Lake District Hikes: Kirk Fell & Great Gable

Lake District Hikes: Kirk Fell & Great Gable

Wasdale is one of the most remote parts of the Lake District. Those views of Wast Water and its surrounding mountains are instantly recognisable, but it’s a relatively peaceful part of the national park because it’s harder to get to. So much the better if, like me, you want to get away from the crowds. Not only is the place itself stunning: curving lakeside beaches, towering scree slopes reflected in the waters of England’s deepest lake, and green fells all around, but the road to get there is almost as good as the destination.

The Duddon River at Ulpha

Leaving the main coast road at Duddon Bridge you strike inland through the Duddon Valley to Ulpha with its pretty bridge and river. Then it’s across the austere beauty of mountain—ringed moorland to Eskdale. Beyond that you turn right at Santon Bridge and the views get even better. You can see the big mountains of Wasdale now coming nearer, and on one stretch of road you can see them marching in a line beyond picturesque woods and green fields.

The Road to Wasdale
March of the Mountains

This scenic drive brings you into Wasdale, with its four miles of lakeside road where your progress is slowed by the compulsion to stop every few hundred yards to take photos.

Beautiful roadside views of Wast Water
Wonderfully clear reflections

Well that took most of the morning, but the real reason for coming here was to hike. There are more big fells than you can point a camera at. I’d done the Scafell Massif several times before, so now I would be picking off new Wainrights that I’d never done before, starting with Kirk Fell.

Kirk Fell from Wasdale

I started in glorious sunshine by striking across the fields and past the Inn at Wasdale Head. Across the little brook and I was at the feet of Kirk Fell, a medium-sized mountain commanding the head of the valley. The lower slopes are steep and green, and it was straight up the flank of the mountain in an unbroken slog. The reward for this was the sumptuous view back down the valley towards Wast Water. This is among the best views in Lakeland.

A long hard slog up the slope
This is how steep the path was – for a long way! Lingmell in the background across the valley.
The view of Wasdale from half-way up Kirk Fell – so beautiful!

Higher up there was a long, treacherous scree slope which took a lot of patience and gritting of teeth to cross before reaching the rocky summit. From the broken plateau around the cairn there are 360-degree views of the Western Lakes – with Yewbarrow, Red Pike and Pillar on one side, Scafell Pike on the other and a veritable crowd of peaks near and far in-between. Closest of all was the knotty crown of Great Gable, rising like a gnarled fist out of the lower valley slopes.

The Scafell Massif – England’s highest peaks
Great Gable – a fortress of a mountain

This whetted my appetite for the next stage of the hike, which meant walking down the far side of Kirk Fell into a saddle of land between the two mountains. At a cross-roads of mountains paths I ignored the temptations of Haystacks away north and pressed straight on up the rocky flanks of Great Gable itself. I attacked the steep south-western approach, which is where the walking turned into scrambling, which in turn at times became outright climbing. It really did feel like assaulting a castle’s walls at times. But that’s the best bit of a good day in the fells. Until you’ve scraped your knuckles and hauled yourself up vertiginous rock-faces, you haven’t really been mountaineering.

Great Gable – a fortress of a mountain
The battlements of Great Gable

There were more great views from the top of Great Gable, including straight back down to Wast Water where you could now see the whole lake at once, and across to the big neighbours of Great End and Lingmell. They were too much for today, so that’ll have to be another time. Instead I descended to Styhead Tarn to strike the path down into Lingmell Beck.

Looking down the Liza Valley from Great Gable, with Kirk Fell on the left
Wast Water from Great Gable

There were more great views to savour at the footsore end of a sunny afternoon as I traversed the lower valley slopes back into Wasdale and back to camp. It had been a great hike – another couple of Wainwrights notched up and lots of ideas for plenty more. Tomorrow – Yewbarrow!

Sunset by Wast Water – great way to end a day
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