Wasdale Walks to Avoid the Crowds
It’s hard to imagine a better outdoor playground than the picturesque Wasdale Valley.
Measuring almost 5km long and 500 metres wide, the valley’s centrepiece of Wast Water is perfect for kayaks, canoes and paddleboards (don’t forget to pack a changing robe!). But the UK’s deepest water doesn’t offer exclusivity to swimmers - the surrounding fells make for some of the most rewarding walking in the Lake District.
The crowning jewel and bucket list item for most visitors to the remote area lies deep within the valley, Scafell Pike. Standing at 978m, the peak is the highest point in England - a fact that brings more than 250,000 to climb the famous fell each year.
And although one of the best hikes in the Lake District, the traditional Scafell Pike route via Wasdale is rarely the wild solo adventure you may first imagine. Set off any later than 8 am and you will quickly join a snake of tourists starting the climb from the National Trust car park.
This is a pleasant walk with well-cared-for paths thanks to the team from Fix the Fells, but Wasdale has way more to offer visitors than England’s tallest peak. Take a step away from the hoards of hikers this year to enjoy these alternate routes around the valley.
1. Buckbarrow, Seatallan and Middle Fell
Commonly climbed as a trio in a circular fashion, the peaks of Buckbarrow and Seatallan offer a taster of the valley without committing to the painstaking, single-track journey to Lake Head car park.
Common starting points to tackle the three include Harrow Head, Greendale and Nether Wasdale with a number of routes available to tackle the summit. Starting from Greendale allows for the most flexibility, although parking may be troublesome in the peak season.
After choosing a starting point and confirming the route, the rocky knuckle of Buckbarrow, sitting at 430m, can be easily navigated. Once summited, walkers can begin their journey to tackle the imposing Seatallan (693m) - the highest of the three peaks.
From Buckbarrow’s peak, travelling NW, via Glade How, begins the ascent towards Cat Bields, reaching a further distinctive cairn. Turning to the NE, a clear grassy ridge can be followed to reach the summit. Mist and low clouds are common in the valley - take care to avoid straying from the route.
After absorbing the stunning views on a clear day, a descent can be made in a similar fashion to the initial climb. However, those looking to add a further Wainwright to their list can adapt their route to include Middle Fell (585m) for an enjoyable circular walk.
Initially heading ESE and bending down a steep SE path, a ridge path can be quickly identified and traversed. The descent will return back to the favoured starting location of Greendale.
The distinctive pyramid of Yewbarrow (628m) is a lonely yet high-ranking peak that manages to embody the character of the valley as a whole.
Often climbed either as an independent Wainwright or as part of a larger route (Netherbeck Horseshoe or the Mosedale Round), there is, unfortunately, no easy way up. Walkers are best tackling the imposing peak starting from either Overbeck Bridge or Wasdale Green.
Climbing from Overbeck Bridge, the three main routes consist of a tricky scree scramble, a side approach and a challenging scramble. Climbers may continue, linking the infamous Red Pike (828m), for a challenging route before making their descent.
From Wasdale Green, head past the iconic Wasdale Head Inn (with Ritson’s Bar remaining on the left-hand side) before crossing over a small stone bridge to begin the ascent up to Dore Head. Continue by navigating up the rocky headland of Stirrup Crag to complete the Wainwright.
To descend, carefully retrace the route to the starting point. Don’t forget a hiking daypack with everything you need for a safe and successful trip.
3. Whin Rigg and Illgill Head
To the SE of Wast Water lie the imposing peaks of Whin Rigg and Illgill Head - the peaks that dominate the views from the roadside along Wast Water. The pair are regularly climbed together thanks to the high-line ridge that links the two and stunning views are on offer from either side.
Common starting points for tackling Whin Rigg are Nether Wasdale, Santon Bridge and the Eskdale Screes. Wasdale Head makes a great starting point when challenging Illgill Head, although expeditions can be made from both Dalegarth Station and Miterdale Forest.
A circular route, starting from Wasdale Head, can be used to tick the pair of Wainwrights off of the to-do list, although the shoreline travail of the Screes footpath can only be recommended for the hardy.
The Scree footpath, lining the SE of Wast Water, waives all offers of an enjoyable stroll as a visible trail abruptly disappears and a maze of boulders take its place. It’s a common mountain rescue hotspot thanks to its ankle-twisting terrain and remote nature.
A more sensible and enjoyable alternative involves starting at Nether Wasdale which opens two routes to tackle Whin Rigg. The first route atop is the steeper of the two and, although more direct, involves the challenging climb up Greathall Gill.
The second route is longer in distance, but shallower in gradient and offers a much more pleasant ascent. Following the route via Latterbarrow, walkers can maximise the route length with a much gentler slope. Once atop Whin Rigg, a 2.2km traverse across the well-defined ridgeline will take in Illgill Head within the hour.
The descent follows the path of the initial climb with the recommendation to avoid the Screes and stick to the sloped footpaths. For variety, an ascent via Greathall Gill and descent via Latterbarrow would be the favoured solution.
Further details on Wasdale walking
Mark Richards’ Walking the Lake District Fells series is a unique collection of eight guidebooks with all the routes to the summits of 230 Lakeland fells. The Wasdale Fellranger Guide explores 25 summits that can be climbed from the valleys of Wasdale, Eskdale and Ennerdale. Packed with complete route descriptions, HARVEY maps, fell-friendly paths, and hand-drawn topos, it’s perfect for peak-baggers looking to create their own Wasdale adventures.
Walking the Lake District Fells - Wasdale
The Scafells, Great Gable, Pillar
Mark Richards' Walking the Lake District Fells series is a unique collection of eight guidebooks with all the routes to the summits of 230 Lakeland fells. This guide explores 25 summits from the Wasdale area. Designed so peak-baggers can create adventures using the complete route descriptions, HARVEY maps, fell-friendly paths, and hand-drawn topos.More information
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