Crinkle Crags: simply the name peaked our interest. Add into this it being one of Alfred Wainwright’s top six walks and we were sold. Fancying a challenge, we added in another of Wainwright’s favourite peaks: Bowfell.
This circuit isn’t for the faint hearted. It’s over six hours of hiking up a pretty steep incline and rocky terrain, but the effort you put in is rewarded with an incredible walk that continuously changes and brings new interest with every turn. We could see why it was one of Wainwright’s favourites. If you just wanted to walk Bowfell or Crinkle Crags it wouldn’t be too difficult, but the two together made for a pretty challenging day.
If you only have time for one long walk in the Lake District, we’d recommend it be this one.
Our route started with Crinkle Crags.
Great Langdale is a stunning area to visit in the Lake District, even the drive in is very pretty, albeit along more of those extremely windy and narrow roads! We were surprised to find that - from a distance - Crinkle Crags is just one of several huge fells in the area. After all, it is surrounded by the Langdale Pikes and Pike O’Bliscoll, as well as Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain, in the distance.
However, when you get closer, you realise just how unique Crinkle Crags is. I’ll let Wainwright explain:
“Crinkle Crags is much too good to be missed. For the mountaineer who prefers his mountains rough, who likes to see steep craggy slopes towering before him into the sky, who enjoys an up-and-down ridge walk full of interesting nooks and corners, who has an appreciative eye for magnificient views, this is a climb deserving of high priority.”
Alfred Wainwright: Pictorial guide to the Lakeland Fells - Book Four
Crinkle Crags should be seen as five or six small summits rather than one, each crag offers a unique view and climb making the walk more enjoyable.
If you want to read more about Wainwright’s beautiful description of Crinkle Crags, Bowfell or any others in the southern area, get his book on the link below. They are beautifully written and drawn.
Crinkle Crags Difficulty
We’ll be honest, Crinkle Crags is a fairly tough walk. You do need to be in reasonable shape or extremely determined. A head for heights is also helpful as there is some exposed scrambling involved. None of it is technical though.
It is a rewarding hike, but you’ll feel it in your legs for the next few days. The path rarely flattens out and is mainly gradual to steep uphill and gradual to steep downhill.
It takes over 5km (3 miles) and nearly 850 metres of climbing simply to get to the first crag (and it continues upwards from there)! From there it is a scramble across five crags, none of which require climbing, but you’ll struggle to find a standard path on any of them. As with most Lake District walks there are a variety of ways you can clamber to the top.
“Crinkle Crags merits respect, and should be treated with respect; then it will yield the climber a mountain walk long to be remembered with pleasure”
You should allow four hours to do Crinkle Crags alone, unless you’re supremely fit or pretty used to fell walking.
We wouldn’t recommend tackling Crinkle Crags if there is thick cloud on the summit or bad weather. The path to the summit can be slippery and the path along the Crinkle Crags could be difficult to find in cloudy weather, it has the potential to be dangerous. Sadly people have died on Crinkle Crags when the weather closed in and they followed the wrong path. This really is a walk best saved for a clear day.
Crinkle Crags Route
Starting Point: Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel
Getting to the starting point of the walk involves the worst of Lake District driving - long, narrow roads with everyone else seeming to want to drive at 70mph!
At the end of the road is the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel which has a National Trust Car Park.
Sidenote: It is well worth becoming a National Trust Member if you are living in England and interested in doing several fell walks and stately homes etc in the Lake District and other areas. The car parks to many walks are free for NT members.
The start of the track is a blissfully long, flat walk to Stool End Farm, a real treat when you’ve been used to the walks that immediately throw you into a steep uphill climb. At this point you’ll see the only signposting on the whole walk, guiding you towards Oxendale Beck.
After crossing the bridge, the uphill hike begins.
Once over the bridge the path changes from gravel to rocks - most of which are fashioned into reasonable steps. If it’s been raining, it’s likely that the path will have become a stream. It’s such a pretty area though and you climb alongside a waterfall which is so picturesque.
This is one of the steepest parts of the whole walk, however, you’re compensated with a view back to Great Langdale that just gets better and better.
After making it to Brown How the track begins to flatten - it’s still uphill, but nowhere near as steep.
The path turns a reddish colour and you’ll have to cross over a couple of streams (there are rocks to get across) as you get closer to Red Tarn.
The path turns a sharp right and begins to meander gradually upwards. It’s at this point you’ll get a great view of your intended destination: Crinkle Crags with Bowfell in the far distance.
After around two hours of uphill hiking you’ll have reached the foot of your first crag. It’s pretty exposed here so it does get windy but the views are terrific.
Crinkle Crags Scramble
We’re not a big fan of scrambling, especially if it’s a narrow path with a huge drop either side. Whilst Crinkle Crags has plenty of scrambling, it never felt like if you slipped that you’d end up at the bottom of the valley. I thought I might struggle a little with the scramble but in clear weather it isn’t too difficult. You have to use your hands a bit but there are always lots of good hand and foot holds.
“This ridge is a fell-walkers’ delight. A constantly changing scene, beautiful and dramatic views, fine situations and an interesting course throughout to make this a walk to remember.”
The lead to the first “crinkle” has the narrowest edge and after circumventing the crag you’ll embark on the longest scramble. There are plenty of places in between crinkles to stop and have a break on large flat areas which i think makes it much easier.
