An Ennerdale Round

Outline of Route
Broadmoor car park - Great Borne - Starling Dodd - Red Pike - High Stile - High Crag - Haystacks - Brandreth - Green Gable - Great Gable - Kirk Fell - Pillar - Scoat Fell - Steeple - Scoat Fell - Haycock - Broadmoor car park (Grid ref. NY 086153)
Total Distance 22.4 miles, Total Ascent 8200 feet, Equivalent Distance 38.8 miles

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Escape Routes

  1. From Red Pike descend the path to High Gillerthwaite.
  2. Descend Scarth Gap pass into Ennerdale and back to Bleach Green.
  3. Descend Loft Beck and return to Bleach Green.
  4. Descend from Windy Gap into Ennerdale and back to Bleach Green.
  5. Descend Black Sail pass into Ennerdale and return to Bleach Green.

Details of Route
The route is described from the free car park by Bleach Green Cottage, reached by a small road bridge. Leave the car park via a high kissing gate at the eastern end and follow the road to the lake. Turn left across the footbridge at the weir and follow the lakeside path (photo) to Beckfoot. Turn left and reach the main Ennerdale road - did my eyes deceive me or do they breed llamas here (photo)? There are currently problems with legitimate access to Great Bourne. The Floutern Tarn path is littered with notices stating that there is no access to Great Borne from it. There are two paths onto Great Borne which the landowners allow walkers to use, but continued permission for their use may depend upon their being little known and used. Readers are warned that trespassing may well upset this delicate situation. Wainwright's route across Gill Beck and directly up onto Herdus should be avoided at all costs. Rake Beck provides one legitimate ascent.

Turn right at the main Ennerdale road heading east towards Bowness Knott. Continue past Routen Farm and down the dip in the road to a right hand bend where on the left there is a gate and a stile by Rake Beck. Cross the stile and head up the path to the col between Bowness Knott and Great Borne. The path follows Rake Beck at the top of its right bank for much of the way skirting Brown How on the right. From the col the path is clear, to start with, heading up the fellside towards a waterfall. The path continues on the right of Rake Beck to this waterfall and beyond, holding one's interest all the way with fine retrospective views (photo). At one point there is a strange circular dry-stone construction about four feet high which may be an ancient fox trap. Eventually a plateau is reached across which there is a straightforward stroll to Great Borne's summit. The energetic may wish to bear left first of all for the top of Herdus.

From the summit of Great Borne there are views of the Scottish hills across the Solway Firth, with a few lesser Lakeland peaks in the foreground, and the Cumbrian coastal plain to the west. Perhaps of most interest is Ennerdale, with the High Stile ridge to the north of it, Pillar to the south and the Gables prominent at the head. Travel east from the trig. column to the fence (photo) which runs to the southeast, and follow the path down to the end of the fence. Now follow the clear path to Starling Dodd, trying not to rue the loss of 400 hard-earned feet down to the depression. It's worth walking a few yards south from the summit of Starling Dodd for an even better view of Ennerdale and its lake.

Head east from here along the clear path, over Little Dodd, and on to join the path up Lingcomb Edge. There are excellent views from here of Crummock Water, the Solway Firth, and Scottish hills beyond. Photo of Crummock Water and beyond. Follow the ridge to the summit of Red Pike. From here the first glimpses of the Scafells, peeking through between Pillar and High Stile, are obtained. Continue along the ridge, where the fierce crags down to the left draw one's attention, to the top of High Stile.

This summit is flat and rock-strewn, and it's worth visiting various edges for the views down to Buttermere, and into Burtness Comb. Follow the western escarpment and the path to High Crag. Photo of Buttermere from the path. Along this narrowish ridge Ennerdale opens up, showing the widespread afforestation, Ennerdale Water, and across the valley, Pillar, Scoat Fell, and Steeple, now in profile. From the summit of High Crag there is a bird's-eye view of Haystacks, giving some idea of the summit plan. There is a long, steep and difficult descent to Scarth Gap. The paths are in an appalling condition, and it can be difficult to keep one's feet. But, there is help at hand, by way of a few man-made stone staircases with more under construction. Soon, I hope, the nightmare anticipation of this descent can be forgotten.

There is now an interesting ascent of Haystacks ahead, with several scrambles on the way to the top and its tiny summit tarn. From here the path to Innominate Tarn is seen. Follow this path and at Innominate Tarn, instead of continuing towards Blackbeck Tarn, bear right onto the track that runs along the eastern side of Innominate Tarn. Now travelling south, you will come across a line of metal fence posts which run NW-SE. Keep these in sight as you continue southeast, and look out for the perched boulder, a large rock sat upon a flat one, which overlooks Blackbeck Tarn. Brandreth is ahead of you and at this point it is worth making a beeline for it, crossing the upper reaches of Loft Beck as you go. The fence posts will by now have disappeared over towards Great Round How on the left, but you will meet them again on the slopes of Brandreth. There is a path here to follow, though it doesn't seem to save you from the occasional boggy stretch. The view behind you of Haystacks, with the Buttermere valley in the background, looks magnificent (photo), as does Ennerdale (photo). Cross the Honister to Great Gable path when you reach it - Gable Crag is looming to the right by now (photo) - and when the fence posts are found once again, follow them up to the summit of Brandreth. Here the eastern panorama opens up magnificently.

Follow the fence posts south, down the hill towards Green Gable. Kirk Fell with the clear path up Rib End to the right, and the pretty valley of Gillercomb, between Brandreth and Base Brown to the left, catch the eye on the ascent of Green Gable, as does Gable Crag when the summit is reached. The route from here to Great Gable is very clear with the opportunity of a little bit of scrambling on the ascent to keep your mind occupied. There is so much to explore and view from the summit that you should expect to spend some time over it. Your most abiding memory will probably be of the view down Wasdale to Wastwater (photo).

