An Esk of a Walk

Scafell Pike skyline beyond Lingcove Beck by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThere is a route I have been thinking about for some time, a fairly long walk if I return the same way; however I really want to do more than that but the potential alternatives might be a bit too far in a day. The only thing to do is plan a route knowing full well it is too far but to have a number of viable escape routes if time or conditions are against you.

I left the car in Eskdale at the bottom of Hard Knott Pass, on grass at the side of the road close to the phone box at the entrance to the track leading to Brotherilkeld Farm. The walk starts at that entrance, go along the track until you get to the farmyard and then a smaller path follows the River Esk for two miles until you reach Lingcove Bridge.

Unfamiliar lower slopes on the other side of Crinkle Crags by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerIt is a pleasant easy walk up the wide valley, there isn't really much to see apart from valley until you get close to Lingcove Bridge. Tongue Pot is a delightful looking pool, crystal clear water with shades of blue coming from the pebbles on the bottom. The pot is at one end of a small ravine, water throwing itself through the narrow gap coming to a halt and resting in the peaceful pool.

This is the first sign of a change in the nature of the river, no longer meandering through the wide valley but rushing down through narrow gorges. Lingcove Bridge is a small hump backed stone bridge at the meeting place of River Esk and Lingcove Beck both of which have their own attractive waterfalls. Also situated here is one of the complicated multi enclosure sheepfolds that occur in isolated places.

Bowfell comes into view but covered by mist by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerI chose the route that keeps to the right hand side of Lingcove Beck, climbing steeply alongside some exhilarating waterfalls on a path that is obvious but not over used. After the initial steepness is a wide flat area where even Lingcove Beck has to behave itself. There is a good feeling of wilderness here, wild and unspoiled, a place where you don't expect to meet anybody.

As you walk further up this high valley Crinkle Crags looms large ahead looking unfamiliar and without crinkles from this direction. You can see Ore Gap and a rugged looking Yeastyrigg Gill descending from it but beyond, Bowfell is completely obscured by mist. The path by this stage is much less obvious and you reach a point where it splits to offer alternative ways around Crinkle Crags.

Looking up Rest Gill on Crinkle Crags by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerAs I took the left branch in the direction of Three Tarns a splendid skyline revealed itself, from Slight Side to Broad Stand showing the full length and size of Scafell. As I followed the path along the contours of Crinkle Crags high above the valley, the skyline changed to include Scafell Pike and Ill Crag, the mist clearing to show fragments of snow near their summits.

The path became less obvious as it passed over bouldery scree, a precarious route across the steep slope. I had to stop and marvel at the scene, I was in the middle of Crinkle Crags, Bowfell, Scafell and its pikes. There was not another living thing in site apart from from the small birds doing what small birds do at the start of Spring.

Only Two Tarns and a bit these days by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThe path finally disappeared or I just lost it going across the scree and boulders so I was keeping to the contours of the steep slope heading in the direction of Three Tarns trying not to get distracted by the fantastic skyline view. Eventually after crossing Rest Gill I came across an obvious path coming up from the valley and from there I had to do some work, following the path steeply upwards.

At this stage the most distinctive of the Lake District fells began to make its presence felt, Bowfell has a very impressive southern face, massive and unmistakably Bowfell. Finally I was at Three Tarns, although these days it should be called Two Tarns and a bit, the third one having almost completely drained away. The view of the distinctive Pike o' Stickle and the rest of the Langdale Pikes includes Thunacar Knott, the least recognisable of the fells.

The steep ascent of Bowfell from Three Tarns by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerIt had taken three hours to get here, I was feeling fit and optimistic so I decided that I would try and get as far as Scafell Pike before descending back to Eskdale via Mickledore. For now I had the steep climb up the wide eroded path to the summit of Bowfell, the climb is strenuous but interesting and not half as hard as it would be if it were grass.

The mist was beginning to close in, so it was probably just as well I had my photos of the Scafell group because I probably wouldn't see them again today.

The Great Slab on Bowfell by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerSuddenly my new camera began to complain that it had run out of memory, I decided to change the picture size and try to delete some of the photos I had already taken. As I deleted some individual images it asked if I was sure I wanted to to that, when I accidentally pressed the Delete All button it did not.

When I got o the summit of Bowfell it was not misty for a change but there were banks of mist all around. Rather than take the obvious path down to Ore Gap you can walk along the ridge northwards to get good views in all directions except that the mist was in and there wasn't much in the way of views.

