Britain’s greatest scrambles: Cockly Pike Ridge, Lake District

An easy-going route that ascends over 400m onto the shoulder of the highest ground in England. Everything about Cockly Pike Ridge makes the epic walk-in worth it.

Getting high on Ill Crag, with the wild hills and valleys of Eskdale behind.

by Ben Weeks |

Distance 17.5km | Ascent 1170m | Scramble rating Grade 1 | Go there on a long, bright summer’s day.

Some scrambling routes are unmissable – easy to spot and straightforward to follow. Others require a little more work, as getting to the start may require some effort, and a little imagination and innovation might be needed to turn a random cluster of rocks into a continuous line. It’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming that only the former are worth tackling, but if ever a route demonstrated that the latter can be just as impressive, Cockly Pike Ridge is it.

There’s no hiding the fact that the walk in is a sizeable one; about 8km with 550m of ascent, so you can expect it to take close to 2.5 hours. But that’s 2.5 hours through the beautiful upper Eskdale Valley, beside idyllic streams, waterfalls and pools, and through the wide-open upland expanse of Great Moss. It’s a walk worth taking for walking’s sake. But then comes Cockly Pike Ridge, and an entertaining clamber of some 400m of ascent (rumoured to be the Lake District’s longest scramble) that brings you out on the summit of Ill Crag, from where England’s highest peak, Scafell Pike, is a mere stroll away.

The longest scramble, the highest mountain, and one of the greatest days out. This, then, is a scrambling route packed with superlatives, and here’s how to do it…

1.

From the parking area by Jubilee Bridge in Eskdale, head downhill and take the track on the right by the old red phone box and past the farm. Head into Upper Eskdale, cross Lingcove Bridge, and continue up alongside the River Esk into Great Moss. Ill Crag sits above the northernmost corner of Eskdale, and Cockly Pike Ridge is the far skyline of the peak as seen from Great Moss.

2.

Cross Little Narrow Cove and head up the hillside alongside Calfcove Gill. Cross the boulder field to the left to gain the first bit of solid rock.

3.

Rather than a continuous chain of rock, Cockly Pike Ridge is a series of outcrops and knolls which can be linked with some imagination. Some of the rock can be mossy, greasy or loose, so pick the cleanest line toward the top of Cockly Pike, the rocky promontory that juts out from Ill Crag.

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Although its name hints at a  narrow crest, this is typical of  the scrambling terrain you’ll  find on Cockly Pike Ridge.
Although its name hints at a narrow crest, this is typical of the scrambling terrain you’ll find on Cockly Pike Ridge.
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4.

Take a grassy rake up to the left and continue the make-it-up-as-you-go-along scrambling up the outcrops and jumbles of boulders, keeping to the left for the best rock.

5.

Cross a scree shoot and a grassy terrace to access a rib of good rock. Start out to the right of this, then swing back left to follow the best rock upwards towards scree-covered hillside.

6.

The scrambling has to be sought out amongst the scree, but there’s enough solid rock to be found to keep it going. Drift left to find more good rock and aim for the skyline, where a final fun tower brings you to Ill Crag’s summit plateau.

7.

Scafell Pike’s summit is a 1km walk away to the west. After bagging Lakeland’s highest, drop down into Mickledore, admire the foreboding Broad Stand from below, and then follow the descending track south-east back to Great Moss and the path out to Eskdale.

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