One recent visit here, in hill fog, I well remember having to use a compass - I always take one but very rarely need to use it - to find the path down to Beck Head. It starts off from the summit cairn a few degrees west of north then bears northwest. On the 1:25000 OS map it is shown as a tiny dotted black line bearing the legend "Path". I've not tried their route shown in dashed green but it does not fill me with enthusiasm, much of it being across scree. Follow the well cairned path down the northwest ridge to Beck Head and its little tarns. The path westwards, up Rib End onto the summit plateau of Kirk Fell, is straightforward (photo). Kirk Fell has two widely spaced summits, the southwestern being the highest, with a couple of tarns in between. In hill fog stay with the fence posts which pass near the lower summit and lead to the true summit. There is another path leading between the tarns which can be boggy in wet weather. This is the least visited of the peaks on this part of the route and one can contemplate the best of the view, Great Gable (photo) and the Scafells, in relative peace and quiet.

Continue to follow the fence posts from the summit: they now take a line almost to the north. There is a very steep descent as the path approaches Black Sail, which requires a bit of scrambling. Any first impressions that this is impossible for the walker are soon dispelled once the descent is started. The path up the ridge to Pillar is well trodden and easy to follow. Visit the crest of Looking Stead (panorama) for views of Ennerdale and, of more importance, a preliminary view of the next part of the route. By now you will have come a long way and may opt for the easier route up the ridge to Pillar's summit, but for those not prepared to miss one of the best walks in Lakeland, the High Level route beckons.

The first time I tackled this route our navigator got us lost. The route is far clearer nowadays though on a recent visit I met a couple retracing their steps. They had noticed someone following a path down into Ennerdale and, being unsure whether to follow him, had decided to return to the ridge route. I mention this because the path can be made out carved across the fellside to Robinson's Cairn, visible on the fell's profile, from the viewpoint of Looking Stead. This should provide sufficient a mental picture to avoid uncertainty about the route once on it. It starts about 300 yards from Looking Stead where a path dives off the ridge to the right and is marked by a largish cairn (photo). The path undulates as it traverses the side of the fell maintaining much the same level overall until Robinson's Cairn, which can be seen from much of the route (photo), is reached (photo looking back). From here the path descends slightly before turning left and upwards to the start of the Shamrock Traverse which turns up sharply to the right. This rising rocky shelf can be seen from Robinson's cairn, firstly perhaps with incredulity, but is not as bad as it first appears (photo). It is fairly narrow, slopes slightly downwards away from the cliff face (detail photos). A couple of flat rock slabs, usually with running water trickling over them are the most awkward parts; but it is a secure path and requires none of the heroics of Sharp Edge or Jack's Rake. At the top of the traverse, just past a Mountain Rescue box - which I missed on my most recent visit - and with the top of Pillar Rock ahead, the path turns sharply left and continues up the rocky ridge (photo of Pillar Rock) to the summit. This is an exhilarating route to the top of Pillar - fine rock scenery - that provides too much of interest for aching limbs to intrude in one's thoughts. The couple I mentioned above, who, after we'd spoken briefly, changed their minds again and followed, caught me up on the top full of gratitude. They were lucky: I might have been as lost as they were.

Follow the cairned path southwest from the summit down another steep rocky descent into the appropriately named Wind Gap, and continue up the other side, above Black Crag which is down on your right, to Scoat Fell. Head to the north of this summit plateau and find the clear path along a little ridge to Steeple (photo). Here the views to the north and west are uninterrupted and superb. It gives one the feeling, as do the summits of Catstye Cam and Kidsty Pike, of being on top of the world. Return to Scoat Fell and then follow the broken-down wall west southwest to Haycock (photo).

The boulders on Haycock's summit, reminiscent of those on the Scafell Pikes, make for difficult walking, particularly so after a long day's journey. Continue to follow the wall to Little Gowder Crag and beyond. Take special care on the descent from this latter peak as there are a couple of vertical drops, each of about 12 feet, in the path by the wall. In each case there is an easier route down to the right. On reaching flatter ground and before reaching the lowest point strike off to the northwest. Once over the brow of the ridge there are clear views of Great Cove on your right, and some rocky outcrops on the ridge ahead of you. Make for these outcrops where grassy slopes to the right of them provide a comfortable descent (photo). Eventually a path will be found down this ridge providing an easy route through the heather when it's reached. Silver Cove and Iron Crag, to the left, look impressive, if somewhat bleak.

Lower down the ridge the path enters the forest, and, whilst I'm no lover of the fir infestation of Ennerdale, I confess that I quite enjoy this well marked path through the wood. Lower still there are footbridges to left and right. Take the one on the left - no longer the unprotected greasy plank that gave Wainwright nightmares. The path goes diagonally left and up, before turning right and down, on leaving the footbridge - don't follow the beck. Continue through the forest until a forestry road is reached at a junction. Go through the gates as if heading for the main Ennerdale road but turn left and climb over the ladder stile that leads towards the (southern) lakeside path. This is a pleasant stroll, firstly through fields, and then along the shore back to the car park; with only two short, sharp ascents, by Anglers' Crag, to get the weary legs complaining. The view back along the valley from here is stunning (photo) and across the lake lies Bowness Knott (photo).

When I did this complete route, some years ago, I spent two days over it; camping overnight somewhere near Blackbeck Tarn, on Haystacks. The skies were overcast for a day and a half, but then the sun came out giving me warm and lasting memories of the beautiful scenery (photo of the view from the road) as well as some sense of achievement.

Rev. 02 September 2014

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