Blencathra via Sharp Edge

Sharp Edge

One of the most exciting and feared ridge walks in Britain. Blencathra is a unique mountain sitting at the far northern edge of the Lake District National Park. Easily accessible from the many parking laybys on the A66 trunk road, this fantastic mountain deserves its popular status. Alfred Wainwright dedicated more space in his guide books to this mountain than any other. This route takes you to the beautiful and secluded glacial amphitheatre of Scales Tarn then takes on the most exciting mountain challenges in Britain. This knife edge ridge scramble is the most fun you can have on a mountain. In wet conditions, the ridge being greasy Skiddaw Slate, is extremely dangerous and extra care needs to be taken. The same can be said in winter conditions too. The summit views are incredible and the descent takes you down another of Blencathra's many invigorating ridges: Hall's Fell Ridge, which is more fun, with even better views.

Route Directions

  1. This walk starts at any of the available laybys by the A66 trunk road at the village of Scales, several miles east of Keswick. Scales is at grid reference NY 342 268.
  2. Just a hundred metres westerly along the A66 main trunk road from Scales you will see a house and farm. Head towards them and follow the footpath sign posted between the two properties towards the fell.
  3. Pass through a gate behind the buildings and turn right. Here the path splits so take the one that ascends in a north easterly direction through ferns and bracken.
  4. This path will turn left and head in to Mousthwaite Comb in a northerly direction. Do not take the more defined path left which ascends west to the ascent of Scales Fell. Instead keep along the other path that skirts the top of the crags above the old disused quarry levels marked on the map.
  5. Eventually you will reach the ridge at the back end of Mousthwaite Comb. This is the col between Blencathra to the left and Souther Fell to the right. From this viewpoint you now have a view down in to the River Glenderamackin Valley and the quiet, desolate and grassy Back o' Skiddaw landscape.
  6. Turn left (north-west) then head along the path above the River Glenderamackin Valley. Follow this path for around a kilometre until you reach the Scales Beck. Turn left and follow the path that ascends the beck, firstly crossing it, then ascending its route up to Scales Tarn.
  7. Reaching Scales Tarn usually involves standing for a while taking in its incredible atmosphere and gearing up ready to tackle the knife edge Sharp Edge ridge, now in view to your right. For those who decide at this point not to do Sharp Edge, the alternative route can be taken by turning left in a southerly direction and heading up the path to Scales Fell and on to Blencathra's summit.
  8. For those who want to take on the challenge of Sharp Edge, turn right in a northerly direction and ascend an obvious path to gain the eastern end of the ridge.
  9. Once you are at the eastern end of the ridge, the excitement starts. There is an easy path to the right for the first part if anyone wishes to use it, but sticking to the crest of the ridge is far more fun. As with all slate ridges you do need to be aware of slices of loose rock, and when wet this Skiddaw Slate can be dangerously greasy.
  10. Half way along the ridge you will reach a point where a large slab of smooth and badly angled slate sits on the ridge crest. On a dry day this is no problem at all and you can simply walk across it, but on a wet or icy day some may prefer to get on all fours and hold on for their lives. This slab is known as the Bad Step and is one of the Lake District's most dangerous and most prolific accident spots.
  11. After crossing the Bad Step the ridge reaches the end of the ridge and the start of the fun scramble up the rock face to Atkinson Pike. The best route is up a wide gully slightly to the right.
  12. You will top off and reach an obvious path once on the top of Atkinson Pike. Turn left and head in a southerly direction. After a steady ascent you will reach Hallsfell Top the true summit of Blencathra at 868m above sea level. You will know that you have reached the right summit as there is a bizarre Ordnance Survey Trigonometrical Station Ring on the floor near the summit cairn. On a good day the views over to Helvellyn range and towards Derwentwater are amazing.
  13. The descent route; Hall's Fell Ridge, goes straight from the summit of Blencathra. You will find the top of the path down on to Halls' Fell Ridge by heading south to south east from the summit cairn. The path is fairly obvious and quickly reaches the ridge.
  14. Hall's Fell Ridge isn't technically challenging but is still good fun and you can make it more fun by sticking to the crest. There is plenty of loose slate yet again. The ridge gets a lot easier the lower down you get and eventually turns right down a grassy slope through bracken.
  15. The path ends at Gategil where it reaches the footpath that will take you back to the start of the walk at Scales. When you reach the end of the path head left along a path through thick bracken now heading east below the foot of the mountain.
  16. The route back to Scales is not the best. The path is overgrown with bracken and can be very muddy underfoot. In particular take great care on the two stream crossings and the rocky descent to Scaley Beck. After around a miles walk you will be back at the gate behind the two buildings at Scales. The White Horse Inn at Scales serves local ales and excellent food.

Maps for this walk

Paper maps for this walk

Click to buy OS Explorer OL5 Map Click to buy OS Landranger 90 Map Click to buy Harvey Super Walker Lakeland North Map Click to buy Harvey Lake District Mountain Map

GPS files for this walk

Route map of this walk

Photos & Trip Reports

Planning for a walk

Check the weather

The weather is a very important part of hill walking. Weather conditions and daylight hours will dictate where you walk, what gear you will need to carry, how far you walk, and may even decide if you go at all. The following links will help you gather information on weather conditions for areas of Britain...

Plan your journey

Planning your journey before you set off for your walk can save you vital hours on the day. You need to make sure you know the area surrounding your starting point as many factors can influence or change the place you park. Don't forget change for parking meters and fees.

Maintenance of your vehicle and being ready for breakdown situations when driving to remote areas is also vital. Pack a full spare petrol can in your boot, and take de-icing tools in winter, including a shovel. The Transport Direct website below is a great resource for anyone wanting to get to the start of their walk using public transport...

Pack the right gear

Carrying and wearing the right gear is essential for walkers to remain comfortable and safe while hill walking in Britain. However, the best gear in the world is of no use to anyone who doesn't know how to use and care for it. Knowing how to use your gear will give you a much more enjoyable experience. The following items are, in my opinion, the essential items to wear and carry for a hill walk in Britain. It would be foolish to head into the hills and mountains of Britain without these essential items and the knowledge of how to use them. Check out the gear section of this site for techniques and gear lists...

  • Footwear
  • Clothing
  • Rucksack
  • Warm Clothes
  • Waterproofs
  • Map & Compass
  • Emergency Kit
  • First Aid Kit
  • Food & Drink
  • Seasonal Gear

Know what to do in emergencies

It is good practise to tell someone where you are going, and when you expect to return. If you don't get in contact when you said you would on your return, and those you told can't get hold of you, at least they will be able to provide the search party with your general location.

Emergency equipment in the check list above means items such as a survival bag, whistle, and emergency food rations. This isn't anything special; any whistle will do, the orange emergency bags only costs a few pounds, and basic food rations can consist of a couple of chocolate bars. Carrying a head lamp is also an important component and a vital piece of kit used for signalling when you require rescuing.

You should always try and get out of a difficult or emergency situation using your own gear, knowledge and energy. If you cannot do this, then you should dial 999 and ask for the police. Use all the gear you have to keep any unwell or injured members of your party or yourself safe and warm, and use your signalling devices to let the rescuers know your whereabouts. To do this blow six good long blasts on your whistle, or flash six flashes of your torch. Stop for one minute. Repeat. Carry on with the whistle blasts until someone reaches you, and don't stop because you've heard a reply.

Never contact mountain rescue unless absolutely necessary, but on the other hand don't ever feel guilty for having to do so, especially if you are a prepared walker. The Mountain Rescue teams are full of fantastic like-minded souls who love nothing more than people who are prepared for being safe in the mountains.

Related Items