My favourite rollercoaster is The Big Dipper at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. It’s a classic wooden attraction which has been thrilling riders for almost 100 years. Unlike modern rollercoasters, there are no loops. You don’t go backwards or wear virtual reality goggles. It’s hardly a smooth ride either, as your train clatters along the dips and bumps of the rickety track at what feels like warp speed.
It’s the simplicity of the experience I like. The anticipation of the initial climb. The mild sense of exposure as you turn the corner at the top and admire the views. And then, whoosh! Off you go. Over a series of peaks and troughs until you find yourself back at the start – smile on your face and ready for the next one.
You’re more likely to find me getting my kicks in the mountains nowadays. And if you are looking for the mountain equivalent of The Big Dipper, then look no further than Crinkle Crags.
Wainwright describes the serrated skyline as “a succession of knobs and depressions, appearing trivial at a distance but revealed at close range as steep rock buttresses and scree gullies above wild and arid slopes, the whole scene of rugged grandeur”.
Crinkle Crags is a fell that keeps on giving, with not one but five summits to enjoy as you rise and fall across the undulating terrain, all the while admiring the rugged beauty of the surrounding peaks in this once explosive volcanic area of the Lakes.
With the weather set to be a scorcher, I opted for one of my trademark early starts. Approaching the Great Langdale Valley in the wee small hours, I soon realised I wouldn’t have the place to myself. Cars and campervans had already filled up the lay-bys and I wasn’t the only vehicle at the Old Dungeon Ghyll either. Thankfully, their owners weren’t around, so I assumed I’d be waking up a few wild campers as I reached higher ground.
The walk takes you through the ideally-located National Trust campsite. It felt more civilised today at its reduced capacity. The last time I stayed here, I was woken up at midnight by a noisy group setting off fireworks. So I’ve unfortunately come to associate it with feeling groggy and irritable!
The path climbs as you zigzag across the flanks of Side Pike, until rejoining the road leading to the picturesque Blea Tarn. Our objective lies across the road, where there doesn’t appear to be a path. But start contouring to the right around the spur in front of you, and you’ll find the makings of a way across the hillside to meet the main track rising alongside Redacre Gill.
Wading through ferns
Starting the walk in this way keeps you off the tarmac for longer but it does mean wading through chest-high bracken; guaranteed to get you hot and sticky on a humid day. But the consolation is fantastic views of the best aspect of the Langdale Pikes across the valley. Instantly recognisable and hugely photogenic, you’ll need to concentrate to avoid a twisted ankle on the rocks hidden beneath the dense foliage. Stick with it, and you’ll soon meet the reassuring pitched path which climbs steeply towards the pyramid of Pike O’ Blisco.
This approach avoids difficulties until some gentle scrambling through rocky chimneys near the top. It’s not as bad as it looks and serves to inject a frisson of excitement after the earlier trudge through the bracken.
On reaching the summit, a strong breeze whipped up the slopes from the neighbouring valley. Nature’s fan. As I scoped out the landscape, I solved the mystery of where the owners of the vehicles in the valley were hiding. A number of photographers had set up tripods looking across the Great Langdale valley. And I soon stumbled across several hikers stirring from their bivi bags, the air thick with the scent of morning coffees brewing.
Even though Pike O’ Blisco isn’t the main objective for the day, you’ll be glad you came, with views across the patchwork quilt of the fields in the Great Langdale valley leading your gaze towards the Langdale Pikes. Skiddaw sits neatly in the gap to the left of Pike O’ Stickle. Behind you lies Wetherlam and the Coniston fells.
To the west is the distinctive profile of Crinkle Crags; its rocky buttresses dominating the route ahead, culminating with Bowfell sitting proudly at the far end. But getting there means first losing height – something all hillwalkers prefer to avoid. But descend we must and the route off Pike O’ Blisco to the west is easier than its more scrambly eastern aspect.
Up we go
After a brief pause at Red Tarn, there’s a good path rising towards your next objective, with views of all five crinkles lined up neatly like soldiers. The breeze provided welcome relief from the worst of the heat, as the landscape opens up towards the west coast. A dark cloud hung ominously over the Irish Sea and threatened to engulf the Scafell range but burnt off as it approached.
The first crinkle whets your appetite for the remaining four. The terrain becomes rocky, with steep gullies sweeping down the valley offering exceptional views of Great Langdale. I found myself stopping frequently to take photos of sunbeams piercing through the dissipating early morning cloud.
