The Lake District
The Lake District
You would have thought that, during my 19 (nearly 20) years living in the North of England, I would have climbed Scafell Pike, particularly since I am a keen outdoors man and nature enthusiast. Well, I hadn’t, so my girlfriend Aggie and I decided to plan a trip to the Lakes. To give us time to embrace the landscape, we chose to stay for a weekend camping - we managed to book a campsite in the remote village of Nether Wasdale, located on the opposite side of Wastwater to Scafell Pike. Wastwater is not only renowned for its splendour in appearance, interestingly it holds the status for being England’s deepest Lake. The basic plan was to arrive Friday afternoon, unpack, chill and explore our local area. Saturday, we were to get up early and make our way from the campsite to Scafell Pike and ascend the mountain. Sunday, we proposed to get up early once again, pack up all our gear and then meet up with Aggie's parents in a nearby town.
Due to a busy week of rock climbing and photographing, I left my packing to the last minute - the night before we left! I am typically not as organised as I wish to be, however Aggie compensates for this as she is an organisation freak – she spent half the week prior to our trip packing and planning. The process of my packing went a bit like this: check over my camera gear, stuff my clothes in my camera bag, attach my sleeping bag to the back, and finally throw in my book and journal. I always carry essentials in my camera bag such as various survival gear, hats and gloves – so this made things a little easier. I would not recommend packing like this however; if my scout-leader girlfriend had not been coming, I would have made a much bigger thing of it. We did however, pack our food together – we decided that we wanted the full experience of camping and cooking our own food over a fire, instead of going to the local pub for a meal. Most of the things we took were just things to snack on during our long hike, and nights spent in the tent playing card games, other than that, we took risotto and couscous sachets for dinner meals, and for breakfast - beans, mushrooms and egg. We were fully packed and officially excited about our trip.
The Campsite itself was brilliant - it provided all the necessary camping facilities including toilets, showers, sinks to wash in, a washing machine, children’s park and a café. After exploring the site, we discovered our unfortunate bog-like pitch (result of typical english weather)! The ground sunk with each step, but without too much concern we started to unpack and erect the tent. This was the part of the trip where things got slightly more distressing for myself and Aggie, however I won't dwell on it, the tent was finally erected and our gear was unpacked. Adjacent to the campsite was a delightful Oak woodland (Churchstile wood) – and we decided to spend our evening wandering along the circular trail which weaves its way between the trees. It was late evening, much of the wildlife was at rest, settling unobtrusively in their homes. The atmosphere was particularly strange: eerie yet completely placid. The vast majority of the life was in situ, a woodpecker, two wrens and the rustling of canopy leaves being an exception. A myriad of wild mushrooms guided us along our circular route, sprouting proudly amongst the woodland detritus. The Oak trees were shaping the environment; twisted branches and curved leaves shaped this indulging setting. It was a shock to see only one other person in the woodland, a young girl silently reading a book on a bench. Before dusk settled we sat outside our tent, taking part in the standard camping activities; playing cards, gobbling toasted marshmallows, reading, chatting and laughing. Night descended and we began to prepare for England’s highest mountain: Scafell Pike.
A vexatious 7am alarm woke us. It took us an hour to cook breakfast, wash, and assemble our stuff for our adventure. We left Nether Wasdale village and made our way to Wastwater. The plan was to walk on both sides of Wastwater lake – one side on the way there, the other on the way back. The route on the way there took us through various countryside paths and through farms. We were accompanied by a variety of bird life; Swallows and Sand Martins were present, darting amongst the fields, cleverly catching flies. A vocal Robin was claiming its territory, singing loud and clear as we walked past. Two Buzzards were soaring in the distance, screeching to one another. Aggie spotted a small injured Shrew on the path, it seemed in shock so we encouraged it to move into the grass where it was less exposed.
We arrived at the lake and the view was magnificent – the mountains on the opposite side formed a perfect reflection on the still water. We took the time to appreciate this beauty. However, things soon got even more interesting as we continued on our track - our path soon turned into a scramble, over a boulder-like scree slope. I was quite pleased by this unexpected turn of events, Aggie however, was not so keen! Adjoining each boulder was a web, some with spiders on, not good news for an arachnophobe like Aggie! This is another part of the trip that I won't dwell on! It took us literally an hour to get across the FIRST scree slope. Luckily, the other scree slopes were your standard small angular shards of rock – this environment was not habitable for big profound webs, which meant we made swifter progress along this terrain. A proper path finally appeared, surrounded by ferns. A Meadow Pipit and its young were displaying their curiosity as we hiked, pouncing between the ferns, following us as we continued on our way. We also scared a gaggle of Greylag Geese; they flew off and glided elegantly into the lake. Eventually, we arrived at the other side of Wastwater and sat on a bench in the National Trust car park to eat, drink and rest. It had taken us 3 hours to get to this point – a slight disadvantage before ascending the mountain really.
