Climbing a Lakeland fell direct, especially off the beaten track, is at times exhilarating, either by scrambling up a crag face, or up a grassy slope with broken crags. On this direct route to Crinkle Crags, however, we disappear from the outside world for over four hours while negotiating many obstacles. Crinkle Gill provides some of the most interesting gill scrambling opportunities that Lakeland has to offer. It is not wetsuit territory, but walking its full length without giving your extremities a good soaking, would be nothing short of a miracle. Crinkle Gill is long, deep-sided in places, and has some difficult sections, so, with all that in mind, half of your day is required to reach its head from Old Dungeon Gill. I have completed this route three times now: the first time, in 2014, was like going in blind, and it was a little daunting not knowing what difficulties lurk ahead. The second time, in 2020, I had the pleasure of showing the route to fellwalking friend Dave Walsh, and because I had experienced the gill before, we were able to explore more alternative ways of scrambling the obstacles in our path. The third time, in 2021, I was joined by my wife, Jaclyn, and friend, writer and Lakeland Walker magazine contributor, George Kitching. Jaclyn has had a fear of water for most of her life, but in recent years she’s conquered every trickle, splash, and torrent that she’s confronted. This was to be her biggest challenge to date though, and, in her own words, a day that’ll live with her for many years to come.
Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel from the National Trust car park
Our walk began at the Old Dungeon Ghyll car park at the head of Great Langdale. There is a bus service (516) from Ambleside, however, the earliest arrival to Old Dungeon Ghyll is 10am.
The Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel was originally a farm and an Inn. In the rate book of 1885, it was named as Middlefell Inn and run by John Bennett, who was a well-known guide for tourists. It has seen many changes and been extended a number of times. The hotel was sold to Professor G.M. Trevelyan in the early 1900’s for £4,100. He then promptly donated it to the National Trust; this was the first property the National Trust owned in Langdale. In 1949 the shippon was converted into the Climber’s Bar; before this the hotel was still also a working farm. In the following years many climbing clubs came to the hotel for their club dinners, which meant that many of the best British climbers who had taken part in the Everest and other Himalayan expeditions, including Sir John Hunt, stayed at the hotel.
Looking across to Raven Crag over Middlefell Place Farm
The oldest buildings of Middlefell Place date back to c.1540. A survey of 1573 records 10 farms in Great Langdale, however, by the early 1700s some had merged while others were abandoned.
Pike o’ Blisco, Oxendale and The Band from the approach to Stool End Farm
There are two side-valleys that branch off from the head of Great Langdale: Oxendale and Mickleden. Seen here on the right, the rising eastern ridge of Bow Fell, known as The Band, separates these two valleys. Ahead, the dark cleft of Crinkle Gill is seen below Crinkle Crags.
“Some mountains are obviously named by reference to their physical characteristics. Crinkle Crags is one of these, and it was probably first so called by the dalesfolk of the valleys to the east and around the head of Windermere, whence its lofty serrated ridge, a succession of knobs and depressions, is aptly described by the name” Crinkle Crags 2
Great Knott and Crinkle Crags over Oxendale
The path off to the right heads over The Band, and then to the col of Three Tarns before reaching Bow Fell. It is also the usual route to Crinkle Crags when climbing all five tops in a north to south direction. From here continue straight ahead into the valley of Oxendale.
The Southern Fells
Crinkle Crags 2
“The outline of Crinkle Crags”
Over time the naming of the tops on this serrated ridge has changed. Originally there were only two tops known as Crinkle Crags, the 2nd and 3rd, which are separated by the gully and col of Mickle Door (hidden from view in the photo). The 1st Crinkle was known as Flesk, but sadly this name has been long forgotten. The 2nd, and highest, Crinkle is sometimes referred to as Long Top, however, this name belongs to the long western shoulder of this summit. The name of the 5th Crinkle, Gunson Knott, has shifted further south on the O.S. map making it look like it belongs to the 3rd Crinkle. The 4th is really a subsidiary top of the 3rd but has over time gained the title of a Crinkle.
“The highest Crinkle (2816′) is second from the left on the diagram. When seen from the valley it does not appear to be the highest, as it is set back a little from the line of the others.” Crinkle Crags 2
Crinkle Crags and Shelter Crags from Oxendale Gill
As soon as the path meets the north bank of Oxendale Gill, clamber down to the boulder strewn bed. Here, Dave is seen heading towards where the gill narrows for the first time; this is the beginning of the scrambling, and at this point, even though the gill is shallow and dry initially, it is wise to don the microspikes.