The Bad Step
Here’s where the rollercoaster ride gathers some pace. The path swoops down to a dip before the impressive sight of the second crinkle rises ahead of you. For something that looked so tame from the valley floor, the scene of volcanic rock and crags and gullies is an intimidating prospect. Your eye sketches out the path until it appears to culminate at a huge wall of rock. This is the Bad Step.
If I’m honest, thoughts of how bad the Bad Step might be had concerned me in the run up to the walk. Like any good rollercoaster, it’s the one bit I was a little nervous about. While there’s an alternative path to the summit around to the left, it’s certainly possible for an adventurous walker to scale the obstacle. But would I get cold feet as I approached the turnstile…?
Standing at the foot of the Bad Step, it does initially seem impossible to climb. But pause for a minute and a number of tiny hand and foot holds begin to jump out. I sketched out a rough plan in my head. But ultimately you just need to put your hands and feet on the rock and take it steadily.
After the first few holds, there’s an awkward reach as you ‘top out’. The move reminded me of using a stepladder to get on to the roof of my shed when it needed repairing. An ill-timed cramp in my calf brought me back to the present as I hauled myself up and looked back over the edge. It’s not something I’d like to do in reverse. The Bad Step is definitely best saved for heading north.
The adrenaline surge powered me up the rest of the scramble and I soon spotted the summit cairn atop the second crinkle, which marks the summit of Crinkle Crags. The 360 degree panorama takes some beating. Apart from more views of Great Langdale, it’s here that I first noticed the Scafell range. You can truly appreciate the scale of Broad Stand and Scafell Crag dropping into Mickledore from here. Spin round to see Bowfell… the north western fells… then Skiddaw, Blencathra… the Helvellyn range… before coming back round to Pike O’Blisco and the Coniston Fells.
Views don’t get much better than this. But the real excitement comes in the knowledge there are still three more crinkles to enjoy. More dips and bumps as your rollercoaster ride continues.
As you descend the second crinkle, the main path skirts around the third one which is offset to the right. It’s definitely worth a short scramble to the top, though. You can never have too much of Great Langdale.
It’s here that you appreciate the variety on offer at Crinkle Crags. One minute you’re following a clear path. Then whoosh – you’re negotiating huge boulders before a brief period of respite again across flat ground. Then it’s back to rocky scrambling. It’s a real thrill ride, and while there’s never any sense of immediate peril, it reminds you why this isn’t the best place to find yourself in mist. Save it for a clear day.
As the ride nears its conclusion, you’ll find yourself at Three Tarns, a popular crossroads for walkers, and a spot to note if you are planning a walk up Bowfell.
Another way down
The usual route back to Great Langdale takes you along the descending spur known as The Band. But Wainwright recommends a more interesting route.
The path is indistinct at first. You’ll need to identify the stream trickling down the grassy slopes of the valley dropping from the crinkles high above. Follow this, taking care not to slip and cut your hand on some sharp rock as I did, and a path soon emerges at the top of the gaping chasm of Hell Gill.
It’s an imposing sight and an unexpected surprise, AW describing the scene as ‘wild west country’. After the steepest part of the descent, take care in crossing the stream before the going becomes more leisurely along the river towards Stool End Farm.
The final stretch of farm road through the Great Langdale valley is perfect for reflecting on the day’s adventures. An old tractor bumped lazily across the fields, families headed to the streams to cool off and climbers scaled the cliffs of the Langdale Pikes high above.
I turned back to Crinkle Crags and realised I might just have a new favourite mountain to go with my favourite rollercoaster.
Highs and Lowdown
Start / Finish: Old Dungeon Ghyll
Distance: 8 miles (12.8 km)
Wainwright count: 2
Navigation: Crinkle Crags can be confusing in mist. Best saved for a clear day. Strong map and compass skills required.
Terrain: Rough ground but no real difficulties for confident hillwalkers. Only tackle the Bad Step if you’ve done your homework and feel confident on rock.
Facilities: Old Dungeon Ghyll, New Dungeon Ghyll, National Trust Great Langdale campsite, Baysbrown family campsite
*These routes and descriptions are only ever intended to be a personal record of my adventures, which may inspire your own. Hillwalking involves a degree of risk, so please make sure you are properly equipped and prepared if you choose to follow them.