21 Apr Hiking Tour of the Lake District
This Hiking tour of the Lake District is a fantastic way to experience the beauty of the Cumbrian mountains. The following article will explain the route, its history and how to approach this adventure. Please be realistic! If you are going to take on this challenge you will need a good level of fitness and be prepared for 3 nights wild camping and the good old Cumbrian weather.
Alternatives to consider
If you do not feel ready for taking on such a big challenge you can break this route down into smaller sections or book a guide. The route can be broken down into day hikes starting and finishing in the same place, meaning you can sleep in the comfort of a hotel / B&B and take your time enjoying each section. Also check out my blog post on the ‘Lake District Top 5 Summits’
Alternatively you can book a guide, complete the route safely and learn about the area as you hike. Booking a Lake District guide is the safest option and means you can relax into the adventure. Knowing you are on the correct path and if anything were to happen you have professional support makes the trip a lot more enjoyable. Some other benefits to booking a Mountain Leader are
- We are skilled in navigation
- fantastic at coaching hill and mountain skills
- offer support with packing and nutrition
- have knowledge on the history and culture of the area
- We will provide your wild camping tent
- arrange any campsite bookings along the route
The History of the Route
The tour of the lake district route follows the famous Bob Graham round. Imagine this scene, at least this is the legend. In 1932 A group of Cumbrian friends sat in a pub one evening celebrating Bob Grahams 42nd birthday, because tomorrow Bob will be 42 years old. Bob and his friends sit with a pint and discuss how he should celebrate his 42nd year.
They decide that Bob should try and break the record for the most summits bagged in 24 hours. They plot a route starting from the Moot Hall in Keswick that creates a 66 mile loop taking in 42 of the most spectacular mountains in the Lake district, the perfect birthday experience. Bob finishes his pint and at midnight sets of on his birthday experience. 23 hours and 39 minutes later Bob arrives back at the Moot Hall having completed the 66 miles and 42 peaks.
This is defiantly not how it happened because just like today Bob would have needed pacers to keep him going and a witness to prove he summited every one of the 42 peaks. Also the timing of the attempt suggests that Bob was in fact 43 years old. There would have been a fantastic amount of work needed to have the attempt legitimately reconised and the training building up to the challenge would have been rigorous. Nevertheless, it is fun to romantasise and tell tales of the superhuman feats that occurred way before my time.
Today more than 2000 people have been recorded to have completeded to the Bob Graham round in under 24 hours. Billy Bland held the record for the fastest loop, completing it in 1982 in 13 hours and 53 minutes. Bland’s record stood for 36 years before Killian Jornet, a Spanish ultra runner, completed the round in 12 hours and 52 minutes.
Community, Culture and economy
Although fell running is the reason this route exists there is so much more to experience along the way. Each valley you pass though is home to a hard working farm. As you hike high up into the mountains you will pass the sheep that belong to the farm. At first It is difficult to comprehend how the sheep you see right up on the highest slopes of the Lakes District mountains could possibly be accounted for by a farm in the valley.
Nevertheless, when you see the shepherd out herding the sheep down off the steep hill side it becomes apparent how hardy these Lake District farmers are. It also becomes apparent why fell running is considered a fun activity. When your average working day is spent out on this rugged terrain it becomes second nature to move across it quickly and efficiently.
Today the Lake District has a booming tourist industry. While there are luxury hotels and spas there are also quaint Bed and Breakfasts tucked away in the fells. These quiet dwellings offer a legitimate feeling of what it is like to live in the National Park.
As you hike the Bob Graham route you will come across deep gullies and steep mountain cliffs. You may see people with helmets and buoyancy aids jumping into the water in the Gullies. When you look up you may see people climbing the sheer face of a cliff with ropes and a harness. These extreme activities can also be booked through a guide and bring a whole new perspective to the mountain environment. If you would like to experience rock climbing or Gill scrambling check out Adventuring Lake District here
The Sherpa service includes a fully guided 6 day hike. Your sleeping equipment will be set up when you arrive at the camp site and wild camping pitches. Breakfast and dinner will be sorted out for you by the support team. The team will replenish your water and provide enough food and snacks for your lunch the following day. All you will need to do is carry your water proofs, warm clothing, food and water for the day ahead. The aim of this service is for you to simply focus on walking and enjoying the route.
