Souther Fell, Blencathra and the Hall's Fell Ridge

19th March 2016

It's fair to say that I like to plan ahead but this particular walk has been eight months in the making after being contacted by Tim's wife Sarah who has secretly organised a birthday bash for Tim's 40th Birthday. As the weeks grew closer it was my task to plan a six hour walk somewhere not too far away from Lamplugh where Tim's friends and family would meet up once 'Tim was out the way'

All of which was unbeknown to Tim who was throwing all sorts of walks into the hat some of which extended into early evening, it was my job to make sure we were back in Lamplugh by 4:30pm in the afternoon where Tim's friends and family would lie in wait. It had been suggested we do a walk in Eskdale by Tim but this was too far away from Lamplugh then came the possibility of a Loweswater walk which would fit in perfect, during the previous week however, Tim mentioned Blencathra to me and seeing that it's been some months since I was last there I jumped at the chance, more so as when Tim suggested we would also take in Souther Fell which meant this walk had now turned into a linier walk which worked well as we had the use of two cars on the day, one of which would be left in Threlkeld, and the other just a short drive away in Mungrisdale.

It all started with a man hug outside St Mary's Church Threlkeld.

Wainwright Guide Book Five
The Northern Fells


This is a mountain that compels attention, even from those dull people whose eyes are not habitually lifted to the hills. To artists and photographers it is an obvious subject for their craft; to sightseers passing along the road or railway at its base, between Keswick and Penrith, its influence is magnetic.


Ascent: 2,866 Feet - 874 Meters
Wainwrights: 2. Souther Fell - Blencathra
Weather: Overcast to Start Turning Bright Around Midday. Highs of 12°C Lows of 5°C
Parking using x2 cars Roadside Parking Mungrisdale - Roadside Parking, Threlkeld
Area: Northern
Miles: 7
Walking With: Tim Oxburgh
Ordnance Survey: OL5
Time Taken: 5 Hours 15 Minutes
Route: Mungrisdale - Low Beckside - Souther Fell - Top of Mousthwaite Comb - Scales Beck - Scale Tarn - Sharp Edge - Scales Tarn - Scales Tarn Path - Blencathra - Hall's Fell Top - Hall's Fell Ridge - Gate Gill - Gategill Farm - Threlkeld

Map and Photo Gallery


Looking down on Mungrisdale and Bowscale Fell east ridge from our ascent on Souther Fell 10:37am 7°C

Writing this now I almost feel guilty at all the little white lies I had to tell in order to keep Tim's birthday surprise from him. Sarah and myself had arranged for me to meet Tim first dropping my own wife Paula off in Keswick where Sarah would pick her up sometime later. After almost driving past Tim's Land Rover on route to Keswick I dropped Paula off and headed back onto the A66 towards Threlkeld, to keep any suspicions away from Tim I entered Threlkeld the same way I would have if I had been driving from Scales and not Keswick soon finding Tim parked up at our arranged meeting point besides St Mary's Church, there was already a few cars there and room for a couple more, I parked up and greeted Tim with a handshake and hug followed by a lengthy catch up as we swapped Tim's gear into my car before setting off for Mungrisdale, a journey that would only take us around ten minutes.

Mungrisdale was quiet and I managed to park with ease in the lay-by close to the River Glenderamackin. This is the first time I had been back to Mungrisdale since the floods in December 2015 and we were instantly reminded of the damage left behind as we glanced down on the river bed which had been churned over with tree and branch debris in both directions, the familiar wooden footbridge which used to cross the Glenderamackin close to the Village Hall had been washed downstream and is waiting to be pulled from the river bed, a close reminder of what happened not just here, but across Cumbria during Storm Desmond.

Kitted up we headed into Mungrisdale passing the site of where the wooden footbridge once crossed the Glenderamackin, all that remains now are its concrete foundations. The car park close to the Village Hall was full as always as we passed by taking in the steady ascent towards the Mill Inn but first we had to cross the Glenderamackin stopping to glance down on the waterfalls from the bridge next to the phone box. After passing the Mill Inn we strike out instantly spotting our ridge path which we are unable to get to due to limited access, instead we will head out then double back, a detour that should only take around ten minutes. Soon we found ourselves at a wooden gate, by continuing here you will be able to gain the flank of Souther Fell towards its summit, a rather uninteresting ascent in my view but pleasant all the while, instead today we double back towards the base of Souther Fell north east ridge above the Mill Inn, this way we should experience that 'ridge feel' straight from the start of the ascent.

Gaining ground on Souther Fell.
I think it's fair to say that we had failed to notice our surroundings after catching up on almost eight months only stopping once or twice to take in the views up and down the ridge, it's a short but steep start in order to gain the ridge, after that it's a steady walk all the way to the summit.

Views back along the ridge.
Despite the grey outlook it's very dry underfoot.

Tim leads the way towards Souther Fell summit cairn.

