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Case Studies - Lord’s Rake, Scafell, Lake District

Lord’s Rake is a long, steep, narrow gully with high rock sides. It is located close to the summit of Scafell Pike and is commonly used as one of the routes of ascent up Scafell. This is a popular route for climbers and walkers, and is described in detail in Alfred Wainwright’s guide to the Central Fells and other guide books.

In early 2002, a large slab of rock detached from the western side wall and became wedged across the top of the Rake. This rock had large cracks and was clearly unstable. There was a risk that this rock might fall down the Rake. If this occurred whilst people were in the Rake, they would almost certainly be killed. Over time there have been further rock falls.

In March 2003, the wall on which the slab was resting itself collapsed, causing secondary falls of rock and generating very unstable material.

Further reconnaissance by independent writers indicates that the whole rock wall above the Rake is slowly becoming detached from the surrounding rock, and will in time collapse into the Rake, as indicated below.

The National Trust is the owner of the land. Trust staff have been monitoring the situation for some while, together with members of the Wasdale Mountain Rescue team. The following precautions have been implemented:

  • advice has been sought from a geo-technical expert
  • signs have been placed at both approaches to Lord’s Rake warning of the danger
  • notices and information have been placed in various car parks and at Wasdale campsite to encourage people to plan an alternative route avoiding Lord’s Rake
  • a system has been introduced for regular checking of all signage and information
  • the hazard has been communicated to relevant magazines and groups

In addition, regular information updates have been placed on the Wasdale Mountain Rescue web site www.wasdale-mountain-rescue.org.uk, and on www.felltreks.co.uk.

It is probably the issue of signage in relatively remote mountain areas that has generated most concern, in particular from the British Mountaineering Council’s local Mountain Liaison Group, and the Lake District National Park. There are fears that increased signage in open country damages the beauty of remote natural landscape, and may set precedents for other locations.

A risk assessment has been carried out and reviewed regularly, taking into account the VSCG Guiding Principles. There has been much discussion on whether the feature should be categorised as rugged or wild terrain. Normally, there would be a presumption that terrain of this type, at a height of over 2000’, and at least one and a half hour’s strenuous walk from the nearest car park would be categorised as wild terrain. In such wild mountain areas, one would expect no or minimal management intervention, and an advanced level of user skills, knowledge and self-reliance. However, in reality, many people who attempt this route to ascend one of England’s highest mountains, particularly in summer, are ill-equipped and under-prepared. The location has therefore been categorised as rugged terrain for the period from Easter to October, and wild mountain terrain for the winter months.

At first sight, the actions taken appear to be contrary to one of the fundamental guiding principles, i.e. that we should not take away people’s sense of freedom and adventure. We recognise that people should be free to participate in high-risk activities such as fell walking, but so long as they are aware of the risks. In the Lord’s Rake situation, the problem is that even experienced and able fell walkers would not be aware of the specific high risk from falling and unstable rock until they were half way up the Rake in an exposed and vulnerable position. The National Trust has placed greater emphasis on some of the other guiding principles – the need to ensure that visitors are aware of the risks they face, the need to inform and educate visitors about the nature of any hazards, and the importance of finding the right balance between user self-reliance and management intervention. At the same time, the Trust must take account of both its moral duty to all visitors, and its legal duties under health and safety and occupier’s liability legislation. The precautions adopted for Lord’s Rake are site- and time-specific, are based on a local risk assessment, and will be reviewed and adapted as natural erosion processes continue.

This case study was written by and was published in August 2003

This website entry was last updated on 9 November, 2006

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