Through the Viewfinder
And What Alice Found There
After a busy March trying to settle in to my new job, Easter Bank Holiday weekend couldn’t come soon enough! I needed to get away from desks, computers and all things digital to clear my head, and what better place to do that than Wasdale!
The Lake District is an amazing place and it’s great to get tourists here and see so many people enjoying this lovely corner of the world, but sometimes the crowds just get too much, especially over bank holidays. It’s times like these that everyone needs a little secret haven to escape to – one that you know will be quiet no matter what time of year it is. So for this reason I turned to Wasdale. It’s a beautiful valley in the west of Cumbria, home to England’s tallest mountain and deepest lake, with so many lovely places to explore that you could stay here for weeks and still not run out of things to do! With only one dead-end road running along the lake shore leading to the small community of Wasdale Head, surrounded by huge mountains, thick woodland, and more sheep than human beings, it’s somewhere that’s managed to escape too much modernisation and has a really nice rural feel to it. It’s true that people flock here to climb Scafell Pike but despite that, the valley remains relatively quiet in comparison to other hotspots such as Windermere or Keswick, which are always packed out during the holiday season!
So instead of a relaxing Easter weekend at home with my feet up, Greg and I did the total opposite! We took the chance to have four days of exploring wonderful Wasdale, got back into the swing of hiking again after a short break, and ticked off some top things on our ‘to do’ list. Here’s our suggestions on how to make the most of your stay in Wasdale…
1. Camp out
In my opinion the best way to experience the Lake District is to camp. It really helps you get back to nature and appreciate the landscape, and you’re more likely to go to sleep and therefore wake up earlier when camping so you can make the most out of each day. Plus, after a long day of exploring there’s nothing more fun that sitting round on a warm sunny evening, drinks in hand, cooking over the campfire and sharing stories of the days adventures! We camped at the National Trust site, right at the tip of Wastwater before you reach the village of Wasdale Head. There was a minimum 3 night stay which was exactly what we wanted over Easter, but I think you would need at least 3 nights anyway to make the most out of your stay. The campsite was huge and there were no set pitches meaning you could choose exactly where you wanted to put up your tent. This freedom was great and meant that you could get a really nice private spot if you were lucky, making it feel as though you were the only ones there! The campground had everything you would need – a small shop/reception, toilets, showers, pot-washing sinks, and not to mention panoramic views of some of the most beautiful mountains in the region! If you don’t fancy bringing all your own camping gear there are a few ready-built tipi tents to hire which looked amazing – definitely a good idea if you want to camp but don’t have a tent big enough for your group. Or if camping in a tent really isn’t your thing they also have pitches for campervans and some little wooden ‘glamping’ huts named after some of the surrounding fells.
We loved camping here – it wasn’t as busy as you would normally expect considering it was Easter weekend and a lot of people left after our first night so it got even quieter. The fact we could go on hikes straight from the tent was a massive bonus for us as well – we’ll definitely be returning!
If the National Trust campsite does happen to be fully booked there is another smaller site in the village but bookings can’t be made in advance so it’s a first-come first-serve basis. Failing that, you could always stay a few nights at the Wasdale Head Inn (but that’s not as fun as camping)!
2. Go in, on & around Wastwater!
While in Wasdale you might be so captivated by the mountains and walking trails that you forget the deepest lake in England is right there on your doorstep! Wastwater is probably one of my favourite lakes in the Lake District. It’s huge, never busy with boat traffic, has some great picnic spots on the shore, and is surrounded by gorgeous scenery. In fact, the view over Wastwater looking towards Yewbarrow & Great Gable has been voted Britain’s Favourite View – and it’s easy to see why! Don’t forget about the lake while you’re in Wasdale and get involved in as many ways as you can. I’ve not been swimming in Wastwater yet (it’s on my list for summer!) but I know it’s a popular spot – only go in though if you’re confident and have experience in cold water swimming. As mentioned, it’s England’s deepest lake so even on a hot summers day the water isn’t going to be warm! If you don’t fancy a full on swim the shores are great for paddling with some lovely beach areas for picnics and sunbathing when you get good weather. Another fantastic way to experience the lake is to go on the water! Rowing boat, canoe or kayak – whatever you’ve got make sure to take it with you to Wasdale as bobbing along this magnificent lake is not something to be missed! We took Beatrix (our inflatable rowing boat) with us and after setting up the tent the first thing we did was run down to the lake shore to start putting the boat together! There wasn’t a single person already out there and the water was relatively calm – it was bliss! Sitting in the middle of this massive body of water makes you feel so tiny and insignificant and gives you a totally new perspective of the landscape. There are no boats to hire on Wastwater so this is something to experience only if you’ve got your own, but it’s something I highly recommend doing if possible!
