15 September, 2013


Skiddaw from Keswick.  The central peak is the main summit and the peak to the right is Skiddaw Little Man

Skiddaw is one of my favourite hills in the Lake District.  Its graceful outline, rising elegantly above the lake of Derwentwater, is one of the classic views of the north Lakes, especially lovely in late summer when the heather clothing the slopes is in flower.

Skiddaw is one of the four summits in England that rise to a height of 3,000 feet above sea level (the others are Helvellyn [see earlier post on Helvellyn and Grisedale for some photographs], Scafell and Scafell Pike).

Skiddaw stands in the north-west of the Lake District, just north of the little town of Keswick at the foot of Derwentwater.

Zoom out to see the hill in relation to Keswick and the surrounding area, and use the arrow keys to move around.

The most popular way to climb Skiddaw is from Keswick (or from Gale car park at the road-end behind Latrigg, about a third of the way up from Keswick).  The bridleway, now a well-engineered path, climbs steadily up the south side of the massif above Whit Beck and then across Jenkin Hill.

Looking up Whit Beck and Jenkin Hill. The path is the clear grey line zig-zagging up the slope in the distance
I like to use the Jenkin Hill path as the descent route, so I can gaze at the lovely view south over Derwentwater to the central Lakeland fells all the way down.  For an ascent route, I like to walk around the eastern side of the massif and follow the track up the Glenderaterra Valley to Skiddaw House.  This route takes in the lonely country known locally as ‘Back o’ Skiddaw’ – behind Skiddaw as seen from Keswick.  This area of rounded heathery hills is in complete contrast to the dramatic rocky scenery of the central Lakeland fells, more reminiscent of the Southern Uplands or the Grampians of Scotland.

Back o’ Skiddaw
The contrast is due to the underlying geology.  Unlike the fells of central Lakeland, built of hard volcanic rocks that form dramatic crags and rock faces, Skiddaw and the surrounding hills are built of a metamorphic rock, Skiddaw Slate.  Laid down some 500 million years ago, the slate weathers into smooth slopes of grass, heather and scree.  The only building in the area is Skiddaw House, tucked under the eastern flank of the Skiddaw ridge in a small stand of sheltering trees.  Originally built as a shooting lodge, it was later used as shepherds’ and gamekeepers’ cottages, and is now a youth hostel.

Skiddaw House
From Skiddaw House, a path climbs over the rounded hill of Sale How and up to the summit ridge of Skiddaw.

View north-west from Skiddaw summit over Longside Edge and Bassenthwaite Lake to the Solway Plain, with the Solway Firth in the distance
Its height and position make Skiddaw an exceptional viewpoint, even by Lake District standards. East, south and south-west is a panorama of Lake District hills, with the Pennines in the distance on the eastern horizon.  The view north-west extends across the Solway Firth to Criffel and the Galloway Hills in southern Scotland, and west to the Isle of Man and even, on exceptionally clear days, as far as Northern Ireland.  It was somewhat hazy on the day I took this photograph, though, so Scotland is under the line of clouds on the horizon.

Skiddaw Little Man has a magnificent view over Keswick and Derwentwater, with the central fells in the distance.

View over Keswick and Derwentwater from Skiddaw Little Man

The name ‘Skiddaw’ (pronounced ‘Skidda’) is probably Norse.  The second element is probably from Norse ‘haugr’, meaning ‘hill’.  The first element is subject to debate, and could be from ‘skyti’ (‘archer’), ‘skuti’ (craggy ridge), or ‘skitha’ (firewood, kindling).  Skiddaw is distinctly short on craggy ridges, so the first or third seem most likely – either ‘archer’s hill’ or ‘the hill where firewood can be found’.

Evening light on Skiddaw


Beth said...

What amazing views - and it's a stunning fell. I like Back O' Skiddaw, too.

Carla said...

Back o'Skidda is really a unique landscape in the Lakes. The walk up the Glenderaterra valley to Skiddaw House is a good walk in its own right, even if you don't feel like (or the weather isn't up to) climbing Skiddaw itself. You can return down the mine track on the opposite side of the valley to vary the return route. Highly recommended. As is the walk up Skiddaw itself, especially if you can do it on a clear day. The clearest conditions I've had have tended to be in spring when there's a north-westerly airflow - it tends to be cold on the summit ridge with that weather pattern, but the view is well worth it!

Rick said...


And once again it is often suggestive of the American west, not my (stereotyped) mental image of Britain.

Carla said...

Rick - thanks! Maybe your mental image of Britain refers to the lowlands? Upland landscapes are quite different.