View from Bowfell ridge, mist all around by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerAt the end of the ridge you can find your way on grass through the boulders to rejoin the main path to hop across more boulders to Ore Gap. I can't remember having been at the summit of Esk Pike when it wasn't misty and it looked like it was going to be misty again. Another rocky path to climb, an obvious route all of the way to the summit and unbelievably the mist had cleared by the time I got there.

I always believed the colourful cairn a few yards away from the path was the summit but there is a small crag with a stone shelter built at its base on the line of the path. Looking across to it, it seemed to be higher than the summit cairn, and even when I climbed to the top of the crag it still seemed to be higher than the cairn.

Esk Pike summit by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerBy the time I got close to Esk Hause it was obvious that the mist was going to close in properly. A walker passing asked if he was going the right way to Scafell Pike, he seemed to have neither map nor compass as I pointed him away from Esk Pike and towards Calf Cove for Scafell Pike. Esk Pike had been full of people, I wonder how many of them had made the mistake of thinking it was Scafell Pike.

I was beginning to think it was a bit late to start climbing Scafell Pike but it was a long way back to the car anyway so I decided to carry on. By the time I reached Calf Cove it was completely misty, the newly constructed path was conveniently filled with snow. At the top of this path you have to hop across a boulder field keeping your eye out for cairns until you reach a more obvious path.

Esk Pike summit by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerOn the more obvious path it is easy to walk across Ill Crag without ever thinking that it has a summit not that I had any intention of visiting it today. The path descends to a col before taking you up to Broad Crag again seeming to deliberately miss its summit. More hopping across boulders and even more important in the mist to keep looking for cairns as the path seems to keep changing its direction.

Then you reach the obvious descent to Broad Crag col and the even more obvious climb up to Scafell Pike; a steep, strenuous and rocky climb it is a fitting finale up to England's highest point. There are dozens of people at the summit, it is scary just how many are asking for help about which direction to get down and how many sports shoes are being worn.

Cam Spout water slide by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerIt is so misty and disorienting that even I had to check my compass to point me in the direction of Mickledore, I knew anyway but experience has taught me always to check even when I am sure I know where I am. In the mist the path seems unfamiliar and there is nobody else around until I got to the stretcher box and there are more people asking for directions.

At the stretcher box itself is the start of a loose, stony and eroded way downwards, this is the first time I have descended this way. I know the main path starts at the other end of Mickledore but it is not a nice path, not that this one is much better. The way is steep and long, the mist is thick and there is not the reassurance of other walkers on the path.

Cam Spout waterfall by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThe loose stones become a faint path going down wet grass and through boulders until it completely fizzles out, time to look for the proper path which was indeed only about ten feet across to the right. Feeling more confident now I was somewhere I recognised I began to anticipate the descent by the side of Cam Spout waterfall, at least now I am below the mist.

There are some small ravines and waterfalls before you get to the start of the descent by the side of the main waterfall, there is a water slide first and then it falls a long way. Climbing down is about as vertical as it gets for a hill walker, I have climbed up here a few times but going down makes it feel as steep as it looks. Fortunately the rock is dry and there are plenty of things to hold on to but it takes all of your concentration to stay on your feet.

Cam Spout by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerEventually at the bottom you can see just what an impressive waterfall it is and what an impossible descent you have just made.

Here is the Great Moss, the wettest place in the Lake District that is not actually a lake. I have waded through it on more than one occasion and would rather not do it again so I followed the faint path in the direction of Sampson's Stones. Even if you have never seen Sampson's Stones before you will recognise them, a ring of large boulders set down on a small dry hummock.

Sampsons Stones by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerFollow the path through the stones and through another elaborate sheepfold and as the River Esk bends to the left you can see the faint footpath stretching a long way straight ahead. Most upland footpaths are too rough to get a good walking rhythm going but this path is level and the ground is flat so I got almost upto marching speed.

I haven't been this way before so I was quite cautious about where I was going to end up until I reached a place I recognised, a single plank across a stream near Damas Dubs. This was the way I made my first descent from Scafell in May 1998. That day I met Stuart Marshall and he told me about the book he was writing that was subsequently published as Walking The Wainwrights.

The way from here is obvious, following an old peat road that descends gracefully to the road. Where the path forks take the right hand branch, by now you can see farm buildings in the direction you want to be. At Scale Beck the path becomes a track, where the track splits take the left hand branch and when you get to the first farm buildings go through a kissing gate on the left.

You cross the river by a wooden footbridge and you are then on the path where you started, back at the road in five minutes.

This is a big walk, 15 miles in 9 hours.

Andy Wallace 10th April 2004

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