Boot, Eskdale Campsite and climbing Scafell
We woke up on our campsite base of the last four nights to a gloriously blue sky we'd not seen all week, discovering we had a perfect view of Ullswater now the mist had cleared. Since we'd packed up our drive-away awning the evening before we didn't have much to do before setting off to our new camp.
We rely on Google Maps to get us from one location to the next and today wasn't any different. The suggested route was a distance of just 36 miles but would take the best part of two hours - we just assumed that was due to school-holiday traffic in the Lake District. What we didn't know was that Google was taking us along the steepest road in England, and a single-track road at that, Hardknott Pass (it actually ties for the steepest road with Rosedale Chimney in North Yorkshire with a gradient of around 1 in 3).
It was in the final few miles that the road suddenly narrowed and climbed up into the mountains, far too late for us to reconsider a different path. We joined a small convoy of vehicles which thankfully gave us priority over the occasional car coming in the other direction which had to squeeze in to the verge to let us pass. With a mile to go we passed the Woolpack Inn and I wondered if this was one of the three pubs considered 'local' to our campsite.
"Yes, we did," I replied sheepishly. "Why? Is there a better route?"
"Well there couldn't be a much worse one, could there?" he said.
I really didn't know. It felt like the absolute middle of nowhere. But the absolute middle of nowhere with three pubs is my favourite kind of absolute middle of nowhere, so there.
We'd pitched and put up the awning again by around 1.30pm. The ground under the awning was squishy and just felt wrong underfoot, but the weather was fine and warm and we contemplated what to do with half a day at our disposal. I suggested scoping out Dalegarth station from where you could catch a narrow-gauge train to Ravenglass on the coast - if we knew the train times we'd have an instant plan for a day out.
The station was less than ten minutes walk from the campsite. We found that trains run approximately every hour from 10.20am. The Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway is one of the oldest and longest narrow gauge railways in England and we watched as a train pulled in. It was quite comical to see grown adults emerge from such tiny train carriages and I knew we'd have to do the journey just for the comedy value.
Next, just two minutes away, was the Boot Inn (I think I forgot to say our campsite was in the village of Boot), a less imposing, white-painted building at the foot of Illgill Head fell. There was an intimate feel about this pub which had modern decor and friendlier, more-welcoming staff. We identified a few tables big enough for our larger boardgames but overheard someone booking a table for dinner and being advised there were only two tables left. Again it didn't look promising that we'd bag a table to play games here either.
We decided not to walk the mile to the Woolpack, since we would have to then walk the mile back just to collect the games. As it was we had a relaxed evening drinking our own bottles of beer in the nice warm awning and planning a full day of activity for the next day.
The best of the weather, a day of full sun, was expected to be in two days time and so we decided the next day would be spent visiting Ravenglass on the miniature train. We had cooked and eaten a full English breakfast in time to catch the first train of the day, though this was to be pulled by a diesel when we'd have rather traveled on the one after which would be steam.
The 40-minute train journey was pleasant, if a little chilly because we'd chosen open-air seats. Only five minutes after leaving the station our phones suddenly obtained a data connection. Not having had that luxury since before reaching the Hardknott Pass the day before, our eyes were distracted from the views by catching up on social media. No matter - the scenery was unremarkable for the first part of the journey. I was fully caught up on current affairs as we neared Ravenglass when my eyes were then captivated by the views over the estuary of the three rivers Esk, Mite and Irt. Soon the train pulled in to Ravenglass station and we were ready to explore the coast and find ourselves a fish and chip shop.
We walked to the Roman baths, passing a Camping and Caravanning Club site and thanking our lucky stars we weren't staying on it. The Roman baths were just some ruins of stone walls. Maybe Tony had more idea of what we'd be visiting than I did, but I'd been expecting to be renting a towel and having a nice soak.
It seemed as though we might have inadvertently got ourselves stranded in Ravenglass when the steam train due to pull us all back to Boot wasn't working. I'm not sure how much can be wrong with an engine that just requires the burning of some coal. Various people came along and hit things with a spanner until it sprung back into life. We arrived in Boot in time to try to make something of the day and we went off in search of Dalegarth Falls.
As we started to climb up the deep, damp gorge towards the waterfall the path crosses the stream several times over little wooden footbridges. We would walk a small section on one bank before another little bridge whisked us back to the other side. The steep sides of dark, damp rock towered above us almost to the point where we couldn't see the sky above. The confines of the narrow gorge gave the impression that everything within it, ourselves included, was in miniature.
Finally the path comes to an unexpectedly sudden stop at a viewing point just feet away from the waterfall. It's a quite remarkable place, hemmed in between the tall sides of the narrow gorge, as far as we could walk, it was just the pair of us and the thundering sound of the powerful waterfall emptying gallons of water into the cold, dark pool below. The patches of moss appeared to glow a kind of radioactive green, the only bursts of colour inside the tiny black and white scene of charcoal-grey rocks and white, bubbling water.
Heading back the way we came we took a fork in the path that would take us through fields and woodland and bring us back out on Hardknott Pass at the Woolpack Inn, the only one of the three local pubs we had not yet frequented. It was nice enough, an old-fashioned building with sprawling rooms and rickety furniture. There was a good choice of real ales on tap and we sat drinking our pints in the bay window of the dog-free room, only because it was also family free.
That evening we took our smaller card and dice games to the Boot Inn where a table for two tucked away at the back let us play until around 10pm by which time the pub had completely emptied of diners and drinkers. We felt like we were stopping them from closing up. It was the same the next evening. All the tables were full until the pub stopped serving food at 8.30pm and then everyone returned to wherever on earth they can possibly be staying in such a tiny village. If you don't mind your evening coming to such an abrupt end so early on, this is the nicest of the three pubs and if you've not brought your own boardgames there are plenty to borrow.
The sun was low in the sky, for this was the last week in October, and the mountains and dry-stone walls separating the fields throughout the valleys within cast long shadows across the landscape. The grass was green while the ferns, dying off for the winter, were yellow and golden brown. The muddy track underfoot soon became a stream and we had to be careful with our footings, stepping from stone to stone to keep our feet dry.
At the top, where the Ordnance Survey map shows 'shelters' are two small dry stone walls. The wind was howling and we were exhausted and so we sat for a few minutes behind one of the walls, sharing a packet of midget gems as a reward. It was far too cloudy to appreciate the views from the height to which we'd climbed. I had hoped to see Scafell Pike, the neighbour and highest mountain in England (by just another 14 metres), but there was a sense of achievement nonetheless. The plan had been to continue over the other side of the mountain eventually following the river Esk back to Boot. With such poor visibility I wasn't happy setting off when I couldn't see the path ahead and insisted we simply go back the way we'd come. The familiarity of the route instilled a sense of safety, even if retracing our steps wouldn't be the most interesting return journey.
Despite having seen the views already, the hike back was just as enjoyable. The sun was now ahead of us, warming our faces. Back at the Whillan Beck stepping stones I was past caring about any more water in my boots and I just waded through - at least this was clean water rather than the boggy mud I'd been stepping in. It was around 4pm when we re-entered the village of Boot. One of the first buildings at the top of the village is the Boot Inn and, though we'd be coming back for a drink later, we couldn't help but call in for a well-earned pint and packet of pork scratchings.
Watch the vlog of our Lake District camping trip