Rarely do the mountains allow walkers into climber territory, and then allow us to escape with an easy scramble out to safe ground. But this happens right under the north east face of Bowfell.
Whorneyside Force and Hell Gill can be found at the far end of Oxendale, which most visitors only brush through the entrance of as they head for Pike of Blisco, or Crinkle Crags. Deep in the valley and well hidden the force drops
The Climbers Traverse leaves the path along The Band, crosses the crest of the ridge and leads onto a narrow terrace high above Mickleden. After about 500m (550 yards) the path drops to a hidden little citadel. Here a spring issues forth from the base of Cambridge Crag even in high summer. Climbing groups can often be seen kitting up, or already high on the massive buttresses voices calling out to each other. Our escape is up to the left, a path starts up loose stone hugging close to the side of the crag. It soon becomes tight zigzags weaving amongst boulders. Over to your left a massive sloping slab appears. This is the Great Slab.
From the top of the Great Slab, Bowfell's summit cairn is a short stroll away. Heading north to Ore Gap the walk descends to Angle Tarn, and then beside Rosset Gill into Mickleden. It's then just a stroll back to the start.
If you are uncomfortable with exposure above steep ground this is probably not the walk you are looking for!
The walk starts at The Old Dungeon Ghyll at the western end of Great Langdale where there is a National Trust pay and display car park. This quickly gets busy most weekends. Alternatively park at the New Dungeon Ghyll where they are both NT and Lake District National Park Authority car parks.
If you need accommodation we have details of 33 properties offering rooms near the start of this walk. Here are some examples:
Walk height profile
note that gradients are usually grossly exaggerated
Return to the car park entrance and back to the road. Turn right. As the road turns left continue ahead through a gate onto the roadway to Stool End Farm. after a succession of cattle grids, reaching the farm yard turn left and then right following the signs, to exit the farm at a gate above the yard.
Continue on the track climbing a little, keeping left. Ignore the path on the right climbing up The Band. Go through the gate at the end of the track. Following the rough track through the field make for the stock pens the far end. Through the pens, and out the other side, walking alongside Oxendale Beck. Ignore the footbridge and continue onwards. The path becomes less clear, and much rougher. Never stray far from the bank of the beck. Small becks coming down the fellside will need to be forded carefully, with one being quite awkward and slippery.
After what seems longer but is barely 1.0km (0.6 miles), bear left over the footbridge. Immediately turn right along the far bank on a slightly precarious, faint and narrow path. The top of Whorneyside Force can be seen ahead. The waterfall and pool are soon reached.
Facing the waterfall, leave it by turning left up the steep grass, mud and rock slope. Just above is the 'main' path, reaching it turn right, climb past the waterfall, and another smaller fall whilst keeping close to the beck. Quickly the path descends again heading for a small ravine with stunted rowen trees growing out of the walls. Cross the beck at the stepping stones to the far bank and turn left along it. You soon find yourself at the entrance to Hell Gill. Don't go into it, but cross at the ford and bearing right climb the west bank of the gill, surprisingly on a stone pitched path.
Continue on above the stone pitching, alongside the gill initially, and then Busco Sike. Look up to the slopes of Bowfell. To the right, above the Band you'll see another path disappearing over the ridge up a red stained gully. That leads onto the Climbers Traverse.
As Busco Sike gradually becomes narrower and shallow, cross at a suitable spot. Bear left now up rough pathless grass slopes. Aim to the right of the red gully and you'll eventually hit the path climbing The Band.
Cross The Band path taking to pathless slopes to join the climbers path just above. Bear left, and shortly right into the red gully and over the crest of the ridge. Bearing left follow this clear, but narrow terraced path as it undulates its way across the slopes. Take care along here, it's better that you don't slip, or trip.
Nearing the end of the traverse, keep left as the path climbs a little, then drops to the base of Cambridge Crag where a spring delivers clear, cold refreshing water even in high summer.
Facing the spring, bear left, up along the base of the crag. Small zigzags make for an easy scramble amongst the boulders. To your left the Great Slab will come into view.
The easiest climbing is the zigzag path you are on, but if you do go onto the slab don't go wandering out onto the middle, keep near the boulders at the edge. If you slip in the wet it will be very, very slippery, you won't stop.
At the top of the slab turn right and follow the vague line of cairns across increasingly rocky ground to bear left up the boulder field to the summit cairn of Bowfell.
From Bowfell summit head north, dropping down through the boulder field to pick up a wide path heading for Ore Gap and then north west towards Esk Pike. This becomes vague with only a line of cairns, if you can spot them, marking the way. The distinctive Ore Gap should be in view - so named from the reddish haematite mineral rich soil on the col.
Reaching Ore Gap turn immediately right. A clear gravel path starts to descend, becomes less clear and crosses a small beck to the other side of the pass. Angle Tarn soon comes into view below and to your right.
Keep on the path as it gradually starts to swing round to the right to join a major path. This is a popular thoroughfare from Langdale to Wasdale, it's well maintained and for long stretches is stone pitched.
Continue to Angle Tarn.
Cross the tarn outfall, keep right at the fork, and make the short climb up the other side. Continue over the crest of the pass at the head of Rossett Gill. Keep right again to stay on the path descending zigzags into Mickleden.
At the bottom, keep right at the cairn, and cross the footbridge. Bear right and walk the length of the valley with Pike of Stickle and the scree slopes of Stickle Breast towering above to your left.
Reaching the back of the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel keep right to go through the gate and down to the far end of the buildings back in to the car park.
If you like this walk then why not try one of our other nearby walks:
|Rossett Pike, Angle Tarn, Esk Pike and Bowfell||same start point|
|Lingmoor Fell and Side Pike||50m (55 yards) away|
|Crinkle Crags||58m (64 yards) away|
|The Langdale Pikes: Pavey Ark, Thunacar Knott, Pike of Stickle, Harrison Stickle||0.8km (0.5 miles) away|
|High Raise, Sergeant Man, and Blea Rigg from Langdale||0.9km (0.5 miles) away|
|Cumbria Way - Dungeon Ghyll to Keswick||0.9km (0.5 miles) away|
|A Journey from Dungeon Ghyll over the Fells to Ambleside||0.9km (0.5 miles) away|
|Blea Tarn above Langdale||2.0km (1.2 miles) away|
|Cold Pike and Pike of Blisco||3.4km (2.1 miles) away|
|Great Carrs and Grey Friar||3.5km (2.2 miles) away|
|Waterfalls and the Cathedral Cavern, from Elterwater||4.4km (2.7 miles) away|
|An Elterwater Stroll||4.4km (2.7 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