The Scafell / Bowfell massif

Sketch map will appear here

On a map or an aerial photograph the Lake District looks very much like a wheel, with the lakes as "spokes" appearing to radiate from a common centre. The fells are formed largely of ridges between these spokes and it might be imagined that the highest fells can be found at this imaginary centre. Nature is, however, not perfect. The geographical centre of the Lakes is a relatively low and uninteresting sprawl of moorland while the highest fells can be found in the southwestern sector of the district.

This southwestern area of the lakes is centred on the Scafell / Bowfell massif, and within it are England's highest summits. The area perhaps owes its superior height to the nature of the rock - these fells are formed of volcanics, and tend to be rough and craggy in contrast to the smoothly rounded slate-formed hills to the north. England's highest mountain is the 3,210ft Scafell Pike; truly a mountain rather than just a hill, it features a rough, bouldery summit, flanks rent with rocky gullies and crags, and (uniquely in Lakeland) two adjacent "tops" each exceeding 3000ft in their own right. If the county of Cumbria were in Scotland, Scafell Pike would come in as Munro number 175, superior in height to such well regarded mountains as Ben Lomond, Sgurr nan Gillean, Luinne Bheinn and Blaven.

Scafell Pike has an extensive system of outliers, most of which are regarded as separate fells. Not least of these is Scafell itself, lying a mile to the southwest across the col of Mickledore and England's second highest summit. On the Wasdale side lies Lingmell. To the northeast is the great butt-end of Great End, below which lies the popular walkers' path running past Sprinkling Tarn; a pretty name for a dramatically sited but otherwise rather gloomy body of water. The Scafell massif continues northeast, sending a ridge down into upper Borrowdale comprising the fells of Allen Crags, Glaramara, Seathwaite Fell and Bessyboot.

The Scafell group's neighbours to the east form an equally imposing group of fells, centred on the 2960ft Bowfell. It is a very fine mountain, sending watercourses down into Borrowdale, Langdale and Dunnerdale; its western outlier, Esk Pike, dominates the head of Eskdale. Other prominent members of the group include Crinkle Crags, Cold Pike and Pike O'Blisco, while there are lesser heights extending down between the valleys such as Rosset Pike and Lingmoor. Bowfell itself, England's 6th highest summit, stands proud at the head of Langdale and is a magnet for walkers.

Wainwright omits much of the country to the southwest of the Scafell / Bowfell massif, yet these mountain systems continue as a sprawling ridge of high moorland almost to the coast. Scafell itself drops gracefully to valley height by the intervening top of Slight Side, but the Bowfell group - interrupted briefly by the airy heights of Hardknott Pass, reputedly the steepest motor road in Europe - spreads out again between Eskdale and Dunnerdale and is dotted by remote heights such as Green Crag, Hesk Fell, Whitfell, Buckbarrow and Black Combe.

Eskdale and Dunnerdale are the only valleys in Lakeland not to possess lakes, which perhaps explains the relative lack of tourist traffic and associated facilities in this corner of the National Park. Wastwater, which delineates the Scafell / Bowfell group to the west, is however one of its finest features and is celebrated as England's deepest body of water. The group as a whole is bounded in the west by Wasdale and Styhead Pass, and in the east by Langstrath, Stake Pass, Langdale, Little Langdale, Wrynose Pass and Dunnerdale.

Gallery Index

Rosthwaite Fell, 6th May 1996

Scafell's most northerly spur, "mopped up" over a holiday weekend.

Scafell Pike, 1st May 1999

England's highest mountain

Allen Crags and Glaramara, 2nd May 2004

A return visit to this fascinating ridge

Back to Lake District index page

This page last updated 23rd May 2004