Langdale is certainly on the A-list of valleys in the Lake District: a long curving wide valley with fells rising steeply all around. The Langdale Pikes are arguably the most recognisable fells in this area, partly because they’re one of the most common postcard images you’ll find in the shops. And they are so distinctive that you can make them out from the Howgill fells the other side of the M6. This is largely due to Pike of Stickle, the small bell-shaped summit which is one of the most distinctive in the whole National Park.
This walk starts at the Old Dungeon Ghyll, visits all of the summits and returns a little further down the valley to the New Dungeon Ghyll. But there are a host of alternative options, some of which I’ll describe below.
The walk is about 7 miles as measured on a map, and involves about 900m of ascent. But there are several options for reducing either the distance or the ascent, by not visiting all of the summits.
What this walk means to me
I first did this walk in 2006, quite early in my hill walking career, and it was this one walk which really motivated me to do more. Pike of Stickle, where I stopped for my lunch, was the first fell I ever called my favourite. The weather was good, I bagged lots of summits, and I discovered something else – tarns. But it was also a bit stressful as I misread my compass on the way down and ended up on the wrong fell and in the wrong valley. It all worked out for the best as I’d missed the last bus back from Langdale and my, ahem, “detour” actually put me in Grasmere which enabled me to get home.
Starting from the Old Dungeon Ghyll (a) follow the footpath signs for Mickleden. Behind the pub, turn right and walk along the base of the fells until you reach the path turning off left for Dungeon Ghyll Force (b).
After a short pause to look at the waterfall, rejoin the path which climbs steeply up the ridge above Raven Crag, the gradient easing once you reach a height of about 450m. Keep following the path up between the crags, eventually emerging onto the summit area.
First on the left is Loft Crag (c), a small detour from the path itself. From here you can see Pike of Stickle, and get to it by rejoining the path and following it to the bottom of the “bell”. It’s a bit of a clamber, and you could find yourself having to dodge people coming down. But the destination is never in doubt and a few moments later you’ll be at the summit.
Pike of Stickle (d) is a good vantage point for looking out over Bowfell and its neighbours, and when I first did this walk I had quite a long stop there. But I was driven away eventually by a cloud of flies, and set off again to cross the depression leading to Harrison Stickle (e), the highest of the Pikes. Then it’s a matter of following the edge round on a path strewn with rocks to get to Pavey Ark (f). On the way, you may see people coming up from Stickle Tarn below.
Pavey Ark’s best feature can’t be seen from the summit. Jack’s Rake is a diagonal route up the cliff face that needs a bit of nerve and a head for heights. But more about that later. From Pavey Ark, cross in a roughly westerly direction heading for Thunacar Knott (g), a gentle rise only. Then the path takes you about a mile northwards across the moor to High Raise (h), the true summit of this hill group. From here there’s good views of the back of the Pikes, west to Glaramara and south west to the Bowfell group.
Now head south east to the subsidiary summit of Sergeant Man (i), and then continue south east following the path down. After about 150 m (500ft) of descent several paths meet (j). One heads down to Easedale Tarn (n), which is the natural way out to Grasmere, but quite a long walk, and not one you would want to do if the car is in Langdale. Another option if to carry straight on down the ridge line on to Blea Rigg (m), descending back to Langdale further down, or descending into Grasmere. And the third option is to bear right to follow the path down to Stickle Tarn (k).
Linger a while at Stickle Tarn and sit on the wall looking across to the cliff face of Pavey Ark. There running diagonally up from right to left across its face is Jack’s Rake, and it’s quite likely that you will see people making there way up to it. When I first did that climb, I had an audience of the rescue helicopter hovering close by, which did put a bit of pressure on!
From the tarn, follow the path alongside the stream to head down Stickle Ghyll back to New Dungeon Ghyll. Although it’s quite likely you will have plenty of company on the path, care is needed in a couple of places – including one where you have to cross the stream by clambering over the rocks. Take your time and take care.
In the lower reaches of the Ghyll, you’ll suddenly hear the roar of the waterfall on your left, and a short way further on will reach the New Dungeon Ghyll (l). From here you can walk back up the road, or along the Cumbria Way to the Old Dungeon Ghyll, or simply wait for the bus here. While you’re waiting take a look across the valley at the reds, greens and yellows on Lingmoor Fell.
As well as the alternatives already described, another option for descent from High Raise is to drop down to Stake Pass (o) and then into Mickelden, following the Cumbria Way along the valley floor back to Dungeon Ghyll. Make sure you have a good look at the drumlins (glacial deposits) on the right if you do so.
There are also other paths up to Harrison Stickle and Pavey Ark, which mean you can mix the walk up a little if you want. Please take care coming off Sergeant Man – my first time I veered off on the wrong path below Codale Head and ended up on Slapstone Edge, which is not a fun descent at all. This brought me to Easedale Tarn where I rested, before continuing the descent down to Grasmere. If you want to visit Easedale Tarn, then follow the route I suggested by turning off at point (j).
With a number of route alternatives, this is one of those walks you can do time and time again without getting bored with it. And if you do it on a weekend, bank holiday or during school holidays, you can be sure of company, so whilst it is a truly great walk, and one of the classics in Lakeland, if it’s solitude you’re after, then best go somewhere else.