Once again though, we don’t recommend doing this walk in the rain or misty conditions. It can be slippery, there’s no fixed path and finding your way could become difficult.
Crinkle Crags avoiding the Bad Step
The second “crinkle” has the Bad Step and it looks pretty daunting, even from a distance.
At first the path seems to lead straight to this: a rock face that would require a little more advanced scrambling skills. Whilst it is easy to see when going from south to north, it isn’t so easy when going in the opposite direction (just see the people above).
That’s why we would definitely advise going in this direction, so that you aren’t descending and find this nasty (or fun depending on your view) surprise!
However, blissfully for those who aren’t so confident, there is a path just to the left (highly visible in good conditions) which circumvents it entirely.
Whilst it is narrow, it’s no more so than other parts of the track and it means you can complete the walk without taking on the famed Bad Step.
It was so windy on the day we were here that we didn’t even dare go for a closer look at the Bad Step and immediately went for the work around option.
The remaining Crinkle Crags
After the first two, there are three more “Crinkles” as well as Shelter Crags left to navigate.
These are easier than the first two with wide grassy sections and only a little bit more scrambling to do.
Until now it has been the scrambling up that is the hardest part. At Shelter Crags (the final one before Bowfell) the descent is a plain of huge boulders to scramble down.
There are a few cairns, but it didn’t really look like they were pointing to a decent path. It all looked like huge boulders to climb down and we just made our own way.
If you are confident with footing it won’t cause you any trouble.
I always find descending much harder than ascending and just had to take it slowly on this section.
Soon you’ll reach Three Tarns and a decision to be made: turn right and head home, or go straight and climb Wainwright’s beloved Bowfell.
We were feeling fairly tired at this point but Bowfell looked tantalisingly close and we couldn’t resist.
Bowfell is an immediately recognisable fell when seen from Great Langdale. The bell shaped summit appears to be the highest and sits at the end of a ridge of several other mountain peaks.
Wainwright wasn’t coy in hiding his admiration.
“A favourite of all fellwalkers, Bowfell is a mountain that command attention whenever it appears in view. And more than attention, respect and admiration”
Alfred Wainwright, A pictorial guide to the Lakeland Fells, Book Four
You don’t have to hike up Crinkle Crags to get to Bowfell with the route up the Band being just one of several options.
The climb up to Bowfell along the Band is a steep walk. At over 800m of ascent across 5km (3 miles). From Crinkle Crags it is obviously far easier as you don’t have much extra to walk, though your legs are already a bit tired by this point! The peak still looks quite high above you and is quite an imposing sight. The reality is you are only around 20 minutes from the top so go for it!
It’s a climb that has a bit of everything, as described effusively below.
”As much as any other mountain, the noble Bowfell maybe regarded as affording an entirely typical Lakeland climb, with easy walking over grass giving place to rough scrambling on scree, and a summit deserving of detailed exploration and rewardsing visitors with very beautiful views. Rank Bowfell among the best half-dozen!”
Starting the climb
Despite the temptation to head back especially in the wind, we started up again. The climb that starts from Three Tarns was a bit of a ghastly sight for tired legs.
The track is steep and up loose rock that in points turned into a stream from the recent rainfall. It’s also one of those hikes where you cannot see the true summit until you’re nearly there, demotivating for anyone climbing it!
Bowfell Great Slab
The track climbs up steeply before suddenly flattening out, very welcome at this point! From here you’ll get a glimpse of a Bowfell icon: the Great Slab.
Amongst all the rock, the Great Slab sticks out as an almost entirely flat stone wall along the side of Bowfell. It also affords some nice views out towards the Langdale Pikes and Langstrath Valley.
From the Great Slab you can finally see the summit. It isn’t too far, but you’ll need to navigate across some scree that soon turns into boulders.
Bowfell’s summit is unique, looking like a heap of rubble placed on top of the mountain. Sadly, to get to the top you need to scramble across all these boulders which does slow you down a bit. They were mercifully not slippery though despite a huge amount of recent rain.
There’s no obvious path and everyone we saw made their own way to the top using different routes. It’s a fitting summit for what is a fiddly climb!
From the top the views were amazing and made the strain of the past few hours worth it. After a short - but blustery (all lakeland summits seem to receive gale force winds) - time at the summit, we decided to head down. It would be a great place to sit and admire the view if you had better weather, plenty of rock seats for all!
Descending by the Band
Once we’d navigated the scree down to Three Tarns, we took a sharp left to the Band. This is a popular section and the route of choice for most people wanting to climb up Bowfell. The route down is particularly nice, offering brilliant views of Great Langdale and the fells around it.
Large sections are stepped too which means you can build up some speed. Though if it’s been wet it’s also a prime place to take a fall on the slippery rock, which is sadly what happened to me just before the end of the walk!
Luckily if you do fall, it’s not off the side of the cliff, there are no steep drops on this section.
The track gradually winds down towards Stool End farm and the valley floor.
After nearly six hours, 1,200m of elevation climbed and 16km (10 miles) in distance, you’ll have finished.
A drink at the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel is thoroughly deserved after all that. We noticed that the hotel had rooms too so if you wanted to do a couple of walks in this area (such as Langdale Pikes) it would be a great base for a few days.
The England Lonely Planet guide
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Are you planning to hike Crinkle Crags and Bowfell? Have you done any other great walks in the Lake District? Let us know in the comments below!