Charities and Support
The National trust, John Muir trust, fix the fells and the Cumbria council play an integral part in keeping the Lake District as beautiful as it is. Without these organisations we would not have the solid paths to walk on. The sustainable camp sites and the volunteers who pick up litter all come from these charities keep the mountains clean and tidy. With respect for these hard working people we can also keep the fells clean by sticking to paths and leaving no trace.
As you hike this route you will become aware of the blood sweat and tears that go into keeping the Lake District as beautiful and clean as you currently see it. You will complete the route taking away a sense of ownership and pride for the culture, community and the landscape.
It is a double edged sword inviting tourism into such a wonderful area. On one side it is essential for the economy to thrive and exciting to share the wonders of the mountains. But on the other side, there is a fear that some people will not respect the landscape and the hard work that goes into keeping clean and safe to walk on.
All that said, this is why I am writing this article. Anyone who takes on this route will come away knowing that they have contributed to the local economy. You will learn about the landscape, how to care for it and move efficiently through it. Most of all you will leave with a deep respect for the Lake District National Park, its community and the culture that keeps it thriving.
The tour of the Lake District Hike follows the Bob Graham round route. Starting in Keswick you hike up the Lake Districts 4th highest peak to begin with. Siddaw is a fantastic mountain and gate way to the Northern fells. The Northern fells feel remote and like walking deep into the wild west. With a view from the Summit of Skiddaw it is possible to see the west coast of England and on a very clear day Scotland is also visible. The route heads north east through extremely boggy terrain before you ascend up Great Calva the second peak of the route.
Great Calva puts you right in the centre of the Northern fells and feels like a true escape. Now comes the river crossing!
It is possible to miss out the river crossing by following the Cumbria way to Skiddaw House. Picking up the path that leads to Blencathra House you then ascend to the summit of Blencathra. If it has been raining substantially and the river is high do not try and cross the river. See the map below labelled high river route incase you need to hike around the high river.
Nevertheless, if the river is low wading through it is a welcome experience and will wash all the boggy sludge off your footwear. Now you begin the long ascent of Blencathra. Heading south east up onto Mungrisdale Common you will eventually pick up a trail south. This follows along the top of the steep edge of Tarn Crag. You pass a small body of water before summiting Blencathra the 3rd and final summit of the day.
Descending Blencathra can ether be a nice walk to the valley or an exhilarating scramble down. If you would like to get the adrenaline pumping then head down Halls Fell Ridge. Alternatively you can descend Doddick Fell or Blease Fell. Once you arrive back in the valley head to Low Hollows Campsite for a shower and rest before a very remote and mountainous day number 2.
At the end of day 2 is your first wild camping pitch. Therefore, prepare you gear the night before and be ready for a long day out hiking followed by a night out in the wild. The route begins by making your way out of the valley using 4×4 tracks until eventually you come to the foot of Clough Head, your first summit of the day.
There are a couple of routes to the summit of Clough Head. There is a direct route up Red Screes which is very steep and in wet weather difficult to ascend. A more gentle ascent can be found if you walk around toward White Pike and then up the shoulder of Clough head.
From the summit of Clough Head you follow the gentle ridge line to the south and then turning south east up and on to the top of Great Dodd.
Steady hiking all the way
After great Dodd the ridge line continues nicely over to Watson’s Dodd, Stybarrow Dodd and then up on to Rise the 5th summit of the day, the 8th summit of the trip so far. The ridge line continues on to the summit of White side then Lower Man before reaching the high point of the day, Helvellyn.
It may sound like a lot of summits so far on day 2 however the terrain is kind, the trails are obvious and the ascents are not as steep as day one. Although what is about to come in the following 4 days is much more intense, so enjoy the ease of hiking while you can.
