Kirk Fell

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Kirk Fell
Kirk Fell Crags.jpg
Kirk Fell from Moses' Trod
Range: Lake District Western Fells
Summit: 2,581 feet NY195104
54°28’57"N, 3°14’38"W

Kirk Fell is a fell in Cumberland rising between Great Gable and Pillar on the long ring of fells surrounding the valley of Ennerdale Water. It also stands over Wasdale to the south. It is separated from its two higher neighbours by the low passes of Black Sail and Beck Head, giving it a high relative height.

The direct ascent up the south-western slope from Wasdale Head is backbreakingly steep and the subject of an amusing drawing by Alfred Wainwright.[1] Usual ascents are by one of the aforementioned passes; alternatively one may climb Kirk Fell as part of the Mosedale Horseshoe, a walk on the fells surrounding Mosedale, a side-valley of Wasdale.

The lie of the land

The Western Fells occupy a triangular sector of the Lake District, bordered by the River Cocker to the north-east and Wasdale to the south-east. Westwards the hills diminish toward the coastal plain of Cumberland. At the central hub of the high country are Great Gable and its satellites, while two principal ridges fan out on either flank of Ennerdale, the western fells in effect being a great horseshoe around this long wild valley.[1] Kirk Fell is the first on the southern arm.

The main watershed runs broadly westwards from Great Gable, dividing the headwaters of Ennerdale and Wasdale. The main fells in this section are Kirk Fell, Pillar, Scoat Fell, Haycock and Caw Fell, followed by the lower Lank Rigg group.

Kirk Fell sits squarely at the head of Wasdale, rising between the main headstreams of Mosedale and Lingmell Becks. From this direction it appears as a truncated cone, steep sided with a wide level top. The flanks above Wasdale are unremittingly steep, 2,000 feet of grass and scree with little to break the monotony. The only stream on these slopes is Ill Gill, falling from the depression between the summit and the east top.

Great End and Scafell Pike seen from Kirk Fell Tarn between the two summits

To the west, between Kirk Fell and Pillar, is Black Sail Pass. This is a pedestrian route from Wasdale to Ennerdale, and from there onward by way of Scarth Gap to Buttermere. A well graded path now used exclusively for leisure, it was once a thoroughfare for trade between the valleys. The summit of the pass at 1,775 ft is crossed by the Ennerdale Fence, a boundary marking the watershed around the head of the valley. Although some sections of the 'fence' are actually stone walls, that running over the top of Kirk Fell is only a remnant, marked by occasional posts.

The Ennerdale face of Kirk Fell has more features to offer, but due to the remoteness of the dalehead is much less familiar. A wall of rock rims the summit plateau, Boat How Crags to the east and Kirkfell Crags to the west. Between the two is the hollow of Baysoar Slack, the birthplace of Sail Beck. Below the crags the gradient is not quite as severe as on the Wasdale side, slopes running down to the bank of the River Liza. Kirk Fell does not have such a prominent position in Ennerdale, Great Gable standing at the head of the valley.

To the east of Kirk Fell is Beck Head (2,020 feet), the col connecting to Great Gable. A small rocky spur, Rib End, runs down from the summit plateau to the tarns at the depression. Although prominently named on Ordnance Survey maps, Beckhead Tarn is a small shallow pool with a bed of peat and submerged flags. A second smaller pool forms after heavy rain.[2]

The summit plateau of Kirk Fell assumes a 'figure of eight' shape in plan, the narrow waist squeezed between Illgill Head and Baysoar Slack. The highest ground is to the west, while a subsidiary top occupies the other section. Kirk Fell east top has sufficient prominence (112 feet) to qualify as a "Hewitt" in its own right. Between the summits is Kirkfell Tarn, actually two small tarns. The deeper pool is an oval, while the other has an indented outline, reminiscent of Sprinkling Tarn on Seathwaite Fell in miniature.[2]


The summit area consists of drift deposits overlying the plagioclase-phyric andesite lavas and subordinate sills of the Birker Fell Formation. The northern crags expose some granophyric granite of the Ennerdale Intrusion, together with the bedded breccias, sandstones and tuffs of the Round How Member.[3]

Summit and view

The main top is marked by a cairn set amid an area of stones. The east top has a cairn set on a rocky outcrop. Some remains of the old fence can be found on the watershed, crossing both tops.[1]

Great Gable fills the eastern view, Gable Crag and the Napes seen in fascinating profile. Across Wasdale rise Scafell and Scafell Pike, while the High Stile and Grasmoor ranges are well seen in the other direction. There are also more distant glimpses of the Skiddaw and Helvellyn ranges.[1]


A path of sorts ascends direct from the village of Wasdale Head to the summit, the way being in Wainwright's words "a relentless and unremitting treadmill, a turf clutching crawl, not a walk. There are only three opportunities of standing upright...".[1] More conventional ascents can be made via Black Sail or Beck Head, the former providing easier gradients. Black Sail can also be used to give access from Ennerdale, although unless staying at Black Sail Youth Hostel, the nearest access in this direction is actually Gatesgarth by Scarth Gap.[1][4]

Kirk Fell can also be climbed as part of the Mosedale Horseshoe, also taking in Yewbarrow, Red Pike, Scoat Fell and Pillar.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Wainwright, Alfred: A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells, Volume 7 The Western Fells: Westmorland Gazette (1966): ISBN 0-7112-2460-9
  2. 2.0 2.1 Blair, Don: Exploring Lakeland Tarns: Lakeland Manor Press (2003): ISBN 0-9543904-1-5
  3. British Geological Survey: 1:50,000 series maps, England & Wales Sheets 29 and 38: BGS (1999) and (1998)
  4. Bill Birkett:Complete Lakeland Fells: Collins Willow (1994): ISBN 0-00-713629-3