One Minute Mountain: Steeple

© Lankyman

From some angles it's all drama; from others it's hardly there at all. Steeple is a fell with extremes of personality, says Alex Roddie, in our ongoing series of bite sized intros to Britain's favourite hills.

Surprise view of Steeple from a distant Mellbreak  © allenp
Surprise view of Steeple from a distant Mellbreak
© allenp, Oct 2020

Height: 819m (2687ft)

Personality: Steeple is surprising. From one side it's hardly visible at all until you're right on top of it, while from the other it's a glorious ridge of rock offering one of the best routes up onto the Mosedale Horseshoe from the north. Although Wainwright called Steeple an 'excrescence on the side of Scoat Fell' – to be fair, he described it using more superlative language elsewhere – it's a lovely fell in its own right and a worthy yin to the nearby Pillar Rock's yang.

What's in a name? It's thought that the name is as simple as it sounds, and refers to a church steeple or spire – a reference to the fell's sharp profile when viewed from Scoat Fell.

Pillar and Steeple (right) from Ennerdale Water  © Dan Bailey
Pillar and Steeple (right) from Ennerdale Water
© Dan Bailey

Best route: While many will be content to visit Steeple as a short detour from the classic Mosedale Horseshoe (the round of Pillar, Scoat Fell, Red Pike and Yewbarrow from Wasdale Head), to climb Steeple in its own right from Ennerdale makes a good day out too. The approach from the head of Ennerdale Water begins through forest before climbing over a broad shoulder called Lingmell, crossing Low Beck, then climbing Steeple's steep north-west ridge directly. The climb narrows and becomes rocky, with an adventurous feel and excellent views across the combe of Mirk Cove, but is never a difficult walk. In The Western Fells, Wainwright lamented that new forestry in Ennerdale was having a dramatic impact on the landscape, hiding the waterfalls of High and Low Beck from sight: 'Things are not what they used to be, in Ennerdale. They never will be, ever again.' Planting of non-native Sitka spruce began in the 1920s. By the 1960s much of the valley was cloaked in forest.

Ennerdale from the lower slopes of Steeple  © Dan Bailey -
Ennerdale from the lower slopes of Steeple
© Dan Bailey -, Sep 2011

Wild Ennerdale: Fortunately, much has changed since Wainwright's day. Wild Ennerdale, a partnership formed in 2003 between the valley's three major landowners, has begun taking steps to rewild the valley. Timber has been harvested, native trees planted, sheep numbers reduced, fences removed, and conservation grazing used to increase the value of habitats for wildlife. In recent years, marsh fritillary butterflies have returned to the valley. They were previously extinct in Cumbria.

Most unfrequented route: Few of the walks in this area can be said to be truly unfrequented, but a strong contender has got to be the approach up Nether Beck from Wasdale. This is a fantastic walk beside a leaping beck, and the upper reaches of the dale can feel surprisingly wild as you climb up to the saddle between Haycock and Scoat Fell. An even wilder route approaches via Caw Fell and Haycock from the vast moorlands to the west.

The biggie: Steeple is just one of many great fells climbed on the mega round of the Ennerdale skyline:

The quick tick: If you just want to bag the summit and enjoy the views without making Steeple the focus of your entire day, good news: it's easily accessible from Scoat Fell. The out-and-back trip involves less than 50m of ascent and takes about 15 minutes. Unless the weather's dreadful, don't even think about walking the Mosedale Horseshoe without making this detour – it's worth it.

Steeple  © Lankyman
© Lankyman, Oct 2016

Summit landmarks: The summit is small, and perched right on the edge of the cliffs, with room for only a handful of walkers around the ramshackle cairn. Views are excellent in all directions, particularly down the length of Ennerdale Water and back towards Scoat Fell.

Where to stay? YHA Ennerdale hostel makes the perfect base, located roughly a kilometre from the Ennerdale approach to Steeple. On the Wasdale side, a stay at the Wasdale Head Inn is an unforgettable experience.

Local pub: Ritson's Bar at the Wasdale Head Inn offers the definitive mountain inn experience, complete with memorabilia from the golden age of Lakeland climbing.

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