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Blencathra wild camp in autumn

Climbing up Scales Fell to set up camp before sunset

I have been up Blencathra many times before so I already knew there was a flat patch of grass on top that was big enough to take a tent but had never actually camped up there. I have always wanted to though. All I needed was a promising forecast with very little wind – I would really struggle to put my tent up in a blowing gale – and I’d give it a go.

With autumn very definitely set in and having had a few days of clear nights and misty mornings a camping trip was very definitely in order.

So it was that I parked at Scales one evening a couple of hours before sunset and started the trudge up Scales Fell. Normally I’d avoid this relatively dull route up Blencathra but as I was carrying all my camping and photography kit I wasn’t going to try anything more exciting.

Despite the dull skies overhead I couldn’t help but hurry because people on their way down told me the top was clear and the views were something special. And it turned out they were right.

First things, first though: sort my accommodation out. There are a few patches of grass big enough to take a tent on the ridge but I chose the one closest to the trig point: definitely one of the better views I’ve had from my tent.

Terra Nova Laser Competition tent on Blencathra at dawn
Wild camp on Blencathra

Having sorted that I had about thirty minutes of daylight to play with, so I wandered the length of Blencathra’s summit ridge, recceing locations for the following morning’s photography. I’m not the sharpest pencil first thing in the day so always try to have a clear plan in my head as to what I will do given various weather conditions.

And then I had time to settle down, chill out (and it was chilly!) and watch the last of the sunset. Actually I realised I wasn’t alone at this point as there were a number of bats flitting around but they didn’t seem that bothered about the fantastic view.

tent on Blencathra at dawn above misty Glenderamackin valley
River Caldew mist

After the sun went down it struck me quite how much light pollution there is in that part of the Lakes. With a clear view east towards Penrith and north towards Carlisle it never got totally dark thanks to the yellow glow on the horizon.

Oh, one other thing – Blencathra is hard! With very little spongy grass to pitch a tent on, that was one hard surface to sleep on!

Spectacular dawn from the summit ridge Blencathra

So after not much sleep I was quite glad to wake up and even more relieved to see it was still clear. Time to run around and get some photographs …

First up was the view from my tent across the flanks of Gategill Fell and the foggy Glenderamackin Valley below towards Keswick. The results were ok but needed more light so, until the sun had risen a bit more, I spent some time scrambling part way down Sharp Edge to get the view looking down on Scales Tarn.

Sharp Edge and Scales Tarn at dawn
Sun rays over Sharp Edge on Blencathra

As I was facing directly into the sun I could tell a lot of my photographs were suffering from lens flare. I tried using my hand to stop this, probably looking as if I was doing some morning tai-chi while doing so. When I got home I ended up deleting most as the flare had ruined them but there was one that I was very pleased with. Although totally accidental I think the sun’s rays add to it and make the shot.

So, back to the summit and the main photograph I was after: a panoramic shot across the fog-shrouded valley towards the central Lakeland Fells.

Gategill Fell dawn panorama above misty Glenderaterra valley
Misty Blencathra panorama

It is very hard to do justice to the scale of the view but, by stitching eight individual photographs together, I have produced a massive image that I’m very happy with. Sadly its way too big to upload to this site in full but it can be used to produce some impressive prints. For now, all I can do is home in on some details, indicated by the red boxes.

Even though it was still very early, by the time I had walked back to the summit from Sharp Edge there were people on the summit ridge. They must have had a very early start although they probably slept better than me! The first detail photograph shows a couple on the summit of Gategill Fell. I think their presence helps add a sense of scale.

people on the summit of Gategill Fell from Blencathra
Gategill Fell summit

And it is also possible to see Keswick peeking out from a gap in the mist in the valley below.

Keswick in the mist from Blencathra
Misty Keswick from Blencathra

And that was about it – the end of a photography trip that went exactly as planned. I’m not sure that will ever happen again, or that I’m likely to see views quite like those again!

To view more photos from this part of the Lake District please view my Northern Fells landscape photographs collection.

Blencathra wild camp in autumn was last modified: April 6th, 2017 by Gavin Dronfield