The best scrambles in the Lake District are charged with adventure, take in dramatic craggy vistas and end in a traditional English pub. Here are our favourite Lake District scrambles with towering rewards.
The Lake District is an ancient marvel.
Formed from volcanic activity, glacial shifts and sea sediment, the area is rich in slate, limestone and sandstone. This melting pot of minerals has created a distinctive and scenic aesthetic. Glacial ribbon lakes meet rugged fell mountains beside smooth U-shaped valleys topped with steep, sharp ridges. The ideal terrain for adventurous scrambling.
While Seven Sisters on the southern coast may have the iconic Instagram cliffs, the Lake District is home to England’s highest mountains and deepest lakes. The area is also crisscrossed with hundreds of interesting trails. These range from quick easy walks, to exciting climbs and tricky scrambles requiring ropes, helmets and nerves of steel.
For us, the best scrambles in the Lake District come with a bit of adventure. Ones that involve ascending the most dramatic and craggy mountains (such as the stunning Blencathra hike), traversing narrow ridges, or clambering up steep gullies.
However, we are hikers (not climbers), so no special equipment is required for any of these Lake District scrambles. All we recommend is shoes with good grip, a head for heights and a willingness to get your hands dirty.
If you tackle all these, you will have explored four different valleys, climbed the three highest mountains in England and experienced the best the Lake District has to offer. You will also have the option to cool off in stunning wild swimming locations and enjoy a pint in traditional Lakeland pubs.
WHAT IS SCRAMBLING?
The term ‘scrambling’ covers the fuzzy area between hiking and climbing and has various different levels based on difficulty.
All the walks & scrambles in this article are Grade 1 scrambles or easier. We have provided our assessment as to how difficult each walk is, and we have indicated which ones are best for beginner scramblers.
GRADE 1 SCRAMBLE
A grade 1 scramble requires the use of both hands and feet, often on an exposed ridge or steep section of rock. However, ropes or protective equipment are usually not required. There is often an easier way around enabling you to avoid the more difficult obstacles.
GRADE 2 SCRAMBLE
A grade 2 scramble is more challenging, often requiring ropes for confidence and a helmet for safety. Skill and experience is required to identify the best route.
GRADE 3 & 4 SCRAMBLES
Both grade 3 and 4 scrambles are difficult, and the use of ropes would be expected for several sections. Rock climbing and general mountaineering skills could be required.
BEST GRADE 1 SCRAMBLES IN THE LAKE DISTRICT
HELVELLYN VIA STRIDING EDGE AND SWIRRAL EDGE
A stunning walk and an ideal first scramble on an exposed ridge
BLENCATHRA VIA SHARP EDGE AND HALLS FELL
Circular scrambling route over two excellent ridges
PAVEY ARK VIA JACK’S RAKE AND EASY GULLY
Tricky grade 1 scramble across the face of a cliff
ILL CRAG & SCAFELL PIKE VIA COCKLY PIKE RIDGE
Long but excellent walk up the two highest peaks in the lakes
1 – HELVELLYN VIA STRIDING EDGE AND SWIRRAL EDGE
An exceptional hike, perfect for your first Lake District scramble on an exposed ridge
Hiking up Helvellyn is a popular activity in the Lake District for good reason: the exciting ascent up Striding Edge. This narrow exposed ridge is perfect for beginners as one of the easiest Grade 1 scrambles in the Lake District. You’ll need a head for heights but with several paths to choose from you can avoid any tricky sections that might bother you. If you do go over the top of the ridge, there is a tricky steep drop at the end (the Chimney) which requires some concentration.
From the summit of the third highest peak in the Lake District, the views over crinkling ridges and mountains down to shimmering tarns and Ullswater are exceptional. It’s one of the finest photo spots in the Lake District.
The descent via Swirral Edge – a wider yet still fun ridge to negotiate – is a beautiful walk with excellent views across to Striding Edge most of the way down.
If you are new to scrambling, Helvellyn is an excellent place to start.
READ NEXT – WHERE TO STAY IN THE LAKE DISTRICT
This route can be completed as either a walk or a scramble and is an excellent place to start a scrambling career. Over the top you may need to use your hands but even on the ridge, the trail is in good condition. It does, however, require a head for heights. The above video gives you an idea of the challenge.
From Glenridding head up Mires Beck, then to the Hole-in-the-Wall before clambering over the ridge tops of Striding Edge (or using the path just below them) to the summit. Descend via Swirral Edge to Red Tarn and follow Red Tarn Beck and Glenridding Beck into Glenridding.
