Scampering up the Scafells, via Lord’s Rake

Date: 17-Jun-2008

Map: Landranger 89, 90, OL6

Weather: Overcast all day, with a low cloud base on the highest tops.


A circular walk up the Eskdale valley, across Great Moss, up over Pen and up Little Narrowcove to Scafell Pike. Descend to Mickledore, crossing over to Scafell via Lord’s Rake. Descend via Foxes Tarn and Cam Spout. Return above the Esk valley and drop down to Brotherilkeld: 11 miles on the map, but felt like many more.

The weather forecast was expected to be heavy showers for today. But long ago I have learnt not to pay too much attention to it, or I wouldn’t get that many walks in. As I left Manchester I could see the beginning of a cold front coming across from the west, so I was prepared for the worst. This being the middle of summer in England I took my winter gear to be prepared for some wet and windy weather. The met office forecast a low cloud base and hill fog for the higher peaks – and unfortunately for me, they were right. I drove over from Ambleside along the Wrynose Pass, and then up and over the Hard Knott Pass. Both roads were fun to drive along, but you have to take you’re time, as there are some tight bends. The surface of the Hard Knott Pass has seen better days and resembles ‘Nora Batty’s tights’ – very wrinkled in places. As I came down the pass the Roman Hard Knott fort came into view. It is in a beautiful setting, a much better posting than being stuck up on Hadrian’s Wall a bit further to the north.

Photobucket The roman fort at Hard Knott

Photobucket Looking up the Esk valley from the start at Brotherilkeld

Photobucket It didn’t look promising at the start of the day

Mr Wainwright used to walk this way from Boot which is further down the valley, presumably because this was where the train stopped (or Bus?). My walk started at Brotherilkeld where I parked up just outside the farm gate – only room for one or two cars. There is parking up at the fort, but that would be a stiff uphill finish at the end of a long day. I left home at 06:30 and didn’t get back until 8pm, the walk took me 8hrs, but included some diversions for the geology and bird watching. Don’t expect to be walking at 2 ½ mph up these slopes, after all it is England’s highest peak. The route sets out gently enough and I was soon away from any habitation, gaining ground steadily up the Esk valley. Looking up at the crags below the roman fort I wondered if there was a roman rubbish tip along these slopes. It would have been the easiest place to toss away all their detritus. But as it was built in the 2nd Century it would now be underneath 1800 years of decayed vegetation, soil and rubble. The land around here is mainly used for sheep grazing, so the vegetation is limited to grassland and bracken in the main.

Photobucket Throstle Garth ahead, bigger hills beyond

Photobucket Tongue Pot with crystal clear waters

The water flowing down the valley was crystal clear and took on a bluish hue in places where the bedrock was exposed. You can see water worn rocks high above the present river level, indicating a much greater force of water in times of spate. There wasn’t much water over all the falls I saw today, and the mossy areas were fairly dry and bouncy. However, just when you’re feeling confident of your steps, there is a soggy spot with your name on it (I found it later in the day – up to my knee!). I walked along above the river and the path eventually comes back alongside it below Heron Crag. There were plenty of birds flitting in and out of the bracken today, with Wagtails, Meadow Pippits and Dippers a common sight close to the water. After a couple of miles of easy track I reached a delightful spot called Tongue Pot, the waters a beautiful almost turquoise colour. Just beyond is the arched stone bridge of Lingcove Beck, and I tarried a while to soak up the peaceful setting and stillness.

Photobucket The old bridge at Lingcove Beck

Photobucket The route eases before you reach the Great Moss

The wind was light here and all that could be heard was the babbling beck over the large boulder beds. Another fine picnic spot, and you could be guaranteed very little company as it takes some effort to get here. Wainwright was right when he said there are too many distractions by this route. The only people I met today were up on the top of Scafell Pike and on Mickledore – a young couple carrying their children on their backs! Irresponsible? Maybe, but very tiring. The path continues up the right hand side of the Esk, passing by the falls and gaining height above the beck as it cuts deeply into the hillside. There is a path on the other side, but you are better off staying to the right. The gradient was a bit steeper as I walked up beneath Throstlehow Crag up towards the Great Moss, but then flattens off towards the top. All of a sudden the Scafells peek above the horizon looming large above the path. The vista opened up as I turned the corner, and there was so much to look at. The Scafells, Mickledore, Slight Side, Ill Crag, Pen, Cam Spout, Esk Hause, Bowfell, and the Great Moss itself.

Photobucket The Scafells ahead

Photobucket Turning the corner onto Great Moss with great views

Photobucket Scafell Pike, Great End and Esk Hause

Luckily it brightened up while I crossed over the moss towards Cam Spout and the tops were free of cloud – unfortunately that didn’t last long. As I got to a more exposed level the wind freshened and was almost gale force at times – a bit worrying on higher ground, but at least it stayed dry. The moss was fairly dry, with one or two boggy spots. But the surface under the moss appeared to be very stony in places close to the river. There was plenty of Cotton grass bobbing around in the wind, adding a summery feel to the pictures but considering this was June, it felt more like March. It just shows that you need to be prepared even in the middle of summer for coming up here, I had packed my gloves, fleece and woolly hat and I needed them on top. I followed the stream around the front end of the Great Moss and crossed over on a well trodden path towards Cam Spout and onwards to Dow Crag.

