Drama in the Grassy Northern Fells – Frozen Fell Gill

17 01 2021

Sat 22 Aug & Sun 20 Sep 20
I’ve always subscribed to the view that the Northern Fells (‘back o’ Skidda’) are completely safe and non-scary and with no drama or excitement whatsoever. So, with perfect confidence, I set off to tackle one of the gills which looked interesting – it had a spectacular waterfall near the start but I was sure I could get up it…

All photos:
my Zenith manual film SLR

One Saturday in August, I set off after work to visit this gill. It had been a superb day but, as I set off, it went drizzly and misty – typical! I’d had trouble, even this late in the day (1600) parking up at Longlands but managed to squeeze my car in just about the only space available. Ridiculous really as, prior to this summer, this parking was always pretty quiet – as were these fells. But, post-lockdown, the Lakes had gone completely mad 😦

I threw my gill-scrambling shoes on, changed into a t-shirt, grabbed my waterproof coat and set off at speed for Trusmadoor. In an hour I’d passed through Trusmadoor and descended to follow Burn Tod Beck towards its source.

Near the source of this gill is a side-shoot which dramatically splits Frozen Fell in two! This photo was taken on the second visit and a nicer day…

As you turn the first corner of the gill the wonderful waterfall hoves into view in a V-shaped crag…

I continued confidently on to tackle the fall thinking that, as these are the mild ‘Back o’ Skidda’ fells, there’ll be an easy way up it…

On reaching the fall and studying it, I soon saw there wasn’t actually a way up the sides of the waterfall as it was too mossy and very vertical! I looked to the right – there was a bit of a rake or sheep-trod went up that way away from the fall – indeed, sheep were escaping up it. It wasn’t far to what looked like a shelf which worked back left to the fall.

However, the more I studied it, I wasn’t sure about the final stages up to the shelf. I looked left instead. There was a very steep ridge of crag running up away from the fall but I determined to follow the very steep grass just under the crag all the way and thought I’d soon find an easy way up the crag.

I ascended further and further up the horribly steep ground with a huge steep scree chute next to me and kept looking at the wall of crag. Eventually, it became obvious that there were no routes up it and it was a much bigger (and mossier) crag than it had looked from below.

Now, I’m not a fan of very steep ground at all and was going up on all fours and really wanting to escape off to the left but there was that awful scree chute stopping me. In the end, I found a bit of a sheep track across it and ran across the collapsing ground making it safely across to equally steep grass. Just above me I could see a slight shelf or less steep section so I scrabbled up to that – phew!

From here, I got a shock when I looked back down where I’d come up – not my kind of thing at all and the waterfall was a very long way below and looking very small now!


steep here innit!

I decided I was too far up Frozen Fell now to bother going back down to the gill after the waterfall so decided to continue up the fell and then go to the end of the gill to study the exit routes for another visit. First I took a zoom of the waterfall in its declivity to study the far side for routes. It didn’t look encouraging – in fact, it looked pretty damned dangerous!

Meal Fell and the gill from my escape ridge

The exits my side of the gill looked reasonably comforting…

The other side had very landslipped and steep ground and didn’t look so good – definitely not for me!

I took a last photo down the gill and set off for some fell walking…

It was starting to clear by now so I headed for Great and Little Scafell…

I had a nice walk over these and then added on Brae Fell. I then dropped down over Lowthwaite and Longlands Fells and called it a day…

A month or so later, after thinking of the gill almost constantly and wanting to go back there but waiting for drier weather, I managed to get back for a re-visit on my own (gill exploration is definitely not Richard’s thing).

This time, from Trusmadoor, I followed the path along the shoulder of Meal Fell and dropped down from the col after the fell – this takes you directly to the entrance of the gill and is a drier route. It also gives you a great viewpoint of the problems either side of the waterfall to study.

I set off into the gill intending to have a go at the right-hand side of the waterfall and see how far I got. Failing that, I was considering either descending the exit ramps, going down the gill and back up again, or descending to the top of the waterfall after I’d passed the long rock rib on it’s left (most of the way up Frozen Fell).

re-entering the gill

There was a landslip on the right of the fall which looked to have a little traversing path above the vertical crags back towards the fall. I tried this first. It was a pretty loose landslip but I was soon up to where there was indeed a tenuous traverse towards the fall. However, I’d seen below this and noticed there was absolutely nothing under the first step along the path – just air! It was a pretty big and vertical crag too.

I toyed with the idea of trusting to fate and hurrying that one step in the hope of reaching the next one but, after thinking for a while, decided it was complete folly! I saw sense and came back down…

I walked right up to the fall where there was another rake I’d seen – the one going away from the fall to the right which the sheep had escaped up – this looked to have a bit of a zig-zag and then tackled the small craggy area above. This also had less vertical crag below and the crags were much smaller.

