Walking the Birketts, Yewbarrow - South to North

9th December 2018

It was a toss up this weekend between walking Birketts Mellbreak and Hen Combe which are two separate walks that can easily be linked together or an ascent of Yewbarrow collecting both the South and North summits followed by a rather tricky scramble descent via Stirrup Crag. It had bucketed down all day Saturday leaving localised flooding and some rivers throughout Cumbria were on flood alert but once the rain had cleared Sundays forecast was proving to be the brighter day and with this a solo ascent on Yewbarrow was confirmed by Saturday afternoon.

Yewbarrow has to be one of my least climbed western fells and in some ways I should be ashamed to say that because Yewbarrow has it all, her steep south ridge dominates the Wasdale valley more so in my opinion than the Scafells which are tucked away towards the east with Gable and Kirk Fell domineering the head of the valley. The last time I was stood on Yewbarrow's summit was the day I completed my Wainwrights in 30 walks project back in September 2016. Yewbarrow was the final summit of the campaign and today I couldn't be more happier to find myself climbing Yewbarrow again.

The Complete Lakeland Fells
By Bill Birkett

-Yewbarrow may not be as tall as her neighbours in this mountain valley, yet in terms of immediate visual impact, she lacks nothing.


Ascent: 1,950 Feet - 595 Metres
Birketts: 2, Yewbarrow South Top - Yewbarrow North Top
Weather: A Bright Day With Some Low Level Cloud AM, Remaining Bright PM. Highs of 6°C Lows of 5°C Freezing Over The Summits.
Parking: Car Park, Overbeck Bridge
Area - Group: PIL
Miles: 4
Walking With: On My Own
Ordnance Survey: OL5
Time Taken: 3 Hours 40 Minutes
Route: Overbeck Bridge - Dropping Crag - Bell Ribb - Yewbarrow South Top - Yewbarrow North Top - Stirrup Crag - Dore Head - Overbeck - Overbeck Bridge

Parking Details and Map
Nearest Post Code: CA20 1EX
Grid Reference: NY 168 206
Notes: A small car park with room for around a dozen well parked cars can be found next to Overbeck Bridge. There is an honesty box close to the entrance to the car park on the right hand side.


Map and Photo Gallery


Yewbarrow, Great Gable, Lingmell and the Scafells from Greendale Bridge, Wast Water 08:50am 6°C
I had a pretty uneventful drive west most of which was done under the cover of darkness but once dawn broke there was plenty of promise in them there clouds. The forecast ahead looked promising too with a bright start from dawn through to early afternoon although as you can see here in Wasdale low cloud is dominating the head of the valley, still, I'm counting my lucky stars having just witnessed five minutes earlier said cloud clearing Yewbarrow's summit leaving a dash of sunlight over Bell Ribb.


Lingmell, Scafell Pike and Sca Fell from Over Beck.

The Wasdale valley felt quiet this morning the only stir coming from the wind or the waves which lapped at the shoreline. The morning air feels as cold as the grey skies looked overhead and I kit up accordingly adding my gloves, beanie and gaiters from the off. I'm not alone in the carpark along with one car who I was parked next to two young chaps on the opposite side cook bacon on one of those throw away BBQ's the smell of which fills my nostrils while I chomp on a tasteless granary cereal bar.

I'm in no rush so gear is checked and double checked to a point when I can feel my OCD rearing so I slow things down even more by taking a walk to the shoreline while taking in the view of the Scafells, damn it's cold. I return to my car and to the smell of cooked bacon, this is torture, it's time to leave! With my car locked and pack shouldered I head out first by following Over Beck before starting the steady climb to the base of Yewbarrow's south ridge.

Dropping Crag (L) and Bell Ribb (R)

The sound of Overbeck begins to fade into the distance as I join the base of the south ridge after passing through two gates, a wooden stile allows access into Over Beck (valley) and onto the opposite side of the stone wall where a second path can be used in ascent or descent although the footpath to the right of the wall proves to be more popular. The ascent continues steadily, flanking the craggy outcrop ahead before arriving at a wooden stile, but that's a few huffs and puffs away yet.

