Skiddaw How Gill Left Branch

20 12 2019

Tue 29 Oct 19
One of the rare, good-weather days in October – I decided it was high time I got myself up my local big-mountain, Skiddaw, as I hadn’t done him yet this year…

All photos:
my Zenith manual film SLR
click on photos for full size/resolution

As I pass Skiddaw every time I go to work and back in Keswick, I spend a lot of time studying it, especially the various gills up the front. This was one I’d had my eye on for months…

In the past, I’d done the right branch of the top of How Gill, which I’d found pleasant and easy. I kept wondering what the left-hand branch was like though – it was obviously loose and rocky – that was obvious from the road…

I parked up just after midday in the village of Applethwaite nestling below Skiddaw’s southern flanks – my gill went up this flank so should be nice and sunny. The parking place I chose was just where Gale Road starts off up to the carpark for Latrigg and Skiddaw’s Jenkin Hill path. There was a line of cars parked in the pull-off at the junction so I joined them.

The gill footpath sets off just below this junction and has a really beautiful start through woodland and rhododendrons (there is a gate and footpath sign). The ascent starts off easy and pleasant and soon comes out of the trees into a very secluded walk along the side of the gill. There were lots of sheep being gathered in off the fell for the winter as I ascended.

The path continues to a junction of the gill – stick to the higher branches of the path when they occur – you end up pretty high above the stream above the waterfalls.

Approaching the confluence of the gill, the bank gets awkward and you spend a bit of time clambering past obstacles but there is nothing dangerous or alarming.

When I reached the confluence of the becks, this time, I took the left-hand branch which took off around a heathery corner. The stream is slate-bedded, much of which is loose but not horribly so. The rocks in the stream are very slippery indeed!

Looking back down after rounding the corner into the left branch

You can pretty much use either bank at any point, they’re both largely fine. I used both sides or took to the stream as I had my new waterproof trail shoes on (just £30 from Mountain Warehouse and very good). My boots had started the walk absolutely filthy but came back sparkling-clean 😉

The going was rough and slow and I was glad I hadn’t brought Richard – he moaned about the other branch and that was just very straightforward (if steep) on grass. I was enjoying myself though – I love the feeling of exploration in a gill – having said that, this gill obviously gets ascended quite a bit as there were bits of paths on both sides and they weren’t sheep tracks.

Looking up (above) and back down (below)

Near the top, it became more slaty and loose for a while but I was soon above this section on the little zig-zag paths people had made and back on steep grass. There was a group of sheep looking at me on the grassy section but they held their ground as I passed (they could probably see I was old, slow and knackered!)

another look back down after the very slaty and loose section

The piece-de-resistance of the gill was the final section – it was a steep section of slate slabs lying vertically. I’d soon be up those I thought and headed for them (there is plenty of choice to avoid them on grass as they’re only a small area).

Exit slabs – sharper and more pronounced than they look here!

another look back down before the slabs

When I reached the slabs, however, I found that I really wouldn’t be wise to ascend them. I’d just gone up the first few and realised that, as they were lying vertically, were quite long and just had narrow, sharp sides facing me, if I slipped, I’d come out at the bottom as chips! Reluctantly, I moved back onto the grass at the sides.

I had a quick rest at the top of the slabs on a grassy shelf then put all my layers on and surfaced onto the ridge above. I was pretty out of puff after the steep finish and wondered whether to leave Skiddaw Little Man for the descent. I decided not to in the end though as I wasn’t sure which route I’d be descending.

It was a bitterly cold wind on the ridge as I headed for Little Man. I was staggering with tiredness by the time I reached the upper bits of the ascent which was a bit embarrassing as, all the folk coming the other way, probably thought I’d only sauntered up the Jenkin Hill path (the usual, very easy route).

The wind was really nasty and got worse the higher I ascended – I just knew the summit ridge of Skiddaw would be ten times worse – it’s always cold on Skiddaw no matter what the weather.

