A Fell Walker’s Dictionary

A light hearted look at some fell walking terminology

I’m sure you will be familiar with the following, but just in case you get to wondering what on earth I’m on about in some of the text accompanying the photos I thought it might be helpful to include a few explanations of what they actually mean, and in brackets, my own observations –

aréte – a very narrow rocky ridge with steep drops on both sides (nerves of steel and a good sense of balance required, having neither in any great quantity I try to avoid them)

beck – stream (very handy for soothing tired and aching feet at the end of the walk)

buttress – a rock face flanked by gullies (ropes, pitons and carabiners tend to be needed when you come face to face with one, I never seem to have any of these in my pack so, again, they are usually avoided)

cairn – a pile of stones that marks the top of a mountain, a route, a path junction or some other special place (very useful in mist, or when you want a sit down)

col – a dip in the ridge between two mountain peaks (the joy of having reached one is tempered by the fact that you still have some more climbing to do)

corrie – an armchair shaped hollow, high on a mountain with steep back and side walls. After glaciation, the hollow may have been filled by a small lake or tarn (very pretty to view, the downside being that once in the corrie you have to haul yourself out again up those steep sides)

cornice – an overhanging build-up of snow formed by wind passing over a ridge or cliff (try to avoid standing on one, they can be a bit unpredictable)

cove – a large depression in a mountain side, usually with a steep back wall and often with a tarn in the bottom (once again there’s a climb out to be done if you find yourself in one, which can also create another large depression, this time in yourself)

crag – a very steep or rough part of a hill, fell or mountain (if you don’t like living dangerously you can generally find a way round them)

dale – a large valley (you can usually find a bit of peace and quiet in them since they tend to be ignored in favour of the lure of the high fells)

dodd – a term for a rounded summit or eminence, either as a separate hill, or more frequently a lower summit or distinct shoulder or boss of a hill (there are lots of dodds, which makes for lots of confused walkers and confused conversations, not many of the dodds are a doddle either)

erratic – a piece of rock that deviates from the size and type of rock native to the area in which it rests (could also be applied to the way some people navigate their way around)

fell – hill or mountain (also the past tense of an incident which often happens on one)

force – waterfall (and often what you need to do to yourself to walk the last mile back)

gill or ghyll – a ravine with a stream (steep sides, no paths, best left alone)

hag – an isolated ‘pedestal’ of peat topped with grass (unpleasant boggy places after heavy rain)

hanging valley – a valley that ends suddenly with a steep cliff or waterfall where it meets the side of a larger, deeper valley (can produce one of those heart stopping moments when you wonder how the heck you’re going to proceed)

hause – the lowest point along a ridge, a mountain pass (same thing as col above)

how – rounded hill (just because its round doesn’t mean its any easier which goes for the next item too)

knott – rocky hill

mere – a large body of water or lake (they’re usually a bit chilly but nice to walk round or sail on, some very hardy people even swim in them and call it ‘wild swimming’)

moss – a marshy area (when you see this word on your map your heart sinks, as will you if you try walking across it)

needle – a tall, narrow spire of rock (some people like to stand on the top of them, I’m not one of them)

pike – a sharp well defined mountain peak (usually needing a fair bit of effort to get up)

pinnacle – a large rock face with a pointed summit (same as needle above)

ridge – the long top of a mountain or group of mountains (get up on the first one and the rest of the walk can be a piece of cake)

rigg – a ridge (same as ridge above)

scramble – a climb up through rock requiring the use of both hands and feet but not rope (fun or frightful depending on the location)

scree – a slope covered with small pieces of loose stones and rocks (mostly a case of one step forward and two steps back and generally unpopular with walkers since you get nowhere fast)

tarn – a small body of water (its only fair to point out that tarns marked on maps can sometimes be devoid of water being either dried out or full of reeds and/or other mysterious green vegetation)

thwaite – a clearing in the woods (often the clearing has developed over time into a village e.g. Braithwaite, Stonethwaite etc.)

trig point or triangulation pillar – typically the concrete pillars erected by the Ordnance Survey on the top (but not necessarily on the actual summit) of prominent hills and mountains (they will also be places where groups of people hang around talking or spreading themselves out to have lunch and generally getting under everyone else’s feet)

traverse – a route following a sloping diagonal course thus avoiding a very steep climb or descent (this results in one leg always being a bit higher than the other so you end up with that leg aching the most. To avoid this you can always go straight up/down using the steep route but that makes both legs ache at the same time, so its swings and roundabouts really)

verglas – thin, clear ice formed by the freezing of rain or meltwater on a hard, smooth surface (i.e. rock). Extremely slippery, and sometimes too thin to hold a crampon or ice axe (best avoided since you can almost guarantee that once your foot is on it you’ll end up in an undignified sprawl all over it)