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Skiddaw and Little Man .JPG
Skiddaw and Little Man from Lantrigg
Range: Lake District Northern Fells
Summit: 3,054 feet NY260290
54°39’2"N, 3°8’54"W

Skiddaw is a Cumberland fell, reckoned one of the Northern Fells of the Lake District. Its summit stands at 3,054 feet above sea level, making it the fourth-highest mountain in England. Skiddaw stands just north of the town of Keswick in Cumberland and dominates the skyline in this part of the northern lakes.

Skiddaw is the simplest of the high fells to ascend (as there is a well-trodden tourist track from a car park to the north-east of Keswick, near the summit of Latrigg) and, as such, many walking guides recommend it to the occasional walker wishing to climb a fell. This is the first summit of the fell running challenge known as the Bob Graham Round when undertaken in a clockwise direction.

The mountain lends its name to the surrounding areas of "Skiddaw Forest", and "Back o' Skidda'" and to the isolated "Skiddaw House", situated to the east, formerly a shooting lodge and subsequently a youth hostel. It also provides the name for the slate derived from that region: Skiddaw Slate. Tuned percussion musical instruments or lithophones exist which are made from the slate, such as the Musical Stones of Skiddaw held at Keswick Museum and Art Gallery.

Name of the fell

The word Skiddaw is of uncertain origin. The most supported suggestion is that is comes from the Cumbric language once spoken hereabout, from sgwïðow meaning "shoulders" (like the Welsh sgwyddau) from the shape of the mountain. Another proposed root is from Old Norse, the latter element from haugr, "hill".

Shape of the land

The Northern Fells comprise a roughly circular upland area approaching 10 miles in width. At the centre is the marshy depression of Skiddaw Forest, a treeless plateau at an altitude of 1,300 feet and flowing outwards from here are the rivers which divide the area into three sectors. The south-western sector, between the Glenderaterra Beck and Dash Beck, contains Skiddaw and its satellites.[1]

Skiddaw in the fog from Latrigg

Skiddaw itself takes the form of a north-south ridge about half a mile long, with steep slopes to east and west. The ridge continues northwards over Broad End to Bakestall, a fell overlooking the Whitewater Dash waterfall. Further ridges fan out east and west from the southern end of Skiddaw. To the south-east are Skiddaw Little Man, Lonscale Fell and Latrigg, an easily accessible viewpoint for Keswick and Derwentwater. Beyond these fells are the Glenderaterra Beck and the Blencathra group. The south-western ridge curves round through 180 degrees to run north above the shore of Bassenthwaite Lake. This gives Skiddaw an 'outer wall', comprising Carl Side, Long Side and Ullock Pike, collectively referred to as 'Longside Edge'. The final member of the Skiddaw Group is Dodd, a satellite of Carl Side.

Between Skiddaw and Longside Edge are the quiet valleys of Southerndale and Barkbethdale, separated by the spur of Buzzard Knott. These drain the western flanks of the fell to Bassenthwaite Lake. The eastern side of Skiddaw drains into Skiddaw Forest, much of the water reaching Candleseaves Bog. This marsh is the source of both the Dash Beck flowing north-west to Bassenthwaite and the River Caldew, beginning its long journey north-eastward to the Solway Firth by way of Carlisle. Two smooth spurs on this eastern flank of Skiddaw, Sale How and Hare Crag, are listed in separate tops in some guidebooks.[2]

Below Sale How is Skiddaw House, a stone building which has variously served as a shooting lodge, shepherd's bothy and Youth Hostel. Its windbreak comprises the only trees in Skiddaw Forest, and it is reached by way of a long access track up the Dash Valley.

Skiddaw's slopes are generally rounded and convex, looking from a distance as though a thick velvet blanket has been draped over a supporting frame. On the ridges the general terrain is of loose stones, but elsewhere all is grass and heather. Wainwright noted that "Its lines are smooth, its curves graceful; but because the slopes are steep everywhere, the quick build-up of the massif from valley levels to central summit is appreciated at a glance- and it should be an appreciative glance, for such massive strength and such beauty of outline rarely go together."[1]


The bedrock of Skiddaw, commonly known as Skiddaw Slate, is the Kirkstile Formation. This Ordovician rock is composed of laminated mudstone and siltstone with greywacke sandstone. At the summit this is overlain by scree and to the south are areas where the underlying Loweswater Formation surfaces.