We looked at our map to find the most convenient route up, a pointless process, as when we left the car park there was a sign, a clear path and many people leading their way up the mountain. As we began our ascent, we played the memory game: ‘I went to the shops and bought.' For those of you who are unfamiliar with this: You take turns in adding to a cumulative shopping list, having to remember the previous contents in the exact order that was mentioned before. It gets quite difficult as the list gets longer and was a simple, but effective tactic to relieve our minds of our aching legs. I couldn’t believe how much of a tourist attraction Scafell Pike was. The path streamed with two lines of people, one going up and the other going down. It was interesting, however, to note the diversity of the crowd as we continued to ascend. Due to the sheer abundance of people, I didn’t see as much wildlife as I’d hoped on the way up. I could only just make out the calls of a Pied Wagtail hiding within some vegetation adjacent to the river which surged next to the path. We climbed higher, a ‘Caw – Kraa’ came from the clouded peaks as two Ravens soared between two weathered perches. My favourite and most surprising sighting was the Wheatear, alighted on a rock in the distance. The reason behind my surprise is that I had only ever seen them at the coast - I certainly didn’t expect to see them half way up England’s tallest mountain!
We were making good progress and decided to have a rest before our last push. As we rested we watched a team of National Park volunteers working hard to establish a path near the top, it looked like hard work considering both the altitude and heat. Our energy replenished after some water and sweets, we were back on track hiking and it didn’t take long for the clouds to close in on us: visibility was reduced significantly. It didn’t bother me as I knew the sky was only partly clouded, though it was a notable reminder of how dangerous the mountains can be in unfortunate situations. We passed a fake summit - not the most pleasant feeling being completely deceived by the mountain, especially with high hopes of being at the summit. At this point I decided to put my camera away, it was holding us back and we needed to keep ahead of time in order to make it back to our campsite before dark. With a considerable amount of effort, Aggie and I finally reached the top and conquered Scafell Pike.
Although it wasn’t my greatest ever achievement, I unquestionably felt a huge amount of relief, it was something that needed to be done. We were very fortuitous with the views and conditions, 360° panoramic outlooks with sun beaming down on our heads, a rare experience on the summit of an English mountain. We managed to escape the crowd of people and found a spot where we could not be disturbed. We sat, and for the next 20 minutes we talked about the geological history of the lake district, a topic we had both studied at A-level. Conversations soon vanished and we laid silently, appreciating the view whilst munching on the remains of our food, a rewarding feeling. Unfortunately, we could not linger for long – it was a 4 hour walk back to the campsite and we had to consider the procedures planned for the rest of the evening, and so we left and focused on getting back down in good time. The overpowering two lines of people were still alive, a moving mark on the landscape. It was distressing to see litter left behind by some tourists. At one point I found a few bottles of beer left behind a rock - such an inconsiderate, disrespectful and damaging act to the environment, and to the beauty of the National Park. We reached the bottom and began our walk on the other side of the lake. There was no path, just a road, so we had to be wary of drivers from both behind and in front. About half way along the lake we stopped off at what appeared to be a set of small beaches, something I really didn’t expect. We took advantage of this by taking our boots and socks off to plunge our sweaty feet into the cooling waters of the lake – as you can imagine, the feeling was incredibly satisfactory. The scenery was magical - we laid on the beach, peering down into an exceptional U-shaped valley. We could see the scree slopes that we had walked across on the other side of the lake, although the track was not visible, which was no surprise, it wasn’t that prominent even when we were walking on it. After replenishing our energy with a small chocolate bar, we put our boots back on and continued our hike for another half hour, before reaching our campsite once more.
Once we arrived at the campsite we prepared to cook our last meal of the trip, risotto and couscous again. But It wasn’t long before we departed from our boggy pitch – by mutual agreement we decided that we deserved a pint from the local pub after the day's success. We sipped on our pints, embraced the elevated surrounding and talked about our trip as it was coming to an end. It honestly felt like it was a debt that I owed to my own country and to myself. I don’t know why I hadn’t organised it before, but it certainly felt like a liberation now I had finally hiked Scafell Pike.
A wonderfully evocative account of your weekend. I especially love the notion that indebtedness to nature can be honoured by truly appreciating it in the simple act of walking. It doesn't need grand overtures, and an awfully big adventure can be got as much in the well trod places as in the hidden. I love the nods to nature observation, it makes us want to retrace your footsteps (the mark of every good travel writer!) although I'm not sure we could match the scree scramble!
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