Being a passenger in a vehicle going over the Wrynose and Hardknott passes is probably the closest you can get to being in a rollercoaster. I regretted filling my belly with food at the last stop at a motorway service station. As the mountains crowded the road, the weather that had been following us up the M6 finally caught up. Mid afternoon in July and it was very gloomy, passing cars illuminated by headlights. By the time we reached Nether Wasdale the rain had reached tropical proportions, hammering straight down without a breath of wind. It was difficult changing in the confines of a small car, to exit definitely entailed the full use of waterproofs.
Day 1 – 5.9 miles with 780 metres ascent
As we sloshed our way down the drenched road, the rain eventually stopped and hoods could be taken down. The air heavy with humidity it was a sweaty walk through fields towards the cliffs of Buckbarrow and the minor lane that leads to Wasdale Head. The footpath that leads to Greendale Tarn was located and waterproof trousers removed from sweaty legs. There are certain conditions where even the most breathable of fabrics are rendered almost useless. The climb up Middle Fell is steep and unrelenting, a stiff start for unconditioned legs. With a small amount of height gained the view back towards the coast could only be described as green.
The higher we got the more I was drenched in sweat, it felt like I was leaking, the volumes of moisture being pumped from my body soaking my clothing. We stood and watched for a while as weather piled on over the Scafell range, dreading the moment when waterproofs would have to be put back on. Thankfully the weather remained on the other side of Wast Water.
Middle Fell is a grand spot, a proper little mountain, although it fails to reach the 2000ft benchmark which defines what a mountain is. The skyline is filled with the stars of Lakeland and we could see pretty much the whole of our route for the next two days.
The plan had been to climb Seatallan, but frankly neither of us could really be bothered. We were both keen to get to our destination for the night and set up camp. Instead a wet traversing line was taken to the Pots of Ashness where the wet turned to bog, which we escaped by climbing Great lad Crag to decide the best way to get to Scoat Tarn. It seemed a shame to lose the height gained by dropping into the valley. So instead we continued traversing below Haycock to the head of Nether Beck.
This then allowed us to remain on the same contour line directly to Scoat Tarn. One of the joys of wild camping in the Lake District is the friendliness of the vegetation beneath your feet. Short cropped grass is usually the order of the day, most tarns have a welcoming patch that resembles a bowling green. Scoat Tarn does not, well not one that we found. In fact much of the surrounds were decidedly squelchy. In the end we found a patch of rough ground that the previous incumbents tents had flattened. No sooner than when the tents were up the rain started. There was no socialising that evening as we were soon fully zipped up in individual tents.
Day 2 – 9.5 miles with 1,070 metres ascent
A wet night was followed by a cloudy early morning, mist drifting across the surrounding peaks. It was warm though and I was soon out of the tent, mug of coffee in hand to wander around camp.
Suddenly the sun came out, completely changing the atmosphere of our camp spot. From dark and gloomy to sunny and friendly in a space of a few moments.
We procrastinated for a while, enjoying our surroundings before eventually packing up. We slowly climbed grassy slopes towards the southern ridge of Red Pike which appeared much higher than it is. The clouds put on a dramatic display as they drifted over the surrounding hills, broken by shafts of sunshine and the odd patch of blue sky. It was great to stand there and watch clouds develop from nowhere in front of our eyes, constantly changing shape.
Once on the ridge it was an easy walk to the summit of Red Pike, the cairn perched on the edge of a big drop down into Mosedale. Pillar our next main objective was firmly hidden in a thick blanket of cloud, hopefully it would lift by the time we got there.
A good path contours below Little Scoat Fell (which strangely is higher than Great Scoat Fell) above the scoop of Black Coombe. The views straight down into Mosedale were impressive, Red Pike dominating the scene from this angle as a huge pyramid.
The summit of Black Crag was a perfect spot to remove our packs for a while and hunker down amongst the rocks. The clouds were rising up from the unseen depths of Ennerdale, spilling across Wind Gap, the summit of Pillar still unseen.
The summit of Pillar itself was a busy place, groups of hikers scattered around the various windbreaks. We wandered to the north to see if Pillar Rock could be spotted below, sadly the mist was too thick to give any sort of view. We started the long descent towards the Black Sail Pass, every now and then the clouds parting to give views across Ennerdale.