“The wide, bouldery course of Oxendale Beck testifies to its power in flood. The valley is outstanding for its impressive ravines.” Crinkle Crags 5
The author in Oxendale Gill
(photo by Dave Walsh)
Oxendale Gill contains fairly easy scrambles over large boulders.
Great Knott and Gladstone Knott from Oxendale Gill
Rather than staying with Oxendale Gill, which turns right at the junction ahead and then converges with Crinkle Gill and Whorneyside Gill, take a detour to the left and enter Browney Gill; this is a more adventurous route, and highly recommended.
The initial sections of Browney Gill are deep sided and narrow, with fast flowing cascades.
“Browney Gill (popularly so called) is named ‘Brown Gill’ on [old] Ordnance Survey 2 1/2″ maps. As the name probably derives from Brown How, it seems that ‘Browney’ is a corruption.” Pike o’ Blisco 3
Looking back from Browney Gill
The author in Browney Gill
(photo by Dave Walsh)
Just beyond these trees and where Browney Gill widens, take an ‘escape route’ up the bank on the right (NY265051). This leads to crossing the bases of the two tongues below Gladstone Knott and Great Knott; these tongues are divided by the shallow Isaac Gill.
Footbridge over Whorneyside Gill, from the Gladstone Knott tongue.
Top centre, Dry Gill descends to meet Whorneyside Gill. Top left, you can just see the higher section of Hell Gill. Crossing below is our next objective, Crinkle Gill.
Crinkle Crags and Shelter Crags from above Crinkle Gill
After crossing the two bracken-clad tongues, drop down into Crinkle Gill. You’ll note a well trodden path ascending the tongue here, which is Wainwright’s Gladstone Knott route depicted on page Crinkle Crags 5.
This is the 1st section of Crinkle Gill that incudes The Pool and The Dam; to help describe the whole route through the gill I’ve divided the course into four sections, and named some of the key features and obstacles.
The 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th Crinkles from Crinkle Gill
Initially, Crinkle Gill is wide and shallow but it soon deepens.
Approaching The Pool
Just beyond where this tree has collapsed over the ravine we encounter our first obstacle, The Pool.
Dave climbing out of The Pool (2020)
A vertical wall of wet rock with a deep pool at its base halts our progress. On our first (2014) and second (2020) encounters with this obstacle, our only option was to take this short but very tricky climb along the right wall of the ravine. This avoided getting a good soaking!
Jaclyn climbing out of The Pool (2021)
Note the difference between the two pictures; in 2021 we had noticed that a large section of the tree had fallen into The Pool, but what was beneficial was that some large boulders had been moved to the base of the left wall, providing a slightly easier access over the obstacle.
George climbing The Dam
A mass of boulders choke the ravine at the end of the 1st section. This barrier, however, is far easier to negotiate than The Pool.
Just beyond The Dam the gill bends sharply to the left, which is well-defined on the O.S. map. This is the beginning of the 2nd section that includes The Chute and The Overhang.
The gill narrows greatly and produces this fine water chute. This is my favourite feature in the whole of Crinkle Gill; it isn’t difficult at all, but wearing microspikes makes it a more pleasurable experience.
Looking back at Dave scrambling The Chute
The Overhang at the head of The Chute
The Chute, in a nice way, is very long, and at its head is this wonderful waterfall. There are two options here: climb the rock on the left, which is easy, or scramble directly up the waterfall.
George and Jaclyn negotiating The Overhang
Crawling beneath the overhanging rock face is tricky, and you will get wet, but it is great fun!
We now begin the 3rd section which includes The Canyon and The Wall.
The 1st, 2nd and 3rd Crinkles from the approach to The Canyon
The whole structure of the gill changes as we enter our 3rd section; initially, the gill widens to a labyrinth of boulders, and it is here where we encountered sheep that have ventured down to feast on rare plants and mosses. The gill then narrows greatly to produce a deep ravine.
As with most deep-sided ravines in Lakeland, the smell of death is not far away; sadly we came across a dead ewe that had clearly fallen from the rock face, but what was more upsetting was to see her dead lamb at her side, which must have followed in a desperate leap to be with her mother.
