Outlying Fells - The Forgotten Wainwrights

Though they didn't make Wainwright's original list, Lakeland's little known Outlying Fells are a worthy target, reckons keen fell bagger Drew Whitworth. Among these 116 bite-sized beauties you'll find craggy mini summits, superb viewpoints and some surprisingly wild walking. Better yet, few of them ever get busy; and that's more than you can say for the Skiddaws and Scafells of this world.

When Alfred Wainwright wrote his "Personal Notes in Conclusion" in 1965, at the end of his monumental seven-volume Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells, he stated categorically that he rejected suggestions of a Book Eight, "The Outlying Fells". Nevertheless, seven years or so later, this supplementary volume did indeed emerge.

Gummer's How from Loughrigg Fell
© Drew Whitworth

"Peripheral they may be, and many of the walks are not 'mountain climbs' by any stretch of the imagination. Nevertheless, they have a lot to offer​"

Although there are some ambiguities in the count, the general agreement is now that this volume adds a further 116 summits to the original count of 214 'Wainwright' tops in the Pictorial Guide, making a total of 330. What The Outlying Fells essentially does is extend the coverage of the Guide to all the high ground within the Lake District National Park. The most significant addition is Black Combe and the elevated range that connects this south-westernmost Cumbrian mountain with the Coniston and Eskdale fells. A broad sweep of the south-eastern region, around Windermere, brings in famous viewpoints such as Gummers How and Orrest Head, and several chapters are devoted to the lonely, remote moorlands of the Shap Fells, to the east of the National Park, where the District merges into the Pennines.

© The Lemming, May 2003

Whatever happened to change Wainwright's mind between 1965 and 1972, some may since have questioned whether Book Eight is really worth the bother, whether these 116 tops 'count' as Lake District fells in the same way that the main 214 do. The tops are by no means all given one chapter each, as in the main Guide, with Book Eight describing walks, rather than fells; some of these pack in a great many summits that would never get a second glance around Sty Head or Patterdale. Twelve of the 116 do not even have names. Many are under 1000 feet high, with the lowest, Humphrey Head, managing to lift itself barely 172 feet above Morecambe Bay. Very few have crags of any sort. Wainwright and, in his excellent second edition, Chris Jesty, both come very close to admitting that some are simply not worth the effort. A possible measure of the lack of appeal of the Outlying Fells is that whereas nearly 700 walkers have, by now, registered their completion of the main 214 on the Long Distance Walkers' Association web page, with many claiming multiple rounds (dozens, in some cases), only around 150 have done the same for the full list of 330, and virtually all claim only one completion.

Looking south from Blawith Knott, 59 kb
Looking south from Blawith Knott
© Drew Whitworth

I finished the 214 Wainwrights in January 2013 [entirely by public transport - see our interview with Drew here, Ed.] and then travelled abroad for a few months. On my return in June that same year I decided there was little point in leaving the Outlying Fells unbagged, so set out to complete the subsidiary list, a goal finally attained on 21st November 2015 on Dent, the westernmost of all the Cumbrian fells. In the last two and a half years of walking I admit there were occasional pangs of nostalgia for the far more dramatic walking country of the central District. But in fact, I was far more faithful to the Outlying Fells than I originally expected I would be. Peripheral the region may be, and many of the walks are not 'mountain climbs' by any stretch of the imagination. Nevertheless, they have a lot to offer.

Despite low altitudes, thanks to their position on the edge of high country a considerable number of the Outlying Fells have stunning views. Beyond just the well-known ones, like Black Combe and the aforementioned Orrest Head, little pimples of hills such as Caermote Hill, Latterbarrow and Hugill Fell — all under 1,000 feet — offer magnificent panoramas, both into the interior of the District and outside, to the Irish Sea, Morecambe Bay and Pennines.

