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Blencathra wild camp in autumn

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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 1 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.

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.

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.

It is very hard to do justice to the scale of the view but, by stitching eight individual photographs together, I 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 to show the picture’s scale so I’ll zoom in on the areas highlighted below.

Gategill Fell dawn panorama above misty Glenderaterra valley with boxes
Zooming in on the misty Blencathra panorama

Firstly I’ll zoom in on the right hand area: the summit of Gategill Fell.

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

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

And secondly it is 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 – all that remained was the walk back to the scar at Scales and 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 any time soon!

Blencathra now has an entry in my list of places to wild camp in the Lakes. And there are a few new additions to my photos of the Lake District’s Northern Fells collection.

Blencathra wild camp in autumn was last modified: September 13th, 2019 by Gavin Dronfield

Further reading:

  • Haystacks wild camp at Innominate Tarn
    October 2016 : A stormy night of wild camping in thunder and lightening at Innominate Tarn on Haystacks.

  • Sergeant Man wild camp from Grasmere
    June 2018 : Climbing Sergeant Man from Grasmere village via Easedale for a wonderful wild camp on the tops

  • Wild camp at Styhead Tarn
    October 2017 : Walking up from Seathwaite to spend a stormy night spent wild camping at Styhead Tarn


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