Looking back towards Great Langdale from The Canyon
The Canyon is the deepest part of Crinkle Gill, which is well-defined when viewed from Great Langdale.
George climbing The Wall
The Wall is a vertical rock face covered in slime and moss. Located at the head of The Canyon, it is without doubt the toughest obstacle in Crinkle Gill, however, have no fear, a little further back on the right there is an ‘escape route’ in the shape of a scree chute. To the left, and more difficult than the scree, a scramble up a steep rake also avoids the extreme difficulty of the waterfall.
George climbing The Wall (2)
Because I had experienced this climb twice before, I was able to point the way for George. I pointed out the first objective, a very narrow ledge which allows you to stand upright, take a breath, and compose yourself for the final part. Because the camera was angled slightly, the photo doesn’t truly show how vertical this rock face is; it is terrifying, and the last climb over the waterfall is extremely difficult.
George climbing The Wall (3)
After a few precious moments to gather his thoughts, George did it, and crawled to safety. I suddenly looked at Jaclyn, who had also watched George in admiration, and I noticed a look on her face that I’d seen before. “Really?”, I said, “You want to do it?” Up to this point Jaclyn had exceeded herself by conquering her fear of water, but this difficult obstacle added an extra element. I cannot deny it, I was a little nervous about her having a go. With that in mind, I put my camera away and guided her the best I could to the narrow shelf.
Jaclyn thinking about her next move
(photo by George Kitching)
Jaclyn seemed ok, especially with me directly behind her, and in a good way, she took a few minutes to think about the last climb over the waterfall. There’s very little to hold onto to pull yourself up because most of the rock is smooth and covered in moss. Jaclyn had managed to arch over the lip, and with a little struggle she conquered The Wall.
The author climbing The Wall
(photo by George Kitching)
On this 3rd occasion of meeting this formidable wall of wet rock, my intentions were to try one of the other options, but having seen George and Jaclyn attack it with great bravery, and the fact that I had already reached the narrow ledge, I just had to go over the top once more. It doesn’t matter how many times you climb this waterfall, each time will always feel and look like your first! Note the one handhold on my right, and the amount of slime to crawl through along the top.
The scree chute I had mentioned before can be seen behind me; think I’ll try that next time!
Looking back to The Canyon from above The Wall
Dave wanted to recce the rake on the left; it is easier than the waterfall, but care is still required.
We now begin our 4th and final section that includes The Fallen Man and Dour End.
The Fallen Man from above The Wall
On the centre horizon, the 2nd Crinkle appears over the head of Crinkle Gill.
Looking back at The Fallen Man
A substantial rock tower has somehow rested in this position, and seems to be looking out to Pike o’ Blisco.
Looking back to The Canyon from The Fallen Man
The head of Crinkle Gill
At the head of Crinkle Gill you’ll notice three small gills: the right one, which is out of shot in the photo, looks like a possible way out of this amphitheatre, but it takes you in the wrong direction. The middle one, right of centre in the photo, only looks possible for experienced climbers. The left one, which I christened Dour End, is the more logical and direct route to the Crinkles from the head of Crinkle Gill. Please ignore the O.S. map at this point, the three gills you see entering Crinkle Gill on the map are not these gills at the head.
A sense of isolation is truly felt as you reach the head of Crinkle Gill.
Jaclyn climbing the waterfall at Dour End
A dark vertical wall of wet rock is our last main obstacle in Crinkle Gill. The scramble is best started on the left and then cross over the waterfall to the right. From the ‘v’ there is the option of turning left and continuing in the direction of the water (difficult), or turn right and take a small steep rake beside the rock tower (easier). On my first two occasions it wasn’t possible to turn left due to the amount of water, but this time it was possible, just!
Dave climbing out of Dour End
As you can see in the photo, the rake beside the rock tower is also very steep.
Jaclyn climbing the final gully
When you think it’s all over, it isn’t. A gully on the left looks exciting but is ignored; it does lead to the open fell above, but in the direction of the 1st Crinkle (Flesk). Our exit point is via this small rough gully which leads directly to the two main Crinkles, the 2nd and 3rd.
Jaclyn at the top of the gully
Jaclyn has escaped the depths of Crinkle Gill and conquered a long lasting fear. The hard work is not over yet though, seen here towering above is our next objective, the 3rd Crinkle.
