England’s Green and Wild Lands
So it’s now been well over a week since a long overdue return to the Lake District. It’s been about 3 years since I was last there and oh have I missed it. This is the corner of England that no matter what the weather its beautiful, in fact when it rains, and it frequently does, it adds to the majesty making the valleys greener, the mountains more menacing and the rivers wild. It really is a slice of heaven full of adventure and wonder and it was amazing to be back.
When I decided I was going to take a group of friends there this blog was already active, so I fully expected to be filling it’s pages fresh with the stories from an excited return to the Lakes. Instead it’s been nearly 10 days and that’s because of the bedlam of returning to normality. Since returning from a nearly 3 day trip, everyday life has somehow intervened to prevent me from writing about a mini adventure, and this is why I love to go walking and camping, to escape the madness, the phone signal, social media, everyday pressures. In the mountains these don’t exist, it’s just you and mother nature. Maybe this is escapism and why not. I work hard, like everyone else, so every now and then I want to forget it all, and I choose the mountains to help, in fact I’m already planning a week long trip in Just a few weeks time, I can’t wait, peace and quiet and mountains, bring it on!
Anyway, that’s enough of a ramble, to the trip itself and what a trip it was, 3 days around Upper Eskdale, including 2 wild camps and climbing England’s Highest, Scafell Pike. I know this area pretty well and have climbed this mountain many times, so as it was a return to the Lakes after a few absent years and I had some newbie friends, it seemed like the logical decision.
The route I used to take to reach our first overnight stop of the Great Moss was to turn left just past Scale Bridge and go straight over the low fells in between, however I adapted a few years back to take the path to the right of the River Esk via Lingcove Bridge although this did mean fording the river at some point to reach the best camping spots around Cam Spout Crag. This time however, to try something new I decided we would go via Scale Bridge and use the path on the right hand side of the River Esk. I chose this as it was new to me and I also that the Esk Valley with its rapids, falls and pools in such majestic cannot fail to impress new eyes.
So it was after a Friday journey up from Lincolnshire, stopping off at Leeds to collect passengers and an as always fun and exhilarating drive over the Wrynose and Hardknott passes we eventually reached the small car park in the woods, just at the bottom of the hill. Last minute packing and strap adjustments ensued and we were off.
It was early evening and although showers had been forecast, it was warm and clear, with a good breeze. Any coats or jumpers that had been worn were quickly dispensed of within a few 100 yards and a good pace was set. We climbed quickly, muscles tested and aching by the large packs that we didn’t even know about, but within a short space of time we reached our first stop, Scale Bridge.
Scale Bridge is a truly magical place and has always blown the mind of everyone I’ve ever had with me. It is beautiful, enthralling and you can’t help but want to climb on the rocks and cool off in the rush of water. It comes on you as a surprise too. You hear the thunder of the falls, long before you see it, and then all of a sudden you stride on to a bridge, straight out of an enchanted, mythical world. I’ve quite wondered if I’d I’ve have a troll jump when rinsing my face, it’s that kind of place.
Faces refreshed, we carried on. The path continued to ascend at a good rate, nothing too steady, but it felt good to be climbing, knowing the prize that awaited. The views just got better too as the River Esk came more into view and pastural green fields disappeared to be replaced with ferns and summer heather. Eventually as we traversed the side of the hill, we were presented with a majestic view of Upper Eskdale in all its glory, whilst looking down on the sheepfolds at Lingcove Bridge. I’ve camped there a few times, another good site, and clearly a good few had chosen to do the same. There were at least 6 tents spread out around the bridge, and whilst I would have been grateful for the rest, our prize was still to be secured, so onwards and upwards we pushed, with the path becoming steeper and narrower, and the drop to the river which seemed at times almost underneath us, becoming higher and higher. At times a loose rock would be dislodged by a lumbering boot and would very quickly disappear into the gaping chasm on our right. The bottom was not visible, however it was certainly water confirmed by the sound of the rock splashing loudly in to it. It was enough of a warning, that at points where a hand might be needed to navigate a particularly steep point, then that hand would definitely be gripped firmly to the rock!
We pushed on upwards with Scar Lathing standing imposing in front and just the tips of the Scafell Massif rising in the distance. The land was certainly becoming more wild, no tree had been spotted for some time and the stillness and quiet were becoming more pronounced.
The sun was slowly setting as the land began to open up and level out as we took our first steps on to the Great Moss. The River Esk acts differently here, it becomes wider, more gentle, but somehow more rugged. The whole feel of this place takes you away from England and transports you to somewhere more wild, more natural, it feels more like Canada, than Cumbria, it is quite simply breathtaking.
