The Scafells - A Mini Guide

© Lankyman

The peaks of the Scafells are amongst the roughest and most spectacular in England, and include Scafell Pike itself - highest in the nation. From the best routes to pubs and accommodation options, check out all the essential info on this walkers' and scramblers' delight in the heart of Lakeland, in this (not so) mini guide.

"This is the summit of England, and it is fitting that it should be sturdy and rugged and strong" wrote Alfred Wainwright. It's difficult to disagree with Lakeland's definitive guidebook writer. The top of Scafell Pike is a rough and barren place, all shattered rock and desolation. But - at 978m - it's also the highest point in our most popular National Park, which means that not a day of the year goes by without tens, and often hundreds, of people reaching its burly drystone shelter and celebrating their temporary status as the highest walkers in the Lake District. If that popularity puts you off, then keep reading...

The Scafell range from Harter Fell  © Lankyman
The Scafell range from Harter Fell
© Lankyman, Oct 2012

… because despite being an oddly shaped, lumped and indistinct peak, Scafell Pike is just the centrepiece in a great, sprawling massif of igneous rock. Tucked away in the south-west of the Park the whole Scafell range is either a long drive or a long walk (or both) from anywhere, and if you look a little closer you can find high-level walking and scrambling challenges to thrill the novice and give pause to the expert alike.

here is a mountain, without doubt, and a mountain that is, moreover, every inch a mountain. Roughness and ruggedness are the necessary attributes, and the Pike has these in greater measure than other high ground in the country - which is just as it should be, for there is no higher ground than this…" Alfred Wainright on Scafell Pike

Commonly approached from either spectacular Wasdale (home of deep waters, frontier inns and soaring peaks), wild Eskdale (loved for its remote and watery wilderness) or darkest Borrowdale, getting to the Scafells is just the start of the delights. Once at their feet you have the choice of the lesser summited, but better regarded, Scafell, as well as Lingmell, Broad Crag, Ill Crag, Great End, or indeed any of the other neighbouring peaks that you may wish to tie them to.

Scafell from Scafell Pike  © Dan Bailey
Scafell from Scafell Pike
© Dan Bailey

But here's a secret: To look solely at the summits is to miss the point of these Lakeland giants entirely. It's not so much the high points of the range as the features linking them that bring the real joy. There's the dramatic Scafell to Scafell Pike notch of Mickledore, the "peculiar delights and horrors" (Wainwright again) of rockfall-prone Lord's Rake, the queer clenching terror of Fat Man's Agony… leading on to the near-unapproachable climbery dangers of Broad Stand, the spongy beauty of Great Moss, the vicious depths of Piers Gill (and the cliffs of Lingmell that overhang it)... and too many more to mention outside of a coffee table-sized guidebook.

As Wasdale Mountain Rescue will urge you, this is not a place to take lightly, or to treat with anything other than consistent respect and awe. But it is a place to visit. And that right soon.

Sun peeping round Pikes Crag, Scafell group  © sandstone
Sun peeping round Pikes Crag, Scafell group
© sandstone, Feb 2010

The Scafells in a nutshell

1. Climb Scafell Pike, the highest summit in England.

2. Visit the nation's deepest lake (Wastwater, 79m) and smallest church (St Olaf's) in scenic Wasdale.

3. Enjoy the longest grade one scramble in England, up Ill Crag's Cockly Pike Ridge.

4. Explore the many routes and valleys surrounding this remote Lakeland massif.

5. Join the merry crowds on the busy routes from Wasdale or Borrowdale, or enjoy the isolation of Upper Eskdale, one of the most remote spots in Lakeland.

6. Take on some of the best mountain rock and winter routes in Britain on Great End, Esk Buttress, East Buttress and the mighty Scafell Crag.

7. Give yourself a scare on the notorious No match for crag id:"Broad Stand" connecting Scafell with Mickledore. On second thoughts, give it a miss unless you're happy on slimy Diff-grade rock with a very hard move and probable death fall below...