Todays route would also include an ascent on Sharp Edge (depending on conditions on the day) it was difficult at this stage to get a feel for conditions sometimes spotting the odd patch of snow through the gaps in the cloud which was clinging to the top of Foule Crag and the summit area however, after speaking to Facebook friend Andrew Foster who during the week had climbed Sharp Edge later reporting that the rock was free from ice with the exception of a few sporadic snow patches leaving the chances of making an ascent on Sharp Edge looking pretty healthy given the lack of rain and higher tempretures over the past week.

But before all that, we crest the summit of Souther Fell taking in our surrounding views.

Bannderdale Crags seen with Bannerdale Crags east ridge from Souther Fell.
I really had to persuade Tim to take a detour towards the south west cairn after leaving the main summit 'Paul I want to enjoy the whole ridge' with no detours today, I couldn't blame him it's a great stroll across the summit, but we went to the south west cairn anyway before quickly joining up with the main summit path again.

The cloud is starting to lift from the top of Foule Crag revealing for the first time, Blencathra and Sharp Edge as we descend our way over the top of Mousthwaite Comb.

Views back towards Souther Fell and Mousthwaite Comb.

Tim had got his ridge route and was reminiscing on his youth when he cut his teeth as a fell walker using Blencathra as his playground, disturbed however by quite a lot of shouting coming from the narrow path between the River Glenderamackin and the top of Mousthwaite Comb, just whats going on? you'd think this person was calling out for rescue. Both Tim and I stopped and so too did a group of four walkers who were standing on top of Mousthwaite Comb, as soon as the guy had noticed he was creating quite a lot of attention the shouting stopped leaving us puzzled as to what was going on in the first place, but more on that later.

What about Sharp Edge, it's looking more and more likely we'll get our green light after agreeing should we find the rock not satisfactory on arrival not to be afraid to speak out after traveling up there.


Sharp Edge from Scales Tarn.

Ahead, a large group had just disappeared from view and were making the steady ascent via Scales Beck, if this group are also making an ascent via Sharp Edge we're in for a long wait or we may even opt out. On reaching Scales Tarn we could see that the large group had taken the Scales Tarn path towards the summit and in fact, there wasn't a soul on Sharp Edge; just a gathering of walkers and their dogs taking time out beside Scales Tarn.

With time on our hands we too opt to take five climbing the path for the first twenty yards or so before settling down beside a large boulder all the while making those last decisions on a Sharp Edge traverse, we good for it? Aye lets go for it.

Before we are about to re-shoulder three walkers approach in our direction 'sorry for disturbing you earlier' one guy shouts, I'm puzzled for a moment before realising its the fellow who was shouting from Mousthwaite Comb 'part of our group continued onto Scales Fell rather than take the path towards Scales Tarn, what you heard was me trying to stop them, I politely say no need to apologise but you did have us a little worried for a moment.

Decent of the fellow to apologise I say to Tim.

Tim nods his head with a grunt.

Scales Tarn as we ascend our way towards Sharp Edge.

Sharp Edge.

We take the steady path towards Sharp Edge closely followed by the trio of walkers who had just apologised to us, they had good pace and kept close to our heels until we reached the start of the traverse, we didn't need to say anything, it was mentally agreed we would let the group pass as I for one isn't keen on having anyone behind me whilst crossing the likes of Sharp Edge, not as it's our first crossing since last year. We share a joke as one chap points out to Tim how brave he was for wearing shorts which is Tim's kit as he is more used to running across Lakeland as a fell runner these days as Tim replys as always with "My mum used to make me wear shorts all the way through school telling me that it's cheaper to repair skin than it was a pair of school trousers"

The group continues and soon disappears, we wait a while longer to give the group a good head lead.

Sharp Edge.
We wait probably longer than we should have enjoying the views of Bannerdale Crags towards Bowscale Pike before setting off . It is confirmed that the rock is free from ice as far as we can see and that the rock is dry enough to make the crossing, with this we pick our way along the narrow path before ascending slightly onto the edge itself met by a cool cross wind which seemed to come from nowhere which thankfully wasn't enough to give a second thought.

Foule Crag from Sharp Edge.

Looking back along Sharp Edge.

It was some minutes before we realised 'where had the trio of walkers gone?' before they reappeared to our lower right flank, it would seem that they had been following the path and were missing on the main traverse and with this, started to make their way towards us.

A young girl within the group had just walked across the stone slabs seen in the photo above with both arms stretched out, she seemed to carry no fear and was commenting on how she felt like Baby from the movie Dirty Dancing, I've got to say the young girl was as nimble as a billy goat, it's a good and a bad thing having so much confidence without displaying an ounce of fear in my book, more so when she told us it was her first time on Sharp Edge.

Walkers ascending Foule Crag after crossing Sharp Edge.

We dipped back down to the path again at one particularly greasy section which non of us were comfortable with and with this we would soon need to re-ascend to cross the Bad Step, Tim lead and I started to notice the early warning signs on Tim's slow progress, with the Bad Step above us a section of the ridge needed to be ascended which saw me waiting behind Tim who I thought was eyeing his route up, with this I nimble around, then climb above Tim before turning around to find Tim in the same spot not having moved...You ok Tim?

No answer.

