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Along the Limestone of Cunswick Scar

The freedom of the heights, extensive views and varied flora, fauna and fossils make this an intriguing and liberating outing.

Distance 3 miles (4.8km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient 250ft (79m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Paths and tracks, can be muddy, take care as edge of scar is unguarded in places, 2 stiles

Landscape Fields and open fell along high limestone shoulder

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer OL 7 The English Lakes (SE)

Start/finish SD 489923

Dog friendliness Fellside grazed by sheep, dogs must be under control

Parking Beneath radio mast near top of hill

Public toilets None on route; nearest in Kendal

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1 Walk away from the road, cross the sloping limestone bed which forms the car park and take the track leading to the communications mast. Pass a low barrier then bear right to follow the narrow path through the wood. Leave the wood by a kissing gate at the junction of the stone walls. Look for a footpath sign 'Cunswick Fell'. Enter the field and continue along by the stone wall. On reaching the corner of the field go right and follow the path parallel to the wall. Continue over the humpback of the field and descend to pass a gate, beyond which the wall turns a sharp corner.

2 Bear left and follow a grassy path, making a slight descent before ascending to follow a raised shoulder. Continue to intercept a grassy track, with a stone wall on the right, and either cross the stile or take the gate through the wire fence. Follow the track along by the stone wall to bear right beyond the bottom of the dip. As the wall bends to the right the track rises off to the left. Follow the track for 50yds (46m) until a grass path bears off left in the direction of the top of the hill. Ascend directly to the summit cairn of Cunswick Scar - a commanding viewpoint.

3 Continue beyond the cairn and drop to the lower terrace edged by the scar. Take care here, the cliff face of the scar is unfenced at this point and reaches a vertical height of around 40ft (12m). Turn left, facing out, and bear south along the edge of the scar. A fence now runs along the edge of the crag. Keep along the rim of the scar through an avenue of gorse and hazel to the edge of a wall. Take the narrow path alongside the wall to find a stile crossing the fence.

4 Cross the stile and continue along by the wall before bearing left to merge with the original footpath at the end of the raised shoulder. Retrace your steps to join the dry-stone wall at its corner, with the gate just beyond. Pass the gate and follow the path along by the walls to the kissing gate at the edge of the wood. Follow the path left through the wood.

At the south western boundary of the Lake District National Park, Cunswick Scar is a high shoulder of white Carboniferous limestone running north to south. Its southern end links with Scout Scar, though a geological fault, taken by the high Underbarrow Road, has displaced the whole of Scout Scar westwards from the northern leg of Cunswick Scar and Cunswick Fell. From the east, gently sloping fellside rises to a height of 680ft (207m), before suddenly falling in a vertical face to present a long and spectacular cliff running above the woods and pastures of Underbarrow. The effect is dramatic and the tops of both Cunswick Scar and Scout Scar present wonderful views over Kentdale and the Lyth Valley, extending outwards to the Lakeland fells, Morecambe Bay and the distant hills of Yorkshire.

The naked white bones of both these scars are composed of pure Carboniferous limestone. This attractive alkaline rock, which has provided the building material for most of the nearby town of Kendal, is home to a rich flora and fauna and noted for its splendid fossils. It was formed some 270-350 million years ago when a warm shallow sea covered the central dome of Lakeland. Living in its waters were corals, brachiopods (shellfish), molluscs, gastropods (snails) and colonies of crinoids - sometimes referred to as sea lilies. The shell-like remains of these animals sank to the bottom of the seabed and, over the aeons, accumulated into thick layers or beds. These beds compacted together and solidified to form the brilliant white Carboniferous limestone we see exposed today.

By the end of the Carboniferous period the Lake District was buried under several thousand feet of limestone. A period of uplifting and folding, followed by arid desert conditions, stripped down through the limestone layers until, finally, the glaciation of the Ice Age (the last glacial retreat ending around 15,000 years ago) gouged, shattered and polished Cunswick Scar principally into the outline shape we see now. The more recent effects of freeze and thaw shattering has added the banks of scree seen to the west, beneath the scar. The dissolving action of carbolic acid, produced by endless rainwater, has resulted in the columns (clints) and deep vertical fissures (grykes) of the limestone pavements along the top of the scar.

The west face of the scar, overlooking the mixed woods, emerald fields, and the scattered white farmsteads of the Lyth and Underbarrow valleys, contrasts markedly with the starkness of the plateau above. On these cliffs, alongside the tenacious yew and pine, which have forced their way into secure rocky crannies, brightly coloured flowers abound in summertime. In June the prevailing colour of these flowers is yellow. Spreads of common rock rose, hoary rock rose, horseshoe vetch and hawkweeds drape across the rock ledges and look particularly striking against the grey whiteness of the limestone and the dark green foliage of the yew.

While you're there

To the west of the scar the quiet Underbarrow and Lyth valleys are worthy of exploration. The Lyth Valley particularly is noted for its damson trees. The damson is a form of small edible plum. In springtime its white blossom resembles the winter snows and in autumn it provides an annual harvest often used for jam or wine making.

Where to eat and drink

Kendal is close by and offers a huge choice. Underbarrow and the Lyth Valley lie to the east and there are a number of quaint little inns that offer bar meals. Nearest to the scar are the commonly named Punch Bowl inns at Underbarrow and Crosthwaite.

What to look for

There are many fossils to be found in the limestone of Cunswick Scar and Cunswick Fell. Particularly attractive are the corals, and there are at least three varieties to be found. The largest of these is the colonial coral which may form clumps of up to 1ft (30cm) in diameter. Molluscs are well represented and gastropods (snails) are abundant. Sometimes it is the hard calcium shell of the snail that has been preserved. On other occasions it is the spiralling softer inner-body of the snail that remains.

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