Vivienne Crow gets a little taste of the northern Lakes’ Big Daddy on a route of Skiddaw Little Man and Lonscale Fell.
I know it’s unfashionable among fellow hill-goers – a lumpen thing lacking the excitement of gnarlier Lakeland peaks further south – but I’m rather fond of Skiddaw and not ashamed to admit it. I particularly love it in winter when its white bulk dominates the northern Lakes in paternalistic style. I headed on to England’s fourth highest mountain from Keswick last winter, a rare (for me) trot up the ‘tourist’ path. At Jenkin Hill though, I left the well-trodden ways to climb Skiddaw Little Man, an 865m subsidiary top with excellent views.
Barely able to hold my camera steady in the fierce winds slamming into the western side of the fell and haunted by the story of a friend who was sent arse-skating across the summit plateau in similar conditions – saved from serious injury only by digging in with his ice-axe – I decided to forgo Skiddaw’s highest point on this occasion. I dropped back to Jenkin Hill and, under the bluest of winter skies, popped across to Lonscale Fell to enjoy almost pristine snow on this quieter side of the massif.
Skiddaw Little Man and Lonscale Fell: route description
START/FINISH: Pay-and-display car park behind the Keswick Country House Hotel, GR NY270238 | MAPS: OS Explorer OL4 (1:25k), OS Landranger 90 (1:50k), Harvey 1:25,000 Superwalker Lake District North | DISTANCE: 14.5km/9 miles | ASCENT: 866m/2840ft | DURATION: 5-6 hours
1. NY270238: From the mini-roundabout at the car park entrance, the route goes left – along Brundholme Road. (There’s an off-road path to the right of the roundabout, on the other side of the road, that provides a safer, more pleasant alternative to walking the asphalt.) About 400m beyond the roundabout, take the broad track on your right – signposted Skiddaw. After crossing high above the A66, this climbs beside Brundholme Wood. When the trees allow, you’ll see Skiddaw straight ahead. Over to the left are the Coledale fells, the pyramid-like peak of Grisedale Pike particularly prominent. Ignore all paths off to the right. Then, as the track swings around the northern flank of Latrigg, walk with a fence on the left. Ignoring a gate in it, keep right. The path ends at a gate leading on to Gale Road. Turn right after this.
2. NY280253: The signpost beyond the road-end gate directs Skiddaw-bound walkers left. Take this well-trodden path running beside a wall, then a fence on your left. At a fork beyond a gate, bear left, keeping faith with the fence for now and soon passing a memorial to the 19th-century, prize-Herdwick breeders Edward Hawell and his son Joseph. The climb proper begins after the next gate. The constructed ‘tourist’ path can feel like a slog, but it makes relatively light work of the climb and allows plenty of opportunities to enjoy the vista – to the west, a long line of high fells is steadily unfurling, stretching from Grisedale Pike in the north to Bow Fell in the south.
3. NY271275: Eventually, the gradient eases and you reach a gate on Jenkin Hill. Take the path on the left before the gate. This quickly climbs to the first cairn on Skiddaw Little Man. Continue to the second, higher cairn, with its excellent view of Longside Edge and Ullock Pike to the north-west and the back of Blencathra to the south-east.
4. NY266277: From the summit, return to the gate at waypoint 3 at the base of Little Man, but don’t go through it; instead, stride out across the grassy moorland of Jenkin Hill, keeping the fence on your left, later picking up a faint path that swings away from the fence to reach Lonscale Fell’s summit cairn.
5. NY285271: From the cairn, the trail continues across the top and then drops slightly to cross the fence corner. There’s a choice now: either follow the fence down to the right immediately or take a short detour first, using the trail on the left to reach Lonscale Fell’s exposed eastern edge. With the ground dropping away dramatically, this makes an excellent vantage point to gaze into the lonely heart of the Northern Fells. Skiddaw House is visible about 2km to the north. From the few stones marking this eastern top, if conditions allow, it’s fun to head south-east along the vertiginous edge of the high ground for now, swinging back in towards the fence in 200m or so; otherwise, return directly to the fence and follow it downhill. As you descend the heathery fellside, you’ll see the long line of the hills that Helvellyn throws out to the north, including Clough Head on the far side of the A66.
6. NY293260: On reaching a track at the bottom of the slope, turn right through the gate. The easy-going route cuts across Lonscale Fell’s lower slopes and fords Whit Beck. Skiddaw’s ‘tourist’ path rejoins the route from the right just before a gate. Now retrace your steps to the car park where the walk started.
PUBLIC TRANSPORT: Keswick is served by buses 78, 554, 555, X4/X5 and the summer-only 77/77A
TOURIST INFORMATION: www.lakedistrict.gov.uk, 0845 9010845
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