One Minute Mountain: Blencathra

In our ongoing series of mini intros to Britain's favourite hills, Alex Roddie gets hands-on with Lakeland icon Blencathra, home to the legendary Sharp Edge, and subject of a recent acclaimed film.

Wee walkers. Blencathra.  © Russell Lovett
Wee walkers. Blencathra.
© Russell Lovett, Jan 2016

Height: 868m (2,848ft)

Personality: A shapely and distinctive mountain, near-symmetrical from certain angles, with clean sweeping lines and steep open slopes. Forming an array of deep gullies and sharp spurs, Blencathra's precipitous southern flank dominates the low lying pastures on the eastern approach to Keswick; meanwhile the famous Sharp Edge is seen in sickle-like profile from afar as you approach the North Lakes from the east. All this makes Blencathra a real landmark fell.

What's in a name? Not everyone calls it Blencathra. Until Wainwright came along with his pictorial guides, the more usual name was Saddleback, which Wainwright disliked. Now both names are marked on OS maps. The meaning of Blencathra is debated, but commonly believed to be derived from blain cadeir, meaning 'summit chair' in Cumbric, a relative of Old Welsh once spoken in northern England and southern Scotland (before either existed).

Hidden gem: Blencathra has few secrets. But if most people climb it from the 'front' – the south-eastern side – then quiet and out-of-the-way places can be found by venturing round the back. Try searching for the Cloven Stone on Mungrisdale Common above the Caldew Valley.

The Wainwright connection: Blencathra was one of Wainwright's favourite fells, and he wrote more about this mountain than any other. In fact, he recorded more ascents of Blencathra than any other Lakeland fell, too. But there's one route that Wainwright found terrifying, because Wainwright was no scrambler...

Walker on Sharp Edge  © Dan Bailey -
Walker on Sharp Edge
© Dan Bailey -, Jun 2013

Greatest route? Sharp Edge. This classic ridge is one of the best scrambles in the Lake District, and the name says it all – you can expect some serious exposure. But despite its fearsome reputation, if you're confident in your head for heights, and conditions are neither wet nor icy underfoot, then this grade 1 scramble is accessible to hillwalkers. Descend via the easier but scarcely less dramatic rock spur of Halls Fell ridge and you have one of the great hands-on half days of Britain.

  • See the UKH Route Card here.

Who climbs it? Wainwright-baggers, scramblers... and you may bump into legendary mountaineer Alan Hinkes while you're up there, or Lakeland filmmaker Terry Abraham, who seems to spend half his time on the fell.

There's a film? Terry Abraham's Life of a Mountain: Blencathra (UKH review here), released in 2016, is a fantastic portrait of this mountain. It tells the story of the fell throughout the year, through the voices of the people who live and work on its flanks. The sweeping panoramic shots will get you in the mood for an ascent of Sharp Edge.

Who owns it? In 2014, the Earl of Lonsdale put the mountain up for sale at an asking price of £1.75 million. Afraid that access rights might be compromised by new owners, a community venture, Friends of Blencathra, was put together to place a bid for the mountain in order to safeguard it for future generations. Although Friends of Blencathra were not successful, the mountain was withdrawn from sale in May 2016 – much to the relief of locals.

Where to stay? If you've got wheels, then YHA Keswick isn't too far. Closer to the fell is the Scales Farm Country Guest House, Scales, Threlkeld. There are also several campsites in the Keswick area.

Local pubs: It's Lakeland - you're not short of characterful hostelries. Among the best in the immediate viinity include the Dog and Gun, Keswick and the Horse and Farrier Inn, Threlkeld, which does a good line in fish and chips.

Sunset from Blencathra, looking towards Causey Pike. Ruth shivers as I take 'just one more photo'  © Ice Nine
Sunset from Blencathra, looking towards Causey Pike. Ruth shivers as I take 'just one more photo'
© Ice Nine, Jan 2011

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