After Helvellyn you follow the ridge line over Nethermost Pike and Dollywaggon Pike. Then you take on the steep descent down to Grisedale Tarn.
Do the last one it is worth it
At this stage I would recommend walking to the summit of Fairfield before setting up to wild camp at Grisedale Tarn. The reason for this is because Fairfield is apart of the route however involves hiking up and back down the same path. By doing it at the end of day two means on day 3 you can begin your hike out of the Helvellyn range and into the Langdales. At the end of day 2 you are 14 peaks and 25 miles into your Hiking tour of the lake district.
Grisedale tarn is a wonderful place to wild camp just like all the suggested pitches in this article. It has running water from the out flow of the tarn and the mountains act like huge protective walls. It feels remote and offers a true sense of living out in the hills.
All that said it is important that you understand your rights around wild camping. Are you unsure how to conduct your self while out wild camping? Yes, then please read my wild camping blog here.
If you would like to learn more about the laws surrounding wild camping in the UK watch this video. If you have any question regarding wild camping I am always happy to help so please get in touch.
Day 3 and 4 are the true initiation to the Lake District. Today you will feel the steepness of the terrain and experience one of the most remote an rugged areas within the lake district. Pack the tents away and once you are good to go head around to the north face of seat sandal and start the short but steep ascent to the summit.
After Seat Sandal, peak 15, descend the same route, head west following Raise Beck all the way to the road at Dunmail Raise. Drink some water, take a deep breath, focus and ascend Steel fell. Do not get this ascent wrong! The path is obvious at the start but it is easy to find your self scrambling into a gully. The path is extremely steep and lose so step with care and take your time, patience is the aim of the game.
Take your time and get the route right
Continue west along the tops which feel like boggy moorland with steep cliffs to the south. Eventually you reach Calf Crag, summit number 17. From Calf crag some navigation will be needed to follow mere beck to Codale Head and then round to stand on Sergeant Man. Sergeant Man is summit number 18, there are plenty of small tarns and reentrants to follow. In over cast weather map and compass would be advisable in this location.
From Sergeant Man head north west and to the summit of High Rise. Now the terrain levels out for a while and offers a break from the steep slopes and navigation heavy maze of crags and tarns. Due south of High Rise is Thunacar Knott and south again Harrison Stickle, summit number 21 and half the summits complete. On a clear day Harrison Stickle opens up the power of the Langdales. The langdale pikes is the epicenter of the lake districts rock climbing.
Be mindful where you step but enjoy the exposure
This is where all the keen rock climbers come to test their skills and confidence on the rock. When you stand on Harrison Stickle and look across it is evident why. The mountain crags start way down in the valley and rise straight up to the summits. Thankfully, because you are hiking you will simply walk over the tops but if you listen carefully you may hear the calls between climbers belaying and seconding up the routes below.
Next is number 22, Pike of Stickle, and the count down to completion of the summits is under way. Pike of stickle has a steep walk to the summit. If you go slightly off trail it quickly turns into a scramble, so take your time and pick your route carefully. Descend the same path back down and then begin your walk down Martcrag moor. Head for the small tarn north west of Pike of stickle before looping back south and up to Rossett Pike, summit 23.
Next is a short walk off Rossett Pike to Angle tarn which is the perfect wild camping spot for the end of day 3. Day 3 took you over 9 summits and covered 12 miles meaning you are now 37 miles and over half the distance to the finish.
This is the ‘BIG’ day. As in, the day when you summit the big mountains of the Lake District. It all starts with a gentle hike up to the saddle between Bow Fell and Esk Pike. From the saddle follow the trail east and then south to the summit of Bow Fell. There are cairns all the way to the summit but keep an eye on your direction of travel so you know you are heading up to the summit and not along and down into the valley.
Once you have stood on the summit of Bow Fell follow the same route back down into the saddle. Next is summit 25 Esk Pike. Esk Pike is a steady ascent finishing with a bouldery summit. It opens up the rest of the day ahead. From Esk Pike you can pretty much see every summits you have to tick off today.