The view back over Wast Water towards a cloud topped Illgill head and Whin Rigg seen further down the ridge.
From one of my many "getting my breath back moments" which I refer to as "camera breaks"

Dawn has broken over Great How and Burnmoor Tarn.

The view towards Dropping Crag (L) and Bell Ribb (R)

Having crossed the wooden stile the footpath now passes below Bell Ribb and Dropping Crag, it is important here to keep a look out for a right fork in the footpath which ascends between Dropping Crag and Bell Ribb. Unfortunately from where this picture was taken the footpath cannot be seen but sure enough a stepped rocky footpath navigates between the crags to the base of a scree gully where easy scrambles ascend to the left of the scree.

The bad news is, it's as steep as it looks, the good news is I can see blue sky appearing up there.

The view over Bowderdale towards Middle Fell.
Just as the cloud starts to clear from Seatallan summit seen in the distance.

Here taking a camera break from the top of the scree gully.
With the summit of Dropping Crag appearing to the right.

Views over Over Beck towards a cloud topped Red Pike (R) and High Fell (L)
Brimfull Beck (outflow from Low Tarn) was certainly brimming today as the cascades resonated across the valley.

The Scafells from Great Door.

After negotiating the easy scrambles and loose scree Great Door loomed overhead and off to the right, I wasn't quite sure if Birkett took the easier path to the left or the path to the right which lead to Great Door via a steep rock gully which narrowed to a thin squeeze at its head, too thin even for a child. I figured this was the ascent Birkett would have chosen. At the head of the gully a steep scramble was required in order to avoid the thin squeeze, this steep scramble was no more than ten feet in height but when wet, as it was today, extreme care had to be taken over sometimes polished rock, once this rock was gained I found myself stood directly between the two rock buttresses known as Great Door, the view from which framed the Scafells perfectly and was worth the graze on my left knee.

Great Door.

Sunlit Burnmoor Tarn from Bell Ribb.
The silhouetted peaks in the distance are Dow Crag and Grey Friar over on the left through to Harter Fell (Eskdale) and Green Crag on the right.

Looking down the crest of the ridge towards Bell Ribb.
Left to the exposure of the wind I left Bell Ribb while taking in the view towards Yewbarrow summit, it would seem I still had a distance to go all the while I keep my eye on a bank of low cloud approaching from the direction of Red Pike which by now is already over the Over Beck valley.

A tremendous view towards Bell Ribb with the cleft of Great Door nearing the end of the ridge.

Brimfull Beck and High Fell seen over the Overbeck Valley.
Somehow I don't think I'm going to be able to out run the advancing cloud.

Through a break in the cloud, Burnmoor Tarn re-appears.
Complete with fog bow.

Yewbarrow North summit cairn at 2,058ft / 628m
The low cloud I had seen from Bell Ribb had beaten me to the summit and with it came a drop in temperature accompanied by a brisk wind, the sudden change is nothing new for this time of year and if anything adds atmospherics to walk along with a sudden feeling of attentiveness. Even after all the years of walking the Lakeland fells when the cloud drops you do tend to feel more alert to your surroundings without actually realising it.

The view towards Yewbarrow's North summit.
After leaving the south summit cairn I descended slightly and through the cloud I picked out these two fell runners heading for the summit, they were too far away to say Hi but a polite raise of hands between myself and the runners was as good as any 'good morning' It appeared they had ascended Yewbarrow via the Bob Graham Relay route which overlooks Down-in-the-Dale, Wasdale, this ascent is extremely steep with loose scree and slopes so steep it is said that the runners who take part are known to 'clutch at the grass' in order to help with their ascent. I had only admiration for these two guys who passed me with an "areet" to which I replied "aye areet"

Low cloud over Dore Head.
Blue skies and long distant views are fantastic but if you want the real feel for the Lakeland fells in Autumn/Winter it doesn't get much better than a view similar to this.

