Barf, Broom Fell and Lord’s Seat are a group of fells that are often walked together, however, the difficulty of the “Direct Route” of Barf is often underestimated, and in recent years there have been many reports of fellwalkers becoming crag-fast in the region of Slape Crag. There is an easier route to the summit of Barf via Beckstones Gill, which is illustrated in The North Western Fells guide as the “Usual Route” on page: Barf 4. If the direct route is to be taken, then we strongly advise that it is climbed on a dry clear day; Alfred Wainwright describes the ascent in great detail, so taking the guide book with you is essential.
“Not a walk. A very stiff scramble, suitable only for people overflowing with animal strength and vigour.” Barf 6
The southeast ridge of Barf from Powter How
A parking area, with enough room for 3 or 4 cars, and a bus stop are conveniently situated at the base of Barf; the X5 Workington bus being only a short ride from Keswick town centre.
The North Western Fells
“Look out for the Clerk, an insignificant figure beside the path, almost hidden amongst trees at the foot of the slope” Barf 6
The “wide scree slope” of Barf’s southeast ridge
Well here we go, there’s no valley floor or an easy zig-zag path at the start of this route, it’s straight up!
“This wide scree slope, although not dangerous, is arduous to ascend, the feet often slipping down two steps for every step up…” Barf 6
The Vale of Keswick from the ascent of Barf
The North Western Fells
“The Bishop – rear view, looking down to the Swan Hotel”
“A unique feature that catches the eye from miles distant is the upstanding pinnacle long known as the Bishop of Barf, a venerable figure whose spotless vestments result from regular applications of whitewash. This is a task not lightly to be undertaken, for the stiff climb to the Bishop’s pulpit up shifting scree is a bad enough scramble without the grave added responsibility of balancing a bucket that must not be spilled. But the job must be done from time to time. Until recently the whitewash was applied by volunteers from the little community centred on the Swan Hotel directly below, but now the hotel has been turned into flats and the job has been taken over by the Keswick Mountain Rescue Team.” Barf 2
AW (updated by CJ)
Frankie looking up the “scree gully”
“The scree gully is unpleasant. Its walls of rotten rock cannot be trusted for handholds and fall apart at a touch. The ’tiles’ here pull out like drawers.” Barf 6
Personally I didn’t find the scree gully “unpleasant”, but I did find the geology fascinating and the climb a great sense of achievement. It is hard work, however, the feeling of scrambling up the backbone of a Lakeland fell is very rewarding.
Scramble at the top of the “scree gully”
The top of the scree gully is very steep, however, if you wish to, there is an easier option to the left of the gully; we found the top scramble quite exciting though.
“Escape left over loose rock to a small arete, then go up an easier heather slope above.” Barf 6
Frankie at the “solitary rowan”
Bilberries around the base of the “solitary rowan”
Carvings from “earlier visitors”
“By the time the rowan tree is reached the feeling that one is pioneering a new ascent, treading where no man has trodden before, is very strong, and consequently it is mortifying to find the slender trunk of the tree elaborately carved with the initials of a number of earlier visitors.” Barf 6
This is one of those special Alfred Wainwright moments that you never forget. Not because you are in agreement, but knowing you stood exactly where he stood when he had these thoughts.
Slape Crag from the “solitary rowan”
“At last, a few yards of level walking.” Barf 6
Surprisingly, Alfred Wainwright doesn’t mention this second gully on page: Barf 6. It’s even more surprising after you see how steep this section is in the following photo; note the tree and the yellow fern in both photos.
Looking across to Beckstones Plantation
As you can see, the upper section of the second gully is very steep, but great fun.
Looking back down to the “solitary rowan” from the “second gully”
Slape Crag from the top of the “second gully”
Slape Crag appears like a dam with no clear way up, or around its base. What looks like a terrace path going from the centre to the left, is the wrong way, and is maybe where some fellwalkers become crag-fast. The right way is below that terrace which becomes clear nearer to the rock face.
“This obstacle can be safely negotiated at one point only. Bear left at its base, across scree, to a rock traverse above an oak and a rowan together. Barf 6
The “rock traverse” above the “oak and rowan”
My aim is to show this traverse the best way I can, so I hope I have achieved that. It is tricky, and must be respected. Alfred Wainwright states that it’s “short and easy”, but it’s only easy if you go the right way!
“The traverse revives lurid memories of Jack’s Rake on Pavey Ark, but is short and easy” Barf 6
The “upper escarpment” above the “rock traverse”
Please note that Wainwright’s original route, that went “round the upper escarpment on the left”, is now less used, and Chris Jesty’s route follows a more direct path through steep heather.
Jaclyn ascending the steep heather
Looking down to the “solitary rowan” (centre)
Bassenthwaite Lake from the “first false summit”
“First false summit : sudden, dramatic view of Bassenthwaite Lake below” Barf 6
Traversing the “second false summit”
Frankie and Jaclyn on the “second false summit”
Binsey over Bassenthwaite Lake
Approaching the summit of Barf
Lord’s Seat from the summit of Barf
Well, the wonderful and exhilarating climb of Barf is complete, and we now head to Broom Fell and Lord’s Seat over easier ground.
“Barf is really a shoulder of Lord’s Seat, which rises beyond but is unseen from the road.” Barf 2
It’s worth taking a short cut here rather than summiting Lord’s Seat twice; a pathless route around Hagg Head is short and easy.
Lunch on the summit of Broom Fell
A wonderful place to sit and admire the Grasmoor Group.
The Northern Fells from the summit of Lord’s Seat
“It is said that the name of the fell derives from a natural rock seat just below the top on the north-west side – but anyone who spends time trying to identify the place will question the legend, for not even the commonest commoners could install himself in any of the few rocky recesses hereabouts with the standard of comfort his lordship would surely have demanded.” Lord’s Seat 10
The Skiddaw Group over Beckstones Plantation
We now start our descent back to Powter How. I cannot state enough how wonderful this descent is through Beckstones Plantation. Initially, a lovely gravel path snakes through the heather and the upper tree-line, before joining dense forest roads. We then descend down Beckstones Gill which is full of interest, including a short scramble on a rock face.
Entering Beckstones Plantation
Old forest road through Beckstones Plantation
The “small rockface” in Beckstones Gill
There is no dignified way of climbing down this, but it is great fun.
“Here scrambling is necessary at a small rockface. A post is provided to show the way, but the route is in no real doubt.” Barf 4
AW (updated by CJ)
Thank you for visiting.