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Through the Yorkshire Dales to Scafell Pike

Published
June 11, 2022
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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 location of Scafell Pike in the north of England, showing the Irish Sea to the left and the North Sea to the right. The straight-line distance to Scafell Pike from Middlesbrough is about 130–135 km. North is at the top in this map, and in all below. Map data ©2022 Google.

A closer view of Scafell Pike in the Lake District National Park. The Name of Morecambe Bay was relocated northward slightly in this image, so that it would not be too close to the edge. The straight-line distance from Whitehaven to Kendal is about 55 km. Map data ©2022 Google.

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.

From Jones, Owen Glynne: 'Rock-climbing in the English Lake District'. Keswick, Cumberland County, England: G.P. Abraham & Sons, 1911. Public domain image via Wikimedia Commons.

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.

My journey from Helmsley westward to Kendal, marked up in red and with the names of the Yorkshire Dales National Park and Ribblehead Viaduct added. This journey would be about 110 km in a straight line but is a bit further by road. Map data ©2022 Google.

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.

Go Yorkshire information map

I stopped off first of all at Aysgarth Falls. That’s another typical Danelaw name it goes without saying.

Aysgarth Falls information sign

Hiking trails around Aysgarth Falls

Hawes is the highest market town in England.

Entering Hawes

Hawes

The YHA Hostel at Hawes

A camping site and some local attractions along the way

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.

The Newby Head Pass

Cowgill, on the excellent Ordnance Survey Map

Cowgill sign

The Sportsman’s Inn, Cowgill

Red squirrels, the native species driven out of London by American grey squirrels, still survive in this area.

Slow for Red Squirrels

‘Bridleway Only: No Motorised Vehicles’

The Ribblehead Viaduct in the Background

The Ribblehead Viaduct

A closer view of the Ribblehead Viaduct

Selfie by the Ribblehead Viaduct

A lovely stream with an old bridge

Cumbria, west of Yorkshire, extends to the Irish Sea

From an information panel about Adam Sedgwick

The Dent Fault escarpment

The first lake I came to in the Lake District

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, I believe

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.

The location of the Hardknott Pass. Map data ©2022 Google.

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’.

‘Britain’s wildest road’, on a gloomy day as well. Definitely headlights-on conditions.

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.

Wast Water in relation to Scafell Pike, the local network of trails and some neighbouring ridges. Wast Water is a little bit less than five kilometres long. Map data ©2022 Google.

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.

Climbing routes from Wast Water to Scafell Pike

The location of the campsite, a detail from the information panel above

The Entrance to the Campsite

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.

One of the cabins at the campsite

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.

The Wasdale Head Inn

Looking over a stone wall to the Wasdale Head Inn, in front of a local hill called Yewbarrow

Wasdale Head, which means the head of the Wasdale or of the Wast Water, is widely billed as the home of British rock climbing.

National Trust information display at Wasdale Head

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.

Scafell Pike is technically the highest peak of the wider Scafell Massif

Looking toward the hills over a stone wall

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.

Trail signs

Another trail sign

Wast Water

Another view of Wast Water

A third view of Wast Water. The area is really wild.

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.

Some of the local countryside near the head of the lake

The Eskdale is another local beauty spot. I must give the Eskdale Railway a go!

Eskdale signs

Dalegarth Campsite, in the Eskdale


One of the local hikes in the Eskdale

An Anglo-Saxon Cross

More footpath signage

A pretty farmhouse in mature trees. It isn’t all a wilderness here, by any means. At least, not at the lower levels.


Hiking on and up past a huge rock

Gnarly trees on a hillside by the Wast Water

A selfie on the way up

Looking down onto the Wast Water from the trail upward: another classic view

Looking in the other direction

At the top of Scafell Pike. The top is covered in rocks. See the small person, admittedly more in the background.

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.

People on the top of Scafell Pike

Mist over the peaks

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.

Solway Coast Information Panel

My next post will be about Carlisle, the biggest city in Cumbria and the last stop, locally, before Scotland.


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