To the Big Fells
The walk over to Great End starts with the descent north west and the a short and steady ascent west. Then head north to the flat open top of Great End, summit 26. From Great End you head South to Ill Crag but remain high. There is a little bit of a descent off the summit of Great End but not much. You navigate around a small crag and a boulder field back out onto a flat trail and then a short blocky scramble to Ill Crag. Ill Crag opens up views down towards Hard Knott Pass and the far southern fells. From Ill Crag there is a small descent west and then a quick ascent up big boulders to the summit of Broad Crag.
Follow a compass bearing if it is cloudy
Head south west picking your way carefully down the large lose boulders. Eventually you arrive at the saddle of Broad Crag and Scafell Pike. Continue south west up the steep scree slopes of Scafell Pike to the Summit. There are cairns all the way up, but again be mindful that you are heading in the right direction. You cannot mistake the summit because it has a huge memorial platform at the top next to the trig point. Plus, you cant get any higher in England.
You have one more summit to complete today and then it is time to head for the camp site where you can enjoy the luxury of a shower and flat dry grassy bliss. All that said, the next summit, number 30, is the summit that offers the greatest obstacle. Once you have descended south west from Scafell Pike summit to Mickledore You have two options. You can ether descend south east down broad stand and then loop back up via Foxes Tarn over the steep scree slopes. Alternatively, head west down the other side of Broad Stand and brave Lords Rake.
Lords Rake is the quicker option however your pack needs to be light. I can not emphasize this enough. If you are considering Lords Rake you must be packing light and have the ability to navigate over extremely steep and loose ground. If you slip on Lords Rake you are in trouble! Nevertheless, it is a lot of fun and opens up a whole new perspective of the mountains. It is close to the feeling of exposure you get from rock climbing and the only time you will feel these epic drops hiking this route.
Pick the safe route
All that said, to be safe head down to Foxes Tarn around the steep crags. Go up the scree and to the summit. From the summit follow the trail south west to Burnmoor Tarn. Then north west down to Wasdale Head National Trust campsite. Click here to book your pitch at the site. Now you can relax for the evening. Today you completed 30 summits and added 10 miles to your total distance. This makes your total mileage 47 miles and meaning you have 19 mile to go.
We are here to help
Day 5 is a 9 mile day with some steep sections to scramble and another 6 summits to explore. Starting the day from Wasdale Head will be difficult because after two long days and wild camping the comforts of the campsite will feel very nice. All the same, it is essential to get up and off nice and early because the next wild camping spot is not too far away.
Be carful scrambling tired
The first summit of the day is Yewbarrow. After a short walk down the road heading south west there is a car park. Walk through the car park and pick up the trail that goes up through the gorse bushes. Eventually you walk out onto the grassy slopes of Yewbarrow. The ascent up Yeabarrow is not long but it get steeper as you hike. The top of Yewbarrow is pretty flat and and the trail heads north to what seems like an abrupt end. Go carefully down the scramble off Yewbarrow to the trail below at Dore Head.
fingers crossed for a clear day
Next comes Red Pike, a nice steady ascent to summit 32. Keep heading North West out on to what feels like open moor land with views over the west coast. On a clear day the Isle of Man can be seen in the distance. You will eventually come to the most impressive drystone wall right on the top of the fells. Find a safe place to pass through the wall and then pick your way up onto the top of Steeple.
Begging the route back to Keswick
Go back down the same path you hiked up Steeple. Head through the wall and then turn east over Little Scoat Fell. Start the gentle ascent north east to the summit of Pillar. Just before the summit of Pillar the terrain does get a little steep but only for a short time. Descending from Pillar heading east opens up some impressive north facing cliffs below.
