Langdale Pikes

Length 10 Kilometres | Highest point 736 metres

Loft Crag 680m, 2230ft, GR 277071
Pike O’Stickle 709m, 2326ft, GR 274073
Pavey Ark 700m, 2296ft, GR 285079
Harrison Stickle 736m, 2414ft, GR 282074
Thunacar Knott 723m, 2372ft, GR 279080

Perhaps the most popular group of fells in the entire Lake District, and deservedly so, the Langdale Pikes are the archetypal image of Lakeland landscape. They display startling contrasts of style. Some sweep serenely down to the valley floor, others stand as majestic guardians of a popular tarn whilst Thunacar Knott retains a watchful aloofness from the less visited hinterland.

Great Langdale from Harrison Stickle
Great Langdale from Harrison Stickle

The walk described here has a second focus – the exploration of Dungeon Ghyll. The savage and confined features of this twisting watercourse cannot be appreciated from the valley, but this route follows much of the watershed of the ghyll and gives the walker the opportunity to gaze at the diversity of this often unheeded attraction.

Dungeon Ghyll
Dungeon Ghyll

The walk starts from the car park near the New Dungeon Ghyll Hotel which is also easily reached by public service bus. Take the track leading to Stickle Gill but, 50 metres behind the cottages and hotel, take the left fork (westwards). After a further 150 metres of gentle rise across the fellside to a stile and another fork where you should take the right branch (NW) and continue uphill to a second stile and yet another branch. Here you go left (westwards) again to cross the Dungeon Ghyll and start climbing a good, rugged track with the ghyll on your right. This fine streambed is narrow and steep-sided for almost all of its fall and there are lots of waterfalls and craggy waterslides which make it an entertaining scramble after drought conditions.

After a short section of rocky staircase you reach a level area which is useful for getting your breath back and enjoying the developing views of Windermere, Lingmoor Fell, Blea Tarn and beyond to Wetherlam. The slope relents and, as the surface changes to coarse grass, the track swings leftwards (NW) towards Gimmer Crag whose upper part can be seen in profile. However the path soon swings right (N) and starts climbing quite steeply between Loft Crag (the true summit of Gimmer) and Thorn Crag (not identified on the map).

The angle eases quite suddenly as you reach the gentle, marshy combe which is the collecting area for Dungeon Ghyll – and it couldn’t be more different ! Turn left here and follow the track as it zig-zags generally westwards to the summit of Loft Crag. You can rest now with the length of Mickleden 500 metres below and the knowledge that most of the uphill work is over.

A short, enjoyable walk along the ridge (NW) leads to the long scree chute – sadly worn and no longer recommended as a descent route – with its prehistoric stone axe factory. Pike O’Stickle, unmistakable in front of you, is most easily climbed by a ramp across its NE flank followed by a short scramble. The top commands tremendous views of the Coniston fells and, across the valley, a whole sweep of high fell from Pike O’Blisco, past Crinkle Crags and Bowfell along to Great End. It is a great place to sit and absorb the magnificent Lakeland atmosphere (3.5km, 660m, 2hr).

Pike O'Stickle and Great Gable from Harrison Stickle
Pike O’Stickle and Great Gable from Harrison Stickle

Thunacar Knott is easily reached by walking N then NE, staying on the higher ground which is likely to be drier. The summit is relatively undistinguished, less visited and all the better as a vantage point for watching activity round the other tops.

The short walk east to Pavey Ark is given more interest by the small tarns and outcrops along the way but, from this side of Pavey, you wouldn’t guess at the steep drop on its SE side – very definitely rock-climber’s country. Below, Stickle Tarn lies placidly in its mountain setting and is entirely in keeping with its surroundings, even though its level was raised by the dam to provide water reserves for the former gunpowder works at Elterwater.

The route from the bare, craggy summit of Pavey Ark to Harrison Stickle goes firstly south-west then south. There are lots of barren rock slabs, cairns and many paths winding about. Harrison’s is the highest of the Pikes and a very fitting end to the high level walking. It is a magnificent viewpoint for the lower part of Langdale, right out to Windermere and beyond.

Stickle Tarn
Stickle Tarn

When your appetite for grand scenery is sated, walk NW briefly before taking the worn track SW into the upper part of Dungeon Ghyll. Here you will find a path leading SE which soon brings you close to the loose-looking rock pillars which guard the entrance to the turbulent part of the ghyll’s descent. As this good track winds down the fellside, there are more opportunities to look into the depths of the ghyll. This path returns to the valley bottom where the walk started (10km, 780m, 3hr 30min).

The Langdale Pikes can also be ascended by obvious paths up Stickle Gill to Stickle Tarn.