AW Says:"Among the best half-dozen..... commands admiration."Some mountains draw your attention more than others and for the more adventurous type, the fellwalkers amongst us, there then follows a need to climb it. This is particularly true for Bowfell, one of the finest mountains in Lakeland. When seen from the east it arrests the eye with its pert summit point and for all intents and purposes might appear to be the highest mountain in the whole Lake District. In fact, tourists travelling along the A591 past the Low Wood Hotel approaching Ambleside often point out the Langdale Pikes, Crinkle Crags and Bowfell with a certain ease. Oddly, this latter line of fells more or less obscures the mightier fells of upper Eskdale and unless you know the area well, Scafell and its pikes might remain unknown if it wasn't for the obvious superiority in height and their fame gained that way.
For the last few years, it has been my purpose to climb the fells following some of the least obvious lines. Many familiar with my outings will know my use of the scrambling guides by R.B. Evans. Dare I say it, but these texts fall into my bag long before my copy of Wainwright's Pictorial Guides. There is no doubt that AW found new routes (perhaps resurrecting old shepherds' ways) but he was certainly, by his own admission, not a man of the rock. Recently I have found the freedom of scrambling more invigorating than a simple walk and less daunting than a mighty rock face. Some may say it's foolish to venture onto steep rock without some security in the form of a rope, and in some circumstances a slip or fall could prove costly. However, such comments could be made about a simple walk, you only need to examine MRT reports to see that. Anyway there are still some fine routes to be found that don't tackle the steepest rocks and this ascent of Bowfell is one of them. It includes another of Lakeland's Mosedales, one of which is mentioned in the Branstree ascent from Swindale in this section of the website, although the eastern valley is spelt Moasdale.
Starting at Cockley Beck, where the verges and roadside provides an abundance of good parking, the route initially sets off up the metalled surface of Hardknott Pass. In matter of fact, if the weather is good, continue to the summit of the pass and 'bag' Border End and Hard Knott before walking off north for the head of Moasdale and a convergence with the described route near the confluence of Swinsty Gill and Lingcove Beck. Did you know?The pass below Bowfell at Three Tarns was formally called 'Bowesscard' or 'Bowe's Scarth' (Bowe's Pass).The walk up Moasdale, another of the those 'peat bogs' of Lakeland, can be a less than rewarding start, but once at the col the walk gains momemtum. For shear savagery of place, this route along Lingcove Beck could rate as one of the best. Granted, the views aren't distant ahead of you and the enclosing fells generate a sense of foreboding, but this ascent route has to be one of the best and least frequented in the whole district. I bet if you asked most people where they'd start their ascent of Bowfell they'd reply, 'Great Langdale'.
Turning eastwards, heading for the col at Three Tarns, the route dramatically passes beneath the southern crags of Bowfell known as Bowfell Links. The view backwards is now also dramatic, with Scafell Pike and Scafell rising dramatically over Pike de Bield Moss. Once at Three Tarns, or as it was once named 'Bowesscard' or 'Bowe's Scarth' (Bowe's Pass), the ascent to Bowfell is on the usual tourist route up from Great Langdale. Heading north from the 'tarns' initially and then bearing west-north-west, the summit of the Lakeland giant is soon reached. If you're lucky you'll be granted fine views, if not the description will be akin to that made by Bill Bryson in his 'Notes from a Small Island'. Whichever it is, it's still a dramatic place to be.
The next part of the route continues the adventure. Dropping from the summit almost due east you need to find the Great Slab. In good weather it is easy to spot, a great table of rock, tilted at an angle of about 30 degrees. Some find security by descending the slab through the rocks at it's left edge (in descent) but I always prefer to walk down the slab itself, but if you emulate this, be careful as the rock can be a little slippy.
At the base of the slab is the water spout which gushes from the base of Cambridge Crag. In hot weather this water willl be a welcome refresher, before proceeding south along the Climbers' Traverse. This really is a valiant way across a fell and although not difficult, it really feels like a place of high adventure. You can of course follow the traverse all the way and descend the walkers' path back onto the main Bowfell route that ascends 'The Band' through Buscoe Syke. However, this entails a large descent and reascent back to Three Tarns. The more confident walker will navigate their way, traversing round to intercept the path higher up just short of Three Tarns. The way is however, pathless and please do take care.
The passage of Crinkle Crags is covered in most mountain guidebooks, so refer to those for a superior description. In all but the most severe weather the ridge is a fine mountain traverse and terminates near its southern end with an interesting rock fall known as the 'bad step'. You can of course avoid this potential hazard to its west, but it's yet another feature on this thrilling mountain day. With Crinkles completed, the end of the route is nigh. Ensure you keep south as the main route descends for Red Tarn or heads for Cold Pike. Your objective is of course Cockley Beck, reached after crossing Stonesty Pike and Little Stand before descending the fellside to the Duddon. In good weather you should be able to choose your own line of descent, before meeting up with the valley path just north of Cockley Beck and which is most certainly a Roman road. In next to no time you'll be back at the car with the satisfaction of having completed one of the best high mountain, Lakeland days.
Route Map and Path Profile: