Blencathra wild camp in autumn

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The tale of an amazing misty night out wild camping on the summit ridge of Blencathra, in the northern fells of the English Lake District

Climbing up Scales Fell to set up camp before sunset

I have climbed Blencathra in the northern fells of the Lake District many times before and had spotted a flat patch of grass on top that was big enough to take a tent. Having wanted to camp up there for ages I was on the lookout for a promising forecast with very little wind before giving it a go.

September had arrived, summer had been overtaken by autumn and we’d had a few days of clear nights followed by misty mornings. With a very still night forecast a camping trip there was very definitely in order.

And so it was that I parked at the hamlet of Scales one evening a couple of hours before sunset. From there I set off up the trudge over Scales Fell to the summit. 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 and I chose the one closest to the trig point. With no wind it was a straightforward task.

Having sorted that I had about thirty minutes of daylight to play with so I wandered the length of Blencathra’s summit ridge, checking out 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 this 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, even with a sleeping mat!

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 obligatory photo of my tent.

Terra Nova Laser Competition 1 tent on Blencathra at dawn
Wild camping on Blencathra

Now, that’s not a bad spot to camp. Fortunately the wind didn’t pick up in the night as it is a very exposed location!

After some stretching to ease my aching bones, I wandered along the summit ridge looking down on the valley below. At the top of the Scales Fell ridge I had climbed the night before I could see more mist had formed during the night.

pre-dawn mist in the glenderamackin valley below scales fell
Pre-dawn mists in the Glenderamackin Valley below Scales Fell’s ridge

Just before the sun rose, the landscape turned a rich red colour. The views along the ridge of Gategill Fell towards St. Johns in the Vale were superb.

cloud inversion in st johns in the vale below gategill fell ridge pre-dawn
Mist shrouding the Glenderamackin Valley below Gategill Fell

I had to pause at this point just to take it all in. But not for too long though as the light was changing as the sun rose.

One photo I was after was the view looking down Sharp Edge at dawn. Not wanting to miss that I took the short walk across to the northern end of the summit plateau to get into position. The first of the dawn’s light was already hitting the ridge as I arrived.

golden dawn light on the razor ridge of sharp edge
Dawn over Sharp Edge

I knew from the previous evening’s exploration that by scrambling part way down the path to the top of the ridge a better view was to be had. After carefully working my way down the steep path I settled down to take the following photo looking along Sharp Edge down to Scales Tarn below.

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 of this batch of photos as the flare had ruined them. However 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.

Now the sun has risen a bit more it was time to head back to the summit to look at the view towards Gategill Fell again.

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

Descending Blencathra via Scales Fell

Photography done, all that remained was the walk back down to my car at Scales.

There is choice of routes that lead back down to Scales. One route is back down via Hall’s Fell Ridge.

Looking down Hall’s Fell Ridge from the summit of Blencathra towards a misty Glenderamackin Valley below
Looking down Hall’s Fell Ridge from the summit plateau

Having climbed up this route before I suspected this might be a bit awkward while encumbered with my camping kit. In fact the same could be said for most routes. Normally I would try to do a circular walk on this occasion I was just keen to get home. Also even though it was September the day was warming up quite quickly and I had a lot of kit to carry. And so it was that I retraced my steps back to Scales Fell.

Soon enough I reached the summit of Scales Fell. Time for a break to drink the last of my water. And take one last photo.

Scales Fell summit view of Blencathra and Sharp Edge under blue skies
Blencathra and Sharp Edge from Scales Fell

A long break here was followed by the final bit of the descent to the hamlet of Scales.

And that was 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 either!

Thanks to this night out 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.

Blencathra wild camp in autumn was last modified: May 3rd, 2022 by Gavin Dronfield

Further reading:

  • Haystacks wild camp at Innominate Tarn
    October 2016 : An unforgettable stormy night of wild camping in thunder and lightening at Innominate Tarn on Haystacks (its the only way to get the place to yourself!)

  • Sergeant Man wild camp from Grasmere village
    June 2018 : An eleven mile climb from Grasmere village via Easedale Tarn for a wonderful night's wild camping under the summit of Sergeant Man

  • Wild camp at Styhead Tarn
    October 2017 : A walk from Seathwaite in Borrowdale via Sprinkling Tarn to spend a stormy night wild camping at Styhead Tarn

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