Langdale Pikes from Scout Scar, 138 kb
Langdale Pikes from Scout Scar
© Bulls Crack, Sep 2014

"The ground may not be craggy and steep, but the walking is by no means always easy. In the Shap/Wet Sleddale region, particularly, bagging the summits means walking for many hours in remote and challenging terrain​"

The ground may not be craggy and steep, but the walking is by no means always easy. In the Shap/Wet Sleddale region, particularly, bagging the summits means walking for many hours in remote and challenging terrain. A plus point of the Outlying Fells is the solitude: I probably bagged more than half of the 116 without meeting another soul. But that also means there is often a lack of paths. Walkers in the Shap Fells, and also around Whit Fell and Devoke Water, need to come prepared, and with good navigation skills. Many of these walks need saving for fine, clear days as in mist and rain they would be nightmarish. But there are certainly rewards to be had, epitomised by, on Seat Robert, finding myself in the midst of a huge herd of wild red deer in October this year, an experience highly unlikely around Keswick, say.

It is true that with several of these fells, dedicated peak-baggers will most likely regret that Wainwright troubled to include them — I felt this most of all with Clints Crags, near Cockermouth, which really did feel like a waste of time. Staveley Fell has been ruined by industrial forestry and Dunmallet is just a patch of woodland near Pooley Bridge, though at least one can be up and down it in half an hour from any pub in that town. But these are the exceptions.

The following Outlying Fells are highly recommended as expeditions, for walkers of any level of experience:

Best of the Outliers

Stickle Pike

This was the chapter I enjoyed most of all. Stickle Pike and its satellites are all under 1,500 feet yet are the most rugged in Book Eight. The walk Wainwright describes is a horseshoe around the valley of Dunnerdale, and entertains every step of the way.

Sunrise from Thornthwaite Latter Rigg looking towards Dunnerdale Fells, 91 kb
Sunrise from Thornthwaite Latter Rigg looking towards Dunnerdale Fells
© Pavement Monkey, Feb 2010

The Devoke Water circuit

The six fells in this chapter, culminating in the twin tops of Yoadcastle and Woodend Height, pressed up against Wainwright's original south-western boundary, near Eskdale, clamouring to be let into the canon. And so they should be: the views are excellent, and in Seat How the chapter has the most enjoyable little summit tor in Book Eight. Access is a bit problematic, particularly from the west, but the effort is worth your while.

Devoke Water and Water Crag behind it, with the boathouse, 60 kb
Devoke Water and Water Crag behind it, with the boathouse
© Drew Whitworth

Caermote Hill

Located in the far north of the Lake District, near Bothel, this fell could be easily combined with the nearby Binsey (from the Northern Fells), a walk that will offer up not only stunning views of Bassenthwaite Lake and Skiddaw, but the remains of a Roman fort and prehistoric earthworks.

The view of Bassenthwaite Lake from Caermote Hill, 75 kb
The view of Bassenthwaite Lake from Caermote Hill
© Drew Whitworth

The Crookdale and Wasdale horseshoes

I would combine these two chapters in a single walk that could begin on the A6, head over Great Yarlside to Grey Crag (from Wainwright's Far Eastern Fells) then come back down over High House Bank. By doing so, a circuit would be completed, on reasonably good ground, of the incredibly lonely valley of Crookdale, and acquaintance also made with the 'other Wasdale', about as unlike its famous namesake to the west as can be imagined. This would be as good an introduction as possible to the remote Shap Fells region.

Wall on Great Yarlside, 136 kb
Wall on Great Yarlside
© Drew Whitworth

Caw and Walna Scar

Caw is the spikiest of all the Outlying Fells and the one that, most of all, resembles peaks in the interior. Walna Scar is rather misrepresented by the walk Wainwright suggests, reached insultingly easily by a five-minute climb from the pass of the same name. Walkers coming up this way will completely miss the fell's best side, and the scramble up White Pike that proves Walna Scar deserves its status as the most elevated Outlying Fell (at 2,035 feet). Combined with Caw these two make a very good walk from Coniston or the Duddon Valley.

On Caw, 248 kb
On Caw
© Lankyman, Apr 2014

All in all then, while these 'forgotten' Wainwrights will never have the same appeal as the Gables and Scafells further in, there are many aspects of the Outlying Fells which are worth a walker's time. I will be going back: I think a few more people need to bag them all twice.

UKH Articles and Gear Reviews by Drew Whitworth

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