Boot, Eskdale Campsite and climbing Scafell

After a wet few days in the Lake District the weather was set to improve and, rather than head up to Scotland as planned, we decided to stick around for the last four nights of our holiday. The Eskdale campsite, an hour or so to the west of Ullswater, promised walks from its doorstep and boasted three local pubs. It was bookable online too and so in a couple of minutes we had a new plan.

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.

We were welcomed to Eskdale Campsite by an enthusiastic warden who explained the grass was sodden after several days' rain but since we were the first of many expected arrivals that day we could have first dibs of the few hard-standing pitches. Since we had an awning to put up we were allowed to park on the last of the gravel road as it entered the camping field in order that Cleopatra was on the road and the awning on the grass. The warden showed us around the facilities before explaining how to find each of the three pubs. He looked surprised when we said we'd already passed the Woolpack Inn. "You didn't come over the pass?" he asked incredulously.

"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.

Having finished this piece of research Tony was thinking we could embark on an hour and a half's walk, but was easily swayed when I suggested more research was required in determining the best of the three pubs. As it was still early afternoon I put forward the idea of visiting each in turn and having a half pint. First on the route was the Brook Inn standing proudly on the main road - if it's possible to describe the Hardknott Pass as a main road! It had a spacious interior and several real ales to choose from. One of it's nicest quirks was that many of its tables had tops made from a single piece of wood that had bowed in the middle. The creative landlord had stuck corks to the back corners of the placemats so that they still stood flat. The pub was clearly geared up for dining as all the tables were set with cutlery and condiments. We thought it unlikely we'd be welcome to spread out a boardgame and occupy a table all evening.

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.

Ravenglass is the only coastal village in the Lake District National Park but here's what the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway company doesn't share with would-be passengers: If you're in Boot, which is in the middle of nowhere and offers little in the way of passing the time, then a trip to the seaside sounds exciting. But when you arrive at the other end, you find yourself similarly in the middle of nowhere - OK it's the coast so technically you're on the edge of nowhere - and there's nothing to do there either. There is no fish and chip shop. There is no shop at all. And Ministry of Defence notices warn you that if you venture out onto the beach you'll probably get shot by occasional gunfire. It's grim as grim can be. I guess selling a train ticket to someone at either end of that railway is easy to do; the grass is always greener, as they say.

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.

Back at the station the highlight of our time in Ravenglass was waiting for the return train in a cosy pub where every table had a set of Trivial Pursuit cards to relieve the boredom. Actually it was more interesting hearing the presumably-new barmaid, being told that almost everything she did was wrong, but only after she'd done it and couldn't undo it, by the landlady who was sitting at a pub table rolling pairs of knives and forks inside red paper napkins. The barmaid was taking it all in good spirit - she must have been a remarkable find because I'm sure many, many folks before her must have told the landlady exactly where to shove her nicely-rolled cutlery.

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.

Walking is likely the only reason you'd stay in Boot. There are dozens upon dozens of footpaths across the hills, fells and crags. The Stanley Ghyll Force waterfall is on a fabulous hike along the fast-flowing stream which it feeds.

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.

We walked a short distance along the road on our return to Boot before a footpath was signposted. We tramped along the boggy fields to which we were starting to become accustomed. Several fields and a couple of unforgiving stiles later we were surprised to suddenly be in the same field as Cleopatra - both Tony and I had expected to arrive in Boot village first. Both of us were equally taken aback to see Cleopatra before us - a true double-take situation!

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.

Probably the biggest selling point of Eskdale Campsite is its proximity to Scafell and Scafell Pike. The second tallest and tallest mountains in England. We couldn't stay and not climb one or the other. The Friday of our week's holiday was forecast to be sunny all day and so after our customary cooked breakfast we set off from camp just before 10am. Walking guides will tell you that the walk up Scafell is easiest when you set out from Boot, which was convenient as that's where we were starting.

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.

We walked for about two hours on a barely perceptible incline before Scafell was in front of us. Whillan Beck, the stream to our right began to feed into Burnmoor Tarn, the small lake to our left and if our feet weren't wet by this point they were about to be. We had to cross the stream at its widest and deepest point. Stepping stones connected much of the distance between the two sides but not all of it. We bundled anything not waterproof in my dry-bag rucksack and Tony took off his shoes and socks, crossing before me to the halfway point from where it was easier going. With Tony in the middle to pull me from one stone to the next I made it to the middle dry and we were both able to cross the remaining distance fairly easily.


From this point you can see the Sellafield power station and the Irish Sea in the distance. Wast Water Lake is also down below on the left and I knew the pub at its eastern shore would have been an easier option than the climb to the top of Scafell. The mossy ground became increasingly sodden and in the end I just had to accept I was going to have wet feet. The climb gets steeper over what, from a distance, appears to be a grassy hill. There was just the two of us and a handful of skittish sheep. The grassy hill was steeper and wetter than it looked. We found ourselves veering from the path in an attempt not to walk in the water rolling down the hill after several days of rain. The rocky summit of Scafell was in view the whole time and with the sun in the south of a clear blue sky the views in all directions were breathtaking. The only sounds were the bubbling waterfalls, bleating sheep and squelches of our footsteps.

The final approach to the summit becomes less of a walk and more a scramble over loose rock. We were so close to the top of Scafell when cloud came in and visibility became so poor we had to sit and wait it out. The cloud showed it could disappear as fast as it had come and suddenly the jaw-dropping view out to sea reappeared through wisps of cloud. The clouds remained over the very top of Scafell and as we continued to climb a few walkers coming in the opposite direction appeared like ghostly apparitions.

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.

Walking back down the rocky summit proved harder than climbing up it, the loose stones giving way underfoot leading both of us to land on our backsides on occasion. I was pleased to arrive back on soggy moss and get my feet soaking wet again.

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

LAKE DISTRICT 1 | 2 | 3 | 4


Comments

  1. Innovative idea sharing this blog. This is an huge article and informative. Climbing is essential for health fitness. It is keep your body fitness. Lovely sharing article.

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