To return was impossible… and the Ledge at the bottom was so exceedingly narrow, that if I dropt down upon it I must of necessity have fallen backwards and of course killed myself. My Limbs were all in a tremble — I lay upon my Back to rest myself, and was beginning according to my Custom to laugh at myself for a Madman, when the sight of the Crags above me on each side, and the impetuous Clouds just over them, posting so luridly and so rapidly northward, overawed me. I lay in a state of almost prophetic Trance and Delight — and blessed God aloud, for the powers of Reason and the Will, which remaining no Danger can overpower us!" - Samuel Taylor Coleridge on scrambling Broad Stand

Sca Fell...Broad Stand grade 3 scramble   © BigHell
Sca Fell...Broad Stand grade 3 scramble
© BigHell

Scafell East Buttress - Broad Stand - In context  © TerryB
Scafell East Buttress - Broad Stand - In context
© TerryB, Jan 2009

The author's continuing disappointment was amply compensated by the pleasure of going on living" Wainwright on not scrambling Broad Stand

Principal summits

The Scafells from Great Gable  © Dan Bailey
The Scafells from Great Gable
© Dan Bailey

Many folk today… share the old opinion that Scaw Fell (now Scafell) is the superior mountain of the group. This respect is inspired not by the huge western flank going down to Wasdale nor by the broad southern slopes ending in the Eskdale foothills but rather by the towering rampart of shadowed crags facing north and east below the summit, the greatest display of natural grandeur in the district, a spectacle of massive strength and savage wildness but without beauty, an awesome and a humbling scene. A man may stand… and witness the sublime architecture… and, as in a great cathedral, lose all his conceit. It does a man good to realise his own insignificance in the general scheme of things, and that is his experience here" Alfred Wainwright on Scafell

Scafell Crag  © sheep
Scafell Crag
© sheep, Jul 2013

Must-do routes

Cockly Pike Ridge

This little-known scramble involves roughly 400m of ascent and may just take the crown as the longest and most consistent grade one route in England.

Wild Eskdale from High on Ill Crag  © Dan Bailey
Wild Eskdale from High on Ill Crag
© Dan Bailey

The reason it's not crawling with other ambitious walkers is that it's both remote and difficult to locate. However, if you would like to reap its considerable rewards then make your way from Seathwaite up and over Esk Hause to roughly NY228069. From here you'll be turning north-west and finding your own route on the ridgeline itself, or amongst the boulders to the left of it. You can avoid any difficulties you feel uncomfortable with and you'll finish atop Ill Crag, from which it's just a few hundred metres to Broad Crag and then onto Scafell Pike itself.

Cam Spout and Little Narrowcove

Starting near Brotherilkeld below Hardknott pass, this route winds-in a considerable way up wild Eskdale. Once you've reached the expanse of Great Moss it's then a question of a modest grade one scramble up the side of roaring Cam Spout Force before you reach the tremendously scenic col of Mickledore and make your way to the summit of the Pike. The descent down Little Narrowcove is rocky and involves scree sections. You'll pass the well-regarded bouldering site of Sampson's Stones on both the way in and out, too.

Looking down Little Narrowcove to Crinkle Crags  © Ratfeeder
Looking down Little Narrowcove to Crinkle Crags
© Ratfeeder, Jan 2015

The long route from Wasdale

If you want to bag the best of the Scafells in a way that's logical, yet still distinct enough to avoid the common choice of the masses, then this is the route for you.

The Scafells from Buckbarrow in Wasdale, Easter weekend 2013  © Phil Lee48
The Scafells from Buckbarrow in Wasdale, Easter weekend 2013
© Phil Lee48, Mar 2013

Starting in Wasdale Head you'll make your way up to broad Burnmoor Tarn, before turning up the big shoulder of Scafell. From here you'll most definitely not be descending Broad Stand (it's a series of giant rock steps for climbers only and a fearsome accident blackspot for unprepared walkers), but instead descending to Foxes Tarn before climbing back up to Mickledore, onto Scafell Pike, beyond to Broad Crag and Great End and finally curving back to the start via Styhead Pass. You'll cover nearly 20km of tough ground, making this a great walking day.

