On the face of it, there are very few real mountainous areas in the UK. We have vast swathes of hilly moorland in all corners of the country, but when it comes to proper groupings of many mountains (anything classified over 600m in height can be called a mountain in the UK), there are only a few offerings. In Wales, there is the Snowdonia National Park, with the Snowdonia Massif, Carenddau Range and Glyders, to name a few. In Scotland there is the vast mountainous regions of Munros across the highlands; while in England, there is the Lake District.
One of the most popular areas in the UK for holiday-makers, you’d be forgiven for prioritising relaxing on the shorelines of the many lakes with a bottle of wine and good food than attempting to tackle the many mountains in the area. However, should you look at a set of peaks long enough, the overwhelming feeling to want to see the view from ‘up there’, while conquering yet another peak, can and should win you over.
This is what happened last time I had the pleasure of visiting. We’d booked a long weekend in and around Ambleside to blow off the pre-lockdown cobwebs; many a pint and cake was had! If you’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting Lake Winderemere, more so hired a boat for a day out on the water, then you’ll know the sheer presence that the Langdale Pikes and Bowfell have when viewed from the Lake.
When looking to the North West from Lake Windermere, the Langdale Pikes are the first major peaks you can see, with Bowfell towering up to the left of them. The pikes are instantly recognisable – what seem to be 2 large mounds of rocks jutting out from an otherwise settled landscape represent Harrison Stickle and Pike o’ Stickle.
So there it was, a plan to tackle whatever was in waiting around the Pikes at the end of our long weekend as a final hoorah before returning to the system.
The route starts in the National Trust area of Dungeon Ghyll, parking is plentiful and you can scope out the quaint pub that’ll reward you toward the end of the day. As you break out onto open access land, don’t be tempted by the well-mettled path on the right hand side – this will take you up to the waterfalls along Dungeon Ghyll & Stickle Ghyll – instead, bear left and begin the pretty steep climb up and around Pike Howe. The rate of ascent here is almost instantaneously rewarded with some pretty brilliant views back through the valley.
As you round the back of Pike Howe, the first target of the day states its presence. A wonderfully craggy appearance when approached from the south, Harrison Stickle gives you a real sense of mountain, willing you on. Clearing a grassy area while approaching Thorn Crag gives you awesome views into the v-shaped valley of Dungeon Ghyll. The route starts to get a little scrambly after this, so tread well and take your time.
The numerous crags and cliffs that form Harrison stickle are absolute prime for those with steely nerves – take care following my track as I took one such route – great fun and completely do-able when taking your time and planning your route! If you’d rather a more trodden route, continue through the valley and intercept the path to the top.
From the top of Harrison stickle, you can pretty much see the entire route for the day – Pike of Stickle juts out from the landscape, begging to be scrambled as you approach from the east. Take care in the moorland between the two – there are stepping stones around for good reason; otherwise pick your route and set off, your next target is due east and easily found in good weather.
Once you have finished with Pike o’ Stickle, you will start a quick descent into Martcrag Moor. Again, take care as the ground can be wet even in the hottest of weathers; where there are stepping stones, most definitely use them!
As you intercept the Cumbria Way, Langdale Combe stretches out and down into the valley, with peculiar earth formations hinting at a significant land slide in years past. From this point, a gentle walk takes you toward a real treat if you’re the type of person that is more than happy to stop off for a wild swim. Angle Tarn, with its dramatic cliffs and somewhat sheltered placement is the perfect stop off for lunch. Maybe you could even wash off your boots that’ll be looking a little muddy in the beck that cascades away from the tarn.
Once you’ve taken your well earned rest and fuelled yourself good and proper for what’s to come next, set off up tongue head, bearing left as you crest and start to head round the back of the very same cliffs you’ve just had a break below. The route from here looks impossibly steep, but stay with it – the path is well trodden and rewards perseverance.
As you crest into Ore Gap – check your map for this one – you’ll be bang in the middle of a crossroads; right for Esk Pike, Straight over for Eskdale, or left for Bow Fell. Bear left and pump your lungs and legs for one last slog to the summit. The route from here goes from grassy path to loose stone to impeccable boulder field really quickly. Take your time to find a fun route to the obvious summit and get ready for some awesome views.
As you stand on the summit, as with the most gruelling climbs, the views are to die for. Full panoramic throws take in Windermere, the Langdale Valley (in all its glory), Crinckle Crags, and Ask Pike, stretching round to Scafell and everything in between. While on this particular summit on this particular day, I came across a friendly face appreciating the view. He told me how we could pretty much see the finest land that the Lake District has to offer – and I couldn’t put it better myself.
From here, you’ll descend using the ‘The Band’ route. If you have access to an OS map, this will be blindingly obvious. Fast, well trodden and direct, The Band will take you straight back into the valley with minimal fuss; just plan your route and keep those knees bent – locking out and stepping slow will almost definitely result in some pretty sore knees by the end of it. Once on the valley floor, its an arm-swinging bimble back to Dungeon Ghyll.
The pub at the end serves up some of the most fantastic food and ale to refuel and cap off an awesome day – Even if the weather is against you on this route, you can be sure to have an amazing day – the ground you walk on is rewarding enough in itself.
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