Skiddaw from Borrowdale

Many routes of ascent have been devised for Skiddaw; indeed, it is hard to devise a challenging approach in good conditions. The most popular tourist route starts from Keswick and first ascends behind Latrigg, before the climb continues over the slopes of Little Man to the summit. About 650 feet of ascent can be saved by driving to the top of Gale Road and beginning from the public carpark just behind the summit of Latrigg.

Another popular route (and the one recommended by Wainwright[1]) is to follow Longside Edge, first ascending Ullock Pike, Longside and Carl Side before making the steep climb up from Carlside Col. Also from the north, a somewhat tougher alternative is to walk up Buzzard Knott between Southerndale and Barkbethdale: after crossing to the southern edge of the shoulder above Randel Crag ascend due east to the summit. Rather easier than either of these is the compass-walk due south from Cockup (1,657 feet). Reversing this route provides a safe descent, especially in bad weather. Scramblers may prefer simply to walk up Southerndale and climb Longside by way of a distinctive crevice seen easily from Skiddaw summit.

From the south-west at Millbeck, Carlside Col can be reached directly. A start from nearby Applethwaite can also be used to provide a variation to the tourist route. From the north-west a tough but picturesque ascent can be made to the northern end of Longside Edge before following the ridge route to the summit. Finally, ascents from due east are possible for the walker who first makes for Skiddaw House, a good distance from either Keswick, Threlkeld or Peter House. Once Skiddaw House is reached a fairly direct line is possible, climbing over either Sale How or Hare Crag.[1]

From the north-east an unmarked but quite easy and fairly well-worn path starts at Whitewater Dash waterfall (on the Cumbrian Way) where the walker can follow the fence (along Birkett Edge just south of Dead Crags) past the Bakestall outcrop, and follow the fence until just before the unnamed top at 2,726 feet. From that top, a path leads directly to Skiddaw Man.

Summit and view

Skiddaw from Derwentwater, by Richard Corbould (1757-1831)
Skiddaw after William Turner (1833)

The summit ridge bears a number of tops, which from north to south are known[1][2] as North Top, High Man (the summit), Middle Top and South Top. All now bear cairns and a number of stone windshelters have been erected. Skiddaw has a subsidiary summit, Little Man, which lies about a mile south-south-east of the main peak. Despite its limited independence, Wainwright listed it as a separate fell in his influential Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells, a convention which is often followed.

The view is as panoramic as might be expected, given Skiddaw's prominence. From High Man the north-east quadrant is filled by the quiet fells of Back o'Skiddaw, with the Border hills, the Cheviots and the North Pennines behind them. To the south-east are Blencathra, the Far Eastern Fells and the Helvellyn range; behind these are vistas of the Yorkshire Dales and Forest of Bowland. The Coniston Fells are visible directly to the south.

On the other side of South Top is a fine view of the Scafells, Western and North Western Fells, with a portion of Snowdonia is visible between Kirk Fell and Pillar.

The Isle of Man is visible 60 miles away, as are the Mourne Mountains 120 miles away (on exceptionally clear days).

The final quarter is taken up by the coastal plain and the distant Solway Firth, backed by the hills of Galloway such as Merrick, Criffel and Broad Law. Goat Fell on the Isle of Arran can be seen at an angle of 313 degrees, 105 miles away.

Most distant view; Slieve Meelmore in the Mourne Mountains, 120 miles distant.

By moving to South Top a superb view of Borrowdale can be brought into sight.[1]

Outside lniks

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Skiddaw)


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Wainwright, Alfred: A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells,Book 5 The Northern Fells: ISBN 0-7112-2458-7
  2. 2.0 2.1 Birkett, Bill: Complete Lakeland Fells: Collins Willow (1994): ISBN 0-00-713629-3