North of Skiddaw Forest

FIVE Wainwright circular walk: Great Cockup, Meal Fell, Great Sca Fell, Knott, Great Calva.

Walk Rating:⭐⭐

Time: 4 hours 

Parking: limited roadside spaces on the minor road to Orthwaite (Grid Ref: NY253 338).

The hills from Great Cockup to Knott, as seen from Bakestall

In the middle of the Northern Fells lies the rather desolate depression of 'Skiddaw Forest'. However, it is almost entirely without trees, instead being mainly heather. To its north, a group of grassy hills add a number of generally unremarkable fells to the pages of Wainwright's Walking Guide to the Northern Fells.

As Wainwright put it, "the whole of these uplands is a vast sheep pasture ... although relatively unexciting in scenic quality ... they are unspoilt, serene and restful".  So, for a quiet walk on gentle slopes, with a few surprises along the way, try the circular route outlined below.

Strava estimates a walking distance of 14 km

1) From the minor road to the south of Orthwaite, a track heads up to a gate and then continues around the bottom of the western ridge of 'Great Cockup' (what a great name for a fell!). Go through the gate but then make your way left, to leave the track and instead walk up the ridge, across the grass and bracken, towards the top of the fell. You can look across to your right towards Dead Crags, at the foot of Bakestall, and the Dash Falls beneath them.

Looking across towards Dash Falls and Bakestall

2) As you climb, there are also good views northwards towards the Solway Firth and the hills of Scotland. 

The views as you walk up Great Cockup

3) The steepness of the climb levels off a little, passing an old stone grouse butt, then climbs again to ascend to the top of the fell. It's about a 2 km walk from the road to the summit (1726'). 

The summit of Great Cockup ahead of you

4) There are a couple of small cairns in the grass to mark the highest points.

One of the cairns at the top of Great Cockup

5) Now continue east down the ridge on the other side of the fell towards the narrow valley of 'Trusmadoor' (another great name!).

Walking down towards the Trusmadoor valley

6) Avoiding the rocky slopes above the valley - a surprise amongst these grassy fells -  walk, to the right, across the top of Trusmadoor. 

Looking across Trusmadoor towards Meal Fell

The Scottish hills seen through the cleft of Trusmadoor

7) Now take the path up the slope beyond the valley which climbs, quite steeply, up to the top of Meal Fell.

Looking back towards Great Cockup as you walk up Meal Fell

8) The summit of Meal Fell (1804') provides another surprise because it boasts a large stone wall shelter on top of a rocky outcrop, unlike the grassy felltops around it.

On top of Meal Fell

9) In contrast, the next hilltop is a totally featureless grassy plateau which hardly deserves its impressive sounding name of "Great Sca Fell" (perhaps only 'great' to distinguish it from its near neighbour, "Little Sca Fell"). It is reached by continuing east to climb up the slope from Meal Fell. The top of the fell (2136') is so broad that there is no distinct summit.

On top of Great Sca Fell

10) From Great Sca Fell it's then a gentle enough stroll, across the peat hags, south to the top of Knott (2329'). There is a small cairn but otherwise the summit is flat and featureless with, as Wainwright suggests, springy turf that could be good enough for a game of cricket!

On top of Knott

11) Looking south you will see the peaked hill that provides the last summit of the day - that of Great Calva.

Great Calva, with Lonscale Fell behind it, from Knott

12) To reach Great Calva, you first have to walk down to the col to the south-west of Knott, then climb up to the rise of Little Calva on the other side. The going becomes very wet and boggy as the path slants left, up towards the fence running along the ridge of Great Calva. Cross (or wade!) over to the far side of the fence and then head left, to follow the path alongside the fence up to the top of Great Calva (2265')

Not the best-placed stile on the Northern Fells!

13) The rock-strewn summit is marked by a large cairn with old rusty fence posts thrown in for added interest.

The summit cairn on Great Calva

14) It's also worth walking a further 100 metres or so further along the ridge to the south cairn for a view down over the 'Skiddaw Forest' depression, and further south towards Thirlmere and Dunmail Raise.

Looking south over 'Skiddaw Forest' towards Dunmail Raise

Looking east towards Bowscale Fell and the distant Pennines

15) To return to your starting point, you could follow the fence line over Little Calva and return via Dash Falls. However, this route is very boggy. A better choice is to retrace your steps to the col between Little Calva and Knott, and then to descend westwards on an interesting path down the stony ravine carved out by the Hause Gill. From there, you can head back towards Orthwaite along the old bridleway that skirts around the bottom of Great Cockup.

Bakestall on the way back along the old bridleway

Worth knowing: In the section on Great Calva, Wainwright's Guide to the Northern fells points out that this fell is uniquely placed at the north end of a geological fault running south through the heart of Lakeland. The rift goes through St.John's in the Vale, Thirlmere and Dunmail Raise. It then continues through the Vale of Grasmere and right along Windermere.

This is why, from Great Calva's southern cairn, an uninterrupted view can be had all the way south to Dunmail Raise and beyond, looking right along the fault line.

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