The Brooding Lake District

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One of the most atmospheric and beautiful places not only in England but in the world the Lake District in Northwest England is a wonderful place to spend your days walking with trails for all people. From a simple trip for a walk around Windermere the largest town in the national park to the much more isolated western part of the park which takes in Eskdale and Wasdale there is something for everyone.

Containing 16 lakes, it only takes a visit to one of these to know why it attracts over 15 million visitors each year. It has proved to be an inspiration for countless writers over the centuries. The poet William Wordsworth spent most of his life in the area and his poem “I wandered lonely as a cloud” was written about the daffodils on the shore of Ullswater.

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Old stone house on the way up Eskdale fell

Others who called the area home include Beatrix Potter who used the Lakes as a setting for a number of her Peter Rabbit books. She bought Hilltop Farm in 1905, a working farm up the hill from lake Windermere and was not only inspired to write some her best work there but was also involved in sheep breeding and conservation of the area. When she died, she left the farm to the national trust and it is possible to visit it today and see it as she would have known it when she lived there.

With so many visitors each year some of the more popular areas can be a little crowded but if you make the effort to go to the west side of park you will see fewer people and on the more isolated walks hardly see anybody else all day. I have always loved a good walk in the countryside and the area around Eskdale has become a firm favourite of mine.

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Herdwick sheep on the fells

I often start off at the Woolpack Inn because there are many ways to go from there and its possible to have a pint at the end. However, with less people around the trails are not always the easiest to navigate I have gotten lost on every walk I have been on in the area, sometimes more than once on the same walk! My navigation skills have never been great but some of trails do just disappear when the ground turns boggy. As well as that some of the trails the sheep use also resemble walking paths to lost day-trippers like me.

Having a set of written instructions, using a map and only going where it feels safe are key to going off on these kinds of walks. I have also started using google maps as a last resort as they give the locations of the lakes or larger tarns (small lakes) and it can be useful to navigate relative to them. If visibility is good navigation is quite easy with landmarks and trails visible in the distance. When the weather is inclement which it often is it is always better to stick to lower, safer trails where it is possible to get to your destination without having to scramble over peaks or on the side of steep drops.

Walking in the area around Eskdale not only provides a more isolated walk but also the chance to see unexpected beauty around each turn of the trail. On a clear day from Harter Fell there are views of Scafell pike (the highest mountain in England), Morcambe bay, the Irish Sea and the Isle of Man.

In June 2021 I walked from my usual departure point of the Woolpack Inn at the foot of Eskdale fell over the top of the fell and into Wasdale valley, the wides in the Lake District.

The weather wasn’t great and visibility poor so a relatively straightforward out and back route was planned which wouldn’t take me too high and was about 5 hours return. The real bonus was the walk went as far as the Wasdale Inn where it was possible to refuel with a pint before the return trip.

Ascending the trail up behind the Woolpack and using the first landmark, Eel tarn as the navigation I took the turnoff and quickly got lost. Boggy ground and no trail is my excuse. I had kept below cloud level so eventually managed to find my way back and navigated by Burnmoor tarn the next obvious landmark where the path became obvious again.

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View from Burnmoor tarn

As I walked atop Eskdale fell with low cloud engulfing Scafell Pike, Bowfell and Crinkle Crags to my right there was a distinct brooding atmosphere and I could easily see how a writer could be inspired by it.

A pint and a coffee at the Wasdale head later I was on the return trip. It had begun to rain heavily, and the atmosphere turned from brooding to soaking and walking into the rain heavy wind didn’t make it any easier. The walking was brisk retracing my steps up the hill past Burnmoor tarn, around Eel tarn and down for a shower a pint at the Woolpack.

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Brooding view on top of Eskdale fell

It took over 3 hours to go out but just over 2 hours to get back. I was lost for at least half an hour on the outward journey and hurried more on the return route due to the weather.

The Lake District has a magic about it that makes going there in any kind of weather worthwhile. On a sunny day with views of tranquil lakes, blooming valleys, over fells, or out to the sea it is one of the most delightful places you will ever see. That same day the cloud might roll in and give the very same view a darker more haunting appearance. I’m still not sure which view I prefer.

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