A simple slice of starter spice can be found just east of the Scafells beyond the Great Door to Yewbarrow, says Francesca Donovan.

Yewbarrow is your best bet for a taste of starter spice above Wast Water. Sandwiched between adrenaline-pumping Pillar to the north and lofty Lord’s Rake to the east, this fell offers easier navigation and docile rambling to bookend your short but sweet time on rock. Yet, Dropping Crag and the optional Bell Rig jaunt offer good grade 1 scrambling before you plod along the plateau of Yewbarrow, so called for its resemblance to an upturned boat hull, saying hello to Herdwicks who found their own route up. After the nursery slopes, the excitement begins at Great Door. Put the poles away and push yourself up.

If this ascent is plenty, the route gives an escape route west off Yewbarrow for those avoiding the scramble down Stirrup Crag. (But, if you’re up to it, expansive views of the Scafells await you on breaks to catch your breath.) Returning along the falls of Over Beck offers the perfect opportunity to plunge and de-spice before heading to the pub.

Yewbarrow: route description

Start/finish: Overbeck Bridge car park (GR: NY 167 068) | Distance: 4 miles/6.4km | Duration: 3 to 4 hours | Ascent: 601m/1,972ft | Maps: OS Explorer OL7 – English Lakes, South Eastern area (1:25k)

1. Start/finish (NY 167 068): From the small Overbeck Bridge car park – only big enough for a dozen or so cars so best to arrive early – follow the clear path NW along the water, heading upstream and going through a waymarked gate. Here, the ascent up the nursery slopes of Yewbarrow begins and offers enough easy elevation to warm up the leg muscles. After 300 yards bear NE along the path and continue the steady ascent with Bell Rib looming large ahead. Remember to look back as Wast Water begins to stretch out behind you as you climb and enjoy the views.

On the easy footpath ascent of Yewbarrow before the scrambling begins

On the easy footpath ascent of Yewbarrow before the scrambling begins.
Credit: Francesca Donovan

2. NY 169 076: After 1km, you’ll see the stone stairway fade into rockier pathways and some scree as you begin to pick your route upwards. Here, you enter through the Great Door. The scrambling is short but sweet with some almost-vertical moments and decent reaches. Still, it’s easy-going for anyone with a long arm span and there are plenty of good hand and footholds.

A Herdwick found their own way up Yewbarrow.

A Herdwick found their own way up.
Credit: Francesca Donovan

There is not much in the way of loose rock but some slabs can become slippery in wet conditions. Even in poor visibility, a locating a route upwards is simply a matter of finding the next easily-accessible foothold and is quite straightforward. While some grade 1 scrambling experience is advised, this scramble is achievable for most with good fitness and sure-footedness.

`Yewbarrow_Looking southwest beyond Bell Rib to Wast Water

Looking southwest beyond Bell Rib to Wast Water.
Credit: Francesca Donovan

Once you’re back on the green grass of terra firma, you’ll have the chance to scamper along to the peak of Bell Rib for some of the best above-water views in all of Lakeland. After this, follow the re-instigated stone stairway up to the Yewbarrow plateau and head in a NNW direction until you reach the summit cairn.

The Yewbarrow summit cairn shrouded in cloud

The summit cairn shrouded in cloud.
Credit: Francesca Donovan

3. NY 173 084: Past the cairn, continue along the plateau on the same bearing, following the footpaths carved out by footsteps of those fell-bagging before you. Take the path veering downwards in a NE direction after 400 yards if you want to forgo Stirrup Crag. If you’re raring to go, continue on until you reach the beginning of the descent.

A section of down scrambling looking Down in the Dale

A section of down scrambling looking Down in the Dale.
Credit: Francesca Donovan

4. NY 174 095: Here, you’ll find yourself at the top of Stirrup Crag, looking for a way down. You don’t have to look particularly hard to find a route and while the down scramble always feels a bit loftier, the grade isn’t much different to your upward scramble. In fact, the rocky ledges here provide better grip (and better opportunity to bum shuffle down) than some of the smaller scree-like matter on the run up to Bell Rib.

Looking back at the down scramble section coming off Yewbarrow

Looking back at the down scramble section coming off Yewbarrow.
Credit: Francesca Donovan

Once off Stirrup Crag follow the trail downwards in a NE direction until you reach a 90-degree L in the trail. Take this and enjoy the soft, often waterlogged route to the R of Over Beck to appease your joints. It tumbles down into a waterfall after 0.8 miles – perhaps time for a picnic.

The three Herdwicks of Yewbarrow

The three Herdwicks of Yewbarrow.
Credit: Francesca Donovan

5. NY 165 082: Continue along the path and cross the footbridge over Brimfull Beck. The onwards path is now clearly trodden and harder underfoot.

A yewbarrow waterfall

You’ve earned the plunge on the way down.
Credit: Francesca Donovan

6. NY 166 077: Cross another footbridge after 650 yards which leads to a path now on the L of Over Beck. Along this stretch of trail – mercifully much less boggy as you continue the descent – you’ll find more waterfalls and plunge pools a-plenty. You’ve earned it. After the dip detour, continue along the path and enjoy the views across to Illgill Head until you rejoin the path back to the car park.

Further information

Public transport: Currently none to start – but the council is evaluating reinitiating the free Wasdale shuttlebus from Ravenglass during peak times in 2023

Tourist information: Seatoller TIC, 017687 77294

Nearest YHA: Wasdale Hall

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