Bowscale Fell and Bannerdale Crags

Walk Date – 13th May 2019

Distance – 7.1 miles

Weather – sunny and warm, light breeze


Another fine day arrived as the good weather continues to hold so we headed for the northern fells for a short walk up to Bowscale Fell. It was only going to be a morning walk but, inevitably, it dribbled over into the early afternoon as we strolled, lingered, dawdled and sat in the warm sunshine just enjoying the day. Our route up to the top of Bowscale Fell is one we haven’t used for many years and its probably one of the easiest ways to climb a two thousand plus footer in the Lake District, just the ticket then for a warm day like today.


Mungrisedale – The Tongue Bridleway – Bowscale Fell – Bannerdale Crags – White Horse Bent – Glenderamackin Valley – Mungrisedale

We park up in the small parking area by the ‘phone box in Mungrisedale, just around the corner from the Mill Inn. The smell of freshly cut grass is wafting around as a workman wields a strimmer over the grassy verges, carefully working his way around the clumps of bluebells and forget-me-nots as he went along. Five cars are already parked with only one space left after we had parked ours, there is no sign of their occupants and all is quiet apart from the buzz of the strimmer. The lane alongside Bannerdale View cottage is the starting point for today’s walk.

Going through the gate at the top of the lane we have our first view of The Tongue, the rounded hill behind J, and to the left of it are Bannerdale Crags. As can be seen from the photo the light was extremely bright this morning.

A little further along the track out of the village a new path has been created with a waymarker indicating the direction walkers should take, which is off to the right.

The old path used to head off to the left down here and follow the course of the river before rising up the embankment below The Tongue. Storm Desmond put paid to the path in 2015 as the swollen river rushed down the valley, undercutting and tearing away anything in its path, evidence of which is clear from the many landslips all the way along its course.

The initial gravel track soon gives way to this unexpected smack in the face. A glaring white arc of large slabs, placed well away from the river, crossing the flat and boggy ground just above the village. I can understand the thinking behind all this but, as can be seen, in places the slabs are beginning to wobble and sink, and the wet ground seems determined to show who is the boss around here. It will probably end up sinking below the waterline as stepping stones placed across boggy ground often do. Its a quick fix but it might not stay the course. Archaeologists have found that the Romans would use sticks, reeds and/or sheepskins as foundations across boggy ground before laying the final surfaces of their roads, I wonder if they have done that here?

The slabs come to an end and we are back on a gravel surface once more as we cross the new footbridge over Bullfell Beck, the previous one didn’t actually get washed away but after the storm it was left in a very precarious position although it was usable with care.

Across the bridge and before carrying on up the embankment I took a look back where the remainder of the old path is rising up the far embankment. The new slab path forms a junction there, at the top of the old one, and carries on in the wide arc, to the left of this shot as you look at it, eventually bringing walkers over to the bridge.

The path heading towards The Tongue initially rises quite steeply up the embankment and a look back shows how the new slab path has been set out to link the two sections of the existing path. In its favour, I suppose, is that there is little chance that any walker, however navigationally challenged, could fail to spot it.

We’re more or less over the embankment now and as we climb the tops of Bannerdale Crags begin to appear. The path is still stony and gravelly up to here but a glance further along shows that it eventually gives way to an old and mostly grassy bridleway which is nice and easy on the feet.

A little more of Bannerdale Crags comes into view as we begin to round The Tongue. On the left is Souther Fell and between the two is the River Glenderamackin.

There’s not a whole lot more to look at for a while, other than the crags of the east ridge soaring above Bannerdale, as we follow the easy path around the base of The Tongue and …..

….. once we round the corner there’s only the wide col between Bowscale Fell and Bannerdale Crags to gaze at as we make our way along the gradually rising bridleway. The shot amply illustrating why this must be one of the easiest ways of climbing over two thousand feet that I mentioned at the beginning. That’s not to say it doesn’t give the heart and lungs a good workout because there are some stiffish pulls along the way, particularly as you get closer to the rim of the escarpment, but its clear that there are no difficulties whatsoever.

The cairn marks the point at which we branch off to the right since we’ve no desire to drop right down into Bannerdale …..

….. where the basin below the crags looks to be a little on the mushy side. The east ridge of the crags is catching the sunlight and I mention it to J. He’s not a fan of ridges with steep drops, he’s quite content with viewing them from a distance.

