Thunacar Knott

Published 5 September 2013. Last updated 24 October 2019

Quite how many Langdale Pikes there are, is a matter of debate. And one I can’t really be bothered having. I’m going with five and that’s the end of the matter. But it doesn’t matter how many you do, it’s still a classic walk. For many it will just be the core fells of Loft Crag, Pike O’Stickle, Harrison Stickle, and Pavey Ark. However when you’re in the area, well you might as well do Thunacar Knott. Mightn’t you?

If there’s some disagreement on whether Pavey Ark should be considered part of the Langdale Pikes, the inclusion of Thunacar Knott is even more controversial. In the Knott’s favour is the fact that it’s the fifth summit in the small, compact area that the Langdale Pikes sit in. Against is the fact the Knott lacks the might and majesty of its neighbours.

In his pictorial guide, Wainwright describes Thunacar Knott as “completely unphotogenic”. My camera appeared to agree. The only photograph I took on my short hop there from Pavey Ark consisted of two sheep stood with Harrison Stickle in the background.

All things given, I had no real reason to go there in the first place, and Wainwright’s description didn’t particularly inspire. Anything that has the words “drab”, “dreary” and “deficient in interest” isn’t going to be amazing. Indeed, I half considered not going at all.

There were only two reasons I did. One was that I had vague notions of heading on to Sergeant Man, and then meandering back down to the Langdale valley via Stickle Tarn. Second was that it was there, and I was there. I may never come again so I might as well visit it now whilst I had the chance.

I was there in what felt like a matter of minutes, and that included the time taken to get the sheep to pose adequately. This was hardly a journey of epic proportions and before I knew it, I was at Thunacar Knott’s simple summit cairn wondering what to do next.

Summit of Thunacar Knott

A look at my watch showed it to be three o’clock. Back at the cottage, Catherine was sat with our son Sam, no doubt waiting for some company as our son continued his frustrated attempts to crawl. I reckoned it would probably take me an hour, perhaps an hour and a half to get to the bus stop at Dungeon Ghyll, which would give me just enough time for a swift pint before the 5pm bus back to Ambleside.

Sergeant Man was possible, but the timing would be very tight. The next bus was at seven. If I missed the earlier one, I’d be in for a fair wait. And a fair few pints too. It was a hard decision to make, but I started making my way down to Langdale.

If I’d ruled out visiting the Sarge earlier, I would have walked from Harrison Stickle to Thunacar Knott, then Pavey Ark. It would have made more sense given the path down to Stickle Tarn is quite obvious when seen from Pavey Ark. But instead, I was at the wrong place and needed to retrace some steps first.

Wainwright declared the path from Pavey Ark to be “grassy and easy”; a completely inaccurate description of the current path which I already knew was steep and rocky. However my OS map however showed a clear path running all the way along Bright Beck. Going on a wide loop, I reckoned would give me an easier descent. A simple hop, rather than lots of slow, fiddly progress.

Figuring the path should be pretty easy to spot, I headed out in the vague direction. This was no minor path – the good people of the Ordnance Survey had marked it with one of their bright green path lines, denoting it as a public right of way. But could I find it? Could I heckers.

Instead I spent much of my time wandering aimlessly across steep hill slopes. To add to the fun, the grass was boggy and waterlogged. My boots, whose waterproofing had long given up, were beginning to take in water. Every now and then the Beck would come in to vision, but there was absolutely no sign of any path, not even a faint one. I began to wonder if it even existed. It’s not often that I’ve found the Ordnance Survey to be wrong, but in this case I wondered if it was. Right of way it may have been. Right and visible it certainly wasn’t.

If there's a path down here, I couldn't find it

In frustration I looked at my watch. I’d wasted half an hour or so trying to find this invisible route. There was nothing for it but to give up and climb back up to Pavey Ark. Within minutes I’d found the well cairned and well made (but certainly not grassy) path. It may have been steep, and progress may have been slow down, but at least I knew where I was.

I now just had one problem. Getting back down in time for that 5pm bus. By the time I eventually made it to Stickle Tarn, I had a mere forty minutes to go. This was going to be tight.

I needed a good clear path I could get down fast, but the Stickle Ghyll paths (two of them, one running on each side of the Gill) certainly aren’t that. They’re rocky and steep. They’re paths to take care on, not rush, lest the walker trip, stumble and Mountain Rescue be called out to carry you off with a broken ankle.

Approaching New Dungeon Ghyll

Even so I still managed to reach the back of the Sticklebarn by 17:03. I rounded the Sticklebarn, got a view of the main road and cried in frustration as 516 pulled up on the road and began loading passengers. So near, but so far!

There was only one thing for it. With aching legs, tired body and a flagging mind, I ran. Seriously ran. In hiking boots.

Not since my attempts to do the 100m at school had I ran so fast. With water bottles flying out of the side pockets of my rucksack and crashing to the ground, I made it to the outside New Dungeon Ghyll. I just had mere minutes to go, only to see the despairing sight of the bus doors closing and the bus preparing to drive off.

“Nooo!!!!!” I cried before wonder of wonders happened.

The bus doors re-opened.

I stumbled on board, gasping for breathe and muttering what thanks I could manage to get my vocal chords to give before collapsing on a bus seat in exhaustion, sweat pouring off my head.

As the bus headed off back to Ambleside, weaving its way through the narrow road, I realised that in contrast to what Wainwright said, there was something interesting about Thunacar Knott. For me anyway. I may not remember what it’s frankly dull summit looked like, but I sure that descent.

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