In philately, “gap fillers” are stamps of an inferior quality that you keep in your collection pending the acquisition of a fine version. The stamps may have clipped perforations, they may have a tear, or have a heavy cancellation. They are authentic versions of the stamp, but just not the one you aim to keep long-term.

I have taken the same approach with my collection of summit photos for the Wainwright tops. I always photograph the summit even if conditions are not ideal. Usually this means the top was “clagged in” when I visited and there were no views out. I have plenty of photographs of cairns whose ghostly forms sit, disembodied in a sea of mist. Those photos are my gap fillers. I was there and I did take a photograph, but it’s not a “keeper”.

Since starting on my second round of the Wainwrights, I’ve been prioritising those tops where the original photo was of poor quality with the aim of completing a full set of 214 photographs taken in good conditions and showing the full context of each summit. To date, I’d managed to rephotograph all the poorest images except for Slight Side and Scafell. So that was my objective on this walk. If I could achieve that, all future photos would simply be improved versions of already acceptable images.


I had been in Southport all week, staying at Churchgate. Mum had moved into a care home on Monday and I’d spent the week helping with the transition. My brother had already prepared the room and my sister was also there to help out. We’d visited regularly in the first few days, ensuring she had everything she needed, but now was the time to drop back and let her settle in to her new home.

Scafell from Wha House route map.
Scafell from Wha House (13.5km and 1023m of ascent). Start/end: Wha House car park.

I left Southport at 6am and drove to the small car park at Wha House. It was a beautiful morning and traffic was light. I arrived at my destination at 8.30am. En route, I drove over Birker Fell and past the place where Dad’s ashes were scattered. One way or another, I’d been close to both parents this week.

I easily parked up, there were only two other cars there when I arrived, and set off under beautiful blue skies. There was not a cloud in sight and my only concern was that it might become uncomfortably hot for fellwalking.

The small car park at Wha House.
The small car park at Wha House. There is room for 8 or 10 cars so an early start is essential!

As on my previous visit, I was taking the so called “Terrace Route” and despite there being a four year gap between visits, it all looked remarkably familiar, except that it wasn’t raining this time. It always surprises me that the brain is able to store the memories of places visited only once and only briefly, even though there are few obvious landmarks. It must be a primal skill, without which, early man could not have survived. I was very happy to be tapping into that part of my brain.

View across Eskdale to Bowfell from the Terrace Route.
The rugged landscape of Eskdale. Looking across the valley to Bowfell from the Terrace Route.

So the route out to Slight Side, via Cat Crag was just as I had remembered it. I arrived at Cat Crag just before 10am, where I paused for a while to take in the remoteness of the surrounding landscape. There was no one in sight and I could clearly see the route up to Slight Side summit, which was in bright sunshine, although a few white, fluffy clouds had begun to develop.

Slight Side from Cat Crag.
The rocky outcrop of Cat Crag, looking north to Slight Side and Scafell.

The pull up to Slight Side summit is quite steep and I began to sweat in the warmth of the sun. However, as I climbed those white fluffy clouds developed into a canopy of grey. There are always pros and cons to these conditions. On the one hand, the cloud provided some welcome shade and the temperature dropped, making the climb more comfortable. On the other hand, I didn’t want to arrive at the summit only to find another gap-filler scene.

I arrived at Slight Side summit at 11.30am. Although the cloud had continued to thicken, the base was quite high and I could clearly see all the surrounding tops, Scafell, Long Green, Scafell Pike, Esk Pike, and Bowfell. I took lots of photographs to ensure I had at least one keeper but found it quite difficult to get a satisfactory angle. Eventually, I decided I’d taken enough and dropped down to the route that continued over Long Green.

Slight Side summit from the north.
Looking back to Slight Side summit from the route to Long Green. Two walkers are standing at the summit.

Long Green doesn’t get enough plaudits in my opinion. It provides a lovely, lofty walk in the company of the highest mountains in England and it does so with little difficulty for the walker. On my last visit I was caught in a torrential rainstorm and had to shelter by a small crag. This time, there was no danger of rain, but the cloudbase was getting lower and I could see wispy cloud around Scafell summit. It never really threatened to spoil the day but it did provide plenty of “atmosphere” at the summit of Scafell.

I reached the top just before 1pm and just in time for lunch. Cloud moved in and out, hiding and then revealing excellent views across Mickledore to Scafell Pike.

Great Moss and Crinkle Crags from Long Green.
Looking down to Great Moss and the River Esk, and across to Crinkle Crags from the route between Slight Side and Long Green.

After lunch and the taking of many summit photos, I set off to explore the interesting summit area. I visited Symonds Knott and gazed down Deep Gill thinking you’d have to be mad to try getting down there. As Wainwright noted, “One glance at Deep Gill from above will be enough to discourage most people from entering it.” I then clambered over to the top of Broad Stand, the scene of regular call-outs by Wasdale Mountain Rescue. There are fantastic views looking across Mickledore to Scafell Pike and it must be tempting to think that it’s possible to scramble down and across to England’s highest mountaintop. In Wainwright’s description of the summit, Broad Stand is labelled simply as “not for walkers”.

Long Green.
Looking back to Long Green from the rising footpath to Scafell. Slight Side is in the middle-distance on the right.

There is no doubt that Scafell summit is one of the more interesting mountain places in the Lake District, and I spent a happy hour and a half with the place mostly to myself. Across the void I could see hundreds making the trek to the summit of Scafell Pike and congratulated myself for not being one of them.

At around 2.30pm I returned to the summit cairn, said goodbye with a few more photos and then set off back to Slight Side. I had hoped that the cloud might have lifted while I was there but it remained pretty much the same throughout my visit.

The summit cairn at Scafell.
The rock platform and small summit cairn at Scafell with Scafell Pike on the left and Bowfell on the right.

At Slight Side, I dropped down the same way I’d come up but hoping to find the path across Quaggrig Moss and over to Eel Tarn, coming out at the Woolpack Inn. It was the same path I’d tried to find on my previous visit and, once again, I was unable to find it. I now suspect that there probably isn’t an identifiable path at all and I should probably have just followed the GPS across open fell.

I wasn’t too worried, the further away from Slight Side I got, the more the weather improved and by the time I got back to the car park, it was a beautiful sunny day again.

View across to Scafell Pike from the top of Broad Stand.
View across Mickledore to Scafell Pike from the top of Broad Stand. A small crowd is gathered at the rotunda (as usual).

I had intended to leave the Lake District at a good time in order to avoid the advancing hoards coming for the Spring Bank Holiday weekend but it was already twenty to six when I arrived at the car. Twenty minutes later I’d changed my shoes, had a drink, and was on my way back to Southport. I stopped off at Birker Fell and looked back to Scafell, now completely free of cloud and mist – typical.

I took the road from Ulpha towards the A595 and passed a stream of oncoming traffic on the narrow lane. Just before reaching the main road, some idiot in a camper-van (who obviously didn’t know its width) took out my driver-side wing mirror and I had to drive back to Southport without one – pretty difficult when driving on the M6 motorway.

I got back to Churchgate just after 8.30pm and had fish and chips for supper. It had been an excellent day and, despite the low cloud, I’d managed to get two photos I would use to replace the gap fillers.

26th May 2023
Slight Side