Sharp Edge is an exhilarating climb that is over too quickly.
Gideon (e-outdoor buyer) and myself spent the night at the YHA in Keswick after driving up from the Midlands. The last time I stayed there the first floor was out of action due to the flooding of 2016. It had only been re-opened the day before we arrived, so all that floor was brand new, and very smart.
I am a real fan of the YHA. I think, on the whole, they are great value for your money. Being able to chill out and perhaps share experiences with other walkers to me, is a great way to spend an evening before a walk. Unfortunately on this occasion our fellow hostelers in the room above ours were a little noisy (that’s the risk of the YHA). So neither Gideon nor I got the best nights sleep.
We soon recovered and felt fine in the morning though, after a few coffees and a good breakfast all for just over a fiver. The cloud of sleeplessness lifted and we were ready for whatever the day may bring.
It was a cloudy day, but the cloud was high and we could see the tops of the mountains, when we climbed into our car to head for Blencathra at about 8.30am. The weather forecast was good, it would stay dry the cloud breaking up later in the day. A bit windy and cool on top of the mountains. So I packed my Osprey Stratos 36 pack with a micro down jacket and a hard shell, because I thought I am going to feel hot and cold at a number of different times during the days climb.
I was excited about what the day had to offer, memories of a slightly sleep deprived night were soon forgotten by the anticipation of a good day’s walk and climb, (and a stomach full of bacon and eggs!).
This is the small village where our walk started. It lies at the southern base of Blencathra just off of the A66. Both of us thought “what a great name for a village”. It is Norse in its origin, and means “The well of the thrall”. Thrall being a medieval term for a man who is bound to his lord. The village is a maze of narrow lanes and small terraced cottages, which once housed miners. It has a great pub (as we discovered later) and a history that goes back to the earliest of times.
It was a gentle start
From Threlkeld we walked east beside the river Glenderamackin (that’s a mouthful!), which runs parallel to the A66 on it’s southern side. It was a gentle start to our day and I enjoyed walking through the fields. There were plenty of sheep, many of them with lambs. We stopped and watched one sheep with three lambs that looked newborn. One was struggling to get on its feet for a while. As we stood there we were both willing it to get up and cheering it on, it was a relief when it eventually succeeded and made it’s wobbly way to its mum. The new life of spring is infectious and we carried on our way with a lighter step.
From the path there was a great view of Blencathra and our goal at the top. It was beckoning us up.
A steady climb to Sharp Edge
Crossing the A66 at Scales Farm there is a clear path, that is a steady climb up the side of Scales Fell leading into Mousthwaite Comb.
Blencathra has become a popular walk since the BBC program “Blencathra life of a mountain” by Terry Abraham. As we climbed higher we saw more people arriving to walk up it. Not all of them were choosing sharp edge, there are many easier paths to the top making it very accessible.
I love a walk where it is possible to take your time, to stop and admire the views as often as you like. As we got higher the views simply became better and better, and I must admit I became a bit snap happy.
The path from the Comb itself is a worthwhile walk, as it winds its way up the side of the valley following the river Glenderamackin to it’s sources. The sides are quite steep with views to the south of Great Dod.
As we followed the path around Scales Fell the silhouette of Sharp Edge came into view. Clearly defined against the sky, telling us “this is what you are in for”. The path takes a sharp left up some steps beside Scales Beck to Scales tarn. A beautiful tarn in the bowl of Blencathra and a feature of the climb.
Then it is Sharp Edge.
I have traversed Sharp Edge once before and have two memories of it. The first is that it was in the clouds, so I could not see the drop on either side – that was disappointing. The second is of almost becoming cragfast and slipping of, because I took a route that was a dead-end. It took a bit of time to work out how to get back while desperately trying to keep my footing.
I was really happy that today I would get the ‘full’ experience of standing on a ridge surrounded with nothing – and hopefully not getting stuck or slipping.
Sharp Edge is dangerous. There have been some serious falls and even some fatalities over the years, especially in poor weather. I cannot say though that I ever felt nervous as we scrambled up over ridges and rocks. Sometimes I needed to use all ‘fours’, but sometimes I could confidently walk upright. Especially in the middle section, which is almost a path and a bit of a break from scrambling, which is about half way along the ridge. I found it to be an exhilarating feeling to stand with nothing around you (it is all below!) just the sky, for a while you are “on top of the world.”
I love the feeling when I have a good hand hold in the rock as I pull myself up.The solidity of it is somehow empowering as it engages with my own arms strength. Scrambling up rocks is one of my favourite past times. The sense of ever going higher has a strange attraction, maybe there is something ancient in that, after all Churches and Temples are often built on high places.
Unfortunately it is over all too soon and it is only a short walk that remains to the summit.
At the top of Blencathra we met a Fell Runner, he must have been at least in his mid 60’s, probably nearer 70. He had been Fell Running for about 15 years. He had not run up today, he had walked quickly! – but he ran back down. Fell runners amaze me, I puff and blow just walking up hill – but running?!!!
They have got to be some of the fittest people in the land, this chap certainly seemed to look good on it. He was very friendly and chatted for quite a while about the area and his experiences.
Along the top
We stood for sometime, even though it was a bit chilly, looking south at the views of Derwent Water and Thirlmere. Whichever summit you stand on in the Lakes you are sure to have wonderful views on a clear day like this one. It is very hard to not look at the peaks and start thinking ” I want to go up that one – and that one – and…”. I always feel sad when I set of back home leaving those peaks and valleys behind. It’s a place where I could stay forever like A.W. did.
It is not quite a mile across the ‘saddle’ ridge. A gentle walk after Sharp Edge, to Knowe Crags. There are expansive views on both sides with a clear view of Skiddaw to the north, whose top is still in the clouds. I think that’s got to be the next trip.
The path is very clear across the top cutting through the grassy slopes. Today it is calming and restoring as we amble along, but I bet it can be ferocious up here as well, not the place to be at those times.
From Knowe Crags there is a steep windy path down Blease Fell, which brings us back to the base of Blencathra and a tarmac road that leads to Threlkeld.
So what’s next ?
We sit and eat our sandwiches on a bench outside the church in Threlkeld. Our Blencathra adventure is over but it is only 1 pm. Both Gideon and myself think “it’s too early to go home”. So we decide to drive to Cat Bells and climb that.
It is only a 15 minute drive to what Wainwright called the “perfect family fell”. It is steep at times but a relatively easy climb. The path is undergoing a lot of maintenance, an indicator of it’s popularity. As we climbed the sun starts to break through.
Which ever way you look from Cat Bells it has beautiful views. One of them is across Derwent Water to Blencathra. As we sat on the grassy slopes in the emerging sunshine, looking across to the mountain I thought “I definitely want to stay”.
Eventually and unfortunately it was time to move. We headed back to the car with the intention of finding the Horse and Farrier pub in Threlkeld (which I heartily recommend by the way). After spending some time reminiscing over the day’s walk while enjoying a steak and ale pie, it was time to face the four-hour journey home.
As we drove down the A66 there was a clear blue sky above, I still wanted to stay in The Lakes – Oh well another day !