An unfortunate effect of the wind chill was that people who’d brought up young children (and there were very many as it was half term) were struggling to keep them warm. Most of them were literally yowling with the cold. So, to add to my tiredness all the way up Little Man, all I could hear was yowling – it sounded like the prelude to a cat fight! Being tired, I found this irritating – I was glad most people miss out Little Man.

As I descended from Little Man, I saw a girl stood for ages looking over the Mill Beck side of the ridge – I wondered what she was doing. In the end, I decided she was just a very slow photographer. Just before I got to her, she started off towards Skiddaw – but she was going very slowly – far too slowly for the prevailing conditions of wind chill.

When I flew past her, all became clear. She was actually pratting about with her phone, scrolling the internet and reading stuff and totally ignoring the mountain. Due to doing this, she was going extremely slowly indeed – going slowly in severe windchill is extremely foolish as you can freeze to death very quickly at 3000 feet!

I thought I ought to say something so just commented loudly as I passed;

“That’s a good way to freeze to death!”

Of course, she ignored me and continued ‘surfing’. It wasn’t any real concern of mine if she wanted to freeze to death on the hill but I doubted very much she’d make the summit.

I soon reached the South Summit where I found that nearly everyone who’d brought children up were doing a quick about turn and taking them straight back down again – pretty sensible! On reaching this point, I’d noticed a very dramatic drop in temperature despite the speed I’d ascended the easy slope. It had also gone quite gloomy along the summit ridge so it all seemed doubly cold and serious.

I’m used to Skiddaw being like this and fully expected it as it is always the same but many people doing Skiddaw aren’t regular hill-walkers so it would have been a shock to many. Skiddaw is definitely the coldest summit in the Lakes by a long way!

I reached the main summit which is another half mile along the ridge from the south summit – I’d been wondering whether I could brave the extra distance to the north summit. On leaving the main summit I dropped out of the wind quite a bit and it was instantly warmer so I decided to continue to the north end of the ridge and back as normal.

Coming back along the ridge, it had become sunny again and I was heading into the sun so it didn’t seem as bad even though I was also heading into the wind.

As I descended back past the south summit I realised ‘Mrs. Phone-addict’ hadn’t surfaced for the summit. I wasn’t surprised to soon spot her going back down after obviously getting no further than the south summit (which doesn’t count, if indeed she reached it anyway). She was going even slower and now looked nearly dead with the cold.

She reached the higher fenceline and then proceeded to hang around there for no apparent reason. This was in the worst of the wind and bitterly cold so a very silly place to stand around – she also left the gate open which I closed for her when I reached it!

a very hurried snap of the back of Blencathra – I wasn’t foolish enough to stand around in the icy blast!

I looked round a few times as I blasted back down the path and, after she’d hung around there quite some time, she set off slowly down the Jenkin Hill path after me. I soon reached the lower fence (which I call the Lonscale Fence as it’s where the path continues to Lonscale Fell). It was much warmer here – out of the wind and sunny – the girl would have been far better hanging around at this fence!

From here, I set off down the long ridge for Lonscale Fell. It’s a great path on lovely, springy turf and I always used to run the whole descent to the col – I wondered if I still could? As soon as the path started to descend I set off running and found I was fine for the whole distance to the col – I can’t run uphill though – never could!

nice long run from Little Man to here

Lonscale Fell was nothing like as cold as Skiddaw and I was soon romping off down the track off the end (with several excursions to look over the crags and the steep side). I haven’t done this path for years and was surprised how steep it gets but I was soon down at the path coming from the gap between Blencathra and Lonscale Fell.

Late evening sun on Clough Head and The Dodds Ridge

This path contours around the southern flanks back to the Gale Road carpark where I found another group in front of me had also left all the gates open – townies!

I set off down Gale Road which was also longer than I remembered. It’s been mended since last time I ever drove up it though – it used to be so full of potholes I said I’d never drive it again. Now it doesn’t have any potholes at all – it’s been completely resurfaced.

