Slight Side

Published 10 July 2012. Last updated 7 November 2019

It was supposed to be the start of a larger expedition that also went up Scafell. But my plans were scuppered by bad weather, and as such Slight Side became the only fell of the day.

Scafell. It’s a name that inspires awe and intrigue.

True, it lost a bit of its thunder when someone realised that nearby Scafell Pike was just that bit taller, thus allowing it to grab the crown of “Highest Mountain in England”, but Scafell still holds on to the love and respect of true walkers. Whilst everyone and his aunt wants to go and stand on the highest point in England, true aficionados head to the slightly smaller neighbour.

Or so they say. I hadn’t been to either. But today was to be the day I’d rectify at least half that problem.

It’s at this point that you may me staring at the title on the top of this page and want to interrupt loudly with a cry of “But Andrew, what on earth does any of this have to do with Slight Side? I mean, it says Slight Side on the top of this page, not Scafell. I’ve had it up to here with this waffling. Just when are you going to get to the point? I mean, if I’d wanted to read about Scafell, I wouldn’t have hit a link marked ‘Slight Side’ now, would I?”

Ah, well okay. I guess I better explain. It’s simple really but it’s true. See Slight Side is one of those fells that fits firmly in to the category of “always the bridesmaid and never the bride.” Chances are that you aren’t going to wake up one morning and go “By George, I just have to do Slight Side today! It looks amazing!”

On the other hand, if you’re planning on tackling Scafell from Eskdale, the route you’re likely to take will be which basically pops over Slight Side on the way. It’s not your target, but it’s on the way so what the hell!

Now that’s not to say that Slight Side is some minor fell. At a height of 762m above sea level, it’s a seriously sized fell and has scree and everything. Build a 38m high cairn on top of it and you could call it a mountain. And anyway, Wainwright said it had a fine view; somewhere better to see the sea than Scafell itself. But when all is said and done, reality is that you’re probably just heading up it to get somewhere else.

And that indeed my was my plan. Admire Slight Side, then head up Scafell before heading back to Eskdale via Cam Spout.

Wainwright’s route headed off from Wha House, just along from the Woolpack Inn and about a mile or so from Boot. A couple enthusiastically leaping out of their car in the small car park suggested I wasn’t the only one heading the rocky pack, and soon the three of us were bouncing along the rocky path at the bottom of the slope.

It was a good path though. Solid. Reliable. Dependable. For a bit anyway, as it weaved its way inbetween crags and avoided the marches. The “terrace route” Wainwright described it. Relatively level, never too taxing. Just some gentle ups and downs, and the odd bit of leaping over streams.

Then my first stop came firmly in to view. Slight Side looked like the kind of fell that says “Yep, you are walking up here mate and it’s too late to back out.”

But it was a quick glimpse back that gave an inkling that Lady Luck might not be on my side. Across the valley a series of dark clouds were appearing, and all of a sudden Harter Fell’s previously clear summit was completely hidden by cloud.

Up ahead though Slight Side seemed blissfully unaffected bar the odd wisp of cloud on the tops. But as I crossed Quagrigg Moss (a name which seemed to be far too well endowed in the “g” department) the clouds got more and more frequent, and hung around for longer.

Hmm. That cloud’s not looking good. Still the summit of Slight Side is clear. Maybe it will go.

After being relatively flat for a while, the path began to head up for the final push; the grassy path giving way to scree. Notably the cloud got denser too, and rain began to come down in a light shower.

The, all of a sudden, Slight Side’s summit disappeared completely and the path became increasingly difficult to follow. The rocky top eventually emerged out of the gloom after a scramble over the rocks and I set about trying to find the true summit.

Despite a good walk round, no easy way to the very top could I find. Well one that didn’t require a climb over slippy, wet rocks anyway and unwilling to chance that I made do by standing next to a large boulder that was reasonably close instead. Purists may decry such methods, but given the weather, I couldn’t care less.

With no view to enjoy and rain making it impossible to see through my glasses, I weighed my options. Scafell lay a mere mile and a quarter north and still under the belief that the cloud would disperse, I headed off in what I thought was the right direction.

Five minutes scrabbling around on the boulder-strewn ridge in deep cloud soon showed the folly in that idea and barely had I travelled a sixth of the way and Slight Side’s summit was completely invisible. It was clearly not going to blow over, and reluctantly I turned around and followed Wainwright’s instructions. In cloud or mist leave Slight Side by exactly the same route you came.

Assuming you can find it anyway.

The rain was getting worse now. This really wasn’t looking good.

As I struggled to rejoin the indistinct path, I knew my decision was the correct one. Whilst I’d been heading up, the cloud had got denser and denser, leaving the indistinct path harder and harder to follow. Several times I lost the path on Quagrigg Moss, and every time I found it again was was cause for a mild celebration.

Despite my best efforts to slip and twist my ankle or injure my knee by stumbling over a hole in the ground, I made it back to the road safe and sound and made up for my early finish by heading to the Woolpack for a cup of tea and a scone. Sitting ion the pub I couldn’t help but sigh and wish the weather had held and that I was back at the top enjoying the fine views of Scafell.

But then there’s no enjoyment in getting lost in a fell in heavy cloud. I knew deep down that I’d made the right call. Scafell would still be there waiting for me next time I was in the area. And like all good bridesmaids, Slight Side would be there waiting for my return visit too.

Video: The Search for Sca Fell


Alan Day

22 November 2016 at 1:59 pm

Sounds like an average day as I live nearby in Eskdale Green and often head up slight side via eel tarn and stony tarn then take the same path you describe and more often than not it’s cloudy and or raining as I’m just reaching it’s summit but when the weather is good you get really good views. Hope you get better weather next time

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