Bowfell, known as Bow Fell on Ordnance Survey maps, is a pyramid shaped mountain lying at the very centre of the English Lake District, in the Southern Fells area. It is the sixth tallest mountain in the lakes and one of the most popular of the Lakeland fells, and there are a variety of routes to the summit.
The Southern Fells include the highest ground in England, a horseshoe which begins with Scafell and Scafell Pike in the west and then winds its way around the north of Upper Eskdale to take in Great End, Esk Pike, Bowfell and Crinkle Crags.
As well as Eskdale, Bowfell has a footing in two other well known valleys. It stands at the head of Great Langdale, its eastern ridge dividing the two branches of Mickleden and Oxendale, whilst northwards is the Langstrath branch of Borrowdale. From all of these valleys Bowfell provides a striking profile with a conical top resting upon a wider summit plateau.
North west of Bowfell the main ridge drops to the depression of Ore Gap, named for its reddish coloured soil, rich in haematite. Below the col on the north side of the ridge is Angle Tarn. This round waterbody occupies a corrie beneath Hanging Knotts, with small trout lurking in its waters. Its outflow is a tributary of the Langstrath Beck, heading for Stonethwaite. South of Ore Gap runs Yeastyrigg Gill, the main headwater of Lingcove Beck, flowing into the faster sections of upper Eskdale. Beyond the Gap the ridge makes the stoney three levelled climb to the white rocked summit of Esk Pike.
South of Bowfell the ridge drops away steeply to Three Tarns, the col separating it from Crinkle Crags. The depression gets its name from a number of small pools, often two, but frequently more after rain. Busco Sike to the east is the lengthiest feeder of Oxendale Beck in Great Langdale.
Bowfell sends out a pair of subsidiary ridges to the east. The Band is a descending rigg which begins from the southern end of the summit plateau. It is this ridge which divides Oxendale from Mickleden, making straight for Stool End Farm at the base of the valley. The Band has a small top about halfway down named White Stones, although most guidebooks do not consider of note. The other ridge begins at the north end of the summit plateau and crosses a sharp depression at the head of Rossett Gill making for Rossett Pike. The continuation of this ridge provides the connection to the Central Fells, forming the north wall of Great Langdale as it crosses Martcrag Moor, heading for the Langdale Pikes.
The main rocks on Bowfell are the volcaniclastic sandstones of the Seathwaite Fell Formation, with interbeds of andesite outcropping near the summit. The stony sandstone and breccias of the Pavey Ark Member also cross the fell. The summit area is a ridge running north to south with the last pyramid near the southwest corner and crags on three of its sides. The south face is formed by Bowfell Links, an impressive wall of crag scarred by nine vertical gullies and with corresponding tongues of scree at its base. A climb up these is neither pleasant nor particularly safe as they are extremely active loose rock channels. The east face carries a wealth of features including Flat Crag, Cambridge Crag and the Bowfell Buttress, the last two providing good climbing. Flat Crag includes the Great Slab, an incredible tilted sheet of rock which looks exactly how it sounds. Under these faces runs the Climber’s Traverse, a narrow path providing an excellent high-level walking route to the summit from the highest point of The Band. This largely horizontal line winds around beneath many of Bowfell’s most dramatic crags, eventualy reaching the summit via a rocky route known as the River of Boulders, running parallel to the Great Slab. Last but not least, on the north east corner of the summit ridge is Hanging Knotts, a complex series of faces and outcrops looking down upon Angle Tarn.
The tallest point carries not so much a cairn as a rearrangement of loose rock at the apex of the pyramid. The view is excellent, improved immeasurably by the steep final slope and lack of foreground. Every major group of fells in Lakeland is seen well from this superb observation point, the Helvellyn range from end-to-end and the Langdale Pikes across Langdale, but the centre piece of the view is Scafell Pike towering above Eskdale.
The Band provides the most popular climb, Bowfell’s majestic position at the head of Great Langdale acting as an irresistible magnet to many. Other ways from Langdale climb via Rossett Gill and Three Tarns. Bowfell can also be reached from Stonethwaite via Angle Tarn although the way is quite long. Equally time consuming although perhaps more picturesque is the long trek up Eskdale from Brotherikeld, gaining the ridge at either Ore Gap or Three Tarns. Other climbs can also be made via Crinkle Crags, Esk Pike or Rossett Pike.
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