Sharp Edge is a knife edge ridge requiring nerves of steel. Halls Fell Ridge is a succession of challenging low crags. Together they make the walk up Blencathra one of the finest in the Lake District.

The walk up Blencathra is one of the best hikes in the Lake District. Not because of the views, although the vista from the summit over the northern Lakes is sensational. Nor because of the short ascent, which allows you to be up in under 2 hours. But because dropping from the flanks of its summit are two of the finest and most thrilling ridges in the region.

Halls Fell Ridge is a succession of low crags that slowly rise to the summit. They require clambering over a series of ledges and outcrops. The ridge is narrow enough to gain a thrill, but not so narrow as to feel certain death is at hand.

Sharp Edge, on the other hand, is the most exposed grade 1 scramble in the Lake District. A knife edge ridge that requires nerves of steel, a head for heights and steady hands and feet. It is not to be undertaken lightly, but once completed, few scrambles in the Lake District bring greater satisfaction.

Together the two ridges make for some of the best scrambling in the Lake District, and an unforgettable day out.

Here’s what you need to know.

Sharp Edge, Blencathra

BLENCATHRA VIA SHARP EDGE AND HALLS FELL OVERVIEW


SUMMARY

A thrilling scramble over two ridges with great views

DISTANCE

8.5 kilometres

TIME

4 hours 15 minutes

ELEVATION

+/- 730 metres

DIFFICULTY

Challenging because of the thin vertiginous ridges

SHARP EDGE, BLENCATHRA

Famous writer of the Lakeland Fells, Alfred Wainwright described Sharp Edge as ‘a rising crest of naked rock, of sensational and spectacular appearance, a breaking wave carved in stone. The crest itself is sharp enough for shaving and can be traversed only….at some risk of damage to tender parts.’

And so, it is. Sharp Edge, the narrowest ridge in the Lake District that can be crossed by a walker, needs care and attention. Classified as a Grade 1 scramble (no ropes or protective equipment needed) it requires a sturdy head for heights, nerves of steel and careful consideration of where to place your hands, feet, and more often than not, your backside. 

The ridge is only a couple of hundred meters long, but being exposed with vertical drops on either side, traversing it can feel like a lifetime. Around two-thirds of the way along there is a ‘bad’ step that requires shuffling on your backside along a sloping slab of rock and down onto a narrow edge. It’s not pleasant and it definitely gets the heart beating faster.

But when you have finished there are few greater feelings of satisfaction.


HALLS FELL RIDGE, BLENCATHRA

Halls Fell Ridge is much wider and less exposed than Sharp Edge. It’s a place where you can enjoy the challenge of the scramble, rather than carefully considering each and every footstep and handhold.  The ridge is a succession of low crags which can be clambered over and between. Hands are needed for support in a couple of places, but much of the ridge can be completed by simply striding over the top.

Since the crest is usually a couple of meters wide, rather than a knife-edge, it’s the perfect place to scramble for the first time. It’s a sharp steady climb but this route up Blencathra is one of the best and most enjoyable mountain ascents in the Lake District. It will come as a complete surprise when you find yourself standing on the summit admiring the well-earned views.

VIEWS FROM BLENCATHRA SUMMIT

While the ascent of Blencathra via Sharp Edge or Halls Fell Ridge feels like an adventure in the rugged mountains, the summit is surprisingly flat and wide. It’s a great place to explore.

On the western side, Blease Fell provides a spectacular lookout over the highest mountains of the Lake District as they rise around the waters of the River Derwent. Towards the north, Foule Crag overlooks sharp edge where you can cheer on the walkers still dotted along the ridge.

But after the strenuous effort to get up to the top, there’s nothing better than sitting on the main summit with a mug of coffee and staring out at the never-ending rolling green hills of the Pennines.


If you are after adventure in the mountains, then walking up Blencathra via either Sharp Edge or Halls Fell Ridge (or both) is an excellent day out. But there are two things to be aware of:

1 / Both ridges are exposed and require some scrambling (the use of hands as well as feet)

2 / Sharp Edge is significantly more difficult. You need a good head for heights and should have some experience of scrambling. Furthermore, don’t attempt it in wet or windy conditions as the edge is exposed and slippery. Although as one hiker told us, “cloud helps because you can’t see what’s below you.” To get an idea of the challenge watch this.

If you have some scrambling experience, are comfortable with heights and the conditions are good then ascend Blencathra via Sharp Edge and descend via Halls Fell Ridge. It’s a thrilling 8.5-kilometre hike that will take about 4 hours.


If, however, you are new to scrambling, then ascend Blencathra via Halls Fell Ridge. It’s a safer introduction to scrambling where you’ll still need to use your hands on a narrow ridge, but it’s not too narrow. This is a fun strenuous hike in the Lake District so you’ll still have a taste of satisfying reward when you get to the top.

Once at the summit you can have a look at Sharp Edge and decide if it is for you. However, if you think you can handle it, we would not recommend going down. Instead, take the gentler path down to Scales Tarn at the bottom of the ridge and then scramble back up using Sharp Edge.

