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Top 5 Small Lake District Fells

Why climb small fells when there are so many bigger fells?

Taking a leaf out of a previous blog entry which listed wild camping locations in the Lake District I thought I’d create another list, this time about my favourite small fells.

At the moment my hiking is pretty limited thanks to an injury so the big mountains are well out of reach. On the bright side this means that I’m doing ‘easier’ walks over small fells that I wouldn’t normally climb. And there are some great small fells out there!

When people get to the Lake District they often (and understandably) head for the taller mountains, therefore missing out on some cracking small hills that offer surprisingly good views.

For the sake of this list I’ll arbitrarily pick 2000 feet (approximately 600m) as the limit before a mountain stops being small so with that in mind here we go: my top 5 small fells:

5. Barf

One of those Wainwrights which makes you wonder how he picked the fells he did. This really isn’t a hill in its own right as its just a crag on the shoulder of Lord’s Seat. Now there’s a grand name – Lord’s Seat. With a name like that it should be a gem but its really just the highest point on the undulating upland west of the Whinlatter Pass. Its name suggests that its a great vantage point but it isn’t that good. No, to get the view from this cluster of fells you have to wander north to Barf. From there there is a steep drop to Bassenthwaite Lake below and there is a fantastic view along the Derwent Valley – a great place to get a shot at dawn (yet to be done).

4. Mellbreak

Another gem. Not the biggest of fells in the Lake District (hence its appearance in this list) but when approached from the north, Mellbreak looks like a difficult scramble up rocks and scree. Its only when you’re actually at the foot of the climb that a path becomes visible zig-zagging to the top. A great climb leads to a long summit ridge and one of the best views of the Buttermere Valley (see the first photograph) and the Loweswater Fells to the north.

3. Ard Crags

Ard Crags is a fell which Wainwright wasn’t a fan of but what did he know? Having climbed Ard Crags a few times I consider the following to be the best route up: set out from Buttermere village and head up the very secluded, quiet Sail Beck Valley which forms the southern boundary of the Coledale Fells. In summer it is about as green as green can be and is absolutely gorgeous. From the hause at the end there is a quick, sharp climb up Ard Crags which then leads to a fine ridge walk over Knott Rigg and back down into Buttermere, all the time surrounded by the much higher fells of the Coledale and Newlands Horseshoes. Superb!

2. Middle Fell

‘Where the hell is that?’ is a good question. Middle Fell is one many people drive past and totally ignore when heading up to Wasdale Head and the big mountains at the head of the valley. Its the small craggy hill passed before the distinctive cone of Yewbarrow is reached and one which rarely gets a second glance. I only noticed it last year when pouring over maps and thought it would be good to go somewhere new. So parking by the side of the Wasdale road I wandered straight up the spine of the fell which leads quickly to the summit crag. From there the views are impressive to say that it isn’t that high – all of the Wasdale fells line the eastern horizon with Wastwater and the Screes at your feet. Even heading back down is a joy: head north off the summit and sweep west, round the remote and rarely visited Greendale Tarn for an arm-swinging descent down the Greendale valley.

1. Haystacks

Ok, so this was Wainwright’s favourite and understandably so … maybe he did know something after all. It is pretty much the perfect small fell – a decent climb out of the Buttermere Valley and a summit which has loads of nooks and crannies to explore. Innominate tarn near the trig point is pretty damn near perfect and the feeling of being on a fell (even though it is really only a bump on a ridge) ringed by much bigger and grander fells can’t be beaten. Maybe one day this will also make it into my Lake District Wild Camping Top Five … but only if I ever find the place empty!

As update to this, in 2016 I spent a stormy night wild camping on Haystacks which proved my suspicions: Innominate Tarn is a superb place to camp!

To view more photos of the Cumbrian hills please view my gallery of Lake District landscape photos.

Top 5 Small Lake District Fells was last modified: August 18th, 2017 by Gavin Dronfield