Descending out of the cloud base a pair of fell runners pelted past us shouting a quick hello. These guys were moving with serious speed, their agility making us feel like lumbering elephants. As we got closer to Looking Stead a few more runners passed us and we noticed that they had numbers on their vests. It was obvious that a fell race was taking place. A trickle soon turned into a stream, the odd person stopping to ask if they were going the right way whilst the others were out of sight. We sat on a rise just above the Black sail pass to eat lunch in the increasing sunshine, watching the runners pass. We were slightly concerned about the guy who scooped a cup of water from the rather stagnant looking tarn in front of us. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had a jippy tummy the next day.
The route to Kirk Fell looked steep, the path winding through the crags on the north ridge.
It’s a long haul to the summit with packs but height is gained quickly due to the steepness of the terrain. We left the main path which is badly eroded in places and clambered up pathless slopes to gain the main ridge. Although not really a scramble there were several sections that required the use of hands. An entertaining way to the top with views back to Pillar which had finally shrugged off its covering of cloud.
Kirk Fell has two tops with an extensive plateau in-between, there are a few spots that would be ideal for a wild camp.
Great Gable had now become the most dominant feature due to its huge bulk. We briefly considered climbing it but the path from this side looked rather unpleasant, mostly made up of scree.
We now had a huge descent in front of us to get to Wasdale Head. There is a path that goes directly from the summit of Kirk Fell to the valley bottom, the prospect of this was not appealing. I think that it is meant to be the longest and steepest continuous path in the Lakes. Instead we descended to Beck Head and took the path above Gable Beck, initially across scree and then thankfully on grass. The view ahead towards Wast Water was classic Lake District. The sun was now out, helping take our minds off the never-ending descent.
Lower down the views across to Lingmell was rather impressive.
The Wasdale Head Inn was now calling us and we had to negotiate a large group blocking a footbridge, Rich splashed across the stream whilst I tried to bash as many as possible with my sack whilst squeezing past. The Inn was packed and we managed to resist the smell of pub grub, instead taking our pints to sit by the river. There was a real holiday atmosphere to the busy place, a deservedly popular spot. I have to admit that just one pint of real ale made me feel a little woozy as we dragged ourselves away and headed down the lane towards the National Trust campsite. This is a pleasant spot and even on a Saturday in July it did not look as crowded as I thought it would be. The fact that cars aren’t allowed in the camping areas probably help.
The start of the bridleway that leads to Eskdale provided plenty of bovines to act as foreground subjects for the stunning scenery.
It was hot, hard work with slightly wobbly legs on the climb and we decided early on that we were probably not going to make our planned camp on the summit of Great How. We started looking for places to pitch, but once out of sight of the valley everywhere was boggy. We decided to head towards Burnmoor Tarn and thankfully just as the path started to descend we found a dry level spot just big enough to pitch two tents.
Although the evening was warm and muggy without a breeze, our campsite remained midge free. It was great to be able to lay in our tents cooking and chatting with the last of the days sunshine glowing on the hills opposite. However as twilight approached the clouds once again appeared, Great How where we had planned to camp now covered in mist.
Day 3 – 5.1 miles with 420 metres ascent
The clouds hung low in the morning and there had been a few spots of rain in the night. Once again it was warm and we managed another relaxed midge free morning whilst packing up camp. On the climb towards Illgill Head a different insect menace put in an appearance. The dreaded horseflies were flying silently around us, seeking out exposed flesh. Thankfully we did not get bitten as we climbed, often stopping to look back at the way we came the day before.
There are two separate hills above the Screes that run alongside Wast water. The walk between them is a grand grassy promenade. Close to the edge, deep gullies cut into the hillside giving birds eye views of the lake below.
We lunched on the summit of Whin Rigg, our last hill before descending back to the car. The sun was once again putting in an appearance showing off the full glory of Sellafield on the coast. In-between it and us was a large patchwork of green fields which finally give way to mountains. Whin Rigg is a fine viewpoint although we soon realised after sitting there for a while that we were being invaded by wasps.
Greathall Gill gives a final bit of drama on the descent to Nether Wasdale.
Firm grass soon gave way to peat and bog making the going difficult in the increasingly hot weather. As we made our final plunge down into the valley I felt a sharp pain on the back of my hand. A horsefly had bitten me and it was surprisingly painful, the beast was swatted but I soon came up in a large lump that lasted for over a week.
Just before entering the woods below Latterbarrow we passed a large area of bog which was carpeted in orchids and numerous other flowers.
It was a relief to escape into the shade of the trees, our final descent giving fleeting glimpses back towards the fells. The long ridge above the Screes now dominated giving a sense of drama to the pastoral countryside. Thankfully the car was still where we had left it for the long drive home.