Wasdale in the Wet

Walking with; Nobody

I am developing another worrying addiction. Since quitting cigarettes, I have had a number of these ranging from Pork scratchings to Charlie Sheen’s version of “Two and a Half Men”, however, my latest, Wasdale, is healthier than any that have gone before it. I love this valley containing the deepest lake in England surrounded by forboding, scree slopes and peaks with the intimidating look of proper hills. It has become my Lake District go to this year, in spite of (or perhaps because of) the difficulty in reaching it by road, and even in horrendous conditions it hasn’t let me down. I left Manchester in sunshine and arrived in Wasdale with cloud blanketing the tops and rain coming down, undeterred I donned every item of waterproof clothing I possessed and set off up Yewbarrow. At 628m it is not one of the higher peaks in the area but it sits above the lake and has a satisfyingly mountainous profile. It is reckoned to be named for the Yew trees that once thrived in the area and it’s shape which resembles (with a little imagination) the bottom, or barrow, of an upturned boat. I took the route up through the Great Door, an entertaining little scramble traversing plenty of water and involving an amount of effort that made achieving the cloudbound summit very satisfying in spite of the lack of view! It was cold on the top so I hurried on along to Stirrup Crag from where I dropped down towards Over Beck where I squelched my way back along the valley following the path above Bowderdale with nobody but a few bedraggled sheep for company.
The drying room, pint of Snecklifter and library of the Wastwater YHA provided welcome respite from the weather and a warm and comfortable bed for the night.The hostel is a half-timbered house dating from 1829 and owned by the National Trust and the grounds at the front run right down onto the lake with great views of the forbidding scree slopes of Illgill Head.
I set off early next morning in sunshine, but by the time I’d driven the three miles to Wasdale Head it was raining and the wind was so strong that the car was rocking in the carpark, undeterred I headed off past the Inn (famed as one of the birthplaces of contemporary British climbing) and into the beautiful Mosedale. One of the benefits of inclement weather is that it greatly reduces the number of other people you meet in the hills and I had this fantastic dale to myself. Gatherstone Beck was in full spate so I spared myself the crossing and followed it’s Eastern bank up to Black Sail Pass where the views down to Ennerdale and lonely Black Sail were impressive and where the wind funnelled through with such force it was all I could do to stay upright. Wet weather and scree do not make for the most comfortable scrambling companions and the ascent of Kirk Fell was (probably) just the wrong side of scary……..it certainly got the adrenalin pumping and made the reward of popping up onto the top at the same time as a rainbow appeared behind me doubly satisfying. Kirk Fell is, however, not the most secnic of tops and with nothing to subdue the force of the wind was not a place to stop and I soon found myself nestling down behind some stones at Beck Head Tarn and watching another adventurerer trying not to be blown off the ascent of Great Gable.


 The power of a good cheese roll to inspire is not to be underestimated and I had Great Gable under my belt in less than an hour. Standing at 899m it is a truly impressive peak and worth the buffeting and battering the wind had given me on the way up. The lure of the Wadale Head Inn was growing ever stronger and I decided on the direct path down via Little Hell Gate and Gavel Neese, sure the contours were closely grouped on the map and the name sounded a little intimidating, but it was the “crow flies” route…….An hour of scree surfing, slipping, sliding and taking lots of deep breaths my feet hit solid ground once more with my thighs screaming and knees protesting and the odd hole or two in the bottom of my waterproof trousers. It is not a route I’ll be taking again…..Lingmell Beck led me back to a pint in the pub and a wander round England’s smallest church, St Olaf’s. The gravestones bear testament to the dangers of the surrounding hills and also house members of famous fell runner and Wadale resident, Joss Naylor’s, family. It’s a peaceful little spot to contemplate both an ever growing addiction the splendour that surrounds even when you’re soaking wet through!

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