Illgill Head

Published 5 July 2012

The view from Illgill Head

Eskdale is one of those beautiful places that if it were just a bit closer to Ambleside or Keswick, it would be absolutely heaving. It it’s tucked away in the south west of the Lake District, off the beaten track, makes it even better. It has some lovely fells. The day before I’d taken in Green Crag and Harter Fell. And today’s plan was to visit two more delightful fells overlooking Wast Water, starting with Whin Rigg, before going on to Illgill Head.

Reading between the lines of Wainwright’s terse paragraph on ascending Illgill Head from Eskdale, you have this feeling that he just wanted to write a simple “don’t” and leave it at that. It’s made abundantly clear both in his text and in the way he writes it that, whilst you could access it from Burnmoor Tarn by the old corpse road, in no way at all should you actually do this.

No, he’s most emphatic on this. You have to do it having done Whin Rigg first. Once you’ve done that you follow the ridge to Illgill Head and head back down to Eskdale. Do it like this and you’ll have done what Wainwright describes as “a splendid round.”

And just in case the reader was left in any doubt at all about his thoughts on the matter, Wainwright went on to describe the 1⅓mile ridge between the two as “a magnificent walk”.

Naturally I followed his instructions to the letter. Although it did rather help that I’d just finished Whin Rigg anyway. But either way, he was spot on.


There’s so many cairns on Illgill Head that it was unclear which was actually the summit. This might be. But it might not be.

Several paths skirt between the two fells, all neatly spaced out. The adventurous can head along the edge of the escarpment whilst the more conservative can keep safely away from the edge.

It was a bumpy ridge with the path going up and down several times, and thanks to the wonders of perspective, Illgill’s summit soon fell out of view, leading me to discover a plethora of false summits.

They were, at least, not far off the real thing. There’s nothing worse than reaching what you think is the top only to find you’ve got another bloomin’ 400m still to go, but there was nothing that bad on Illgill Head. Just a simple bounce along on gentle grassland. Idyllic, enjoyable and, may I hasten to say, magnificent.

And the view when I finally did make it to the summit wasn’t too bad either. Resting on a rock, I merrily ate my lunch. With glorious blue skies, the view was superb; fells of Eskdale, Langdale and Wasdale providing a feast for the eyes. And like Whin Rigg, all it took was a slight detour off the summit to enjoy a glorious view of Wast Water and Wasdale Head. Illgill was, without doubt, a treasure.

Just in case there was any doubt though, on the way down I found out why AW didn’t recommend the ascent from Boot. It was bad enough going down the steep, unremitting side of the fell. Looking back there was little of the beauty of the summit; nothing at all of the delightful approach I’d had from the other side. It just looked an extremely steep, tedious slot. Ascend Illgill Head from Boot? No, I’m with Wainwright on this one. Trust him, he knows what he’s talking about.

Wast Water and Wasdale, seen from Illgill Head
A short way off the summit of Illgill Head you get a fine view of Wast Water and Wasdale

Your Comments

Jack Lowe

11 June 2013 at 5:10 pm

What about ascending from Wasdale. Any comments on that?

Andrew Bowden (Rambling Man editor)

11 June 2013 at 5:37 pm

I can provide a comment. But it would be “afraid I’ve never done it” 🙂

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