One Minute Mountain: Bowfell

by Alex Roddie 11/Aug/2017
This article has been read 524 times

For this instalment in our series of potted intros to Britain's favourite hills, Alex Roddie heads to Bowfell, the commanding peak at the heart of the Lake District beloved by generations of fellwalkers and climbers alike.

Misty Bowfell, 182 kbMisty Bowfell
© johnhenderson, Mar 2012

Height: 902m (2,959ft)
Personality: Bowfell is a bit like getting two mountains for the price of one. Its lower half is broad and sprawling, dominated by the great spur of the Band (which has a minor summit at 568m – a summit that, from many viewpoints in Langdale, looks more prominent than it actually is). But Bowfell's fortress-like upper reaches are craggy, complex, and a lot more interesting.
What's in a name? Traditionally it's thought that the name simply meant 'bow-shaped fell', but this source indicates 'Bowe' may originally have been a personal name. 'Bowe's Fell' doesn't have quite the same ring about it, though.
Hidden gem: At the base of Cambridge Crag there is a delightful waterspout where generations of walkers and climbers have topped up their bottles in the shade of these impressive cliffs. On the sunny southern side of Bowfell's summit pyramid, several rock ribs – the Bowfell Links – offer laid-back scrambling possibilities. It's one of Bowfell's quietest crags due to the lack of graded rock routes, in a setting that doesn't feel too serious, and scramblers can explore at will.
Greatest route? Bowfell is a mountain bristling with classic walks. It's hard to go wrong – and hard to pick a single best route. The Band is the obvious way up from Dungeon Ghyll in Great Langdale, and it is a fine walk, but it can be busy. My favourite route traverses the rocky spine of Crinkle Crags before finding the hidden Climber's Traverse and River of Boulders to the summit. For a wilder day out, approach from Eskdale via Lingcove Beck and climb steeply up to Ore Gap before tackling Bowfell's North Ridge. Each route is rewarding in its own way.

The Coniston fells from Bowfell
© Dan Bailey

What did Wainwright have to say about it? Bowfell was a favourite of Lakeland guidebook author Alfred Wainwright: "A favourite of all fellwalkers, Bowfell is a mountain that commands attention whenever it appears in a view" he wrote. "And more than attention, respect and admiration, too; for it has the rare characteristic of displaying a graceful outline and a sturdy shapeliness on all sides."
What's so special about the view? Bowfell's summit view is justifiably famous. It offers a top-down vista of Great Langdale's sinuous S-curve, and in the other direction the rugged mountain wall of the Scafells is seen from its wildest side.
Pub quiz trivia: Bowfell Buttress, the steepest and most striking crag on the East Face, was first climbed in 1902 by a party of five including L.J. Oppenheimer and C. Hargreaves. Although originally climbed as a summer rock route, it's now also a classic Lakes winter mixed climb – and frequently regarded as a bit savage for its old grade of IV (now graded V,6)
Where to stay? Great Langdale has all the facilities you need, but it gets very busy in summer. I've always stayed at the Great Langdale National Trust site (which now has a number of 'glamping' pods if you'd rather not sleep under canvas). There is also a bunkhouse nearby, or a hostel at Elterwater just down the valley.
Local pub: The Old Dungeon Ghyll hiker's bar, which serves real ale along with plenty of atmosphere.

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