the more popular fells looking grand in the snow their popularity on a day like today could be their own downfall if your not into large crowds, however I guess the Back O'Skiddaw fells were living up to their names in being some of the less trodden of the Lakeland fells, in all we had passed no one and had only sighted three more walkers from a distance.

Views back over Meal Fell, Great Ska Fell, Little Sca Fell and Knott from the summit shoulder of Great Cockup.
Having descended Meal Fell and crossed the micro valley of Trusmador we headed steeply onto the shoulder of Great Cockup, it was still mid morning and we had made great time in collecting our five summits up to now despite taking our time and rest stops.

Views towards Bakestall, Dead Crags, Skiddaw and Skiddaw Little Man from Great Cockup summit.

Well, that was our fifth summit on the round, all we have to do now is descend back to Orthwaite and wind our way through Over Water Hall before collecting our last summit of the day in Binsey, we gathered there's roughly around an hour and a half walking left to do, in no rush we head over Orthwaite Bank from where we would begin our grassy descent into Orthwaite.

But there's time for a few more pictures first.

Views over Meal Fell, Great Ska Fell, Little Sca Fell and Knott from Great Cockup summit cairn.

Descending Great Cockup via Orthwaite Bank.
We follow the grassy track all the way to the end before turning left as a stone wall is reached, there are alternative routes off Great Cockup via Brockle Crag or you can blaze your own trail back to the access road that provides Dash Farm which is situated just south of the summit, we both agreed that using Orthwaite Bank would be the best means of descent.

Distant views over Skiddaw, The Ullock Pike ridge, The Lord Seat Fells and the North Western fells including Grisdale Pike, Grasmoor and Eel Crag.

Contrasting colours with views of Longlands Fell and Little Cockup.

Descending Orthwaite Bank.

This photo doesn't particularly stand out but it does show our intended route in order to reach Binsey by, first we head steeply left at the stone wall in the foreground before heading into Orthwaite where you can see Orthwaite Farm (white building) in the centre right of the photo, shortly after the farm is passed Orthwaite Cottage is reached where we head left into the fields via a Bridle Way accsessed via a cutting in a stone wall right opposite Orthwaite Cottage, from here we make a heading as the crow flies towards the smaller white building in the distance which is Over Water Hall, from Over Water Hall all that is needed is around half a mile of road walking via the narrow lanes that lead towards Binsey Cottage.

Pheww, did I make that sound harder than it actually was.


Orthwaite Farm.
After descending Orthwaite Bank we head into the hamlet of Orthwaite first passing Orthwaite Farm shortly followed by...

Orthwaite Cottage.

As Orthwaite Cottage is reached I was reminded from a previous visit how I was attacked by a Buzzard as I headed towards Over Water Hall, this was and still is the only occasion that I had been properly swooped on by the Buzzard who simply didn't want me there, squawking loudly and dive bombing me within what felt like inches of my head, back then I made sure I got out of the field as quickly as possible.

It seems remarkable the same moment I was explaining this did we spot a notice attached to a sign post which read 'Buzzard Territory' and what to do in the event of attack and so on, we stood for a few seconds and then scurried over the wall via the steps provided, from the other side of the wall an elderly woman appeared who was stood in the doorway of the cottage, she had noticed us reading the sign and went onto explain that she hadn't seen the Buzzard for around four weeks and we should be safe to cross the fields, it would seem that I got away lightly with my own encounter after hearing that a Dutch couple who were attacked had to wash the blood away that poured from the Husbands head in a nearby beck.

That's one territorial Buzzard, you have been warned.

Even so, after saying our thank you's we went on our way, taking note of the sky above our heads in the process.

A look back at Orthwaite Cottage, Orthwaite Farm and Great Cockup as we pass through the fields.

This statue is found in the field behind Over Water Hall.
During my last visit here I passed this rather odd looking figure of a mans head wearing a hat, today we pass again sadly still not knowing who this man was or why he was placed here.

Over Water Hall.
Which isn't strictly true as this once grand home has now been turned into a Country House Hotel.

Cottages found within the grounds of Over Water Hall.
Perhaps these cottages homed staff for the nearby hall, now a fantastic private home, I mean, who else can boast they have a moat in their front garden!

Ascent on Binsey.

After leaving Over Water Hall behind we pick up the narrow lanes that climb steadily towards Binsey Cottage, we pass my car which has now been joined by two more before heading through a wooden gate onto open fell side.

Despite Binsey being a relatively easy fell to climb it was Binsey which saw us stop a couple of times during ascent noting that we have to drop a gear' as the lowest and smallest fell of the day was beginning to take its grind on the legs. We walk through the niggles passing couples and children who are on their way down, they have no need to carry large packs such as mine and Davids and I often wondered what was the thinking as we passed them, although I'm sure judging by our muddied ankles Binsey, wasn't our first fell of the day.

Binsey summit Trig Point and shelter.

It had just gone noon by the time we had reached the summit by which time we figured now was the best time to break out lunch, we are soon joined at the summit by a couple who soon press on after our brief hellos leaving the summit shelter free. Tucked into the shelter as low as possible we start lunch as a chill hovered about our heads, hats and gloves are kept on making sure body heat is retained, even in the shelter, we still couldn't escape the chill of the day.

We break into conversation about what our plans are for 2016 David must have read my mind as I was thinking about something he had mentioned during the ascent on Binsey also, should both our plans go ahead for 2016 will be another great year for us both, perhaps I can even match what 2015 had brought me with my two thousand summit challenge, who knows but I sincerely hope so.

Skiddaw and The Ullock Pike Ridge from the descent of Binsey.

Ullock Pike Silhouettes from Peter House Farm.

We arrive back at my car in great time, during the descent the conversation was still going on that started back in the shelter, ideas were swapped and shared, then chopped and changed for better ones, exciting times indeed. We kit down at the back of my car as I sip on two cups of piping hot soup from my flask that I had left in the boot of my car, two cyclists pass and bid us good afternoon yet although it has only just gone midday the sun is at its highest and is beginning to slowly fall to bring an end to a perfect winters day on the fells where we saw the first snow fall on the Lakeland Fells.

A walk not just to be remembered for the first snow, but where new projects are forged also, We drive back along the narrow lanes arriving back at Longlands at a busy car park, a family are just about to leave with their children and dog as David and I shake hands before parting with the words, see you before Christmas.

With a warm heater blowing I take in the narrow lanes where through the hedgerows the Ullock ridge appears against a winter sky, I'm sure I've still got a bit of that soup left.


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