Wastwater Screes

Looking north-east from Broken Rib, Wastwater Screes

Date completed: 2nd July 2010

Weather conditions:  Bright and breezy.

Fells climbed: Whin Rigg (1755’, no. 62), Illgill Head (1983’, no. 63). One of Wainwright’s Outlying Fells – Muncaster Fell – also made it onto the walk, the second summit bagged from that supplementary volume.

Distance: 12.8 miles.

Total ascent: 3408 feet.

Preston railway station

Preston station, 8am, 2nd July 2010

Start and end points:  Started at Ravenglass railway station (thus, at sea level). Ended at Wasdale Head Inn. This was a two-day hike; Wasdale Head is not reachable by public transport (there are occasional rumours of a ‘ring and ride’ bus but I saw no proof of its existence anywhere).

Pub at end: Wasdale Head Inn, where I also stayed the night. The bar area felt a little unfriendly to be honest, perhaps because of the partitions and hard wooden seating. However, the hotel area – restricted to residents – was more attractive, with lots of dark wood panelling, photos of Victorian rock climbers (in their suits and ties) and a comfy residents’ lounge. Got a good night’s sleep, which is after all what really matters in a hotel, though the shower was feeble and, in the morning, barely functional. The beer was good, though the food was less impressive.

Route card: Click on the link to download a route card (.doc format), showing summary information, a map, the elevation profile and waypoints with grid references. Walk 20a: Ravenglass to Wasdale Head

Route: From Ravenglass station, head down either ramp to the road and then turn right. A pavement eventually appears and accompanies this first mile or so of road walking. Turn right at the A595, go past the Muncaster Castle car park and then where the road bends sharp right, go straight on up Fell Lane.

The traverse of Muncaster Fell is then simple enough, with only one point at which a choice of routes is really needed: the junction at SD106976 (what’s this?) where you must bear right instead of left, which seems more natural. Basically you must keep Muncaster Tarn on the left. Apart from that, following the path, regardless of its twists and turns, should get you to the other end of the fell, though note it does not quite take you to the summit.

Rock tower, Wastwater Screes

Rock tower, Wastwater Screes

At the north-east end of Muncaster Fell there is a choice of route. I turned left, then right, to cross the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway at SD141997 (see picture below) and coming into Eskdale Green via the lane that comes out by the church and store. (An obvious point to make is that anyone wanting to shorten this walk by 4 miles could have got the train from Ravenglass to more-or-less this point, though the walk of Muncaster Fell is not a hard one and the views make it worth the effort.)

Leave Eskdale Green by the lane by the public convenience and ensure you turn left at the junction in the wood, as going right takes you too far up Miterdale. This passes Low Holme Farm and drops down to a junction of lanes at which point take the path straight on into the woods (signposted to Nether Wasdale). Cross all forest roads that you come to as you ascend through the forest; usually these are indicated by a yellow and blue arrow sign, though not always. Finally you come out of the woods at the main ridge, and turn right (no obvious path). This is where the ascent proper of Whin Rigg starts and after that, the route should be obvious.

From Whin Rigg to Illgill Head there is a path that follows the ridge, but on a clear day there is little reason to take it unless you are in a hurry, as it offers no views of the Screes, so be brave and stick as close to the edge of the escarpment as you dare. The descent from Illgill Head to Wasdale Head is straightforward.

Day-one-of-two commentary stuff:  After 4 weeks of inactivity on the walking front it’s time to get going again, on the first of what will need to be 4 or 5 two-day hikes. Wasdale is a vital centre of operations for the Lakeland hiker but unless vague rumours of some occasional bus/taxi have credence, it’s unreachable by public transport so I have to walk there and back, and there’s no way that can be done in a day from home. Hence, I have a single room reserved in the Wasdale Head Inn tonight and am simply keeping my fingers crossed about the weather.

View from Illgill Head summit

Illgill Head summit. Left-to-right in background: Great Gable, Lingmell (behind sheep) and Scafell.

This first day is a good one, the clear highlight being the walk along the top of Wastwater Screes. These are a mile-long rampart of shattered crag and scree along the south shore of lonely Wastwater, the deepest lake in England. It’s amazing what a dramatic situation can be reached with such an innocuous walk, for despite being quite long, today’s hike was easy throughout. The only parallel I can think of is coming up to Beachy Head in Sussex over the Downs and suddenly being confronted with a cliff edge hundreds of feet above the water below. There are hints at what the Screes must look like from below (I have never been to Wasdale before, so have no idea save from photographs), but it’s like only glimpsing a naked woman attractive person from behind. It’s pleasing, but you still want the full frontal view.

Long Yocking crossing on the R&ER

Where the path meets the R&ER, at the marvellously named Long Yocking Crossing

However, I liked the approach over Muncaster Fell as well. I could have waited in Ravenglass for a steam train and saved myself a few miles and about an hour of time overall, but I’m glad I didn’t. The views were good – even Sellafield nuclear power station looked kind of attractive in the high summer sun – and there was this interesting experience of starting right at the sea shore and gradually immersing myself in the mountains ahead as I came inland. There was a good variety of scenery, and  other little touches, such as the crossing of the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway (unless I’m mistaken, the only time I will cross a railway line in the course of this project) and the chance to have my lunch sat on a comfy bench outside a church instead of on some rocks somewhere.

Wasdale Head is dramatic and probably looks very much as it has done for two hundred years, except maybe for the hiking supply shop built in some old stables; I’m not romanticising it though, if it weren’t for the tourist trade I am sure no one would live here any more, not in such a remote spot like this. But I’m certainly glad to see the pub. Spend most of the evening trying to secure news of the World Cup quarter-finals going on today: miss Holland’s defeat of Brazil but see the majority of Ghana v Uruguay sat on a comfy sofa in the residents’ lounge; heart goes out to Ghana who have the chance to win it with literally the last kick but miss their penalty, rightly awarded for deliberate handball, and after that you know Uruguay will win the shootout. So in football crime does pay after all.

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