Heading Off the Beaten Hills: Cumbria’s Top Ten Unknown Fells
Published: Sunday 16th Feb 2014
Written by: Alice de Courcy-Wheeler
The many fells (214 according to Wainwright) and lakes that characterise Cumbria make it one of the most picturesque regions in the UK. Over 15 million people flock to the area each year to climb and take in the views from great fells such as Scafell Pike, Helvellyn, Great Gable and Skiddaw. However, if you want to avoid the crowds there are many spectacular fells to explore that are virtually unknown meaning you can have almost have them all to yourself …
The Howgills are relatively unknown, due mostly to their lack of rocky outcrops or dramatic summits. But such shallow judgement benefits anyone who looks beyond initial appearances and chooses to walk them. Despite being in Cumbria, the fells are actually part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, which affords some stunning and uninterrupted views of both the Lake District and the Pennines, all in a marvellous isolation rarely found on the more popular southern fells. You’ll also be able to see Cautley Spout, the highest waterfall in England.
One of Wainwright’s ‘Outlying Fells’ (in which he describes it as a ‘connoisseur’s piece’), Woodland Fell is actually an area south of Conniston, incorporating the summits of Yew Bank and Wool Knott. The ground is covered in bracken and heather with small rocky outcrops, and explorers are rewarded with the dark waters of Beacon Tarn and views across the great southern fells.
The Cumbrian hamlet of Howtown is better known as the gateway to the majestic Ullswater via the steamer that takes tourists across the lake to Glenridding. However, you can turn your back on the crowds and instead take on the fells of Bonscale Pike and Arthur’s Pike. The climb wends its way through Fusedale and up Loadpot Hill where there is easy walking along a ridge that has superb views of Ullswater and surrounding fells.
While the trophy peak of Helvellyn will always attract the majority of walkers, the Dodds (Great Dodd, Watsons Dodd and Stybarrow Dodd) are a great alternative if you prefer a bit of solitude. They form the middle section of the ridge between Helvellyn and Clough Head and can be accessed from Dockray, a small village sitting above Ullswater, close to the Aira Force waterfall. High walking at its best, there are long stretches of flat easy walking allowing you to concentrate on the spectacular scenery around you.
Thirlmere isn’t unknown. It’s one of the more popular lakes with tourists and day trippers alike. However, almost all of the traffic is on the Helvellyn side of the reservoir, leaving the western side virtually deserted and at first sight it’s easy to see why. From the road Armboth Fell looks bleak and uninviting, and the ridge seems dull and uninteresting. But ignore all that and you’ll soon discover a pleasing walk through woods that brings you out past Harrop Tarn. It’s a steep climb but on the way you’ll pass a pretty waterfall cascading over the rocks, and the views of the lake below are well worth it.
Sale Fell is a small hill that sits near Cockermouth to the north of the Lakes. Because of its relatively low height it is often ignored for its more illustrious sisters, but it is an easy climb, full of interesting features and great views of Bassenthwaite and Skiddaw. An ideal first peak for beginners or a good alternative when bad weather has rendered the higher fells off limits.
Sometimes known as Saddleback, is one of the most northerly fells, and has six separate fell tops to conquer. It stands apart from other hills and you’ll find yourself alone on its paths for the majority of the time. All the more space for you to enjoy some of the most stunning views you’ll find in the area.
Wainwright wrote very little about Dunnerdale, perhaps preferring to keep its secrets to itself. It’s tucked out of the way, but worth the effort to find and explore. Hidden tarns, volcanic fells and the summit of Stickle Pike will prove ample reward if you persevere.
Another one of the ‘disguised fells’; from the nearby M6 it looks unappealing, but up close it’s another matter. It’s not a taxing climb, giving you plenty of time to look out at the scenery, including several waterfalls and the Far Eastern Fells. Below you lies Haweswater, and when water levels are low it’s possible to see walls and the remnants of buildings that were flooded when the reservoir was created.
Squeezed between the Eskdale and Duddon valley, Harter Fell is a solitary mountain that’s a great introduction to fell walking. There is plenty of wildlife to be spotted on the climb and you get a unique view down to Mediobogdum, a huge Roman fort on the Hardknott Pass. When you reach the summit you are rewarded with excellent views of the ‘Eskdale horseshoe’ including Scafell Pike, Bow Fell, Esk Pike and Great End. It’s not the easiest of places to get to, but this ensures that you’ll have the mountain virtually to yourself.