It felt amazing to be back and I could see our final destination of Cam Spout Crag across the valley, nestled under England’s tallest peaks. It was at this point that I made a video on my selfie stick to try and capture the rugged beauty and the stillness, I think I broke it though as I couldn’t help myself, but to finish the video with a mighty, bellowing ‘yes’!
Now for anyone that knows the Great Moss knows that it is in essence a very large sponge! Although it had been dry for a few days it was still sodden and it is always very difficult to cross without getting a little wet, as when you stand on what looks like solid ground and it turns out in fact to be a waist deep swamp! We did however make good progress and it was only until we were within a hundred yards or so of Cam Spout Crag that our party came a cropper when an unsuspecting foot disappeared into the squishy moss and received a good soaking! On dry days it is funny to see this happen, but I’ve been here on very wet days, and it’s not so amusing or avoidable and the consequences of having to try and dry off can be frustrating!
Still, no harm done and our campsite had been reached. In such a vast open valley we were alone, apart from two other tents. This is why it’s such a great route, because it’s so vast you always get it to yourself!
Tents were erected and a suitable slab of rock for a makeshift kitchen was found, which just so happened to also serve perfectly as seating. Beers were cracked open and the cooking commenced. There is something magical about food outside, I don’t know whether it’s because you’ve earned it more with a good walk, but it always tastes better! Dinner was wolfed down and it was great to be able to relax with good friends in such a magical place!
One of the party had brought some homemade Hungarian Brandy with him, so as the temperature dropped this was happily consumed to keep the internals warmed. It certainly had a kick to it and if I cooked with a Trangia, I dare say I could have had a ready fuel too!
We woke around 6.30 am to black clouds and the pitter patter of rain. The top of Scafell Pike and nearly every other fell had disappeared under a swirling blanket of low cloud. I sensed disappointment among the group as the weather forecast had been for clear sky’s and sunshine, so I just responded with ‘it always rains in the Lake District’. I was a little miffed myself though, as I really wanted for us all to have good views at the top, but ah well, it always rains in the Lake District!
We took our morning prep steady. We had a whole day to do what we wanted, so we had time on our side. I had a feeling, that by delaying, we might just get a break, and so it was mid morning, the clouds began to break and the tops burst through! Obviously Scafell Pike still clung on its crown of clowds, but this was a good sign, we were off!
Our route was simple, straight up to Mickledore from the Great Moss and then on to the top of England and across to Sprinkling Tarn via Broad Crag, Ill Crag, Great End and Esk Hause! It’s a punishing climb up, but incredibly rewarding and a fairly gentle route once you’ve summited Scafell Pike.
First stop before ascending the waterfalls and pools of How Beck for much needed refreshments. Now I’m not advising anything, but in all the years I’ve been going, I’ve always drank straight from this stream. It tastes delicious, ice cold and I’m still alive, but it’s individual choice. If you do, just make sure you drink from the fastest flowing water!
From here it’s a steep climb up, with all hands on deck, but you ascend fast. Climb up anything steep enough to require your hands can be challenging, but when you’re carrying a pack, well let’s just say that you’re fully aware that your centre of gravity is slightly off and that it’s a bloody long drop, particularly in any strong gusts of wind!
The climb doesn’t really relent. Occasionally it’s a bit more level walking as you climb towards the top of England, but then you’ll have to tackle a bit where the loose rock slips below your feet, and then you’ll have to use your hands again, so it certainly never stops being a challenge. It sometimes makes you question why you’re doing something so stupid, so painful on your legs and that makes you feel breathless, hot and sweaty, but no pain, no gain, right? And what a gain it is, when you see the views, you feel the achievement, is it worth it, hell yes it’s worth it!
Eventually we reached the mountain rescue stretcher box at the Col between Scafell and Scafell Pike, and we dropped our packs. We had all felt the climb and it was great to be able to sit down and take in the view, looking back down, right down on where we had come up from. I was getting excited at this point.
Cloud was still swirling around the tops and a group heading down had confirmed miserably that the summit view was nonexistent. I thought I’d try and get a picture of Wast Water and unfortunately their prognosis was confirmed. Although there were good views out towards the the east and South with Windermere and Morecambe Bay shining in the distance, the view to the west was a wall of angry, swirling cloud, bugger, maybe we weren’t going to get good views after all.
Everyone was still feeling the climb, so we decided to take a good break. Why not we had a view, which we weren’t going to do on top, so out came the chocolate bars, which then very quickly disappeared. Then something magical happened, the cloud lifted and the whole of the Lake District opened up! Views exposed in every direction, yes the cloud was still there, swirling, just over our heads, but it was clear, it was time to get to the top!