Photobucket A dry Cam Spout

Photobucket Heading towards Dow Crag and then up to the left

Photobucket Looking back across Great Moss

This was where the fun started, it was peaceful before, but now the heart started to beat faster as the slopes got increasingly steep. If you don’t have a head for heights you should take an easier route up the other side of the Scafells. I had decided to go up to Pen to have a look at the convoluted bedding structures in the rock, so made a course up the side of Dow Crag, staying away from the steepest sections. There was a feint (faint if you looked behind too often) path up the side of some screes, but it was a bit of a scramble, and a little too steep for comfort in places.

Photobucket The way up was steep and not too clear

Photobucket The reason I came up this way

Photobucket The view from the top of Pen – the coast in the distance beyond Hard Knott

After I had reached the top of Pen, I realised I could have come up Little Narrowcove and reached the same point on a safer route. But hindsight is a wonderful thing, and I survived despite my best endeavours at finding a difficult route – I had to use 4 points of contact in several places. The path up Narrowcove is a straight line on the map and if you look at the contours you will realise that that it is a very energy sapping walk. My thigh muscles were groaning the next day, so a good soak in a hot bath was required. Up on Pen there were good views to the south east with the coast and Morecambe Bay clearly visible in the distance. The wind was very strong here and buffeted me around as I crossed over the boulder fields – these are sometimes easier to walk over than the loose scree, as long as you step on the solid ones! I spent sometime looking around the rocks and then thought I better get on with the last haul to the top as time was pressing on and I was hungry. I dropped down to the path coming up Little Narrowcove and looked up at very steep screes above me. It looked very loose and impossible from a distance, but up close it wasn’t too bad and there was a distinct route to follow.

Photobucket Broad Crag – I didn’t go that way

Photobucket The route went up the scree to the col between Broad Crag and Scafell Pike

Photobucket Looking back down Little Narrowcove – an ‘easier’ route!

Photobucket The view to the north west

Eventually I reached Broad Crag col and made sure I turned up towards Scafell Pike and not the other way. The wind was howling at this point and I saw a very under-clad runner departing the mountain by the quickest route he could find. The cloud base came and went, but not enough to get a view of the adjacent peaks. That was disappointing, but the day was 100% better than I had expected, I could see down the slopes but not any higher. The top of the highest mountain in England came into view with its distinct rounded stone cairn (there are some old round stone shelters dotted around as well). Some steps lead up to the flat top, so after a quick hop and step I was the highest man in England for a little while. There is a less than impressive trig point a few metres away from the summit cairn.

Photobucket The summit cairn

Photobucket The route across to Mickledore

I sat down on the lee side of the shelter and squeezed in amongst fellow walkers to have lunch. My neighbour had a Bull terrier with him who was busy hoovering up all the titbits and any other remains he could find. I drew the line when he started chewing on my leg though. It was too cold to stay very long, as there weren’t any views, and there wasn’t much point in lingering around. I checked my compass and set off towards Mickledore, even though I couldn’t see it. The paths are marked with lots of cairns and you have to be careful not to take the path that drops down to Lingmell Col, unless that is your route obviously. It’s simple enough, take the right fork for Lingmell and the left for Mickledore. I passed by the young couple with their children on their backs and tried to cheer the little ones up. That only made the baby cry even more, which the mother thanked me for – “not at all” said I, as I walked on my cheery way. There is a Mountain Rescue box adjacent to Mickledore, and no doubt it is used more than it should be.

Photobucket At Mickledore it is exit left or right

Photobucket The MRT box

Photobucket Looking across to Lord’s Rake

The crags and slopes around here are very steep and precipitous in places, so beware. Even in summer conditions the paths can be slippery and the scree loose. I looked across to Lord’s Rake and pondered my next move. A couple came past and proceeded to tell me of their jaunt up the rake with three 12yr old boys, many years before. They came up in March with one ice axe between them, made it up the first part of Lord’s Rake, and then turned back as they were met with a wall of snow. There wasn’t any snow today, but they thought that the rock at the top of the rake was unstable – they had heard that it had moved two years ago. I wished it had moved as well – to Carlisle or somewhere a bit safer than it resides now. The paths down either side directly below Mickledore looked intimidating and steep, also with a loose covering of scree. But a combination of good hand holds on solid rock and carefully planting my footfall made it safe enough. My tip for going up the steeper sections of scree is to test out where you put your foot before putting all you weight on it, and that will save you some angst, energy and possibly muscle strain.