Whichever you choose, climbing Blencathra is an adventurous day out in the Lake District.


DETAILED ROUTE INSTRUCTIONS

OPTION 1 / ASCEND VIA SHARP EDGE AND DESCEND VIA HALLS FELL RIDGE

Start at Scales. Head west along the road towards Keswick, and at a layby follow the footpath sign turning right between two houses and right again after going through a wall. The path winds its way up a grassy bank and then along a pretty ledge with views on the right.

After a while the path crosses another track and traverses the contours of the hill until it approaches Scales Tarn. Turn right just before the tarn and take the path over the crest of Sharp Edge. Then scramble up the loose rock of Foule Crag turning left at the top to the summit.

Now take the descent down Halls Fell following the path as it crests over and between a series of rocky towers and small crags. The first twenty minutes is on a steep narrow ridge. Soon the path gradually widens before it follows a grassy hill descending to meet a beck (small river) on your right. Turn left and follow the path along a wall, negotiating a couple of short ascents and descents to get over Doddick Gill and Scaley Beck. Turn right to drop onto the main road and into Scales.


DETAILED ROUTE INSTRUCTIONS

OPTION 2 / ASCEND VIA HALLS FELL RIDGE THEN DESCEND VIA SCALES FELL

Start at Scales Farm. Head west along the road towards Keswick, and at a layby follow the footpath sign turning right between two houses and left after going through a wall. Follow the path along the wall, negotiating a couple of short ascents and descents to get over Scaley Beck and Doddick Gill.

Turn right on a path that rises up a grassy bank just before the next stream. Continue up the bank, which slowly narrows and narrows and gets rockier and rockier until you are clambering over a ridge no wider than a couple of meters. From this point you are around 20 minutes from the summit. 

Descent via the beautiful Scales Fell path (keeping right) that gently returns to Scales.

NOTE / If you want to give Sharp Edge a go it’s better to come up it than go down. So take the gentler path to the southern edge of Scales tarn, walk around it anti-clockwise and then ascend Sharp Edge.   

All the route details are available in our below map.


MAP / BLENCATHRA WALK VIA SHARPE EDGE AND HALLS FELL RIDGE

Our map shows the different paths you can follow to walk up Blencathra as well as parking spots, the bus stops and a couple of pubs. Download it onto your phone so you can follow along on the day of your walk.

SAVING OUR BLENCATHRA WALK MAP

1 / Click on the star beside the title to save your Google Maps account (if you’re logged in).

2 / To locate the map in Google Maps go to SAVED (the bookmark icon on the bottom menu bar), then MAPS / (the last option in the row of menu items at the top of the app – you may need to scroll across to find MAPS. The order is: Lists – Labelled – Reservations – Following – Maps)

3 / Open the map to when you get to the Lakes to have all the instructions with you.

TIPS FOR SCRAMBLING

1 / Be aware that unlike most hill walking, scrambling comes with a bit of risk. Take your time, be careful and don’t attempt these walks if you’re unsure.

2 / For grade one scrambles you do not need any special equipment, but make sure you wear walking boots or shoes with good grip.

3 / Many scrambles are exposed, if you do not have a head for heights, then it may not be for you.

4 / Build up your experience by attempting easier scrambles first. Halls Fell Ridge is an excellent place to start. Only move onto Sharp Edge after you have had some practice, feel comfortable with heights and got used to forming solid foot and handholds.

5 / If you are not particularly experienced do not attempt rocky exposed scrambles in wet or windy conditions. Clouds also carry considerable moisture, so aim for sunny clear day.

6 / Take a good map and a guidebook. Sharp Edge is covered in Brian Evans’ book: Scrambles in the Lake District: Northern edition.


HOW TO GET TO THE BLENCATHRA WALK

Blencathra is just north of the main road between Keswick and Penrith, making it an easy mountain to get to.

CAR / If you have a car, start the walk at Scales. There is a small free car park next to the White Horse Inn, a few spots on the lane in the village and more in a layby on the main road.

BUS / There is no bus stop at Scales but the X4 and X5 running between Keswick and Penrith stop at the Horse and Farrier pub in Threlkeld. The walk described above can be easily amended to begin and end at Threlkeld – see our map above. Buses run about hourly until the early evening – timetables.


WHERE TO STAY

Both Keswick and Threlkeld are excellent places to stay when attempting this Blencathra walk. Check out our recommendations below or we have lots more options for where to stay in the Lake District.

BUDGET
BUNGALOWS GUEST HOUSE

Great budget option a few miles out of Keswick

MID-MARKET
HOWE KELD

Home from home, a perfect B&B in a central location

SPLURGE
LAKESIDE HOUSE

Idyllically set by the woods on the lake with only a short walk to town


WHERE NEXT?

First, if you found this useful, please follow us on Instagram to stay up to date with our travels.

If you are inspired to visit the Lake District, all our writing about the area is on our Britain page.

Here are some other great ideas for getting outdoors in the UK that you might enjoy:

WILD SWIMMING IN THE LAKE DISTRICT
WHERE TO STAY IN THE LAKE DISTRICT
BEST HIKES IN THE LAKE DISTRICT

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