Rucksacks back on, the final push, finally began! How long would it be came the question, not long! Follow the cairns, up, up and up. You’ll know when you’re at the top, you can’t physically be any higher, onwards, onwards! As the ground began to level out on to the summit plateau, so the crowds began to emerge. I was actually quite shocked by the number of people, but I’ve never seen it that busy before, literally hundreds of people, although the vast majority with their trainers and jeans had ascended from Wasdale, hoping to bag a mountain and be back down in the pub before anyone noticed. I have to say that when we eventually touched the summit cairn, it felt like achievement. I’m not saying the casuals had cheated, but we definitely knew we’d climbed England’s highest, by its most rugged and longest route, our aching legs and muscles confirmed it!
Obligatory summit photos taken with coats on because it was bloody chilly in the wind, we settled in for lunch in one of the stone shelters. Some of these are very impressive with high walls, ours was not so high, but it still afforded enough protection from the biting wind and a chance to sit down and bask in the majesty of being on the highest point in a country. With the cloud continuing to lift, the views weren’t too bad either!
We stayed for a good amount of time, each celebrating in their own way, although we did come together for a welcome and warming shot of Hungarian Brandy. With the visibility getting better by the second and our route ahead clear, we set off. We descended fast, the path down to Broad Crag Col is incredibly steep, but we were soon ascending again to go and capture Broad Crag. After a short, but fun climb across the huge boulders of Broad Crag we reached its summit and we were blessed to find it completely empty. The joy of the casuals is that they head for the biggest and ignore everything else and so it was great to have a peak to ourselves!
A short descent later and we were resting by a cairn on the large mountain plateau of Ill Crag. I briefly left my colleagues at this point to go and capture the summit of Ill Crag itself knowing that some of the best views of Scafell Pike are afforded by its gnarled peak. They were happy to rest, I wanted the summit and its view. This may have been caused by my elation of reaching this point, as a few years back one trip had gone disastrously wrong in bad weather and I had lost my way becoming crag fast on Broad Crag and ended up calling Mountain Rescue. Regardless of my motivation, the summit view did not disappoint and it was well worth the short excursion!
I eventually met back up with my friends and our journey continued on the huge bulk that is Great End. I’ve always thought that Great End is one of those mountains its better to look at, than to be on, however you do get a pretty good view of Sprinkling Tarn, our destination, with Keswick and Derwent Water in the distance.
We carried on, this time descending, and this time for the last time that day. Esk Hause was reached and we swung back on ourselves to with the imposing face of Great End on our right. It really is grand when looking at it and it’s name is the greatest compliment you can pay, Great End.
We eventually reached Sprinkling Tarn and what a sight it was. I absolutely love this place, it is by far my favourite destination in the Lake District. I think its beautiful, magestic, wild and peaceful and I absolutely love camping here. Clearly so do lots of other people as we certainly weren’t alone, I counted at least 40 other tents, but why would you not want to camp here. Besides there’s definitely enough space for everyone and even with all the other campers, it still felt remote.
We set up camp in a little nook which would provide ample shelter should the weather change and settled in. Food and beers consumed and the sun setting, it felt great to be there and to look back on a brilliant day’s walking. I knew I’d have to leave in the morning, but I really feel like I could spend a lifetime up there, it’s just a magical, special place.
We were unsure what the weather would be in the morning, but we awoke to another stunning day and it really is not the worst place to wake up in.
Breakfast eaten and bags our final day started. There was some disagreement over what this should be, but eventually it was decided, due to it being Sunday and work being on Monday, that we would get to Esk Hause and descend straight down the Esk Valley and back to the cars. The weather was glorious as we descended, with our alternate route of Bow Fell and the Crinkle Crags slowly disappearing from view. This is a fast route and the descent happens quickly. Within just a couple of hours you can reach Lingcove Bridge and shortly after Hardknott Pass, however unless your in a rush, take your time as the views and sights are as good as any other.
Eventually we reached the car and by then it had become positively warm. We had all been tempted by the sparkling pools of the River Esk and had time been on our side, I think we probably would have all been for a rewarding and refreshing swim. However, something else rewarding and refreshing was calling and so it was within about 20 minutes, we had managed to find ourselves a pub to enjoy a well deserved post walk pint, and gosh it felt good!
And so our mini Eskdale adventure had come to an end. We had camped in two spectacular locations, we had climbed England’s highest mountain, we had come through mostly unscathed, we’d avoided the rain (mostly) and we had managed to finish it in the best way possible, with a pint!
It had been great to be back, but now it was over, all to quickly and the madness of everyday life was about to come crashing down. I didn’t want to leave, the trip had reminded me how much I love being in the hills, in fact I’m going back to the Lakes in a few weeks time and this time I’m not going for a weekend, I’m going for a week. This time I’m not going to rush down from the top, or rush back to the car, I’m going to take my time and savour every moment. I’m going to climb new fells and discover new places, I’m going to get wet because it always rains in the Lake District and I’m going to fall in love with it even more. I just hope a week is long enough, I doubt it will be!