​The short route from Wasdale

​Though it's a steep pull, the assault of Scafell Pike from Wasdale has the benefit of brevity. If you're pushed for time then this is the shortest route from the roadside to the roof of England.

Pikes Crag, Hollow Stones and Scafell by moonlight  © Colin Wells
Pikes Crag, Hollow Stones and Scafell by moonlight
© Colin Wells, Feb 2009

The grind up Lingmell Gill and Brown Tongue is rewarded when you reach Hollow Stones, a tremendously atmospheric mountain cove menaced by the huge rock masses of Scafell Crag and Pikes Crag. From here the direct route via Mickledore is nasty steep scree, so most opt instead to bear left and come at Scafell Pike via its gentler-angled northwest flank. a detour to the outlying prow of Lingmell is worth making along the way.

From Borrowdale via the Corridor Route

The Corridor Route is justifiably popular, and many happily claim that it takes in some of the finest views in England.

Sunlight late afternoon from the 'Corridor Route', looking down Lingmell Beck to Mosedale  © David Dear
Sunlight late afternoon from the 'Corridor Route', looking down Lingmell Beck to Mosedale
© David Dear, Aug 2011

Winding through the heart of the Scafells from the relatively accessible entry point of Borrowdale (from Keswick it's a mere 20minute drive down the length of Derwent Water to the start), our version takes in all the major peaks of the range excepting Scafell. At around 15km it's not the longest of routes, but there are plenty of suitable (and well-used) wild camping sites, such as around Styhead Tarn, which could be utilised for a night out under the stars.

Eskdale round

At over 20km this might be a stretch for some in a single day, but fortunately the focus is on wild and relatively un-trod Eskdale to the south-east of the Scafells - so bringing a tent and turning it into a serene and beauteous overnighter is a real possibility. On this route you'll take in not just all the major peaks of the Scafells themselves, but also  - depending on the variation you go for - the tremendously characterful tips of Esk Pike, Bowfell and Crinkle Crags to the east, as well as the possibility to explore upper Eskdale. A truly magnificent Lakeland experience.

Sunset over the Scafells above a sea of cloud from Bowfell  © robhowell
Sunset over the Scafells above a sea of cloud from Bowfell
© robhowell, Oct 2013

Lakeland 3000ers

We're getting into serious territory now and rocketing the distance up to 75km, so this is not a route for a single day (unless you're a keen-as-mustard fell runner).

Taking a breather on High Raise, en route to the Scafells from Helvellyn  © Dan Bailey
Taking a breather on High Raise, en route to the Scafells from Helvellyn
© Dan Bailey

Here we've taken the basic premise of climbing the four Lakeland 3000-footers - Skiddaw, Helvellyn, Scafell and Scafell Pike - and ditched the low-level linking sections in favour of more hills in between instead. Realistically you're going to need a weekend (or even longer) and there are sections, such as the rocky scramble of Lord's Rake and the entry-level climb of Broad Stand which should only be attempted by those certain of their experience and abilities.

The Bob Graham Round

The Bob Graham Round is the classic Lakeland sub-24hr fell running challenge. Its high point may be Scafell Pike but in all it takes in a whopping 42 independent summits on an enormous round that weaves through most of the Lake District.

Heading towards Ill Crag at 6:30AM!
© Bob, May 2010

This feat is attempted every year by about 200 people, and about a third of them will succeed. This seems an impressively high pass rate in the circumstances. As walkers the whole thing generally seems barking mad, but luckily there's nothing to stop you taking it at a more human pace by dividing the round up into a five-part walking epic. It's not all wild camping, either. You can choose your route to stop at pubs, campsites and B&Bs, making this a civilised way to see almost the entire Lake District (including the Scafells, naturally) in a single challenge walk.