The bridleway has narrowed quite a lot now that we are further along and here I took a look back at Souther Fell. Over on the right, between us and the rising ground leading over to the east ridge is Bannerdale Beck making its way down to join the Glenderamackin River below Souther Fell.

The very tip of Blencathra appears as the path rises towards the col, a little more steeply now, which makes it rather warm work in the strong sun and with no breeze along here to help cool things down a little.

Even though we’ve gained height there isn’t much of a view as I take a look across the east ridge of Bannerdale Crags and Souther Fell behind it, the warmer weather has brought the haze back again.

Spoil heaps litter the slopes below the steep and craggy escarpment. The path at the bottom of the shot was another fairly level section but further along began to rise more steeply to reach the col. Just before we stepped over the rim and onto the col we took time out for a coffee break. Earlier, we had noticed two separate pairs of walkers walking some distance behind us and eventually they drew level, exchanging greetings and commenting on the lovely weather before continuing. Neither of the pairs took the right hand fork in the path which leads over to the top of Bowscale Fell, instead keeping to the left hand and carrying on in the direction of the crags. It seemed a little strange to ignore Bowscale Fell when it was quite close at hand, you might as well go over to it while its handy, but perhaps Bannerdale Crags were their only objective today.

Coffee break over and done with so we walk the last few yards over the rim and across to what AW called ‘a straight stone cairn’, beyond which is a hazy view of the Skiddaw massif. We turn up to the right by the marker stone and take the gentle stroll up to the top of Bowscale Fell.

The long lens came out once we were on the top for a closer look at some of the summits of the northern fells. Here I’m looking north west over to High Pike …..

….. then due west to the heather clad slopes of Great Calva …..

…..  followed by a look across to Knott …..

….. then south west to the summit plateau of Skiddaw …..

….. and a little further to the left for a shot of Lonscale Fell with some of the very hazy north western fells peeping up behind it.

Closer to hand, and pretty much dominating everything, is Blencathra

Next up, across the northern slopes of Bowscale Fell and the Caldew valley is Carrock Fell …..

….. followed by a turn to the south east for Bannerdale Crags and the hazy fells beyond. Bright sun and haze meant there was no chance of good views in this direction.

Having taken a shot of everything I could clearly see around us I walked back to join J at the shelter. We did have a light breeze up here but nothing that required a jacket or hunkering down in the shelter. The shelter is of limited use since it is only as high as J’s knees anyway so you’d practically have to lay full length in it before escaping any strong wind.

Back down we go across the broad, and sometimes squelchy, col with Blencathra taking up the whole of the shot.

A look back up at the gentle path leading up to the summit of Bowscale Fell. A fell runner, clad only in shorts and running shoes came splashing by, heading towards Bannerdale Crags and he was soon lost from view.

We, on the other hand, are in no such hurry and take a leisurely saunter across the col to reach the top of the escarpment for the dramatic view along Bannerdale with Souther Fell blocking what there is of a view at the other end. We can just about make our Great Mell Fell but nothing else after that.

The view ahead as we walk over the rim of the escarpment. There isn’t a soul anywhere to be seen, not even the two pairs of walkers who came by us during our coffee break. We commented on how different it might have been yesterday when a sunny Sunday would have drawn plenty of walkers to Blencathra.

Heading across to the top where J is walking behind and a little above me and keeping well clear of the edge. The path has been worn down into a deep groove over the years which makes it rather awkward to walk in so most folk take to walking the grass above it.

The view along Bannerdale from the top of one of the deep gullies with which the crags are riven. Below us on the left is The Tongue with Souther Fell to its right.

A look back at the broad col above the escarpment with Bowscale Fell in the distance, it was a grand little tramp across.

On Bannerdale Crags now at the cairn on the viewpoint overlooking Bannerdale and the Vale of Keswick.

Looking across to Bowscale Fell and Carrock Fell from the viewpoint cairn.

Looking along Bannerdale from the viewpoint with the crags of the east ridge on the right of the shot.

Turning slightly to my right for a fuller view of the east ridge.

The cairn at the viewpoint doesn’t mark the summit. This is the summit cairn, such as it is, which is set a few yards further back up the slope from the viewpoint. On the centre skyline are Great Calva and Knott and we stand chatting about their steep climbs and the route we took between the two when we walked them last month.

