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A hidden corner of the Lake District...
If you want to see a side of the Lake District that most visitors don’t get to, head west. Being on a peninsula and pointing out to the sea, many people don’t make it round on the little roads that lead into these valleys, but they’re making a mistake. Of course the famous Wasdale is here, one of the more popular starting destinations for Scafell Pike. And round the corner are Ennerdale and Buttermere, the last of which has a road into it via the Honister Pass.
Down in the south-west, lost somewhere in the sweeping moors and knotty crags between Scafell Pike and the Coniston Fells lies Eskdale. It is home to the river Esk, which plunges from Esk Hause, the connecting pass between Esk Pike and Great End, down to the sea at Duddon Sands. The upper reaches of the valley are surrounded by England’s highest peaks; the Scafells, Great End, Esk Pike and Bow Fell, not to mention the adventure playground of the Crinckly Crags off in the east.
It is certainly possible, if you don’t want to climb these peaks, to make a day out of following the river uphill into the wilds beneath them. From the plains of Great Moss you can look up some of the steeper routes of Scafell Pike and admire this secluded spot. If your aims are the peaks, it’s likely that even in the height of summer you’ll have the routes all to yourselves, though make sure you join a guided walk to get the most out of the day.
Further down in the valley there are paths leading up to a great choice of lower walks. On the hillsides surrounding Eskdale are several tarns and becks, and the valley floor is crowded with small woodlands. Making one of these your goal means you stay within easy reach of the valley while still experiencing the openness of the uplands. Harter Fell rears its head above the Hardknott Pass in the east, where the famous Roman fort stands guard, surely at the time one of the most remote Roman outposts in Britain.
The great beauty of Eskdale is that in a short space you can move from high fell, to wooded valley, to the estuary and the sea. This is quite unusual in the Lake District as most rivers leaving the valleys first head through miles of flat farmland or leave the National Park. The Lake District is not known as a coastal National Park, but the one bit where the border runs along the shore is here, from where the Esk meets the sea at Ravenglass, to Silecroft in the south.
If the plethora of walks doesn’t attract you, an easier way of seeing the valley is via the Eskdale and Ravenglass railway, which winds its way up from the Estuary to the village of Boot.
One of the aspects of the Lake District that makes it beautiful is the swift change between the mountains and the valleys, where in a short space of time you can go from craggy peaks to secluded villages with all the comforts of the pub and the woodland walk. Eskdale has this and more, with the bewitching sands of the estuary just around the corner from the fells. If you wondered what the Lake District felt like before outsiders discovered it, this is the place to be.
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