Impressions of Eskdale
As the Northern Rail diesel slowly rattled over the bridge near Arnside, the sun blazed in the cobalt blue sky, sparkling on the water as I watched the wailing gulls. At Ravenglass I sat on the platform and basked in the warmth of the late September sun as I waited for ‘La’al Ratty’, the steam train to arrive. From the open carriage the coastal scene opened up before me, smoke, soot and steam blew in my face from the engine, and I eyed the bulky rucksack sitting beside me on the wooden slats with just a hint of apprehension.
At Eskdale I alighted, and after the train had puffed on its way silence, apart from the rustle of fallen leaves in the breeze and birdsong. A brisk walk down the road to the King George, and a seat in the beer garden in the golden afternoon sunshine to meet my friend Matt, and discuss our walking plans for the next couple of days. An almost unprecedented decision was made to spend the first night at a campsite, as my walking companion had endured the twin perils of rain and rising waters on his camp the previous night. A brief walk up the road again and my first sight of the Fisherground campsite. A secluded pitch was chosen under a mighty oak, with adjacent firepit and wood purchased for later burnings. After an excellent tea at the George involving the meatiest steak pie I’ve ever experienced, and a pint of fine blonde lakeland ale, I wandered back up the road in the dusk to locate my tent. A nip of whisky, a brew and one hearty fire later I retired, but not before I noticed a very satisfactory scattering of stars in the blackness above me.
A first wander in Wasdale
From Fisherground we struck off along the road, crossing the tracks at Beckfoot station. I felt a clutch of excitement, I’ve wanted to gaze on Wasdale since I started visiting this area a year ago, and a last minute fine tuning of plans was apparently going to grant my wish. Up towards Blea Tarn we headed, with the green of the bracken slowly turning to gold, and hints of russet and copper just starting to touch the tops of the trees, and the steel grey waters of the tarn seeming almost to meet the clouds.
Over Eskdale Moor, past remnants of prehistoric stone circles to Burnmoor Tarn on Eskdale Fell, with its ruined fishing lodge. As we shrank behind a wall out of the rain to have lunch, I wondered what it would have felt like to spend time in that lonely hut with just the hills and sky for company.
As we neared Wasdale, the palate of colours changed again. Sooty grey clouds contrasted with wisps of white against the pure gold of the bracken clad fells. We picked our way over the dry rocks of a stream bed that would have seen a raging torrent in winter, towards the place of homage that is the Wasdale Head Inn. A seat was taken in the beer garden, a pint of glorious golden ale consumed, and I was ready to completely wimp out and pop my tent up in the already crowded camping field adjacent to the pub.
Matt however reminded me that we still had to get up to our intended wildcamp location at Styhead Tarn, and with the shadows already lengthening, time really was of the essence. I was lulled into a false sense of security by the golden evening light and the ale inside me but there were a couple of extremely tricky moments negotiating the narrow rocky ledges around the base of Napes Needle, before we dropped down towards the tarn. There we encountered a veritable crowd of fellow campers, who’d clearly had the same yearning for a Saturday night tarn camp as us. With the light slowly fading I tried not to make too much of a hash of putting Archie up in the strengthening breeze, but I suspect the dubious flapping noises gave me away.
Styhead Tarn and Seathwaite Fell
Due to the friskiness of the wind during the night, and completely unfounded fears of my tent blowing away I can’t say that I slept well. Rather surprisingly, Matt seemed to fare better under his extremely well- ventilated tarp than I did in my cosy little tent. He is, however, made of sterner stuff than I. After breakfasting on tea and chocolate biscuits I packed up, as we now had an intensive exploration of Seathwaite Fell to look forward to.
As we headed up towards the familiar scenery of Sprinkling Tarn, we met a father & his 6 year old who’d just done her first wildcamp up at the tarn. It made me think what a wonderful location and experience it would be for a child, and vowed that one day I’d take my son on such an adventure.
As we reached the top of Seathwaite Fell, with the cold cloud swirling around us it was like entering another world. Dozens of tiny tarns and mini cairn topped peaks, casually dotted about the undulating ground, making it virtually impossible to judge which might be the highest point. Sheer rock faces drop into the tarns and random bits of rock poke out of the water right where they’ve fallen. Grey fissured rocks jut from the brown dying grass and green bog rushes. Fingers of mist part periodically to lend tantalising glimpses into adjacent valleys and to reveal hidden peaks and tarns, before the view is swallowed up again by whiteness.
This is by far the most interesting fell I’ve stood upon to date, as you could spend literally hours exploring its tarns and rocky outcrops without knowing what’s around the next corner. It might in time become a favourite fell, but I don’t feel I’ve seen enough yet to judge.
Angle Tarn and a change of plan
Our plan had been to bag the best camp spot at Angle Tarn, before the usual crowds descended on it for the night. However, as we approached, spits and spots of drizzle and menacing low clouds hovered over the surrounding peaks, dark, threatening and full of rain too, by the looks of them. We sat down by some rocks for an impromptu brew laced with whisky, and a rethink. Should we stay up high and wildcamp at the tarn, in possibly inclement weather and risk a rush for the bus in the morning, or should we descend this evening and hopefully get a good spot at the National Trust campsite at Langdale ? The lure of a hot shower, dinner in the pub and a pint was too much even for Matt. This choice allowed a leisurely stroll down towards Mickleden to bag Rossett Pike, where we even had time to chat to people on the summit. There was the usual minor panic on the way down, would the campsite be full, etc, etc, but our fears were groundless.
As we entered the shop to book our pitches, we encountered intrepid adventurer Jilly Sherlock (@jillysherlock) who we’d met a few months ago at Borrowdale, when we took part in the 10 in 10 Challenge for MS Research. She recommended the best place on the site to pitch our tents for optimal views, what the best option might be for dinner in the Old Dungeon Ghyll (the home made chilli, of course), and kindly donated a couple of pain au chocolats to two hungry hikers.
Maybe the beer I’d drunk in the Old Dungeon Ghyll had made me come over all sentimental, but as the night wind loosened the early autumn leaves from the trees, and the stars burned above me in the blackness of the sky, I reflected on the last 12 months since my first backpacking trip to The Lake District. On my first wildcamp at Codale Tarn last autumn, with star spangled skies, moonlight, and chattering beck, and of all the other wonderful trips I’ve had up here since. The same thought kept coming back to me, that every time I have to leave here, my most sincere wish is always to be able to return again to this place.
Social Hiking Map of the route