Skiddaw is situated in the extreme north of the English Lake District. It is the oldest geologically and the fourth highest mountain in the National Park which occupies most of the county of Cumbria. Formerly a combination of parts of the old counties of Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancashire, it is also my home. I grew up amongst these mountains not far from Wasdale and you’d be hard pressed to name any I haven’t summited except in the far North East.
The English Lake District is a popular area for outdoor recreation including hiking, climbing, kayaking, sailing and many more. But it is also the home and birthplace of many other people and things including:
• The poets Wordsworth, Coleridge and Ruskin
• English rock climbing with the first ascent of Napes Needle by Walter Parry Hasket-Smith in 1866 marking the beginning of rock climbing
• Rheged, the national mountaineering exhibition at Penrith
• Sir Chris Bonnington
• Doug Scott
• The first nuclear power station in the UK at Sellafield
• Kendal Mint Cake, the instant energy boost as used on many Everest expeditions
• Alfred Wainwright, the late great creator of the seven guidebooks to the region
So as you wander amongst these peaks, feel the history and presence of those who have gone before you. Take your time to look around you beyond the summits, see the industrial archaeology, the wildlife, the people.
I can do no better than quote the words of Alfred Wainwright himself about this mountain: “Make no mistake about Skiddaw. Heed not the disparaging criticisms that have ben written from time to time, often by learned men who ought to have known better about this grand old mountain. It is an easy climb, yes; it’s slopes are smooth and grassy, yes; it has no frightful precipices, no rugged outcrops, agreed; it offers nothing of interest or entertainment to rock-gymnasts, agreed. If these are failings, they must be conceded. But are they not quite minor failings, if failings at all?
Skiddaw is the fourth highest peak in Lakeland and but little lower than the highest, Scafell Pike. It is the oldest mountain in the district, according to the evidence of it’s rocks, definitely not the most impressive in appearance, but certainly one of the noblest. The summit is buttressed magnificently by a circle of lesser heights, all of them members of the proud Skiddaw family, the whole forming a splendid and complete example of the structure of mountains, especially when seen from all directions because of it’s isolation. It’s lines are smooth, it’s curves graceful; but because the slopes are steep everywhere, the quick build-up of the massif from valley levels to central summit is appreciated at a glance ....... and it should be an appreciative glance, for such massive strength and such beauty of outline rarely go together. Here on Skiddaw, they do”
Whether you are travelling from the North or South of the country the best way to the area is to take the M6 to Junction 40 at Penrith. Now take the A66 heading west. From here it’s 17 miles to Keswick which would be your base for all of the peaks in this area.
When To Climb
All year round
Mountain Conditions & Weather
This hike can be completed at any time of the year. It’s on the extreme northern edge of the Lake District The main “condition” to cope with is the weather, and if you think that British weather is generally unpredictable then the unpredictable scale isn’t big enough to accommodate the Lake District. As a “visitor” the first thing you need to understand it that there are at least three mini zones of weather within the area. First, to the extreme west is the Irish Sea and the coastal zone leading up towards the western and central fells. Second, the central fells from Borrowdale to the eastern side of Helvellyn, and lastly the far east beyond the Helvellyn range. Each of these can also be divided into north and south, but it’s the west-east line that seems to have the greatest variation in weather. So, it can be sunny in the west, raining in the centre, and merely cloudy in the east. I’m sure that true meteorologists will be having a fit at my divisions and generalisations, but I think you are getting the picture. The upshot of this is that the weather can change very rapidly, mostly from the west except under the winter conditions when we frequently have fronts from the Arctic descending on us. Always check the forecast before you set off:
Lakes weatherline tel: 01768 775757
Try to learn something about cloud formations, especially how to spot lenticular formations and what they might mean for the rest of the day
Camping would not be necessary though many consider an overnight wild-camp as part of the overall experience especially on the summit of Skiddaw itself, though water supply is a problem
There are a total of seven different routes described in Wainwright’s Book Five, The Northern Fells, approaching the summit from virtually all points of the compass. Some of them overlap with each other in their latter stages and I guess you would choose the route depending on any other goals you may have in addition to standing on top of England’s fourth highest mountain. For example, if you want a wilderness-type of experience then you are likely to choose something including Barkbethdale and Southerndale which are included in the routes from Bassenthwaite Village and High Side. On the other hand, those with masochistic leanings will choose the tourist route all the way from Keswick Youth Hostel, a round trip of 12 miles! The main routes are listed below solely to allow you to identify them on the map. I have given a popular variation of one of these,(Keswick Tourist Route, cutting out the town and earlier valley stuff) from Gale Road Car Park, in some detail with GPS waypoints in the listed routes for this page. If anyone wants to describe any others, over to you!
• Keswick Tourist Route
• Gale Road Car Park Route
• Millbeck Route
• Applethwaite Route
• Bassenthwaite Village & High Side Route
• Mellbecks Route
• Skiddaw House Road Route
• Skiddaw House Route
The map I use for this area is Ordnance Survey, Outdoor Leisure 4, The English Lakes, North Western Area, 1:25,000 scale.