START – Glenridding in Patterdale | DISTANCE – 14 kilometres | TIME – 5 hours, 15 minutes | ELEVATION – +/- 840 metres | MAP – The English Lakes: North Eastern Area OL5
2 – BLENCATHRA VIA SHARP EDGE AND HALLS FELL
A great circular walk including a nerve-testing scramble over a narrow ridge
Blencathra sits all alone in the northeast of the Lakes. At first impression, it appears little more than a large hill. But looks can be deceptive and ascending this unobtrusive mountain houses one of the best scrambles in the Lake District. The reason is two excellent ridges.
The first is Halls Fell Ridge, a rocky ascent straight up the side of Blencathra. This is another excellent route for anyone new to scrambling. The ridge is not too narrow – generously a couple of meters across in most places. You’ll need your hands for support, but if you’re good with heights, you can mostly just stride across the top of the ridge.
The second is Sharp Edge. The hardest and most challenging Grade 1 ridge in the Lake District. As famous Lakeland writer Alfred Wainwright wrote, ‘Sharp Edge is a rising crest of naked rock, of sensational and spectacular appearance, a breaking wave carved in stone.’
You need to be comfortable with heights to tackle Sharp Edge. There is a ‘bad step’ where you have to shuffle off a slab of rock onto a narrow ledge and precipitous sections along the way, so you should have some scrambling experience behind you. This Lake District hike should not be attempted in wet or windy conditions, however, on a sunny day, it’s a real heart starter.
Your reward is a beer waiting at the White Horse Inn in Scales. All the details on this great hike are in our article on climbing Blencathra via Sharp Edge.
Halls Fell Ridge is an excellent ascent for beginner scramblers. However, Sharp Edge should not be attempted until you have built up some experience on other ridges. Watch the above video for a clearer idea of the challenge.
Depending on whether you’re up for the challenge of Sharp Edge will determine the route you take to climb the summit of Blencathra. Either way, it’s a fantastic experience in the Lake District. All the details will be provided in a separate article out soon.
START – Scales Farm between Keswick and Penrith | DISTANCE – 8.5 kilometres | TIME – 4 hours, 15 minutes | ELEVATION – +/- 730 metres | MAP – The English Lakes: North Eastern Area OL5
3 – PAVEY ARK VIA JACK’S RAKE AND EASY GULLY
A tricky Lake District scramble up a narrow groove and back down a scree-filled gully
The Langdales Pikes are a dramatic collection of spiky pikes rising into the air. Nestled amongst them is Pavey Ark, the largest cliff in the Lake District. Facing the craggy façade it appears there is no way up. But there is: Jack’s Rake.
Jack’s Rake is a groove that cuts diagonally across the wall of rock. At first you may feel only climbers could make their way up here. But this little groove, which runs up a chimney stack of rock, becomes your ally as you pull yourself along. Several handholds are required, and you need to contort your body into odd positions, but providing you ignore the temptation to come out of the groove, there is rock on either side of you. This makes this Grade 1 scramble surprisingly unexposed and one of the best adventurous things to do in the Lake District.
The chimney stack ends at a narrow unprotected ledge (nerve-wracking if you don’t like heights), before entering a series of blocks and grooves linked by ledges which ascend to the summit of Pavey Ark.
There’s plenty of ways down but the most adventurous is via Easy Gully. It’s a scree filled mess with a large collection of boulders near the top with one particularly awkward clamber. Once you return, reward yourself with a pint at the National Trust Sticklebarn at New Dungeon Ghyll. You’ll have deserved it.
JACK’S RAKE DIFFICULTY
This is a challenging scramble mainly because the groove can be wet, even in summer, making rocks and handholds slippery. The ledge after the groove is exposed but only for a short distance. Don’t go on wet days and build up some other scrambling experience first. On a personal note, I find the exposed ridge of Sharp Edge, while technically easier, more nerve-racking than Jack’s Rake. But everyone is different.
JACK’S RAKE ROUTE
From New Dungeon Ghyll Hotel take the path alongside Sickly Ghyll to Stickle Tarn. Walk halfway around the lake and ascend the scree on the far side. Just before entering a large gully, look left and locate the groove that is Jack’s Rake, which will lead you to the summit. Descend via Easy Gully and then circumnavigate the tarn again, before heading under craggy Harrison Stickle and over Pike Howe back to the hotel.
