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A weekend in the wilds of Eskdale, in the western Lake District
With a source high in the fells near Scafell Pike, and its mouth only a few miles distant near Ravenglass, the River Esk has a short but dramatic life. Over the last few thousand years it has carried on the work of the glaciers, sculpting out the intensely craggy and rough valley of Eskdale.
Lying in the south-west of the Lake District, Eskdale feels remote, far from the easier routes into the eastern end of the Lakes, and surrounded by towering giants. One of the routes into the valley, descending its flank, is the notorious Hardknott Pass, possibly the hardest road to drive in Britain.
We spent the weekend at YHA Eskdale, with its roaring fireplace, comfy sofas and acres of grounds, standing alone in the valley. As we assembled in the dining room for our Friday feast, thoughts turned to Saturday’s walks…
Bright and early, the main group set off for Sca Fell, twin brother to Scafell Pike, and consolidating its position as the second highest mountain in Britain. Up into the mists they went, some drizzle hampering fast progress, but a successful summit attempt nonetheless, with a different route down that included views over the wide upland valley of Eskdale Moor, with Burnmoor Tarn at its heart.
The shorter walk travelled up Eskdale itself, following the river into the hills and admiring the waterfalls and gorges as we walked in the mist among the weird crags that sprout out of the ground of the upper valley. We also visited Lingcove Beck, an equally well-gorged stream that tumbles down from the Crinkle Crags, before heading back down the valley.
That evening, after much kit was deposited in the drying room, we all dried off and were at least grateful for a good day out in the hills, despite the rain and the sometimes paucity of views. The local pub, just a few hundred metres away, and a big meal of chicken casserole (or veggie stew) may have played their part in the good feelings that settled on us during the long evening.
Sunday’s forecast was more promising, and with some blue skies over breakfast, we headed out on the morning’s walk. A smaller group opted for another big day out, taking packed lunches and setting off for Bow Fell, that great pyramid at the end of Langdale. We however, used the opportunity to saunter down the river, admiring the woodlands and streams on the side of Gate Crag, and journeying up to visit Stanley Force, a rushing downpour surrounded by a ferny jungle that felt more like a rainforest.
Satisfied with our morning out, we followed the river back to the pub and settled down for a freshly cooked pizza lunch! We may have had a weekend of misty drizzle, but sometimes that just happens, and regardless, the fresh air was still there, and we were content that the mountains were just showing us a different side to their personalities.
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