Black Combe is the Lake District's only truly coastal mountain. As you drive south along the Cumbrian coast the wide plains of the north slowly narrow until south of Eskdale they form an increasingly narrow coastal strip. At the southern tip of Black Combe that coastal strip is less than a mile wide, and a pleasant (if somewhat windy) beach runs parallel to the western flank of the fell (with parking at Silecroft).
Black Combe's position gives it two distinctive features - first the wide ranging sea views from the summit and the southern and western slopes (I've photographed North Wales from the southern slopes). Second, the fell is visible and easily identifiable from large parts of the southern Lakes and the area around Morecombe Bay.
Black Combe has the largest land area of any Lake District fell, although its exact borders in the north aren't that clear - here we take it to include Whitecombe Head and Swinside Fell - Whitecombe Fell is really a minor rise on the fell's northern ridge and Swinside Fell the far northern slopes of the fell.
The fell gives birth to one of the area's shortest rivers, the Annas. This is formed by the merger of Crookley Beck and Kinmont Beck at the south-eastern corner of Bootle (just at the point where the road through the village reaches the water). This river flows south-west towards the sea, but at the coast turns right and runs north, parallel to the sea, for a mile and a quarter
Black Combe can claim a number of villages. Bootle, to the north-west, is the biggest, with a good cafe and butchers. Whitbeck, on the south-western slopes, is just off the main road and is thus often ignored. At the southern tip are the villages of Silecroft and Whicham
Grid Reference of Summit: SD 135 854
Routes of Ascent
The best known path up Black Combe comes from Whicham, comes up Moor Gill onto Townend Knotts and then climbs up the higher slopes towards the summit. Another path comes up Whitecombe Beck to Whitecombe Head, from where the summit can be reached around the op of the combe. From the north the gentle grassy slopes offer any number of routes, with some parking on the Corney Fell road which crosses the high ground just to the north. Finally a good track heads up the north-western flanks of the fell starting just south of Bootle. This starts by climbing up to the north-east, then turns east/ south-east before finally approaching the summit from the north.
We have one ascent of Black Combe, using the Whicham route but starting from the easy parking on the A 595 just to the south of Whitbeck.
Streams and Tarns
The northern border of the fell is formed by Peathouse Beck (flowing east) and the upper reaches of Crookley Beck (flowing west).
In the north-east Peathouse Beck flows out of Black Combe. The boundary is then formed by Whicham Beck, which rises between Whitecombe Head and Swinside Fell then turns south and runs down the Whicham valley, eventually reaching the sea in rather confused flat ground between Silecroft and Kirksanton.
A series of becks flow down from the eastern and south-eastern slopes of the beck to run into Whicham Beck, starting with Stoupdale Beck. Blackcombe Beck is formed just under the summit, then flows into Whitecombe Beck and the combined streams flow south into Whicham Beck. Next is Hallgill Beck and finally Moorgill Beck, which flows close to the main footpath from Whicham.
On the western side of the fell a series of becks run west down the steep sides of Black Combe, before turning north on the coastal plain to run into the River Annas. From south to north we find Townend Gill, Millergill Beck, Monkfoss Beck, Holegill Beck, Hallfoss Beck and finally Crookley Beck. Most of these becks cut steep sided valleys into the steep western lower slopes, giving the western flanks of the fell their distinctive appearance.
Crookley Beck has a series of tributaries that rise on Black Combe. The beck rises at Black Dub, between the northern slopes of Black Combe and Stoneside Hill. As it flows west it picks up Grassoms Beck, then Grassgill Beck (which itself has a tributary in Hentoe Beck). At Bootle Crookley Beck merges with Kinmont Beck to form the River Annas
Black Combe has a share in the tiny Black Dub at its northern tip. It can also make a claim to Barfield Tarn, in the flat ground south of Bootle. There is also a small un-named tarn on the summit plateau.
Black Combe's most impressive visual feature is the combe itself, a massive rocky scope that has been cut out of its eastern flanks, starting just to the north-east of the summit.
Black Combe has also inspired one of our poems.