OS Landranger (1:50,000) 89 or 90; OS Explorer (1:25,000) OL6

Harvey British Mountain Map (1:40,000) Lake District


The Lake District is almost certainly the most celebrated and documented mountain region in Britain, if not the world, and any outdoor book shop will be furnished with enough reading material to keep you busy for a lifetime of walks and dreaming of walks. Some excellent options for the Scafell area include:

A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells, book 4 The Southern Fells by Alfred Wainwright (Frances Lincoln)

The Lakeland Fells by Bernard Newman (Mica)

Scrambles in the Lake District Vol 1, and Vol 2 (you need both for the whole Scafell range) by Brian Evans (Cicerone)

Great Mountain Days in the Lake District by Mark Richards (Cicerone)

Weather forecasts

Lake District forecast from MWIS

Mountain Area Forecast from the Met Office

Scafell Pike-specific forecast from YR.NO


Although there are none directly of the Scafells, you can find a selection of Lake District webcams via the following link:

Topped out on Moss Gill to a superb view before sunset  © sincybabes
Topped out on Moss Gill to a superb view before sunset
© sincybabes, Jan 2010

Best bases

This will depend upon which route you wish to take up the Scafells. It's difficult not to recommend Wasdale Head above all others. Although remote and difficult to access (it's a further hour by car from your arrival in Keswick or Kendal or Windermere), it is hard to argue with it being the most dramatic and impressive valley in Lakeland. The next best option is Borrowdale, a dark, precipitous and impressive place famous for being one of the wettest locations in Britain. Another option is far-flung Eskdale, which demands longer walks-in than the other two options, but offers a greater sense of wilderness in return. Lastly, the big outdoor towns of Keswick and Ambleside are perfectly viable choices - particularly if you have your own car.

Wasdale Head  © Nicholas Livesey
Wasdale Head
© Nicholas Livesey, Jul 2011


The Wasdale Head Inn, Langstrath Country Inn and Woolpack Inn (see pubs, below) are all excellent options. The first of those is a real gem, is steeped in climbing history and offers camping too. But also consider the following options...

There are three campsites at the head of Borrowdale, at Seatoller Farm, Chapel House Farm and Stonethwaite Farm.

The National Trust run a campsite at the head of Wast Water in Wasdale.

The YHA has hostels at Borrowdale, Wasdale Hall, Honister Hause and Eskdale.

Sunset from Great End summit  © sheep
Sunset from Great End summit
© sheep


As with most mountain destinations, having your own car makes life a lot easier. However, bear in mind that parking is limited at the narrow valley heads that begin almost every Scafells ascent. Get to Wasdale (NY187085) and Seathwaite (NY236123) early to take advantage of the free car parks, and be careful not to block a narrow road with inconsiderate parking. Try to avoid the peak times of Bank Holiday weekends - and aim to start early. You'd be amazed at just how busy the Scafells can get during the 9am to 5pm window, and how empty they can be outside of that.

The Lakes Line links Windermere, Staveley, Burneside, Kendal and Oxenholme (which also joins to the West Coast Mainline). Full info here.

The best tool for planning bus, train and coach journeys is traveline.

You can also find information about buses in Cumbria via the County Council.

Pubs and food

For Wasdale Head, your only option is the Wasdale Head Inn. Fortunately it's one of the best Inn in the District.

In Borrowdale try the Langstrath Country Inn and the Scafell Hotel.

If you're coming in from Eskdale try the Woolpack Inn at Hardknott Pass, not far from Boot.

And for anyone staying in Keswick, the newly refurbished Dog and Gun is a long-time walkers' favourite.

Dan Aspel head shot  © Dan Aspel

About Dan Aspel

Dan Aspel is a freelance journalist who specialises in mountaineering, motorcycling and the outdoors. He spends most of his hill time in Snowdonia, where he regularly works as a Mountain Leader.

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