Monday, 7 May 2012

Eskdale Adventure

I sometimes wish I knew the Lake District better than I do. My rather patchy knowledge arises partly from a fixation with the number 3,000: a bit of a Munro thing, a preference -certainly the past- for walks that end at a summit over 3,000 feet high.
So it is that my knowledge of the Western side (which unless you live over there is less accessible) is a lot less well-developed than I would like it to be. I have been to Wasdale a few times and climbed the 3,000-foot Scafells from there but I had never been to Upper Eskdale, until yesterday that is, when F, N and I set off on an exploratory walk.

Upper Eskdale is enclosed by a horseshoe of impressive peaks, the highest of which are Scafell Pike and Scafell, which it shares in common with Wasdale. In the centre of the skyline a pleasingly pointed Eskdale Pike rises above the Esk River much to the satisfaction, I imagine, of people with cameras who don't want to venture too far from the thin ribbon of country lane that winds past the end of the valley.

The only way in is on foot: there are no roads, hotels or campsites within the horseshoe, only footpaths, hills, crags and the Esk River. If you want to get here by car you have to brave the Wrynose and Hardknott Passes, or take 12 miles of winding country lane from the South, or take a circuitous route around the Lake District itself to approach it from the West.

The Esk river is more of a stream than a river here and, for quite a lot of its length, takes the form of pleasantly rocky bathing pools linked by waterfalls. Next time I visit I'll take a towel. As it was, we were restricted to the banks. Much to our amazement -and amusement- as we walked up the valley, we kept running into a group of four young men dressed in helmets, T shirts and wetsuits who were swimming, gill-scrambling and tombstoning their way up the river. They were good-natured lot. They had something of a "Three Men in a Boat" aura about them (well, four in this case, and no boat) that made one feel as good to be alive as they evidently did. It's easy to be a Jeremiah where tombstoning is concerned. The Jeremiahs in this case may be right: speaking for myself, I definitely lack the nerve for it, and don't relish the idea of swapping in a split second a life spent swimming in rivers for one spent in a wheelchair. If nothing else though, these guys certainly made a good case for the importance of having fun.

We stopped for lunch by the side of a rocky pool before tackling the steepest part of the walk. This turned out to be not particularly arduous: it soon emerged in a high basin overlooked by the highest local peaks, Scafell and Scafell Pike, which is an imposing presence seen from this side. One of the joys of walking for me is the discovery of high, secluded valleys in which signs of habitation are invisible and which are accessible only through a certain amount of effort. My imagination being prone to hyperbole, I was reminded in this case of Shipman and Tilman's discovery of the Nanda Devi Sanctuary.

The summits of these mountains were not our objective on this occasion. We crossed the the Esk by teetering over the dry tops of its rapids, thankfully without falling in, and made our way back via a different, high-level path. The mountain tops were free of cloud. The air was sharp and clear and the peaks of the hills that surrounded us stood out in a continuous line, inviting one to walk along it: Scafell, Scafell Pike, Ill Crag, Eskdale Pike, Bowfell, Crinkle Crags. Not today. Walking the "Eskdale Horseshoe" will have to wait -but not for too long, I hope.


Elisabeth said...

I only know the Lake District through Pride and Prejudice. This sounds awesome.

Dominic Rivron said...

Thanks for dropping in! And I haven't read Pride and Prejudice.

It was awesome. I'm kicking myself for not exploring the place years ago.

tony said...

I haven't been to The Wild West for years (when younger I did a lot of Youth Hosteling in The Lakes).

George said...

Great country you have there for exploring, Dominic. Can't wait to set my boots back in the Lake District. The five days spent traversing the Lake District on the C2C were the best of the entire trip.

GOAT said...

The Lake District is high on my list when I finally make it to the UK -- it's starting to look like a more tangible possibility - and Scafell Pike in particular. You wrote about your visit with clarity and economy.

Not sure about tombstoning - thought it might be a form of grave-robbing. Think I'll stick to dipping my toes in at the edge.

Jenny Woolf said...

Oh it is years since I was in the Lake district. It's amazing although the weather isn't. I know someone who was crippled for life through jumping into water that was too shallow. Not nice.

Gwil W said...

Hi Dominic, I think there's probably an annual fell race over the Eskdale Horseshoe route. If you got hold of a copy of the FRA Fixture List (it's only pennies to join) you could plan many of your walks to coincide with the events in fell running world and pick your spot to admire the goat-footed runners ascending and descending at breakneck speed. Probably some from a club near you!

Dominic Rivron said...

Thanks for these comments, everyone!

tony: Haven't stayed in a YH for years myself, but used to.

George: The one thing I don't like about long distance paths is that I always find myself wanting to go off on detours - areas like the Lake District warrant a week or two to themselves!

GOAT: The Lakes are a must.

JW: Myself, I've been wild swimming quite a lot and never jump in. I think like all dangerous activities its a matter of being informed and doing it in as safe a way as possible.

Gwil: Used to be in the FRA and I'll probably join again. Last race I did in the Lakes was the Langdale Skyline.

Gwil W said...

If you join FRA again you can even request your old membership number if you can remember it! That's what I did.

It's a long time since I did a Lakeland race. I think it was a BM from Ambleside.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Sadly these sort of walks are no longer possible for me, but I love hearing about them secondhand.
I know the Lakes even less than you do - so really enjoy any walk you do.