Until this trip I had never visited Eskdale; a mixture of laziness and familiarity with the more easily accessible surrounds of Borrowdale, Langdale, Patterdale, and the other eastern honeypots of the Lake District must have caused my eyes to flash over that mass of tightly knotted contours on the map.
Actually that’s not quite true, I do remember diving the Hardknott Pass just after passing my test driven by some twisted logic that as it was the steepest, and therefore hardest, road in the UK, I must immediately challenge myself against it. Having made it back down the 33% hairpins with brakes and body panels intact I promptly forgot about it until recently when the thought of a long rambling approach to Sca Fell came to mind.
Well I’ve been missing out, Eskdale is glorious! I’m sure it was partly the stunning late winter high pressure weather, a cloudless blue sky and snow dappled peaks that brought out the best in the landscape, but, Ennerdale aside I don’t think I have felt so remote in the Lakes so quickly after leaving the car.
My route took me from Jubilee Bridge along side the Rive Esk with its myriad of waterfalls and deep plunge pools, perfect for a bit of wild swimming, up onto the Great Moss a broad valley ringed by high peaks. Here there is little if any sign of human habitation, a little piece of wilderness with faint paths and bridge-less rivers to be forded more like Scotland than one of England’s busy national parks.
From the Moss I scrambled up alongside How Beck Falls (Cam Spout) which cascades in a series of steps down the steep hillside (and is now firmly on my winter tick list). Above the waterfall the path climbs up towards Mickledore and Broad Stand but before reaching this I turned left up a narrow gully to Foxes Tarn and a steep pull op scree to the summit of Sca Fell.
Patches of hard snow covered the summit with deep post holes from accents under more challenging conditions forming an easy staircase up the last few meters. For a few precious minutes after arriving I had the summit to myself and was able to enjoy view of snowcapped mountains out to the horizon. Skiddaw and Blencathra where prominent to the north, their peaks dusted with white above the greens and browns of the valleys below. To the west the sea stretched out to the horizon with the Isle of Man visible in the distance.
I had seen nobody on my long walk up, enjoying the isolation and the chance for a skinny dip in the river, and now was somewhat shaken out of my solitude by the arrival of about 40 hikers within 5 minutes who had all made their way up the southern ridge of the mountain. This somewhat threw me out of my reflective mood and I beat a hasty retreat back town towards the Moss.
I have not enjoyed a day in the hills more for a long time, and wonder what else I’ve missed so close to home.