3. Climb Scafell Pike
One of the main reasons a lot of people tend to visit Wasdale is to climb England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike. To say you’ve stood on the top of England is a great achievement and is something I would definitely put on your list if you’re in the area! There’s loads of different routes up including a direct footpath to Scafell Pike, another route taking in Sca Fell on the way, or the route that we chose which went over Lingmell first. The direct footpath is recommended for those who don’t have as much hiking experience as it’s well marked and easy to follow, but because of the fact it’s the most direct route to the top it’s also the busiest. If you want to escape the crowds and are up for a bit of a challenge I recommend going up via Lingmell – a steep climb but with incredibly rewarding views all around! Lingmell is also a Wainwright fell so for anyone who is trying to bag them all this route allows you to tick off an extra one – bonus! From the summit of Lingmell you have to drop down before joining onto the direct Scafell Pike path which winds it’s way up the rocky side of the mountain – quite a challenge in the snow and ice that we encountered! Once on the top there’s a trigpoint and also a large shelter with a WW1 memorial on the side. It’s such a great feeling to stand there and admire the 360 degree views, knowing that your at the highest point of the country! Be warned though that the summit is extremely busy so don’t expect to have it to yourself! We were really lucky to get quick photos next to the trigpoint with nobody else in the shot, but soon after we took them more people arrived so we moved away. I have to say that I have never seen a mountain as busy as Scafell Pike – I’ve now hiked 115 of the Wainwright fells and only two summits have been busy, with Blencathra coming in second. One thing I love about hiking is the peace and tranquility that you can experience standing high above the rest of the National Park. Quite often on walks I won’t see another person the whole time I’m hiking and it feels like I have the mountain to myself. If there was one negative about Scafell Pike it was that it was just too busy for my personal liking and it feels as though it’s become a bit too much of a tourist hotspot, rather than a place for people to come and enjoy the beautiful landscape. However, that didn’t spoil the sense of achievement both Greg and I felt once completing the hike and I would still recommend going up if you get chance – probably best to avoid Bank Holidays though! Our hiking route is below if you want to try it:
4. Don’t forget about other walks
With so much focus on Scafell Pike it’s easy to forget that there’s a ton of other walks and hikes in the area to be enjoyed as well. Great Gable is a fantastic walk, and the Mosedale Horseshoe also looks brilliant although I’ve not tried that one myself yet! There’s also Illgill Head and Whin Rigg which we hiked on Easter Saturday – a great hike but very long so be prepared to be out most of the day! This walk heads up towards Burnmoor Tarn before turning to climb up the steep side of Illgill Head. On the top there’s a nice easy ridge walk to Whin Rigg with amazing views over Wastwater in the valley below, and then you drop down to the shore of the lake for a walk back along the scree. This was the part that took us a long time and it isn’t suitable for everyone as it involves a lot of climbing over loose rocks and boulders – it’s not just a straightforward footpath! If you’re able to do it then it’s quite a fun challenge but for those who aren’t up for it you can take the route back along the road on the opposite side of the lake instead. If hiking mountains isn’t your thing then there’s loads of low level walks to be done along by the lakeshore and into Wasdale Head village too. If you head that way be sure to check out St Olaf’s church – one of England’s smallest churches where the beams are supposedly made from a Viking longship!
See the details of our hike over Illgill Head and Whin Rigg below if you’d like to give it a go:
5. Treat yourself to a pub meal
If you are camping then part of the fun is cooking over your stove at night and seeing what creations you can come up with, but it’s nice to have at least one night off and enjoy a good old pub meal! We tried to go to the Wasdale Head Inn as we’d heard good reviews, and with a direct footpath running to the pub from our campsite it seemed ideal! However, the pub was completely full and people were queuing up for tables to be free so we reluctantly left and went to find somewhere else to eat instead. If you’re planning a meal there during your stay I would book a table in advance to make sure you get in! Being the only pub down that end of the valley I imagine it’s often busy – hopefully we’ll get in next time! If like us you don’t manage to get in then don’t worry – there’s plenty of other pubs nearby that are easy to reach in the car. We ended up going to The Lion & The Lamb in Gosforth, only a 20 minute drive from the campsite. The food was delicious and there were plenty of tables free – a good little discovery!
So there you have it – my top five tips on how to enjoy your stay in Wasdale. Whether you have just 3 nights like we had, or whether you’re there for a full week you certainly won’t run out of things to do! I loved our mini holiday in this beautiful valley and can’t wait to get back there sometime soon for more adventures...
Share your experiences of Wasdale in the comments below!