For an interactive map of the summit which can be “extended” in any direction click multimap
Accommodation & Getting Around
There is lots of accommodation in the area to suit all budgets including:
• Scotgate Campsite 01768 778342 at the village of Braithwaite
• Keswick Youth Hostel 0870 770 5894 in Keswick town centre
• Coledale Inn 01768 778272 in the village of Braithwaite
• Lots of further information and accommodation help can be gained at the Keswick Tourist Office 01768 772645 also in Keswick town centre
• If you need transport to get around call Traveline 0870608 2608 for information on local buses.
Lake District Geology
: I can only scratch the surface here (a pun!) so I hope all you professional geologists, including my wife who worked for the geological survey in Kathmandu, can be tolerant of my amateurish attempt. The shaping of the mountains in this region and the origins of it’s rocks represent separate and dramatically different periods of time. The hills, lakes and valleys are mainly the result of glacial events of which the most significant took place during the Devensian period between 25,000 and 10,000 years ago. The bedrocks record a much longer and more exotic series of events in earth’s history extending back more than four hundred million years.
During the last half million years glaciation has affected the lakes area in the form of repeatedly advancing and retreating ice sheets, culminating in the present inter-glacial stage during which human civilisation has developed. At it’s most extensive ice covered the Lakes in a way similar to the present day Greenland ice-cap. The ice from Scotland which filled the Irish Sea basin, covered virtually the whole of the area and occasionally exposed scattered peaks or rocky mounds projecting from the ice.
As the ice melted sea levels were raised to flood the valleys of the Solway and West Cumbrian coast. Most of the characteristic glacial erosion features, including corries and lakes in U-shaped over-deepened valleys, originated during the last glacial stage. The ice sheets deposited huge quantities of rock debris as moraines, several of which dam lakes, and a blanket of boulder clay which obscures bedrock over much of the lowland areas.
During and after the ice melt some 10,000 years ago, water run-off became the main agent of erosion and rivers cut deep V-shaped valleys into moraines, unconsolidated boulder clay and softer bedrock, notably Skiddaw slate. River debris was washed down into the lakes to create deltas like the one separating Derwentwater and Bassenthwaite on which Keswick stands. The end of glaciation was also marked by widespread landsliding which is now stabilised.
Overall then, the mountaineer in Lakeland views a landscape shaped mainly by the events which took place as the ice shrank to valley glaciers and then to isolated corries before finally melting away, leaving the streams and rivers which became the main agents shaping the modern landscape.
Skiddaw is a “bit unusual” in terms of it’s geology in that the stones on the summit and exposed all around the mountain are very different in nature from those found in the rest of the central fells. On Skiddaw we have marine deposits which consists mostly of soft shale or slate which splits easily into thin wafers. Skiddaw was formed eons before the volcanoes of the district became active and probably looked down on such activity as well as the subsequent glaciers. All very interesting, but to hikers the significance becomes obvious if you use the route up/down Skiddaw including Carl Side and spend most of your time sliding on the loose slate.
Some Local History
The local history of the Lake District can not be summarised in one or two paragraphs here, but there are some issues of industrial archaelogy specifically which have a bearing on one’s enjoyment of the mountain landscape. In particular I refer to the mining industry and for several centuries the region has been famed for it’s mining of coal, iron ore, lead ore (galena), and graphite so a number of references below refer to this. (See my pages on Coledale and Newlands for a little more detail)
• The Force Crag mine is to be found in the valley of Coledale and you should be aware of it’s existence at least so as to avoid falling into a mineshaft when descending from Grisedale Pike!
• The Goldscope mine is in the Newlands valley above Littletown
• The Keswick Mining Museum, 017687 80055
• Don’t forget the National Mountaineering Exhibition, Rheged, at Penrith, www.rheged.com which is also an exhibition of Cumbrian history and heritage. Not to be missed by all mountaineers!
• Castlerigg stone circle in the hills above Keswick on the road to Ambleside/Windermere. A very ancient monument and with good views of the surrounding peaks
• John Peel, the famous huntsmen of “Back ‘O Skidda” who lived and led a pack of hounds and a merry band of drinkers. Born in High Caldbeck in 1776, died in 1854, ran away to Gretna to marry, immortalised in the Cumbrian song “D’ye ken John Peel”. Try the website here
if you want to know more.
This is the true breed of Lakeland sheep, unique to our fells and probably the hardiest of all breeds and you will see many of them in the Wasdale area.. It’s sturdy appearance, a tough individual personality and hard wearing wool enable it to cope with severe winter fell conditions. They have been known to survive a winter by eating their own wool! Although they are not recognised as a meat breed not many people know that it was served at the wedding and coronation of our Queen Elizabeth II. The hard wearing nature of it’s fleece make it more suitable for carpets rather than garments.