Fell Tops and Dales and Tarns! Oh My!!

After completing our hiking adventures in Ireland, we continued them in England. Having heard of the famous and beautiful Lake District, we were eager to get up those fells of northwestern England and see the views. This blog will be a bit different than the usual narrative with pictures. Today I’m presenting a history lesson followed by vocabulary. Wait! Don’t run off! You’ll be entertained. I promise.

Alfred Wainwright–The Father of Fell Walking

Alfred Wainwright is famous for his seven-volume Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells. He began his love of fell walking in his mid-20’s, and was taken by the unique beauty of the lakes and fells. As he visited each fell, he kept a record of each walk, describing and illustrating unique routes and scenery. In all, there are 214 fells described in his guides, each one handwritten with pencil drawings of the fell tops and surrounding view. The 214 fells are now commonly known as “Wainwrights” and completing all 214 gets your name in the Long Distance Walkers Association registry. Walking and hiking enthusiasts from all over the world, as well as the hardy locals, find their best days hiking the Wainwrights. And so did we…

Fells, Crags, Ghylls, Tarns…

There’s a unique set of vocabulary associated with the topography in and around the Lake District. Although many of the geographic terms are also used in other countries, they are definitely prominent in the Lake District. Here’s your vocabulary lesson.

FellA high and often barren mountain or hill. To an Oregonian, like me, the elevation of the fells hardly feels like a mountain. The lowest Wainwright, Castle Crag, is only 951 ft (290m) high, with the highest being Scafell Pike at 3,209 ft (978m). Don’t let that fool you, however. Most hikes start near sea level, with challenging steep climbs. Most fell walkers plan their days to include “bagging” several fells. Mark’s longest hike was a 14-miler, with 10 fells bagged.

CragA steep, rugged rock face or cliff. Generally, I’m not a huge fan of hiking close to any geographic feature that has the words “rock face” or “cliff” in it as I’m generally afraid of heights. After a few months of hiking fells with the name “crag” in it, I’ve become a bit more brave.

PikeA mountain or hill having a peaked summit. A few of you are saying, “duh!” right now. But, there are a surprising amount of Wainwright fells with rounded or even imperceptible summits. Which brings me to my next vocab word…

Cairn–A pile of rocks marking the fell top, or summit. Sometimes the fell top is marked with a trig point, or concrete pillar erected by the British Ordnance Survey. Other fell tops are are marked by summit cairns, a rough pile of stones. Some are small, some are very large. Cairns are also used to mark paths leading to the summits. These can be especially useful when the clag (fog or mist) is particularly thick.

Stickle–A prominent rocky top to the fell. A pike could be a stickle, but they aren’t necessarily the same. A pike could be a peaked summit without a rocky top. Harrison Stickle and Pike ‘O Stickle are two prominent Wainwrights we have yet to summit.

Dale–A Valley. England has some epically beautiful dales. Great Langdale is one of our favorites in the Lake District. The year-round rainy, mild weather makes for stunning green dales filled with farmhouses and sheep.

Water, Mere, Lake–Basically these are all larger bodies of water. Bassenthwaite Lake is technically the only “lake” in the Lake District. The others are called water or mere. Windemere, Grasmere, and Buttermere are a few examples. A mere is shallow in relation to its size. Derwentwater and Wast Water are beautiful, larger bodies of water. You would not say, “Let’s go boating on Buttermere Lake.” No need to add “lake” after any body of water with mere or water in the name.

Tarn– A small mountain lake. These are a treat after grudging up steep terrain for a few hours. My favorite is Innominate Tarn. It’s name, ironically, means “without a name.” Innominate Tarn is near the summit of Haystacks and is where Alfred Wainwright’s ashes were spread.

Ghyll, Gill, Beck, River, Force– A gyhll is a ravine or narrow valley leading down a mountainside. A gill is a narrow stream. A beck is also a stream that flows down a ghyll. A river is, well, a river. And a force is a waterfall. Aira Force, in the Ullswater area, is the most famous waterfall in the Lake District.

The beauty of the Lake District made me fall in love with the hard work of fell walking, while the place names made me giggle. When we returned to the US in November, we left behind dozens of fell tops left to be “bagged.” We’re returning this spring of to see familiar favorites and discover the rest.

Won’t you….

Go with me?

Photography by Mark Leedom

Published by GoWithMe

I'm a newly retired 4th grade teacher. Hubby and I caught the travel bug. So, we're starting out our retired lives visiting new places to see what we can see.

Join the Conversation


  1. You and Mark should publish a travel log – like no one’s suggested that before! 😄
    Beautiful photos, thank you for sharing your journey. The Grains Gill waterfall is my favorite. Blessings on your heads!


  2. I agree and I love all the pics, history, and just being able to see new places that y’all explore during your travels. Enjoy your adventures and safe travels! Hugs


Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: