AFTER Helmsley, I drove westward through Yorkshire and across the Yorkshire Dales National Park to the town of Kendal, the gateway to the Lake District National Park, which is in a western region named Cumbria. At the heart of the Lake District, along with numerous lakes, is Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England.
The correct pronunciation of the mountain’s name is Scaw Fell. It comes from the Norse, fell meaning mountain (from fjall) and the exact origin of scaw unclear, either from the Norse for a collection of huts or for a marine cape.
The area around Scafell Pike is another one of those places where British mountaineering and rock climbing were pioneered. The following photograph shows a scene with the unofficial but more phonetic spelling of Scawfell.
I had been to the Lake District previously and had stayed in Kendal then. Here is a map of my journey westward from Helmsley to Kendal, this time.
But this year, I did not stay in Kendal. Instead, I pushed on into the Lake District till I got to a campsite at a place called Wasdale near the foot of Scafell Pike, and stayed there for two nights.
Here’s a map of Yorkshire, England’s largest historical county. I made sure to see the sights along the way as I passed through the Yorkshire Dales National Park, before leaving Yorkshire for good.
I stopped off first of all at Aysgarth Falls. That’s another typical Danelaw name it goes without saying.
Hawes is the highest market town in England.
In the Dent / Cowgill area, near the Newby Head Pass, there’s the famous Ribblehead Viaduct: a triumph of Victorian railway engineering. And the Dent Fault escarpment, identified for what it was by the pioneering geologist Adam Sedgwick.
Red squirrels, the native species driven out of London by American grey squirrels, still survive in this area.
My GPS sent me over two passes in the Lake District. The name of one pass was called Hardknott. There is an old Roman fort overlooking the Hardknott Pass, called the Hardknott Roman Fort. There is a car park, and you can hike up to it.
The Hardknott Pass leads down into the Eskdale (dale means valley in these parts) and its local village of Boot, one valley over from the Wasdale which is where I was going to stay.
My GPS took me through the heart of the Lake District, past Windermere, through Kendal, and then to Keswick, which I hadn’t been to, a nice little town with tramping gear.
It was a two-hour drive along narrow roads that were tarsealed, but very bumpy. It took me through the heart of the walking district, the mountains: it was rugged! In fact, the road through the Hardknott Pass is reputed to be ‘Britain’s wildest road’.
Most people go to the Lake District by motorway though, clearly, you are off the beaten track once you leave the motorway.
I got to my Wasdale campsite, eventually, courtesy of the WikiCamps UK app. This is great. It has more caravanning and camping sites than any other app for touring Britain.
The campsite, which is operated by England’s National Trust, is at the head of the local lake, called Wast Water.
The campsite also appears on a local information panel, which shows the various climbing routes from Wast Water, up Scafell Pike, in more of a perspective view.
Wasdale means the valley of the Wast Water, which I misheard as wastewater at first. Wast Water is the deepest lake in England. It is also the site of the most scenic view in England, according to a recent poll. This view, in which you look up the length of the lake toward the mountains, is shown on the VisitCumbria.com web page on Wast Water.
At the National Trust campsite, the facilities were wonderful. To camp outside in a tent, it cost thirteen pounds a night. They had a shop where you could buy food, and where I was also able to buy a pan to fry eggs. Previously I had only had a small pot for making porridge.
I had stocked up on food at a Tescos in Helmsley, so I had enough food for three days. All I needed was the pan.
There was a local hotel near the campsite, called the Wasdale Head Inn, where you could get free wi-fi.
Wasdale Head, which means the head of the Wasdale or of the Wast Water, is widely billed as the home of British rock climbing.
The Wasdale Head Inn costs 65 pounds a night to stay. Or you can drop in and have breakfast for a very reasonable four pounds or so. (The local YHA breakfast, which is larger, costs about 10 pounds.)
You could also get starters or a small quantity of chips for four pounds at any time at the Wasdale Head Inn, but the mains were eighteen or twenty pounds. I had never seen a burger covered in gravy, with chips, before! That was a bit of a culture shock.
Everybody was from all around the UK: a lot of people from Scotland. The people were really friendly. And the English love their dogs: they really love their dogs. You could even take dogs up Scafell Pike. I thought that was pretty amazing.
And so, my idea was to stay one night, do Scafell Pike, and then go on to Carlisle, the biggest city in Cumbria.
The next day, the winds were at fifty to seventy knots, and would definitely not like to have done Scafell Pike under those conditions. It’s four to six hours: only 978 metres above sea level at the top (3,209 feet), but with breathtaking views if you get a clear day.
So, I decided to look at Scafell Crag, which was further along and around; it was beautiful in itself. Scafell Pinnacle, the one in the old photo at the start of this post, is part of Scafell Crag (or Crags).
And then I went back and started Scafell Pike at 9 am, and I think I got up at 11:30 am. By that stage, there was quite a number of people already up there. I think that I had 30% visibility but it was beautiful: the day turned out to be really sunny.
A series of photos follows, from the Wasdale and also the Eskdale, another valley nearby, up to the top.
The poet William Wordsworth described Wast Water as “long, stern and desolate.” There are probably few places in England that are more wild or untouched by civilisation. It reminds me of somewhere in so-called ‘high country’ of the South Island of New Zealand.
The Eskdale is another local beauty spot. I must give the Eskdale Railway a go!
Scafell Pike is not too difficult to climb. But because the Scafell Massif is covered in huge rocks, with routes that meander this way and that, and because the weather is misty, the main hazards consist of getting lost, spraining an ankle, and exposure. There are also some hazardous bluffs. The local rescue services are kept busy because of the huge numbers of people that climb the Pike: of varying levels of ability shall we say.
The climb has been popular for at least two hundred years. A link on mountainwalks.co.uk called ‘Interesting Facts about Scafell Pike’ describes the early history of the Pike, and the need for fairly continual rescues even then, such as of one young man who attempted the peak in 1859 “‘attired as though for a lounge in Bond Street,” in the words of writer John Ruskin. The young man made it to the top but had to be carried down to warmer altitudes by the locals to revive.
Here is a video I made. It shows four scenes from Wasdale, the valley and hamlet below Scafell Pike, and from my ascent to the top of Scafell Pike. Along the way, I show the curious Wasdale Head Inn (which bills itself as the home of British rock climbing), the Wast Water, and the hardy local Herdwick sheep which are born mostly black but turn grey with age, a familiar feeling to many no doubt!
I had arrived at my campsite on Thursday night. It was full on Friday night (I stayed two nights in the end), and they said I could stay until Saturday.
But what was really interesting was that after I got there, the National Trust closed the Hardknott Pass. They said that there was too much traffic and too much car parking. It’s unheard-of in New Zealand to close national park roads. I mean, it’s just absolutely amazing and I was pretty impressed by that.
Clearly, the summer season is extremely popular, whence the road closure. Bearing all that in mind, I would not advise anybody to go to the Lake District on a summer weekend. If you are just visiting the UK, go during the week.
My trip to the Lake District was really rewarding! I did enjoy it. Even if, by the time I came back down from Scafell Pike, I was extremely tired.
Finally, here is an information panel that describes walking access to the coast, which you are quite close to here.
My next post will be about Carlisle, the biggest city in Cumbria and the last stop, locally, before Scotland.
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