George climbing out of the final gully
Sweat, tears and laughter; a perfect Lakeland day!
Great Langdale from above Crinkle Gill
Opening a bottle of champagne would have been appropriate, however, as a reward for all our effort, nature has provided this fantastic viewpoint. Directly above the final gully, a small grassy ridge leads to a knoll overlooking the Langdale Pikes, Great Langdale and Crinkle Gill. This is a moment of reflection, and having disappeared from the outside world for over 4 hours the feelings are difficult to describe; Great Langdale had been forgotten, but now it appears biblically.
The 3rd Crinkle from the grassy ridge
Over on the left, the 2nd and 3rd Crinkles are divided by Mickle Door, which is a route to the summit-ridge, however, our objective is the gully in the centre that divides the eastern ridge of the 3rd Crinkle. This route is a more interesting climb to the summit-ridge, and avoids the tedious scree of Mickle Door.
Looking back to Crinkle Gill from the ascent of the 3rd Crinkle
Behind George and Jaclyn, the small grassy ridge and knoll can be seen below, and The Canyon over on the left.
George climbing the gully on the eastern ridge of the 3rd Crinkle
Looking back to Great Cove (top) from the gully
The climb up this gully is far more exhilarating than it first appeared from below.
George and Jaclyn on the final ascent on the 3rd Crinkle
When the top of the gully is reached, there is the option to traverse to the small col between the 3rd and 4th Crinkles, however, a more interesting option is to climb direct over broken crags to the summit of the 3rd Crinkle. Tired legs means slow progress for us all.
Great Langdale and Pike o’ Blisco from the summit of the 3rd Crinkle
(photo by Dave Walsh)
Wetherlam and Swirl How of the Coniston Fells are seen over on the right.
The Coniston Fells from the summit of the 3rd Crinkle
The 1st Crinkle (Flesk) is over on the right.
The 2nd Crinkle over Mickle Door, from the 3rd Crinkle
(photo by Dave Walsh)
Looking through Mickle Door to Cold Fell over Great Cove
Bow Fell, Shelter Crags, the 4th and 3rd Crinkles, from the summit of the 2nd Crinkle (highest)
The 5th Crinkle, Gunson Knott, is at a slightly lower elevation behind the 4th Crinkle.
“This ridge is a fell-walkers’ delight. A constantly changing scene, beautiful and dramatic views, fine situations and an interesting course throughout make this a walk to remember.” Crinkle Crags 11
The Scafell group and Bow Fell from the summit of the 2nd Crinkle (highest)
(photo by Dave Walsh)
The Bad Step on the 2nd Crinkle
On this occasion, mainly due to our aching gill-scrambling legs, we avoided The Bad Step and descended from the 2nd Crinkle via the path on the western flank.
“Some writers have greatly exaggerated the dangers of the ridge. Nowhere is it anything but a pleasantly rough walk – except for the Bad Step, which can be avoided. (Bowfell and Scafell Pike are rougher)” Crinkle Crags 13
Great Langdale and The Canyon from the col between the 2nd and 1st Crinkles
(photo by Dave Walsh)
Looking back to the 2nd Crinkle and The Bad Step
In this photo on the left, you can see the path we’d taken to avoid The Bad Step.
Great Langdale and Pike o’ Blisco from the summit of the 1st Crinkle (Flesk)
The Coniston Fells from the summit of the 1st Crinkle (Flesk)
Looking back from the saddle between the 1st Crinkle and Great Knott
(photo by Dave Walsh)
The 2nd Crinkle, Mickle Door, 3rd Crinkle, 5th Crinkle (Gunson Knott), Shelter Crags and Bowfell. The 4th Crinkle is hidden behind the 3rd.
Pike o’ Blisco from the approach to Red Tarn
Great Knott from the path down to Oxendale
The Langdale Pikes and Great Langdale from the descent to Oxendale
The Langdale Pikes over The Band and Oxendale Beck
Side Pike and Kettle Crag from Oxendale
Thank you for visiting.
Thanks, sources and further reading:
‘Book Four – The Southern Fells’ by Alfred Wainwright
Dave Walsh, and his account from 2020: Crinkle Gill and Crinkle Crags
George Kitching, and his account from 2021: Crinkle Crags via Crinkle Gill
National Library of Scotland
Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel
and the wife, Jaclyn – well done love, I’m so proud of you x