START – New Dungeon Ghyll in Langdale | DISTANCE – 5.5 kilometres | TIME – 3 hours, 30 minutes | ELEVATION – +/- 620 metres | MAP – The English Lakes: South Western Area OL6
4 – ILL CRAG & SCAFELL PIKE VIA COCKLY PIKE RIDGE
Long but great day walking, scrambling and swimming in wild Eskdale
This is a monster of a day out and comes with lots of options. It can simply be a long hike alongside the mightiest crags in the Lake District, or it can be a challenging scrambling adventure. Either way, it’s worth coming to the remote valley of Eskdale. It’s a wild and empty place, with massive ghylls, rocky lagoon pools, excellent hiking options and endless big vistas.
The most fun way up Scafell Pike is a scramble up Cockly Pike Ridge on the southern face of Ill Crag (avoid the much more difficult Grade 3 scramble on the south-east slope). It is a sea of boulder and rock. Unfortunately, the trail is neither clear nor obvious, so you’ll need some pathfinding skills. But that’s all part of the fun.
The descent from Scafell Pike has adventurous options as well. Head down to the top of Mickledore with views of mighty Broad Stand, a massive 30 metre slab of rock. You could now drop back into Eskdale, but if you have the energy take a quick detour up Scafell via Foxes Tarn. It’s a great clamber up a steep slope and brings you to the top of the second highest mountain in the Lake District.
Finally end the day soaking in the Esk River. There are various lagoon pots and larger pools for a longer swim.
COCKLY PIKE RIDGE DIFFICULTY
The scramble is not technically challenging but finding the path can be difficult. Also, be aware the walk in from Eskdale is long.
COCKLY PIKE RIDGE
Begin at Brotherinkeld and follow the Esk River up to the Great Moss. Find a place to cross this boggy morass then head northeast under the flanks of Scafell Pike and over Little Narrowcove beck. Use this post to find the route up Ill Crag (or on a cloudy day when pathfinding is hard take the obvious and straightforward trail up the left side of Little Narrowcove instead). At the top turn left to ascend Scafell Pike. To descend head to the top of Mickledore, turn left passed Broad Stand and descend back into Eskdale. For the optional detour up Scafell via Foxes Tarn and back, add about 1 kilometre, 200 metres of ascent and descent and just over an hour.
START – Brotherinkeld in Eskdale | DISTANCE – 17.5 kilometres | TIME – 8 hours | ELEVATION – +/- 1200 metres | MAP – The English Lakes: South Western Area OL6
TIPS FOR SCRAMBLING IN THE LAKE DISTRICT
1 – Be aware that, unlike most hillwalking, scrambling comes with a bit of risk. Take your time, be careful and if you are unsure, don’t go.
2 – No special equipment is needed for grade 1 scrambles but make sure you wear walking boots or shoes with good grip.
3 – Many scrambles are exposed, and require a good head for heights.
4 – Build up your experience by attempting easier scrambles first. Halls Fell Ridge is an excellent place to start as is Striding Edge. Only move onto Jack’s Rake and Sharp Edge after you have had some practice, feel comfortable with heights and got used to forming solid foot and handholds.
5 – If you are not particularly experienced do not attempt rocky exposed scrambles in wet or windy conditions. Clouds also carry considerable moisture, so aim for sunny clear day.
6 – Take a good map and a guide book. Many of these scrambles are covered in Brian Evans’ book: Scrambles in the Lake District. There is a northern edition and a southern one.
MORE READING FOR THE LAKE DISTRICT
We’ve been to the Lake District many times, and never run out of fantastic things to do. From adventurous scrambles to relaxing wild swimming, here are more of our guides from the lakes.
LAKE DISTRICT WALKS
15 BEST LAKE DISTRICT WALKS FROM EASY STROLLS TO CHALLENGING WAINWRIGHTS
CONQUER KNIFE-EDGE RIDGES ON THIS EXHILARATING WALK UP BLENCATHRA
WALK SCAFELL PIKE VIA THE CORRIDOR ROUTE FOR A TOP LAKE DISTRICT HIKE
MOST BEAUTIFUL LAKE DISTRICT VIEWS AND PHOTOGRAPHY SPOTS
EXPLORE THE REMOTE AND RUGGED LAKE DISTRICT AT THE LANGDALE PIKES
OUR FAVOURITE LAKELAND ACTIVITIES – BEST THINGS TO DO IN THE LAKE DISTRICT
BEST REMOTE SPOTS FOR A PEACEFUL WILD SWIM IN THE LAKE DISTRICT