We tackled this walk on a warm spring day – a good weather forecast is essential as it’s a long day and there is little chance of cutting short the route apart from omitting Bowfell, which would be a shame as the views from the summit are outstanding.
The National Trust car park beside the Old Dungeon Ghyll fills up quickly so it’s good to make an early start – when we were there on an Easter weekend by 10 am there were no spaces at all. If that happens you can park back down the valley at the New Dungeon Ghyll, which means adding another 3/4 mile to the start and finish of the walk.
The route heads up the valley to Stool End Farm, where it branches up Oxendale. Most people were heading up The Band towards Bowfell, but we ignored that path and continued up to bridge over Oxendale Beck Although we didn’t have the path to ourselves, at least it was quieter for a while. After crossing the bridge and a first flattish section the paved path climbs steeply up the hillside onto Brown Howe – it’s hard work but it does get you up there fast. From Brown Howe the paths flattens out for a while and contours round, gently rising to another stiff pull up to a huge grassy plateau, in the back of which is Red Tarn lying beneath Pike O’Blisco. Though most people immediately turn right to carry on towards the Crinkle Crags it’s worth continuing on to the tarn where if you’re lucky there will be some amazing reflections of the crags in the water. Heading back towards the stony main path, the way continues up a broad hillside. We took the 1/4 mile detour onto the summit of Great Knott, to admire the first of the views over Langdale from its grassy top.
We retraced our steps to join the path and headed for First Crinkle. It is a bit of a clamber up among the rocks and there is a gully with a steep drop but a wide path circumvents it, so the going is good. This is the most exposed section of the walk, but nothing is really troubling. We stopped on the top to admire the views, the line of ridge tops rippling away into the distance. There is a photogenic view of the route ahead, which looks from here like an exposed ridge path but is actually nothing of the sort.
From the First Crinkle, the path dips down to a col where you have a choice of going right towards the bad step, or left up a steepish but easy grassy rake turning right to gain the summit of Long Top – the second crinkle. The Bad Step is a gully that is blocked by a large boulder (or chockstone) – to get around it requires a pull up to the right hand-side. We decided (like most people on the ridge that day) to avoid the Bad Step and take the alternate way around which is quite eroded but easy. It curves around to summit cairn of the Second Crinkle (also known as Long Top). The views from here are wonderful – to the north west are the Scafells, to the north east the Langdale Pikes and to the south the Coniston Fells.
The path heads on northwards, leading down steeply to the ridge path that turns out to be a broad path, admittedly with drops on one side but there is no need to get close to the edge.
From here it’s easy to lose the path as you make slight detours to climb the summits of the Third, Fourth and Fifth Crinkle, all slightly away from the main path.
Beyond the five Crinkles, the route crosses the summit on Shelter Crags and heads down to the col of the Three Tarns which lie below Bowfell. This is where we meet the path that comes up the The Band, our eventual descent.
Though the ascent of Bowfell can be considered optional – it takes time and can add to tiredness levels, it’s well worth it. It starts with a steep climb up a loose and rocky path to arrive at a broad area – from here people take one of many ways up the final summit cone, but the official path curves around and climbs up the back of the cone.
You probably won’t be alone on the top, but when we were there we were glad of the company. There was a blissful and communal sense of achievement of getting up to one of the high points in the lake district, watching hikers taking their last steps towards the summit of Scafell and gazing out at the layers of mountains, and beyond, the sea. There was a lovely relaxed atmosphere up there as people lay back on the rocks and basked in the sunshine.
From the summit you have to retrace your steps down the first section of an unyielding downward path. Once back at the three tarns the paved footpath down The Band is easy to spot and it continues its relentless, and for the most part paved, descent to the valley floor and back to the Old Dungeon Ghyll.