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All the Walking Routes up Blencathra

By Dave Roberts   

on December 1, 2018    4.78/5 (9)

All the Walking Routes up Blencathra

Facts and Figures about Blencathra

Blencathra Facts: 
  • Once primarily known as Saddleback, the name Blencathra was poplarised by Wainwright.
  • The ridge comprises six tops – Blease Fell, Gategill Fell, Hallsfell, Atkinson Pike, Doddick Fell and Scales Pike.
  • Wainwright detailed more routes to the summit of Blencathra than any other mountain.
Where is Blencathra?

Blencathra can be found in the Lake District’s Northern fells – near Keswick.

How High is Blencathra in metres / feet?
868 metres
How long will it take to walk up Blencathra ?

Blencathra is a compact mountain and you should be able to walk up and down in around 4 hours, depending on fitness.

How Far is it to the top of Blencathra? 

The main routes are all reasonably short (4-5km) and you’ll need to approach from the north if you’re looking to get some distance in.

How hard is it to climb Blencathra 

If you approach via one of the scrambling routes – then it’s a proposition for experienced hill walkers only. The grassier approaches don’t pose any technical difficulties but may need navigational skills in mist.

What’s the best walking route up Blencathra?

Sharp Edge.

Which is the easiest walking route up Blencathra ?

Via Blease Fell, Scales Fell or via Foule Crag.

Map showing all the routes up Blencathra

View the full route map

All the Walking Routes up Blencathra Introduction

Blencathra, one known primarily as Saddleback, is a popular mountain in the Lake District’s Northern Fells. It may only be 868 metres in height, but it’s one of the most popular mountains in the Lakes owing to the wide varieties of routes to it’s summit. It’s also diminutive in scale with some routes up being only around 3km in length. The most famous route up Blencathra is undoubtedly Sharp Edge, but there are other options that are almost as good. Good tracks flank the mountain to the south, making a circular walk easy to plan.

Blencathra’s summit ridge consists of six individual summits – with the highest being Hallsfell Top at 868m in height, Gategill Fell Top the second highest with the other four being Atkinson PikeDoddick Fell, Scales Fell and Knowe Crags (aka Blease Fell). Peak Baggers might be disappointed, as only Hallsfell Top is classified as a Wainwright. Those looking for variety however, will be spoilt for choice! It’s no surprise that Wainwright described more routes up Blencathra than any other mountain and we recommend his Illustrated Guide to the Northern Fells for the full routes.

Why is it called Blencathra. 

Cumbric in origin, with blain meaning top  and cadeir meaning chair,  similar in origin to cader in Wales – so it’s basically the chair-like mountain, a totally apt description!

Blencathra was also known as Saddleback, which was the only name used by the Ordnance Survey for many years as opposed to the Cumbric Blencathra. It was Alfred Wainwright who popularised the use of Blencathra in his series of influential Pictoral Guides to the Lake District. The current OS maps shows both, but precedence is given to Saddleback.

Those looking to recover from their walk can either pop over to Keswick, or there are a number of pubs in Threlkeld (The Sally and the Horse and Farrier Inn)  and The White Horse Inn & Bunkhouse can be found in Scales.

All The Walks up Blencathra

Note that distances are for the singular approach route only. You’ll obviously need to add the descent route as well as work out how to return to the starting point if they don’t start and end in the same place. As mentioned previously, there’s a good network of footpaths on the southern flanks that make organising a circuit easy enough. To the north, if you feel inclined to descend that way, is the Cumbrian Way which can be followed as far as Guide Stone and a good bridleway then returns you to Threlkeld.

Sharp Edge Scramble up Blencathra

Height Gained – 625 metres ,  Distance – 4.4  km, Time –2 hours 

We’ll start with what’s often considered the best route up Blencathra, and one of the best scrambles in the Lake District; Sharp Edge. It has a fearsome reputation, but for seasoned fell walkers who are used to heights it offers an exciting approach to Blencathra. The polished bad step in particular requires care in the wet and is a renowned accident black spot.

Dave Chick warns that Sharp Edge

… is an exposed scramble that should only be attempted if you’re confident in your abilities and have a head for heights. The scramble up Foule Crag can provide a little challenging to some also.

The following routes are all Blencathra walks that avoid Sharp Edge.

Halsfell Ridge Scramble up Blencathra

Height Gained – 720 metres ,  Distance – 3 km, Time – 2 hours 

While Sharp Edge is the most popular, Hallsfell Ridge provides an alternative route and an easier scramble to the summit of Blencathra. This one’s highly recommended if the idea of tackling the knife edge of Sharp Edge fills you with dread.

Care is needed in the wet as

The upper crest of Hall’s Fell is classed as Grade 1 scrambling and, like Sharp Edge, the slate rock can be particularly slippery when wet.

Scales Fell and Doddick Fell

Height Gained – 620 metres ,  Distance – 3.6 km, Time – 2 hours 

One of the easiest approaches is via Scales Fell from Scales, with a largely good path. It follows a broad grassy ridge to the south of Scales Tarn and is one descent option after ascending via Sharp Edge.

The route can can also be approached via Doddick Fell from Doddick Farm, or even via Scaley Beck which according to Wainwright is one of the only gills on the southern flanks of the mountain that offers a practical route up.  Both of these join the main Scales Fell path on Blencathra’s eastern shoulder.

Gategill Fell

Height Gained – 660 metres ,  Distance – 3 km, Time –2 hours 

The Gategill Fell route involves a steep ascent to start with, but becomes interesting once you reach Knott Halloo as that’s where the ridge walk starts. Gategill Fell Top is the second highest summit on the Blencathra ridge.

Blease Fell

Height Gained – 600 metres ,  Distance – 3.5 km, Time – 2 hours 

The walk up Blencathra via Blease Fell offers a rather less exciting option than the scrambling routes to the east. This steady plod is often used as a descent for those looking to walk a longer loop, or for anyone who doesn’t like their mountains too exposed!

Blencathra from ‘behind’

Height Gained – 700  metres ,  Distance – 6.7 km, Time –3 hours – From Mungrisdale

Wainwright suggested this route be tackled from the village of Mungrisdale which involves a long walk in via Glenderamackin or up along the flanks of The Tongue and over the col between Bowscale Fell and Bannerdale Crags to Glendermackin Col. It can also be approached from Skiddaw House via the Cloven Stones if you’re based there or looking for a really lengthy route. This approach  would include a walk over Mungrisdale Common, one of the least prominent of all the Wainwright summits. Much quicker would be to set off from Scales and join one of the paths up the Glendermackin from there. All options ascend Blencathra over Blue Screes and Foule Crag, joining up with the Sharp Edge route to the summit.

Local Information and Recommended Maps and Guidebooks

Recommended Maps

Blencathra Guidebooks:

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Dave Roberts

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