Roof of England
GO WALK: The Lake District is paradise for poets, painters and fell walkers, writes JOHN G O'DWYER
IMAGINE ALL OUR most scenic mountains, valleys and lakes transported to Co Laois. Then envisage them rearranged so that from every vantage they merge in faultless harmony. Now you appreciate the delicately sublime beauty of the Lake District and why it has attracted poets, painters and fell walkers for two centuries. All the best of England is compacted here in a postcard pretty, patchwork of fells, tarns, becks and dales.
And secreted amid all this wonder is the highest summit in England. Less well known than Ben Nevis or Snowdon, Scafell Pike is commonly climbed hurriedly by those completing together the highest summit of each country on these islands. And this is a pity, for England’s tallest mountain is a fine ascent in itself, with the added bonus of a magnificent location.
For the shortest ascent to England’s roof, begin at the National Trust carpark at the head of Wastwater in Wasdale. Referred to as “the grandest valley in the lakes” this awesome dale accommodates England’s highest mountains, deepest lake and smallest church. Follow the path upwards by Lingmill Gill before crossing this stream and ascending an area known as Brown Tongue. When the paths divide take the left option and continue upwards to reach a boulder field referred to as Hollow Stones, but which could more accurately be described as stones hollow.
Now the path arcs left where it joins with the renowned Corridor Route from Sty Head. One last push (right) along a switchback track and suddenly you are beside the huge circular cairn on the stony, rather nondescript summit plateau (977m).
Your “wow moment” comes, however, when you lift your gaze, for laid out below is the full majesty of the lakes. Stretching to the horizon in perfect symmetry are hills, valleys and lakes with evocative “olde worlde” names to die for; Buttermere Fell, Pike of Stickle, High White Stones, Sprinkling Tarn, Hard Knott and Great Gable.
Having imbibed unsparingly of the vista – including, on a clear day, views to the Mountains of Mourne – begin descending southwest on a bouldery path towards nearby Scafell, which weirdly seems higher than Scafell Pike from here. At Mickledore col, a series of rocky steps, known as Broad Stand, rises directly ahead towards Scafell’s summit.
In 1802, poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, having made a descent here, lived to write the graphic tale. You may not manage this, however, for it is more difficult then it seems.
Unless you are an experienced climber, you should swing right down a stony and rather disagreeable gully with some similarity to the Devil’s Ladder on Carrauntoohil.
It’s short, however, and soon you pick up a path beneath the great Scafell crags including the famous lateral gully of Lord Rakes. Continue until the path rejoins your route of ascent and soon you are descending easily towards your start point. and, with luck, now enjoying the glory of Wasdale bathed below in golden evening sunshine.
Getting thereStena Line sails from Dún Laoghaire and Dublin Port to Holyhead, stenaline.ie. Irish Ferries has similar services from Dublin Port, irishferries.ie. Wasdale is about a four-hour drive from Holyhead. Aer Lingus has daily flights to Blackpool which is about an hour and a half’s drive from Wasdale.
AccommodationThe sublimely located Wasdale Head Inn (0044-19467 26229; wasdale.com) offers standard and superior bedrooms, self-catering apartments, high-quality food and an adjacent campsite.
TimeAllow about five hours.
SuitabilityReasonably challenging outing suitable for well-equipped walkers. Navigation skills may be required in places.
MapHarvey’s British Mountain Map – Lake District 1:40,000