The dark gash splitting the Oxendale face of Crinkle Crags makes an excellent warm weather route to the top, says Norman Hadley.

The adventurous ravine of Crinkle Gill will make you feel like a Victorian explorer discovering the source of a jungle river, or a salmon fighting upstream on the ceaseless quest, but with significantly less risk from poison darts or grizzly bears. Like many of the world’s other great religions and philosophies, the key teaching in gill-scrambling is acceptance: your day truly begins when you commit to the first knee-deep wade. Technically, you could walk parallel to the gill and stay dry but you’d be missing out on a whole heap of immersive fun. In hot weather, the cooling presence of water to three-quarters height makes attaining the ridge a lot more enjoyable.

Difficulties are generally avoidable but be aware that gill-scrambling comes with inherent risks: wet, mossy, slippery rock-steps and a surprisingly remote feel. Despite the campsite being visible in the valley, the enclosed situation means you’d be unlikely to get a mobile signal in an emergency.

Scramble Crinkle Gill: route description

START/FINISH: Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel NY286060 | MAPS: OS Explorer South-western Lake District OL6 (1:25k), Harvey Ultra Map Lake District West (1:40k) | DISTANCE: 10.3km / 6.4 miles | ASCENT: 790m / 2,590ft | DURATION: 4 hours, or more if splashing about in the gill

1. NY286060: From the car park, pass through the kissing gate and cross the cobbled packhorse bridge to the dog-leg in the valley-road, by the post box.

2. NY285060: From the post box, take the signposted road to Stool End Farm, crossing a cattle grid as you go.

Crinkle Crags above Oxendale from the Stool End Farm road

Crinkle Crags above Oxendale from the Stool End Farm road.
Credit: Norman Hadley

3. NY276057: Follow signage through the farmyard and exit onto the Land Rover track slanting up to the left. Ignore the track branching right onto The Band. This will likely carry fifty times the traffic of our route but offer considerably less opportunity for splashing. Follow the track along the wall parallel to Oxendale Beck. At one stage, the signage guides you to the left of a sheepfold. Resist any temptation to cross Oxendale Beck by the footbridge but keep heading upstream, crossing Buscoe Sike by a small footbridge below the cleft of Whorneyside Force and at the bottom of a distinctive grassy nose. Crinkle Gill starts just the other side of the nose. There are several delightful slabby cascades falling between huge rock walls. At one stage, you’ll pass under a large leaning pillar, like a ruined monument to some ancient king-of-kings. The scrambling is generally easy, a lot of fun and difficulties are avoidable.

The leaning pillar from above

The leaning pillar from above.
Credit: Norman Hadley

4. NY254049: Above the leaning pillar, the gill reaches an intimidating amphitheater with several waterfalls coming together. Depending on the level of water coming down and the confidence of your party, you’ll need to decide which exit to take. For a relatively easy escape, the slopes on the right are worth considering, or the right-hand side of a steep prow between waterfalls one and two (counting from the left, looking up). Soon you should find yourself on grassy slopes interspersed with small crags and boulders. Climb up to the summit ridge at Mickle Door, slightly to the north of the summit (Long Top).

The intimidating amphitheatre Escape may be possible up the central prow

The intimidating amphitheatre escape may be possible up the central prow.
Credit: Norman Hadley

5. NY249049: From the summit, follow the well-cairned ridge north. Bear in mind there are many twists and turns before you reach Three Tarns. The difficulties arising from local magnetic rock distorting compasses are exaggerated but take care nonetheless. At Three Tarns, set off down the main track towards the Band.

The Scafells and Bowfell from the summit ridge after the Crinkle Gill scramble

The Scafells and Bowfell from the summit ridge.
Credit: Norman Hadley

6. NY254062: Instead of trudging down the stony track along the Band, treat your knees to a soft, springy descent on the turf of Green Tongue. Your navigation will need to be good but you should find a pathless grassy shoulder falling down the north flank of The Band.

7. NY266069: At the base of Green Tongue, splash across Mickleden Beck to join the good bridleway leading down Mickleden. This will lead you inexorably down to the Old Dungeon Ghyll.

Further information

PUBLIC TRANSPORT: Stagecoach bus 516 from Ambleside will take you up Langdale, reducing traffic congestion in the valley. If you’re parking, either pack coins, your National Trust membership card or pre-install the PayByPhone app. The mobile signal in Langdale is notorious, so you may need to use the hotel WiFi.

TOURIST INFORMATION: Visit Lake District, 01539 822222


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