The silence was all I needed to hear and Tim didn't need me to tell him he was struggling a little, Tim eases his body forward talking his way through ascent as I watch; but it's slow and I can see Tim isn't comfortable, I ask Tim again are you ok mate and again he pauses before answering me, we didn't speak of it but we both knew there wasn't going to be a crossing of Sharp Edge this morning.

We'll go back mate, Tim curses to himself more in frustration that he feels he's let me down and more importantly himself, I reply with, Tim you haven't been on these fells in nearly eight months and on your first day back we attempt to tackle one of Lakelands most difficult traverses, for christ sake it was you who lead me up Jack's Rake all the years ago, this is just a blip and you will be back when your feeling more fell confident. Tim tells me to continue and he'll meet me at the summit as I reply, I'm going with you, lets head down mate.

I was like a giant kick in the teeth for Tim, I could feel his frustrations and it was etched across his face, we descend Sharp Edge with me telling Tim how much I admired him for realising he knew he couldn't continue any further, that decision took some guts and further more Tim told me I must include what happened in this report.

If it gets through to just one person that a seasoned fell walker/runner can make a decision like Tim had to make today then he might just make the next person think the same when under the same circumstances, well done that man.

Apologies for using the Lord's name in vain, but it really was one of those moments!

Foule Crag from Sharp Edge.

Sharp Edge over Scales Tarn.

We descend back to Scales Tarn crossing Scales Beck by the familiar stepping stones by which time more groups had congregated around the Tarn and outflow. It's a steady ascent and I hadn't realised how steep this path can feel. Tim is silent for much of the ascent and I know he's still punishing himself after what had just happened.

We soon come to a stop taking time to survey the snow ahead and the pleasant views over Scales Tarn below.

Knowe Crags from Blencathra (Hall's Fell Top)

Having negotiated a large patch of snow close to the summit we head for the trig through a misting of cloud passing walkers making their way from the summit, I glance back through the cloud noticing that the summit Tarn was frozen solid and although we are only a matter of a hundred meters away, it looked much colder down there than it actually felt whilst standing at the summit.

After a few moments spent at the trig point we make our way towards the top of the Hall's Fell ridge which Tim remembers as part of his training for the Bob Graham Round a couple of years ago, except unlike today, he couldn't see what he was running down.

The Hall's Fell ridge from Hall's Fell Top.
We start our descent.

Descending Hall's Fell Ridge.
Despite large sections of snow across the summit area today we found the ridge completely dry, dusty even which meant for high confidence sometimes opting to descend via Narrow Edge rather than the path found below on our right flank.

The curve in the ridge.
By-eck I've completely forgot about Tim's surprise birthday afterwards, I'm sure Sarah is supposed to text Tim right about now to ask "why dont you ask Paul does he fancy a drink" back at Felldyke?"

Views back up towards Hall's Fell Ridge.

We had made great timing and had some fun losing height quite quickly by darting from outcrop to outcrop, I hastily point out the route which David and myself had used last summer during my Lakeland two thousanders and not to mention how I will always be reminded how I damaged my knee ligaments quite badly during a descent here some years ago.

Oh by the way Paul...fancy a pint back at the Bunkhouse, you can finally meet Sarah and the Kids?

Aye love to mate...poor bloke hasn't got a clue.

Gate Gill, Middle Tongue and the Hall's Fell ridge taken shortly before arriving at Gategill Farm.
More walkers are passed making their own ascents most of whom have stripped to shorts and T-shirts and who could blame them, it feels just like a typical Spring day now so much so we also de-layer not forgetting to add our sunglasses, not before I gave mine a wipe first, after all it has been some time since they last saw the sun.

Passing through Gategill Farm.

Knott Halloo, Gate Gill and the Hall's Fell ridge.
On route back to Threlkeld now under glorious afternoon sunshine.

The Horse and Farrier, Threlkeld.
Time for a cheeky pint Paul? Errr...erm I don't know have we? With my watched checked it would seem we have about half an hour spare before I (we) are expected back at Felldyke.

The Hall's Fell Ridge from the beer garden.

Under a warm sun we sip on a pint of Cumbrian Ale each whilst gazing back on Blencathra and the Hall's Fell ridge. A Red Robin sits on a branch close by watching for the crumbs from Tim's biscuit before making a daring raid then retreating back into the undergrowth throwing the crumbs around in its beak before walloping them down. I keep staring at my watch, clock watching making sure we aren't too late for the nights proceedings but we've got time to reflect on a day to be remembered for many reasons most striking the day Spring returned to Lakeland and more importantly the day Tim turned 40

A great walk was had followed by an amazing night where I did finally get to meet Sarah and Tim's children who I might add, are the politest kids I've had the pleasure of meeting. Sarah had cooked for all the guests which totalled to around forty people which in itself, besides organising the surprise party was an amazing and kind gesture. Tim got his surprise which kinda took a while to sink in by which time the drinks were flowing and who felt like strangers an hour ealier started to feel like friends sharing jokes well into the early hours before we headed back to our cottage Tim and I spent a few moments sat besides a campfire next to the Bunkhouse under the clearest of night skies.

Had a good day Paul...Aye lad.

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