I walk a few yards further on from the summit cairn and take a closer look at Blencathra. Its impossible to see them in the photo but I counted half a dozen walkers making their way over Sharp Edge. The slabs of rock on the climb out look very dry today so that should make things a little easier for them when they get there.

For those not wishing to savour the delights of Sharp Edge (us included) you can always walk up to Scales Tarn and then follow the path up from the tarn to join the one coming across over Scales Fell to Blencathra’s summit. I enjoy the walk up to the tarn while at the same time not looking forward to the walk up the path from it. It is quite steep and I struggle with it, others on the path seeming to take it in their stride. Maybe they’re just better at not letting on about their burning muscles and the agony they’re in than I am.

Back to Sharp Edge where the walkers were steadily making their way across although one seemed to be having a problem making any further headway at one particular point because he/she hadn’t moved from the point at which I noticed them on the shot before last. It looked as though they had decided to go around one of the rockier pinnacles and were now faced with the problem of getting back up again.

We walked back down the slope to the top of the exit path from the east ridge. I mentioned to J that we could descend by that route if he wanted to so he came and peered over, gave it all of two seconds worth of consideration and then said “Er, no thanks, I don’t think I’ll bother.” Nothing for it then to turn around, go back up the slope a short way and pick up a path which kept us close to the rim of the crags for much of the way across.

Away from the escarpment rim now, gradually descending White Horse Bent and dropping down to the path alongside the River Glenderamackin. The slope across the middle foreground belongs to Scales Fell and beyond that is the hazy view of Clough Head and Great Dodd. We stopped again along here, had our drinks and snacks and, with it being such a warm day, had J stretched out on the grass I would have put money on him nodding off for ten minutes. I have known him to fall asleep in the middle of a sentence occasionally. I wish I could fall asleep as quickly.

The col above Mousthwaite Comb with Souther Fell on the left and Scales Fell to the right. The path on the slopes of Scales Fell eventually leads up to the col between Bannerdale Crags and Blencathra, and about halfway along it you have the option of turning left off it and climbing up to Scales Tarn. A further decision awaits at the tarn if heading for Blencathra, its a choice between Sharp Edge or the steep path up Scales Fell, a situation where being caught between a rock and a hard place springs to mind.

J gazes over at Souther Fell although I don’t think he’s expecting to see the ‘spectral army’ marching over it any time soon. More than likely he’s recalling our previous walks across it.

The walk back down the Glenderamackin valley is very pleasant with a good path for much of the way, although the scenery is limited to views of The Tongue, the east ridge of Bowscale Fell and the fenced off tree plantations which, surprisingly, had a good number of flourishing trees poking up out of their protective plastic tubes which was encouraging to discover.

Well on our way back down now with a look back up at the Bannerdale Crags escarpment.

Men at work down by the riverside as they put in place some new wooden barriers across the river. These structures will no doubt have a  particular name but I simply call them ‘sheep stoppers.’

A sunny day, a gurgling river, a good path and a pleasant valley walk, what more could you ask for?

However, its not all cakes and ale along the full length of the valley because there is a long stretch of wet, boggy and muddy ground to flounder through after the crossing of Bannerdale Beck. On reaching one of the few dry sections along here I took a look back to where the beck flows between here and that steep and flat-topped embankment a little further back. Crossing the beck and climbing that embankment would get you onto the path over to the east ridge of Bannerdale Crags.

The boggy section is eventually left behind and before long we are back at the new bridge over Bullfell Beck and the new white slab path.

The yellow gorse flowers, the stand of trees and the white buildings let you know, if you didn’t already, that you are almost back in Mungrisedale and only a couple of hundred yards further on …..

….. we are back in the village again where the parking area is just beyond the building with the blue door, bringing us back to where we started.

Yes, we did put our £2 in after we had parked up with J reporting that, judging by the sound the coins made as they dropped in no-one else had, even though several cars had already parked when we arrived. £2 for an unlimited time is nothing at all when you think about the £7 or £8 the official car parks charge. The charges are always reasonable and money placed in such boxes will go to a village, a school or a church and provide all manner of little extras which wouldn’t be available without it. So please, look out for them, dip into your pocket and give a thank you for providing the parking space you needed.