Wasdale hosts England’s mountainous musculature – peaks of perfection such as Lingmell, Great Gable and Yewbarrow that cocoon secluded Wasdale Head.
Famously, the panorama up atmospheric Wastwater to these shapely sentinels was voted Britain’s favourite view in a 2007 television poll. This magnificent prospect is the climax of a stretch of tranquil countryside that sweeps from England’s loftiest summit, Scafell Pike, to the sinuous triple estuary at Ravenglass.
Those who adventure to these unfashionable acres of the Lake District will reap the ample reward of tiny churches and archaic crosses near England’s greatest screes, deepest lake – and biggest liar!
England’s deepest lake supplies four million gallons a day to Sellafield Nuclear Reprocessing Facility on the coast; the water is used as a coolant here. The glacially gouged three-mile lake is 79m (258ft) deep; the water is cold all year, hence it holds a surprisingly small number of fish, including the rare Arctic char. The screes cascading the southern shore are among the highest in Britain – there’s a precarious footpath just above the waterline.
2. Nordic Fringe
Christianity came early to Wasdale, bequeathing a fascinating heritage to the small villages. At Gosforth, St Mary’s churchyard holds England’s tallest Viking cross; a 4m (14ft) sandstone pillar richly carved with a mix of pagan and Christian symbols. The churchyard also has Europe’s most northerly cork-oak tree. Within the church are two hogback tombs; like the cross also around 1,100 years old. Irton churchyard has an even older Celtic cross.
3. No, really
Pinocchio’s nose grew when he lied; large conks generously extrude at the World’s Biggest Liar contest held at Wasdale’s Santon Bridge Inn every November. In the 1850s, local landlord Will Ritson became renowned for his inventive tall stories with which he regaled his guests. His tales died with him, but the practice was revived in the 1970s, since when stories of mermaid farming or teabag knitting abound. Politicians and lawyers are banned from entering.
4. Scafell Pike
England’s highest peak at 978m (3210ft) looms east of Wastwater; rugged, foreboding, awesome. Volcanic in origin like its neighbours, it’s a long, steady trek from the car park at Wasdale Head to the summit boulder fields. Allow six hours round-trip and prepare to be astonished by the immense panorama from the top. Clear days reveal peaks in Wales, Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man. Just don’t underestimate it in bad weather and become another mountain rescue statistic.
5. Wasdale Head
This remote village between Wastwater and the skirts of the mountains is where English mountaineering began. The Wasdale Head Inn became the base for Victorian gentlemen-climbers pioneering routes – you can see photographs of their antics taken by the renowned Abraham brothers. Nearby is St Olaf’s Church, probably England’s smallest, with Viking longship timbers for beams. The graveyard holds victims of climbing tragedies.
6. Shrinking Railway
Just 38cm (15in) wide, the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway is a marvellous way to reach the upper reaches of Eskdale; miniature steam engines hiss along the track to a secluded terminus at Dalegarth. But the line was originally built to a 3ft gauge in 1875 to transport iron ore from mines in the hills to the coastal railway at Ravenglass, for onward movement to the furnaces of Workington and Barrow.
7. White Gold
The Vikings introduced Herdwick sheep to the fells and here they remain, heafed (territorially bounded) to the slopes by ancestral memory, cropping the grass and destroying saplings. The medieval abbeys at Calder, St Bees and Furness developed the flocks, becoming wealthy on the proceeds of this woolly white gold. Local farmers work tirelessly to perpetuate this farming tradition; each October they celebrate at the Wasdale Shepherds Meet & Show.
How to Get There
Wasdale Head is a cul-de-sac northeast of Wastwater, reached by lanes from the A595 at Gosforth or Holmrook, half-way between Carlisle and Barrow-in-Furness. The web of lanes in Wasdale is linked via Eskdale Green to Hard Knott and Wrynose Pass and also the Ulpha Fell road to Broughton. The coast railway has stations at Seascale, Drigg and Ravenglass. Buses are limited to a handful a week.
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12 Main Street, Egremont CA22 2DW
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Highest sheep farm in Wasdale, with characterful rooms and hearty breakfasts.