Photobucket The path stays up against the base of Mickledore around to Lord’s Rake

Photobucket Looking back up to Broad Strand

Photobucket The path below descends along Lingmell Gill – the easy route from Wasdale

Photobucket Approaching an increasingly misty rake

The path around to the bottom of the rake was narrow with a big drop below you, and Lord’s Rake looks impossibly steep from a distance. I stayed to the left side initially and used my left hand to get a solid handhold and pull me up, trying to disturb the scree as little as possible. Further up the slope I crossed over to the right side and there is some rock climbing that was more comfortable than the scree. You do need some strength to get up here, otherwise you will be on the scree slope for a lot of time – one step forward, one back. I was aware of the large rock up ahead, and the only way past it is to go under it – unless you’re a mountaineer! I was thinking please don’t choose this moment to shift. Phew – when I got past I had a good look at it and you can see a big crack developed recently. There isn’t any weathering of the rock surface, so it can’t be that old. I’m surprised that the authorities haven’t closed the rake or blown the offending slab into bits. But I survived, and I hope everyone else who passes this way does. The rake drops down steeply again before once more climbing up a second rake, this one having larger size slabs of stone than the first rake. I stayed to the left side all the way up this one, dropping down once more after reaching the top. The third rake is the smallest one, but has the finest scree – more slippery and just as steep. I pulled myself up to the top by good handholds and perseverance. After this it was a matter of turning left and following the path higher to the top of Scafell.

Photobucket Halfway up the first rake

Photobucket Looking back down from beside the big stone – see the fresh crack

Photobucket Down and up to the second rake

Photobucket Looking back up to the descent from the first rake

Photobucket The third rake, short and steep

Photobucket The path down from the second rake

Photobucket At the top of the third rake

At this point of the walk the cloud was thick, almost fog and visibility was very limited. Just like my Snowdon walk in April, so if you’re climbing one of Britain’s highest peaks there is a 66% chance you won’t see very much – doh. But on the plus side I’ve now done all three big boys in April, May and June. I was going to walk down to Slight Side and on from there, but I was aware that there are some big drops if I strayed off the path.

Photobucket The summit of Scafell

Photobucket The steep scree down to Foxes Tarn

Photobucket Foxes Tarn

So I descended off Scafell down a steep unstable scree (oops) to Foxes Tarn and down from there to Cam Spout. Why they gave this puddle a name is beyond me, It must have been like saying this is Billy’s rock, and if any large boulders fall into it, there won’t be any water left! From Foxes Tarn the path drops steeply down a rake before joining the route down from Mickledore. I found it easier to stay to the right side of the deep rake before turning right beside the beck flowing down in a series of falls to Cam Spout – well it would flow if it had any water in it, more of a dribble really. Towards the bottom of the route down, the path is very steep and passes over bare rock – ok if you have good balance, but if not veer away from the big falls and move away to the left. I passed by a rock with a ‘moss man’ on it, and if you look very closely you’ll see it’s definitely a man!

Photobucket The loose scree slope down from Scafell

Photobucket The steep rake down to the main path – I stayed out of the rubble

Photobucket The ‘Moss Man’ – look closely!!

Photobucket Some falls above Cam Spout

Photobucket The way is very steep at Cam Spout – stay left

As I walked down towards Cam Spout there was a very steep section before I reached the path on Great Moss. Looking ahead to the south I could see the path veering away from the Esk river contouring around the hill and following a flat valley high above the Esk valley. Before I got to that path I passed by Sampson’s stones which showed an interesting cover of vegetation on the largest one. Have you ever wondered what the ground would look like if the sheep weren’t here grazing? Well here is the answer, the stone (fallen down from high up the crags) is covered with Heathers, Festuca grasses and dwarf shrub ground cover - very distinct from the prevailing landscape, because the sheep can’t graze here.

Photobucket Cam Spout – not much like a teapot

Photobucket One of the Sampson Stones

There is a distinct rocky outcrop that runs across the end of the Great Moss, presumably forming a barrier to water outflow in the last ice age, and gradually building up the bog moss over time. It was just past the big stones that I went in the moss up to my knee – typical smart a*%e trying to cut the corner off. Follow the path – it’s there for a reason! The Esk has had to turn at a right angle before cutting deeply down the valley. Once past the Sampson Stones, I passed by some old sheepfolds and continued up above the Esk valley, passing by more mossy areas below High Scarth Crag, but above Heron Crag.

Photobucket Looking back to the Great Moss, Scafell Pike still with his head in the clouds

Photobucket The gentle path back above Eskdale, Harter Fell beyond

Photobucket A last look back, Pen very distinct below Scafell Pike

Photobucket Very quiet here

Photobucket Brotherilkeld comes into view – the Zigzags at Cowcove Beck

Photobucket Looking back up the Esk Valley

Photobucket Nearly back at Brotherilkeld

After a couple of miles along the flat valley above the Esk the path reaches the zigzags at Cowcove Beck, dropping down steeply through bracken covered slopes into the Esk valley at Brotherilkeld. It was a gentle finish to the day after the hard climbs and steep descents, gently falling down towards the start of the walk. After passing through a farmyard at Taw Hause, I crossed the Esk once more via a small wooden bridge and then a short walk back to the car. I had a brief moment looking back to the Scafells before crossing the river and thought quietly to myself… Walking, it is tiring but deeply satisfying; all in all it’s brilliant.  

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