“Be in the pres­ence of the true spirit of free­dom”

Trail pays homage to the lost climbers of Was­dale – and the Great Gift.


The route in ques­tion, a spe­cial ad­ven­ture Trail has cre­ated and walked, is pos­si­bly the most im­por­tant Lake­land pil­grim­age you’ll make. It takes an un­du­lat­ing course around the en­tire up­per reaches of Was­dale. On the map, be­cause it vis­its only two sum­mits – Scafell Pike and Great Gable – it looks in­nocu­ous, but don’t be de­ceived. The ground cov­ered, apart from an op­tional but easy scram­ble to the base of Napes Nee­dle, is all walk­ing. How­ever it’s on ten­u­ous and of­ten rough paths that force a slow and con­sid­ered pace. So ex­pect a big day. Why do this? Be­cause you can. And that re­ally is the point.

Rewind to 1864, and events an ocean and a con­ti­nent away. The pris­tine land­scape of Cal­i­for­nia’s Yosemite Val­ley was un­der threat from the com­bined forces of clearcut log­ging and do­mes­ti­cated live­stock. It was clear these com­mer­cial ac­tiv­i­ties had to go ahead to sus­tain the na­tion’s eco­nomic well-be­ing, but there was also a grow­ing re­al­i­sa­tion that with­out places for rest and re­cu­per­a­tion the na­tion’s phys­i­cal and men­tal well-be­ing would suf­fer. The bal­ance had to be struck. Step for­ward one John Muir. Born in Scot­land and raised on a Wis­con­sin Farm, Muir is widely re­garded as the Fa­ther of Na­tional Parks. He man­aged to con­vince Congress

into en­shrin­ing Yosemite Val­ley as a place of pub­lic use and recre­ation for all time. Later, Muir spent time guid­ing Pres­i­dent Theodore Roo­sevelt through the val­ley – con­vinc­ing him it should be­come a Na­tional Park.

The re­al­i­sa­tion that cer­tain land­scapes needed to be pro­tected was not just a US phe­nom­e­non. Across the globe eco­nomic ex­ploita­tion was spread­ing into wild places, and var­i­ous move­ments sprang up to try to hold back the flood. Among the first of these in Bri­tain was the Lake Dis­trict De­fence So­ci­ety, which formed to try to re­sist an ex­plo­sion of ex­ploita­tive projects. Mas­sive in scale, these in­cluded rail­way lines along Bor­row­dale, En­nerdale, through Gras­mere and Ry­dal, iron ore mines, quar­ry­ing, and roads over Esk Hause, Sty Head and be­yond. Noth­ing was deemed un­touch­able. Luck­ily, most of these projects were re­sisted, and ef­forts were soon made to put as much of the Lake Dis­trict as pos­si­ble out of reach of de­vel­op­ers – mostly done un­der the aus­pices of the fledg­ling Na­tional Trust, with parcels of land bought or gifted to the trust for pro­tec­tion in per­pe­tu­ity.

Whilst this bat­tle for the heart and soul of the Lake Dis­trict raged, the cat­a­clysmic events of WWI over­took ev­ery­thing with its hor­rors. High pro­por­tions of those in­volved in the con­ser­va­tion move­ment lost life, limb and men­tal health dur­ing the con­flict. Driven by a de­sire for a bet­ter fu­ture, those that sur­vived made even greater strides to pro­tect the moun­tains of the Lake Dis­trict – and at the same time cre­ate a me­mo­rial to the fallen. Key to this move­ment was the Fell and Rock Climb­ing Club. In con­junc­tion with oth­ers, its mem­bers lob­bied, ca­joled and do­nated land to cre­ate a gift to the na­tion in mem­ory of their com­rades. The great gift of lands that make up the Fell and Rock Climb­ing Club me­mo­rial are cen­tred on Sty Head, with Kirk Fell, Great Gable, Green Gable, Bran­dreth and Base Brown to the north, and to the south Scafell, Scafell Pike, Broad Crag, Ill Crag, Great End, Allen Crags, Seath­waite Fell and Glara­mara.


To kick off the walk, the best way to es­tab­lish height is up the Brown Tongue Path to Scafell and Scafell Pike. It’s steep, but nev­er­the­less gains height ef­fi­ciently. Taken by gen­er­a­tions of climbers based ei­ther at Was­dale Head or at the Fell and Rock Climb­ing Club hut at Brack­en­close it gives di­rect ac­cess to the mas­sive but­tresses on Scafell’s East Face and those on Pikes Crag. The mod­ern pitched path fol­lows the cen­tre of a long mo­raine tongue and car­ries you to a path junc­tion at its head. The nor­mal route to Scafell Pike via Ling­mell Col swerves off left, whilst our route, the nar­rower climber’s path heads right. This de­liv­ers you to the high am­phithe­atre of Hol­low Stones. You’ll know when you’ve ar­rived as it’s marked by a huge boul­der with a shal­low bivvy cave un­der­neath. This was a place to grab a bite to eat, re­fill wa­ter bot­tles at the nearby spring and cache gear prior to climb­ing on the crags. Just be­low the base of Scafell’s but­tresses you will spy a nar­row path. This is called Rake’s Progress. It links the base of all the climbs with Mick­le­dore and the en­trance of Lord’s Rake. It is worth ex­plor­ing but, with time short, you can see all the fea­tures just fine from Hol­low Stones.

