Walk: Stanley Ghyll Force, Cumbria
Rising from the crags of the Lake District’s south-western fells, this timeless flow drops through a verdant forest of moss and ferns and overhanging trees into quiet Eskdale
Plunging 20m into the surprising seclusion of a deep gorge in Eskdale, Stanley Ghyll Force feels miles from the tourist trappings and rambling hikers found in much of the Lake District.
The landscape and flora of the woodland makes this place feel typically English yet somehow tropical at the same time, adding to the enchantment of the gorge, of which the waterfall is the main attraction.
Between dale and hill
Across the valley to the north, the village of Boot is surrounded by drystone walls that slice the land into a patchwork of pasture, grazed by Herdwick sheep; the ground above the dale comprises heathland and unfenced fells.
Tumbling over the wooded ridgeline between this cultivation and the hinterland is Stanley Ghyll Force. It’s believed the waterfall had been called Dalegarth Falls and was renamed by a member of the Stanley family who lived at Dalegarth Hall. There’s a car park beside the hall, a half-mile walk from the falls.
Ravine to falls
Another route leaves Boot along bridleways via St Catherine’s Church. With no tower, the church sits squat on the farmland, simple and humble. It’s said a sixth-century hermit lived at a holy well on this site, offering a blessing to anyone dedicated enough to find him.
From here, use the stepping stones to cross the Esk. If the river is in full flow, there’s a footbridge a short distance upstream. When it’s calm and safe, wild swimmers dive into the plunge pools at the base of Gill Force near the bridge. Here, the emerald waters of the Esk have cut ravines into the bedrock with their flow.
Once across the river, you enter woodland where mosses cover boulders and encroach upon the bark of trees. Red squirrels inhabit the area. Closing in on the gorge on the fern-lined path, a gathering of fir trees gives way to more native trees and exotic-feeling rhododendrons. The way clings to the edge of the beck as the land rises either side and trees hang above. Several footbridges cross the granite streambed, polished smooth by the water’s flow.
Arriving at the base of the sublime Stanley Ghyll Force, it feels like you’ve entered an ageless sanctuary where time and water flow past in equal measure.
Christopher Ridout is a walker and writer with a keen interest in history and mythology.