Blencathra – An Emotional Ownership

Lancaster House General Manager and keen fell walker, Tim Bell, tells us why this mountain is deserving of a special place in his heart.

Growing up in the North Cumbrian town of Penrith, the view directly west from my home was the distinctive and unique shape of “Saddleback”, or better known as “Blencathra”. It rises majestically and powerfully on its own from the gently undulating, low-lying moors which separate Keswick and the market town where I spent the first 18 years of my life.

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The fame of this 2,848 ft peak is well deserved. Wainwright himself described more routes to the summit than any other mountain in his pictorial guides. Its Geology is diverse, contrasting and surprising as you discover new parts to Mudstone massif on every visit. It can be approached from many angles, with varying levels of difficulty from the sublimely straight-forward to the white-knuckled, adrenaline-spouting fear that comes with a traverse across “Sharp Edge”.

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Its fame though has recently taken on a completely new and highly controversial angle, bringing this mountain to the attention of the world, its Tycoons as well as its ever-expanding base of Gore-Tex wearing admirers.

In an unprecedented attempt to address some of his personal tax issues, the owner of Blencathra, the 8th Earl of Lonsdale, decided to put the popular peak up for sale for the asking price of £1.75m. Naturally, uproar ensued.

Committees were set up, community-packed meetings and public campaigns took place in village halls and the streets of Keswick. And here, today, the “Friends of Blencathra” are now hopefully in a position to buy the mountain and keep it in the public ownership. On passion alone, the mountain belongs to them, not forgetting of course the emotional ownership all fell-walkers have for this peak.

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So, more than ever, Blencathra demands my attention and respect. And for this reason I have been drawn to its slopes more than ever these last few months. In rain, in snow, and even the occasional sunshine, my boots have happily plodded up to her elegant summit on more occasions than any other mountain has managed to demand from me. And with an array of access routes to the top, it’s also become my mountain of choice when budding fell-walkers ask if I can be their guide to a real summit. “With pleasure” I always say. “I know just the mountain for you”.

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Always starting from the sheltered safety of the Mousthwaite Comb which, although initially steep, soon offers a safe and quick path up to the grassy slopes of Scales Fell where you catch the first glimpse of Sharp Edge which hovers menacingly over Scales Tarn. Unless experienced, and aided with perfectly dry conditions, I’d say avoid this route. But the safer route to the top continues along a broad path, which unlike many Lake District peaks, is unmarked by cairns, so be wary if venturing out in snowy conditions. As always, a map and compass are a must on any mountain outing. After a long and gentle ascent, you are then faced with the majestic sight of the numerous sharp, rocky ribs and tongues that eject southwards from the summit to the valley floor at Threlkeld. Here, you turn Northwards and walk above the Tarn as you follow the zigzagging path up to Hallsfell Top, the highest summit of Blencathra.

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The view is unrivalled in my humble opinion. To the west, Skiddaw dominates the foreground, South-west is a panorama of Lakeland’s highest peaks, to the East is the long Pennine backbone of England and to the North can be seen the various mountains of Southern Scotland. This is truly a 360 degree panorama to savour, enriched even further by a walk along the summit plateau towards Knowe CragsWhen heading back, take a detour via Scales Tarn, a perfectly sheltered and atmospheric bowl from which to take stock of this natural amphitheatre.

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You will return to your car feeling like you’ve conquered a real mountain, experienced a view like no other and sympathise with the people who simply won’t let this mountain be bought out by anyone but the locals who adore it.

Lake District Walking Holidays

Combine your visit to the Lake District fells with a Lake District Hotel Break. At English Lakes we have three hotels in the heart of the Lake District and two in the nearby City of Lancaster and the seaside town of Morecambe all perfectly located for a UK Walking holiday.

  • Written by: Tim Bell

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