I was initially pleased to see my car at the road junction… until I reached him. It was my poor old Sunny (my usual walking car – the newer one’s for work). At first, I thought the rear quarter-light on the driver’s side was misted up. On closer inspection, however, I saw it had been smashed. The glass was all still present but shattered over the whole window.

Why someone had decided to pick on my poor old innocuous car out of all the ones on offer, I’ve no idea but, of course, with him being a 25 year-old car, he is the one with the most difficult to replace glass! 😦 There was clearly nothing in the car except a blanket and a cushion – you could see that at a glance. Also, the Krooklok was on so he couldn’t be stolen so breaking the window was a complete waste of time – obviously just a vindictive act! 😦

A bad end to a great day on the hill – really spoiled my day.

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12 responses

27 12 2019

Looks a good day out – except for what happened to the car though – awful!


27 12 2019

Yeah – I was really nervous the next time I parked the Sunny to go for a walk (in the Northern Fells Back o’ Skidda) – I ran all the way back as I was so worried. Consequently, I ended up knackered after what should have been a very easy walk!


22 12 2019
Blue Sky Scotland

Sorry about your car. Always a concern of mine leaving it for a day’s hill walk in certain areas. You seem to specialize in harder routes up mountains now whereas these days I’ll always pick the easiest option. i.e. a good path.


22 12 2019

Hi Bob, it should have been a perfectly okay place to leave the car – I think it was just the kind of people around that day.

I’m definitely all about hard or nasty routes now – my new idea of fun and my new ‘ambition’ if you like. The more horrid a route looks, the more it appeals somehow – especially as I think probably no-one else has bothered with it. A feeling of real exploration!


21 12 2019
Alli Templeton

This looks like a real slice of beautiful wilderness, and I’m surprised you met anyone around there at the end of October. A lovely walk, but I was amazed to hear the kind of folk you encountered along the way. For a start, it doesn’t seem a suitable place to take small children. I’d never have done that, and still wouldn’t. And as for Mrs Phone-addict – why was she bothering at all? If you’re going to make such a huge effort to get into this breathtaking landscape, why blind yourself to the views by doing something as mundane as surfing? She could have stayed at home for that. It beggars belief! And I’m so sorry to hear your poor old Sunny got vandalised. That stinks, and of course it would put a dampener on your day. I hope whoever it was broke their ankle in the gills.


21 12 2019

I shrieked with laughter at your ‘broken ankle’ comment – thanks for cheering me up about it.

I couldn’t see the point of the girl on the phone going up mountains – or walking outside in the countryside anywhere – she may as well just stick to the gym!

Skiddaw was mowed out with people that day – I’ve never seen so many attempting a mountain. It’s a very safe and suitable mountain for children – just the wind chill was just too awful that day. They were right to turn around at the south summit (where it got really cold) and take their kids back down.

Liked by 1 person

22 12 2019
Alli Templeton

Glad to have made you laugh after your horrible ordeal. May justice prevail…

I agree it would be better to keep the kids away from the worst of the cold. They’re still braver than me even trying it at the end of October though. 🙂


21 12 2019
John Bainbridge

Terrible when that happens.


21 12 2019

my car? yes I was gutted. I was a bit afraid the insurers wouldn’t cover it too as the car is very old and so, financially, worthless. Also I’m still finding bits of glass which have trodden into my home which isn’t good as I walk around barefoot sometimes. At least it’s rounded glass I suppose – but very annoying!

Liked by 1 person

22 12 2019
John Bainbridge

Some nasty people about.


20 12 2019

Sorry about your car. I’m always leaving my car in remote places and have had the same experience several times. Bloody annoying isn’t it.


21 12 2019

I’ve always been terrified it would happen and have left my cars in very many remote places too. I think the problem with this place is that is wasn’t remote enough – there were too many non-hill-types frequenting the area that day and I think it would have been one of them. I think if I’d parked on the north or west side of Skiddaw as usual, the car would probably have been fine…


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