Walking the Birketts, Black Combe from the West

13th August 2020

Birketts Lakeland fells guide covers two Black Combe walks one of which ascends via White Combe from Beck Side and a second ascent from the west starting from Whit Beck. This walk gains Black Combe directly via Miller Gill which I was hesitant about as during my research I couldn't find much information on this direct route via the the bed of the gill so I reverted to Google Maps satellite images and zoomed in on Miller Gill where indeed I found the slightest of tracks leading into the gill which seemed to peeter out into nothing.

Being the height of Summer doesn't help with so much bracken and heather about so I resided to the fact that I will [attempt] to follow Birketts route as best I can but seeing as I'd chosen this walk as a sunset walk I was also against the clock.

I'm a huge fan of walking around dusk and with many failed attempts behind me this year I was determined to watch the sun go down and this walk suited my needs just perfectly. I'd given myself a three hour window, two hours to ascend and one to descend but If I'm honest I might have underestimated Birketts original route time of 2.5hrs (even Bill doesn't know how he came up with these times!) so I ended up changing the route where instead of ascending from the bed of Miller Gill I ascended via the west ridge above it.

The Complete Lakeland Fells
By Bill Birkett

Black Combe

This is an interesting way to tackle the dominant western aspect of Black Combe with the descent of its southern spur, over Townend Knotts and Seaness fully deserving its classic status.


Ascent: 1,855 Feet - 565 Metres
Birketts: 2, Black Combe - Black Combe South Top
Weather: Warm With A Slight Breeze Over The Summits, Hazey. Highs of 26°C Lows of 20°C
Parking: Layby, A595, Whitbeck
Area - Group: Southern - S/BLC
Miles: 4.5
Walking With: On My Own
Ordnance Survey: OL6
Time Taken: 3 Hours 15 Minutes
Route: A595 - Townend Gill - Whitbeck - Millerbeck Gill - Black Combe - Black Combe South Top - Seaness - Throstlerake Crag - A595

Parking Details and Map
Nearest Post Code: LA19 5UR
Grid Reference: SD 122 834
Notes: Located on the northbound carriageway of the A595 just before Whit Beck is reached is a layby large enough to accommodate up to six cars, look out for the blue 'P' sign and the layby is located 50 yards further up the road.


Map and Photo Gallery


Heading towards Townend Gill along the west flank of Black Combe 6:05pm 20°C

I arrived at the large layby around 5:30pm and parked up behind another car whose occupants had just left, one chap who was running closely followed by his mate on a bike. It was still hot with little to no wind and during the time it took me to lace up my boots my car was being attacked by so many flies I dared not leave the boot open through fear of more entering, the pesky sod's saw me leave earlier and quicker than I had intended but I just couldn't hang around any longer.

I picked up the path just behind the layby which at times, lead through shoulder high bracken before passing through a metal gate and more bracken. I'd only been walking for the best part of five minutes and already I had a fight on my hands which was when it occurred to me that I may have to repeat this later while wearing a head torch, something that I really didn't want to be doing. Right I said, you ain't going back through that later so I recalculated my timings (i.e. time spent at the summit ect) so I'd at least have the last light on my return.

I'm heading for the ridge seen in the distance which is divided by Miller Gill but first I have to cross Townend Gill.

Crossing Townend Gill.
Townend Gill was the first gill which required crossing which I found very 'ravine like' with its large crags and steep sides. The bottom of the gill was hidden in the undergrowth and it was worth a prod from my walking pole first before I stepped forward just in case I was going to end up to my knees in water.

Coastal wind farms see beyond Midtown Farm, Whit Beck.

Looking back towards Townend Knotts (left) and Seaness (right)
Birketts descent route will be via Seaness later where earlier I'd spotted the path which continued its descent through more high bracken, at the crossing I build a small stone cairn at the point where the path leads back through the bracken...just in case light isn't on my side later.

More coastal views as I start to gain height.
I by now had already committed not to following a vague path into Miller Gill and instead had decided to gain the west ridge above it.

Views into Miller Gill.
From my ridge ascent the path allows views into Miller Gill which I decide to follow. Black Combe summit can be seen in the centre of the photo.

Looking back at the sunlight over the Irish Sea.

Continuing to follow the path.

By now I'd made more commitments and changed my route again by continuing to the follow the path which soon starts to descend towards the bed of Miller Gill, if time allowed I would have continued to follow the path but to be honest I feel I'm making such a mockery of my plans and with time ticking away I decide to head (right) and ascend towards the top of the west ridge.

This wasn't as hard as it looked as I picked up a sheep trod which lead through the heather and bracken and then onto the Whicham footpath above.

Golden Irish Sea.

The only cloud in the sky...
...happenend to cross the path of the sunset...this photo was taken from the top of Miller Gill on the Whicham footpath.

Black Combe summit and shelter.

I wasn't alone as I joined the Whicham path close to the top of Miller Gill sighting a young woman who is also making her way towards the summit who as she returns, hi's are exchanged. I couldn't but help beat myself up a little at having being able to stick to the original route and, not even my plan B route due to the terrain I was presented with, but I knew I'd made the right decisions knowing that time was against me. I arrived at the summit at 7:50pm, ten minutes earlier than I had planned. The evening light was fantastic and the summit breeze had a slight nip to it causing the hairs on my arms to stand on end. I thought about having a wonder to Blackcombe Screes but decided against given it was just forty five minutes to sun down.

I look north towards Buckbarrow and Whit Fell but struggle to distinguish their summits through a mix of haze and low lying cloud, it's pretty murky out there but I'm unaffected here on Black Combe. I take in my surroundings until 8pm then wonder over towards Black Combe south top a short distance away.

Passing the unnamed Tarn between Black Combe and Black Combe South Top.

Black Combe South Top Obelisk.
Time is ticking away but I find ten minutes inbetween the south top and the Whicham footpath.

Time to take in the views.

West Cumbrian coast sunset.
Birkett recommends to descend the south top pathless before linking back up with the Whicham footpath (seen lower of photograph) which I do but not before coming to a stop to grab ten minutes me time where I open a family size pack of Walkers Paprika flavoured crisp which I eat while taking in this brilliant view.

Descending Black Combe towards Townend Knotts.
With my ten minute break over I get back on my feet and start my descent via the Whicham footpath where as you can see the light is beginning to fade and distant views over the Duddon Estuary are obscured by haze.

Even with a slight haze the sunset is looking gorgeous.

Flanking Seaness.
I broke away from the main Whicham path which descends back to Whicham or alternatively, towards Seaness summit, as I was descending Seaness (and not summiting) I took a rough descent between Townend Knotts and Seaness from where I picked up my descent path.

Amazing views as I begin my descent back to Whit Beck.

Where the sky seemlessly merges into the sea.

Sunset from above Whit Beck 8:45pm

With the light fading I took in the steep descent from Seaness and at the bottom where the path merges into the bracken, found the cairn I'd built just a few hours earlier. The noise of speeding traffic along the A595 brought me back to reality before my final descent through the shoulder length bracken which lead me back to the A595 and then the layby where my car was parked just a few meters away. The other car had long gone and so too had the flies that had caused my rapid exit earlier which in truth, I thank because had I not have left earlier than planned I'd have been fighting through the high bracken with just a head torch to see me through.

Back at my car I remove my boots with a feeling of utter content before witnessing the end of another day as the sun sets below the horizon leaving just a faded orange afterglow over the Irish Sea.


Back to top