Just getting to the remote shores of Ennerdale Lake is something of an adventure. Navigating the winding, narrow roads requires some skill. Then, as you approach the lake, the road gives way to rubble tracks, which lead to rough-surfaced car parks. The lake shore can only be reached on foot. The result is that solitude and tranquility are more readily found in Ennerdale than in any other Cumbrian valley.
Footpaths completely circle the lake, and are accessible from either of the two car parks, Broadmoor Wood to the west and Bowness Knott – this walk starts at the latter.
Ennerdale Valley, Cumbria ©Jake Graham
1.Escape into the wild
Park the car at Bowness Knott and walk or cycle up the rough track to the head of the lake, following the River Liza through the forest for almost two miles. Pass Ennerdale YHA and continue climbing gently until the views open up, revealing the high fells all around. Pop into the remote Black Sail Youth Hostel where you can usually get a cuppa and a piece of home-made cake from the honesty box shop. Marvel at the utterly spectacular amphitheatre of high fells dominating the head of the valley: Pillar, Steeple, Kirk Fell and Great Gable.
Pillar Rock, Ennerdale, Cumbria ©Jake Graham
2. Mountain oasis
You could head back down the valley from here, but adventurous souls might feel the urge to pay homage to Wainwright – whose ashes were scattered over the waters of Innominate Tarn on the summit of his beloved Haystacks, some 250 metres above you. At just under 600 metres in height, it’s one of the Lake District’s more modest mountains, and the final haul up to the summit requires a bit of scrambling, but the views from the summit are truly breathtaking.
3. Wainwright’s sanctuary
Take the path climbing steadily from the gate west of Black Sail and climb to Scarth Gap, heading right at the top of the pass to scramble up the craggy western buttress of Haystacks. From the summit, head SE to Innominate Tarn, then drop down to Blackbeck Tarn and descend via Loft Beck. Allow an additional couple of hours to reach the summit, explore the Tarn and return to Black Sail. Take the track across the valley and descend on the southern bank of the river to Middle Bridge.
YHA Black Sail, Ennerdale Valley, Cumbria ©Jake Graham
4. Stream for dreams
Cross the river and stop for a breather beside the sparklingly clear River Liza. Sit quietly and peer into the limpid pools to catch a fleeting glimpse of a trout or maybe even an arctic char. Return along the same track you climbed earlier to the car park.
Ironically, Wainwright himself would have been unlikely to approach Haystacks via Ennerdale, whose regimented conifer plantations, he condemned as ‘vandalism’ of the natural Lakeland landscape. The spruce and conifer are gradually being replaced by native deciduous species and the evolution of a more natural forest gently encouraged where possible.
Ennerdale is home to England’s last remaining population of river-spawning arctic charr – a rare remnant of the last ice age. In late autumn, these trout-like fish gather in large shoals at the mouth of the River Liza to swim upstream and spawn. Wander around the head of the lake – appropriately named charr dub – on a late afternoon in November and you may see shoals of char in the shallows.
Today, as nature reclaims the valley, maybe AW’s attitude to Ennerdale would soften. And on those sunny weekends when the rest of the National Park is besieged by coachloads of day-trippers, perhaps the spirit of the old man of the hills might return to seek solace among this – the quietest of Cumbrian valleys.