Moody Scafells.
Where it appears the cloud is already starting to break leaving hints of sunshine over Lingmell.

The top of Stirrup Crag from Yewbarrow North summit 2,021ft / 616m
Such fabulous light I was in my element here and could have watched the changing scenery all morning but sadly it was just too cold to be standing about.

From the same spot I take in the view into Mosedale.

Red Pike (Wasdale) and Pillar are still well below the cloud although I am entertained by the classical mountain peak like shadow that Yewbarrow's south summit is creating over the Mosedale valley.

Simple things entertain simple minds as the saying goes!

Yewbarrow's mighty shadow seen over Dore Head.

Dore Head from the top of Stirrup Crag.
Time to start the descent of Stirrup Crag.

One last photo before I begin the descent of Stirrup Crag.

After a few slips here and there below Great Door earlier the descent of Stirrup Crag started to play on my mind as I walked the ridge towards the north summit. I have confidently scrambled these crags many times now but only in ascent and today will be my first descent. From the top of Stirrup Crag the path twist its way down to the top of the first gully where I de-shouldered and collapsed my walking poles not forgetting to pack my camera away as part of the descent involves scrambling down two narrow rock gullies.

After re-shouldering I lowered myself down where despite the rock being wet it still maintained good grip which boosted confidence which I then repeated from the top of the first gully soon finding myself at the top of the steep path with Dore Head below.

Yewbarrow from Dore Head.
Not really concentrating on what was happening overhead by the time I reached Dore Head the cloud had completely cleared leaving a bright sun directly over Yewbarrow summit so I celebrated my Stirrup Crag descent by taking a photo of it.

Kirk Fell seen over the Mosedale Valley.
With Great Gable off to the right and the top of Black Sail Pass seen over on the left.

Red Pike (Wasdale) Scoat Fell, Black Crag and Wind Gap from Dore Head.

Pillar from Dore Head.
What great timing the cloud has almost lifted from Pillar now,

High Fell, Knott Ends, Middle Fell and Over Beck from Dore Head.
With the sun on my back I hung around the unnamed tarn at Dore Head for as long as I could while absorbing the views before it was somebody elses turn who was about to start their descent on Stirrup Crag, the sun was so bright I am unable to view their descent only hearing their voices or the crack of a rock as it tumbled down the crag. It was time to leave and start the subtle yet soggy descent via Over Beck.

The view back to Dore Head from Over Beck.
The eye can trick the walker into descending through Gosforth Crag Moss which is the area of boggy ground seen in the centre of the photo, here a path descends through the moss towards the top of Over Beck (Beck) Instead I maintain height by following a faint path along the lower slopes of Yewbarrow which then swings left beneath Dropping Crag and the stile below Bell Ribb.

Shafts of sunlight illuminating the fields of Bowderdale.
It's fair to say that Over Beck was as damp as I had remembered and once below Dropping Crag all that was forgotten about as the views unfolded revealing Illgill Head, the Wast Water Screes and Wast Water, I couldn't have asked for a better view to end my walk by.

The car park at Over Beck comes into view.
As I am met by the realisation that this perfect three and half hour walk is about to come to an end, ahhh bugger.

Yewbarrow and Great Gable

Through the trees I spot the roof of my car and maybe three or four more who had parked up after me and I wondered of their owners having only sighted the two fell runners hours earlier. The steep grassy slope gave way and soon the sound of Over Beck once again fills my ears as I walk the final few yards along its bank. It's feeling pretty mild back in the valley as I take my beanie off while trying to straighten my hair but it's no use, there's no cure for hat head.

Having de shouldered I unlock my car and replace my beanie for my faded, sweat ridden North Face baseball cap and begin to untie my boots before realising that the tips of my walking poles are muddied so I walk across the carpark and squat on the bank of Over Beck while giving my walking poles a good swill, I guess that's my OCD again, what a cracking walk though.


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