I zig-zagged up this section to just under the steep area of broken crag and umm-ed and ahh-ed for a while. After a good think, I decided this whole side was pretty dangerous really – the kind of ground which easily collapses (hence the multiple landslips) and the sort of thing where footholds peel away. I’d encountered this kind of ground before. I again decided discretion was the better part of valour when exploring gills on your own! I again retreated back down to the waterfall.

So, I again went up the left-hand side of the fall but on a grassy rib before the scree and the steep ramp under the crags which I’d taken before. This was less steep and not scary.

I was soon up at my previous vantage point from my first visit. From here, I could see I could rake across near the top of the scree ramp and that there was not only a good, firm path across it but also a little grassy ramp onto the crag band which looked safe. Much better!

It was all easy and safe ground and I was soon traversing the fellside above the fall and losing height gradually. The first rib back down (the back of the crag band) had a very nasty loose section near the bottom so I didn’t fancy that. The next rib back down was grassy and looked okay until very near the bottom (I couldn’t see the last bit). I descended that until I reached a comfortable shelf just above the gill bed for traversing further up the gill.

I took a study photo here of the other side of the main waterfall – it looks exceedingly nasty and dangerous ground to me and I was glad I’d turned back…

I didn’t actually descend into the gill bottom but was just above it and having a good look for a crashed aircraft which was supposed to be in the gill. I have to say that I saw no sign of aircraft bits anywhere in the gill – perhaps they’ve been removed? Or maybe they washed away?

There was another little fall which looked fine on it’s right-hand side. However, I decided just to bypass it as I was on a shelf which traversed directly to the top of the fall. When I reached the top, I crossed the beck and had a look down its other side – it would have been perfectly fine to ascend.

Upper fall – the right-hand side is fine to ascend

I took a photo back down the gill…

From here, I looked to be almost at the exits at the end of the gill. I couldn’t believe the gill was actually so short after the main waterfall – it certainly hadn’t looked it from a distance. I kept thinking that there’d be more gill around the corner but there wasn’t – this was it!

I felt slightly let down that there was no more excitement and plodded uphill to choose a route out. Everything on my left looked both do-able and tempting but, on my previous visit, I’d seen that, if you followed the beck up as far as you could before it disappeared, you reached a little traverse across rocky ribs which looked interesting.

Following the beck up easy ground

I continued following the beck until I was level with them. There wasn’t a continuous traverse across the two rocky ribs but there was a little fun to be had – all in complete safety…

On the photo below, I followed the dark green line up (near the right of the photo – nothing like as steep as it looks), then crossed on top of the first rocky nose. From here I had to ascend slightly up the dark green between the two rock ribs and then crossed the next shelf up (passing under the dark overhang near the top).

It was a lovely evening so I repeated the same route over the fells I’d done on my previous visit. I visited the top of Burn Tod Gill and descended quite a way to see if I could see the other crashed aircraft but, again, no sign of anything at all…

The whole fell-walking bit took me an hour (I ran all the descents), the approach to the gill had taken an hour and the gill exploration was another hour. Worth a look – but be careful!

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8 responses

24 01 2021

That sounded a bit hairy – glad you made it in one piece!


24 01 2021

Yeah – it’s a surprisingly fierce place for the Northern Fells!


18 01 2021
Alli Templeton

Glad to see your second adventure was less dramatic than the first! I can’t imagine how incredibly scary it must have been to see that land just fall away so steeply. Glad you found a safer way out, and at least it gave you some great pictures to come away with. I admire you venturing out on your own, just take care in those fells and gills. Nature is much bigger than we are. A great read, Carol, as always. Looking forward to more of your feats of derring-do this year. 🙂


18 01 2021

I’ve just got one more gill post from last year but not an exciting one – nice walking though. I also did another far more dramatic gill I’d had my eye on for ages but didn’t have my camera as it was unplanned after work. I’ll just have to struggle up it again with my camera if we’re ever allowed back into the fells properly!


18 01 2021
John Bainbridge

So very dramatic…


18 01 2021

It’s a very dramatic place – I’d been looking at it for years!

Liked by 1 person

18 01 2021

No idea what has happened to you Carol. All i can I think is that you have been taken over by aliens. Most folk, (me included,) at our age, start avoiding rugged territory, and gradually lose a head for heights, but you are in reverse. Barbed wire fences I used to vault over easily, even ten years ago, are now far harder to negotiate and I stay well away from vertical climbs or descents. Well done though.


18 01 2021

I have to say I love my gills – I just like the exploration and the feeling that no-one’s ever been there before (although, most times, they most probably have)


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