Keen to try out our new tent, and with Friday off work, we decided to head up to the Lake District for a long weekend. The plan was to head over to Wasdale and complete a walk around Wastwater taking in Illgill Head and Whin Rigg with an overnight stay at the National Trust campsite before heading over to Coniston where would wild camp in the fells.
We always head out with these grand plans but I can remember few trips where we have actually completed what we set out to do and this weekend was no exception, but flexibility is good.
Friday 8th April
We set off from Oxford bright and early, reaching Ambleside by 12noon where we had to stop to pick up my new camping mat as I’d been sent the wrong item, that was quickly sorted and we picked up some sandwiches for lunch before heading over to Wasdale via the Wrynose and Hardknott passes. I’ve never driven over these so it was quite an experience although luckily not too busy as stopping and starting on these kinds of hills is not fun! Anyway we reached the National Trust car park near Wasdale Head, ate lunch and set off towards our first peak of the day, Illgill Head.
The path is nice and straight forward to navigate with an easy gradient. Sadly the views were not fantastic as the higher peaks were shrouded in cloud but I imagine on a clear day there is a superb view of the Scafell range and across the other side of Wastwater to Yewbarrow. As we climbed the stony path gave way to boggier ground and we followed the wall before crossing over and climbing up towards the summit. On reaching a cairn at what we thought was going to the top the cloud had closed in but despite this we were able to make out higher ground ahead and quickly realised we needed to plod on to the summit where there is a shelter and a couple of cairns. We had calculated the planned route to be approximately 9 miles and needed to get to the campsite by 7pm to book in so we were pushing it a little for time. With this in mind and given the limited view we only stopped to take the obligatory photo of the cairn and a selfie before setting off towards Whin Rigg. It’s an easy walk; a gradual descent with a number of small tarns en route and to the right the screes that are familiar to the edge of Wastwater, then a gentle uphill brings you to the summit of Whin Rigg. Sadly the view remained non-existent in the cloud until we started descending down a steep path following Greathall Gill. I’m never sure whether I prefer going up or down, uphill is plain hard work but coming down these steep paths makes my legs turn to jelly, either way I was glad when we reached flatter ground heading across some very muddy farmland frequented by cattle before we crossed Lund Bridge and reached the road. It was then a long walk following the road along the edge of Wastwater to the car, probably about 4 or 5 miles, but we didn’t fancy navigating our way across the screes. By the time we got to the car park we were both shattered but had made it back with 40 minutes to spare and wuickly made our way round the corner to the campsite.
In our tired state we took no notice of the person booking us into the campsite with his advice on which area was better draining, a decision we would later regret, and pitched up in a quiet spot around the back of the campsite. Not the easiest ground to get pegs into as it is stony just beneath the surface but we soon had the new tent up and with the rain coming down we were glad to have a porch area (will write more on the gear in a later blog post, but the new tent is a step up from the Vango Banshee 200 and a lot more spacious). Bellies filled with pasta and we were in our beds well before 9pm. However on waking in the night, rain noisy against the tent, I was to find the porch area getting rather soggy (we didn’t have a ground sheet as this has to be bought separately), it is never great trying to move things around in the middle of the night to ensure they stay dry.
Saturday 9th April
Wow, what a view! Bright blue sky, sun shining and snow on the peaks around us. It didn’t take long for us to decide we would stay put for another night rather than heading over to Coniston as planned. However, with the muddy porch issue walking was off the agenda for the morning as we needed to go and find ourselves a groundsheet so headed back over to Ambleside to traipse around the camping shops where we picked up a cheap groundsheet that would do until we ordered the footprint for the tent, and a lightweight frying pan to match the MSR cookset we have. Was really pleased to find this and think it will prove a useful addition on the hikes we have coming up later in the year. In hindsight we probably would have been better heading north to Cockermouth or Keswick as it might have meant less driving since Wasdale is not ideally situated for getting anywhere by road. It all took a lot longer than planned so we cut our losses, had lunch at a café then headed to Drigg to wander along the beach collecting shells and a lovely piece of driftwood. Views across to the Isle of Man, there was not another soul in sight. We also lucked out at the level crossing where we wondered what was going on with so many people waiting on the end of the platform until a steam train came through, suitably kitted out in that beautiful old fashioned way with lamps on the tables, very nostalgic. So back to the campsite and another night of rain, but luckily not the same muddy issues of the previous night, instead I stood staring at the sky, it never ceases to amaze me when you see the sky filled with stars, something you just don’t get to appreciate in the light polluted towns and villages.
Sunday 10th April
With our change of plans we had mapped out a route to bag a few of the other Wainwrights near Wasdale, taking in Middle Fell, Seatallan and Buckbarrow. Time to test out the new frying pan and fill up with bacon butties for breakfast, yum! We were glad of a hot breakfast given how cold it had been at night; we had woken to ice on the outside of the tent and a fresh dusting of snow on the surrounding peaks. It wasn’t an early start by the time we packed everything away and headed over to park up by Greendale. It’s a long uphill to the top of Middle Fell, not steep or difficult but relentless, and just when you think you’re nearly there another peak appears beyond. We played cat and mouse with another couple most of the way up, at one point stopping to chat we were saying there looked to be a long descent and ascent over to Seatallan, the gentleman kindly read a quote from the guide he had about how tiresome the route was, not a good’un! Oh well! The views from the top of Middle Fell are spectacular over Wastwater towards the Scafells and Great Gable, definitely worth the climb. As we made our descent on the walk over to Seatallan we stopped to chat to another couple who were looking to bag the same Wainwrights as us that day. We were debating over the best route, watching three people ascend the steep but more direct path we decided we would take the longer more gentle route, and left them deliberating. It was a long trek through boggy ground before we eventually reached the col between Seatallan and Haycock where we turned up towards the summit, the final ascent was not what you call gentle but less steep than the more direct route. When we got to the top, there were the couple we had chatted to, they had beaten us by taking the other route to avoid the boggy ground, although it did sound a rather lung-busting ascent. The difficult bit was definitely over as we took the path to Buckbarrow and the final peak of today’s walk. It’s a funny peak because there is the higher Glade How with its much larger cairn just before you reach Buckbarrow, however it does afford good views towards the coast, Sellafield prominent on the landscape and the contours of the Isle of Man beyond. With three peaks completed it was a nice walk following Gill Beck back to the road and along to Greendale before the long drive home.
All in all this was a lovely weekend; the walking was generally quite relaxed with nothing too strenuous (although I may not have said that at the time). We will definitely go back to Wasdale as the scenery is stunning, but will probably wait until the summer when we have a full week available as the location meant we spent a lot of time in the car so would be more worthwhile to be there for a longer period. Five Wainwrights completed this weekend brings our total to 73. We are hoping to be back in the lakes in a couple of weekends time so are looking into campsites and walks for then (I have to say I love the planning almost as much as the walking).