Step with extreme care in this area! A slip to the north will result in misery. All the same take in the sheer power of the mountains. This small section is the last of the large impressive mountainous crags. Next comes the short scramble up onto Kirk Fell. Make sure that you look for the tarns and then the cross roads in the trail. Walk on the trail heading south and up the steep north side of Kirk Fell. Things get a lot less steep before you reach summit number 35, Kirk Fell.
One more summit to tick off today before a lovely wild camping experience at Sty Head Tarn. From the summit of Kirk Fell head east picking your way carefully down the steep path which eventually flattens out to Beckhead Tarn. Continue east and make your way up to Stone Cove and below the huge north face of Great Gable.
Keep the steep cliffs of Great Gable to your right. Eventually you ascend up in to Windy Gap the saddle between Green gable and Great Gable. Windy Gap often has a constant breeze blowing through it. Clouds get dragged through making an impressive scene of movement in an otherwise bold and solid landscape.
Keep safe on lose terrain
Once you are in Windy Gap head up to the south west and the steep rocky ascent of Great Gable. Be mindful while ascending Great Gable because it is common for walkers above to kick rocks down. This can be very dangerous for those walking below. If you kick a rock lose and it begins to tumble down give those below a shout to bring their attention to the incoming projectile.
Congratulations! that is the final summit of day 5. This means you have completed 36 summits and 56 miles. The descent off Great Gable to the south west is very steep and lose. Go steady and keep your eyes on the prize. Sty Head Tarn is where you will be sleeping tonight.
6 more summits and 10 miles to go. The last day involves a nice gradual start, a breakfast bun at Honister, a long ascent, a steep descent and a nice flat walk around Derwnt Water. The day begins with a short Sharpe ascent back up to Windy Gap. Then turn north and up the steep trail to Green Gable, summit number one of the day.
Continue north and descend past Gillercomb Head before making a steady ascent to Brandreth. The summit of Brandreth is not obvious so remain alert or you will miss it. Follow the fence which travels North /South along the fell top from Brandreth pretty much straight to the summit of Grey Knotts. This is the 3rd summit of the day and summit 39 overall.
Grab a breakfast bun and a coffee
Continue north off the summit of Grey Knotts and pick your way towards to noisy carpark of Honister slate mine. There is a café at Honister. You can get an amazing breakfast bun and a coffee. Make sure you enjoy a well deserved break here before beginning your ascent up to Dale Head.
From Honister car park the summit of dale head is about 1 mile north. The ascent is a long and steady but once you reach the summit you will be greeted with an awesome view of the Newlands valley. I highly recommend visiting this area for a full day.
The last ridge line
Now you are at summit 40 Dale Head. The next two summits only involve a short descent and gradual ascent. Step carefully down the steep rocky descent from Dale Head and then up the gradual ramp to Hindscarth Summit. Take a long sweeping walk over onto Robinson, summit 42 and your final summit. The descent takes you down steeply past a reservoir. Then you follow a beautiful grassy trail all the way into Little Town.
From little Town the trail skirts around the base of cat bells and then you pick up the Cumbria way. Head north and around the west banks of Derwent Water and continue on the Cumbria way. Follow all the way back into Keswick where your loop of the Hiking tour of the Lake District is complete.
This route will expose you to the Lake District in a way that can not be achieved through day hikes and short wild camping trips. You will experience each side of the national park from its core. The majority of your 6 days will be spent out in the remote mountainous terrain.
By committing to this hike you are also committing to contributing to the local economy. You will also learn about the laws of the land and your own developments as a skilled hiker. This route required a good level of fitness, navigation skills and an efficient approach to packing.
If you have any questions please contact me and ask. I would rather people take on a challenge safely and succeed, therefore I am always happy to help.
If you would like to book a guide then please check out my offer below. I am currently developing a Sherpa service for this route. This would mean every night you will arrive to your tent already set up and a hot meal on the stove. The current offer includes a fully guided experience with support before hand with packing and advise on gear choices. I will arrange the campsites and share my knowledge about the mountains and culture as we hike. This is also a great time to pick up navigation skills from me as we move so ask questions and get as much out of the experience as possible.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article