Kirk Fell and Great Gable stand at the head of Wasdale. A circuit of the two fells from the village green makes for a great relaxed day walk, or you could nip round in an afternoon if keen.
Kirk Fell is so named from the Old Norse word for church: "Kirk", which is more often encountered in Scotland - the tiny single room church of St Olaf's is at its foot. It is quite a tough fell to climb. The direct route north from Wasdale Head is unremittingly steep. The views back to Wast Water are very fine, but oh! that slope. The easiest is perhaps on its eastern side, the spur of Rib End is reasonably walker friendly. To the west is the pass of Black Sail. Here Kirkfell Crags are a formidable obstacle for the ordinary walker. Some guidebooks suggest tackling the 'nose' of the crags directly, but Jessie who usually has a good eye for difficulties was less than keen with that idea. Instead she found a scree gully which is straightforward if rather loose, which we use for this walk.
From Wast Water Great Gable's iconic triangular form catches the eye. It has something of a fearsome reputation of being a difficult fell for walkers. Yet for this walk we found a pleasant ascent route on its north easterly spur having bypassed the more difficult direct route up through Gable Crags from Beck End. Descending the easy south-easterly ridge gives great views of Sty Head and the Scafell range. Great Gable is synonymous with the birth place of climbing in the UK.
Anyone reaching the summit of Great Gable will have seen the memorial plaque affixed to the summit outcrop. It is here on Remembrance Sunday in November that the Fell and Rock Climbing Club holds a service to its members and others who have perished in conflicts around the world. Even in the foulest conditions November can throw down upon them hundreds of people gather, whether club members or not, climbing from all directions to the memorial on the summit to pay their respects. Even outwith the service it has a poignant setting.
In the grounds of St Olaf's, beside the lane to Sty Head, amongst those of from the local communities, are head stones recording the passing of a few of those folk who have perished on the fells. A reminder if any is needed of the seriousness of the surrounding beauty.
The parking at Wasdale Head village green is currently free.
If you need accommodation we have details of 12 properties offering rooms near the start of this walk. Here are some examples:
Walk height profile
note that gradients are usually grossly exaggerated
From the parking area head to the Wasdale Head hotel, turn left between it and the Barn Door shop. Behind the buildings turn right alongside the beck. Go through the gate, ignore the packhorse bridge on the left, and continue behind Row Head Farm. Bear left to go through the gate and onto the gravel path. Follow the wall above Mosedale Beck to your left. Ritsons Force is below you hidden in the deep gill the other side of the wall.
Cresting a slight rise the valley of Mosedale is laid out before you with Pillar at the headwall. Drop slightly on the path to go through another gate, keep right to start a gentle rise to the gate in the dry stone wall. Rising more steeply now the path swings further right to alongside, and then a crossing of, Gatherstone Beck. Cross carefully, and bear left and then right into a couple of zigzags to continue climbing now on the left bank of the beck. Keep right to climb to the notch on the skyline high and right. This is Black Sail Pass.
Reaching the top of the pass, just before the isolated rusted gate turn right to head for the intimidating wall of Kirkfell Crags.
This is where it gets a little serious. Bear left at the first junction, around the base of the crags, climbing steadily on the major path. Above you the scree gully becomes clear.
Enter the gully and continue upwards. Beware of sending stones and rocks the size of bowling balls down onto anyone coming up behind you. It is loose and steep but so far with a little care and patience upwards progress is straightforward. Keeping to the right hand edge of the gully may help but take care with hand holds on the side of the gully as not all the rock is solidly anchored.
Reaching the chockstone, which does seem firmly embedded, climb out to either side and back into the gully. Jessie chose the right hand side, which only yielded a little difficulty requiring human direction for her to continue onwards. Above the chock the gully seems to be looser still. Progress being slow and accompanied by a scattering of stones beneath your feet.
At last the gully opens out on to the edge of the summit plateau. Bear right to pick up and follow the line of old fence posts up to Kirk Fell's summit windshelter.
From the summit turn left towards the north east top, the line of old fence posts heads that way too. Drop down to the two small tarns that soon appear in the depression. Continue over the north east top, or take one of the bypass paths as we do here, and bear slightly right down the loose stone path to Beck Head.
The two small tarns at Beck Head are quite shallow and prone to drying out.
Continue past the tarns on the path to cross the shoulder of Great Gable's north west ridge which is ahead and slightly left. Over the shoulder turn left and follow the fence posts, then bear right dropping down a little into Stone Cove.
The way is now clear: the dusky pink scar of path leading up to Windy Gap which is the notch on the skyline to the right between Green and Great Gable. Before reaching the bottom of the path through Stone Cove bear right at a large boulder to weave a path through the rocks to the bottom of the path up to Windy Gap. Climb this slightly loose stony path to the large cairn at the top of the gap. Whilst doing so look down into Ennerdale and try to spot Black Sail hut!
At the large cairn on Windy Gap turn right on the terraced path around the left hand side of Gable Crags. Further round the path seems to finish at a headwall. Bear slightly right to climb up the headwall which on closer inspection appears to be a series of rock steps none of which is difficult. Many ways can be seen up the steps so pick the ones you prefer.
At the top bear left to pick up a cairned path to the cairn on the summit outcrop. You will see the FRCC memorial as you approach.
From the summit of Great Gable bear left and pick up the rocky cairned path heading first east, and then south east. This well cairned, loose stone path path heads down to Sty Head beside the Stretcher Box.
Facing the Stretcher Box take the path along its left hand side to pass behind the box and its sheltering boulder. In a little over 100m (110 yards) it bears right to cross a shoulder where the views open out down to Spouthead Gill.
The path now descends across the flank of Great Gable and is fairly loose in places with the odd rocky step to descend. Go through the gate in the wall and continue through the bracken.
Cross the bridge over Gable Beck and continue following the path to Burnthwaite Farm and go through the gate on the left into the farmyard. Bear right and take the farm driveway back past St Olaf's church to the parking area on the village green.
If you like this walk then why not try one of our other nearby walks:
|Scafell Pike via the Corridor Route from Wasdale||36m (40 yards) away|
|Great End, Scafell Pike, and Lingmell: a roundabout journey||64m (70 yards) away|
|Scafell Pike - The Easy Way||400m (440 yards) away|
|A Mosedale Horseshoe||1.1km (0.7 miles) away|
|Illgill Head and Whin Rigg||1.1km (0.7 miles) away|
|Scafell Pike - Via Mickledore||1.1km (0.7 miles) away|
|Scafell Pike and Scafell via Foxes Tarn||1.1km (0.7 miles) away|
|Yewbarrow||2.5km (1.6 miles) away|
Unless otherwise stated the text in this walk is the copyright of Hug Solutions Ltd trading as The Hug and the photographs are the copyright of Elizabeth Oldham. Hill data is derived from Database of British and Irish hills which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. Maps contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011 and paths © OpenStreetMap Contributors,CC-BY-SA, 2011