For walk­ers, prob­a­bly the most im­por­tant part of this me­mo­rial will be the sum­mits – and with some of the finest peaks in the Lake Dis­trict here it’s not hard to see why. How­ever, most of those in­volved in the Fell and Rock Climb­ing Club at the time would have been climbers, so for them it was the crags that were the draw, not the tops. The head of Was­dale was a caul­dron of ad­ven­ture, and it was to these places they would re­turn again and again. So if you want to ex­pe­ri­ence the place in the con­text of its time, it is in the foot­steps of climbers you should fol­low. For­tu­nately, this doesn’t mean you have to ac­tu­ally do any rock climb­ing. To get to the base of climbs, climbers would have fol­lowed sheep trods or worked out new paths. These routes tended to tra­verse hill­sides by the line of least re­sis­tance and lead away from stan­dard walk­ing routes. They take you into lo­ca­tions you wouldn’t nor­mally think of en­ter­ing, ex­pos­ing you to a new set of moun­tain per­spec­tives. Although climbers’ paths tend to head straight to crags, by happy co­in­ci­dence those that ser­vice Was­dale’s mix it up a bit and feed into walk­ers routes. So much so that it’s rel­a­tively easy to con­coct a route that links all the key sites and makes the me­mo­rial lands so spe­cial.


A fur­ther path leads di­rectly to Mick­le­dore, trend­ing left as the col is

ap­proached. Its up­per sec­tion has a few rock steps to ne­go­ti­ate but there’s noth­ing too hard and you soon ar­rive at the col. From here the up­per reaches of Eskdale fall away be­low you, while at the head of the gill and to the left of Broad Stand is a dark look­ing cliff. This is Scafell’s East But­tress. It’s not ob­vi­ous at first, but the top ac­tu­ally over­hangs the base. From Mick­le­dore, a short hop over boul­der fields leads to Scafell Pike’s sum­mit.

If you get the top to your­self you’ll be very lucky. On the sum­mit cairn’s north­ern face is the stone of Hon­is­ter Slate that recog­nises the gift of Scafell Pike by Lord Le­con­field as a me­mo­rial to the fallen of the war. Also worth a visit are the re­mains of the Ord­nance Sur­vey hut 90m to the south-east of the sum­mit cairn. This played a key role dur­ing the Peace Day Cel­e­bra­tion of 19 July 1919. So this was the Great Gift – the com­bined do­na­tion of the 12 sum­mits gath­ered by the Fell and Rock Climb­ing Club and the do­na­tion of Scafell Pike by Lord Le­con­field, pre­sented to the Na­tional Trust and thus to the na­tion for pros­per­ity. Le­con­field him­self lit a bea­con of re­mem­brance on Scafell Pike that day in 1919, to cel­e­brate the sign­ing of the Treaty of Ver­sailles, and the of­fi­cial end of the Great War.


On­wards from Scafell Pike the route plunges south to Ling­mell Col and then gains the start of the Cor­ri­dor Route. It un­du­lates a bit but takes you as quickly as pos­si­ble to the im­por­tant cross­roads of Sty Head. Bri­dle­ways and paths head in all direc­tions and the strate­gic po­si­tion­ing of the Stretcher Box un­der­lines its im­por­tance. One of the less well-trav­elled paths is the one to the climb­ing grounds on the South Face of Great Gable. This path is vague to start with but es­sen­tially bi­sects the bri­dle­way down to Was­dale and the path up the south-east ridge of Great Gable. It first tra­verses be­low the ver­ti­cal wall of Kern Knotts and then tra­verses around to the mouth of a mas­sive scree chute, aptly named Great Hell Gate. A fur­ther tra­verse around the fell then leads to the Napes.

The ridges and pin­na­cles of this Alpine­like crag first at­tracted moun­taineers to pur­sue rock climb­ing as an in­di­vid­ual sport. Any doubts as to the cor­rect lo­ca­tion will be quickly dis­pelled as the iconic pro­file of Napes Nee­dle comes into view. The path tra­verses well be­low the Nee­dle but if you fancy a closer look there is a rel­a­tively easy out-and-back scram­ble that leads to its base. The clas­sic view of the Nee­dle is ob­tained from a ledge on the left-hand side of the ap­proach gully.

The path is then fol­lowed again as it tra­verses west to the mouth of Lit­tle Hell Gate. This scree chute is the on­ward route to the sum­mit of Great Gable. And it is worth the ef­fort. It has some loose sec­tions, but if you fol­low the path care­fully up its left bank you will even­tu­ally gain a su­perb ridge line that sep­a­rates it from the top of Great Hell Gill. Your ef­fort will be re­warded by rock ar­chi­tec­ture mostly missed by walk­ing routes. Once on the ridge you pass onto the boul­der-strewn sum­mit dome of Great Gable. On the fi­nal leg to the sum­mit make sure you swing past the top of West­mor­land Crags, where you’ll no­tice a shapely cairn. It was built by two lo­cal brothers in 1876 to mark what they felt was the best view in the Lake Dis­trict. It also hap­pens to be the best place to view the war me­mo­rial lands.

The me­mo­rial’s com­ple­tion was marked on 8 June 1924 by a com­mem­o­ra­tion ser­vice at­tended by over 500 mem­bers of the Fell and Rock Climb­ing Club. Amongst Great Gable’s sum­mit rocks a bronze plaque con­tain­ing a ded­i­ca­tion and re­lief map out­lin­ing the ex­tent of the gifted lands was un­veiled. This year marks 100 years since the end of the WWI and on Re­mem­brance Sun­day, as on ev­ery Re­mem­brance Sun­day since the ded­i­ca­tion, there will be a ser­vice at the sum­mit of Great Gable. It is a mov­ing ex­pe­ri­ence to at­tend but it need not be the only time to think of the sac­ri­fices made, as with ev­ery foot­step on these now pro­tected fells you will be in the pres­ence of the true spirit of free­dom and peace.


Im­por­tant to climb­ing pi­o­neers, Tophet Wall on the Climber’s Tra­verse of Great Gable.

The ru­ined OS hut on the sum­mit of Scafell Pike.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.