Having decided not to backpack to our next base, we loaded up the car and drove instead via a much longer route that took us out of the national park, then back in, to reach remote and rugged Wast Water. This lake and area have many claims to fame: the deepest lake in England, surrounded by some of the highest fells and spectacular crags in England (Scafell Pike – the highest, Scafell – the second highest, Great Gable, Kirk Fell, Lingmell, and Pillar), the 2,000-foot Screes, the smallest church in England, and the self-proclaimed historical center of British mountaineering.
The map of our drive shows how we took a leisurely route 45 miles by the coast compared to the 7 miles that we would have hiked.
At the end of the road, we stayed at the famous Wasdale Head Inn, once owned by Will Ritson, a grand teller of tall tales and for whom the World’s Biggest Liar competition is held every year. Politicians and lawyers are not allowed to enter the contest because “they are judged to be too skilled at telling lies…” The inn purports to be the country’s mountaineering center and is filled with wonderful examples of old gear and clothing.
Our plan for this one day in Wasdale was to climb Scafell Pike so that we could be, for a moment at least, higher than everyone else in the country. Alas, the weather gods had other ideas and brought a pretty steady downpour of rain which we sat and watched along with many others, hoping for a break.
When we got tired of waiting any longer, we donned our foul weather gear and headed out on Moses’ Trod, a gentle footpath up a valley that would hopefully open up a clear route to the top.
The skies up on the high fells never cleared enough for us to feel comfortable climbing into the low-visibility, so we sat and picnicked on our trail snacks alongside the beck while watching the constantly-changing cloud formations.
It is said in Lakeland that “the mountains make their own weather,” and we saw that first hand. Blue skies started to break through as we made our way back to the inn. It was a short stroll, but full of the drama promised by Wast Water.
Later, with low clouds hiding the full view of the 2,000-foot Screes, we could just barely see part of the treacherous lakeside footpath that we had been warned was too dangerous to walk.
Our stay at Wast Water was too short, to be sure. Yet I have a newer appreciation for the water color beauty of Lake District father-son artists Alfred Heaton Cooper and William Heaton Cooper, of whom I first learned 45 years ago during one of my many visits over the years to the Heaton Cooper Studio in Grasmere.
Because we had driven our car to Wasdale Head rather than backpacked, it meant that we had to drive back to Buttermere along another long scenic route, this time via the village of Loweswater, where we dined at the quaint Kirkstile Inn. The weather was improving by the minute, so we took advantage and made a short walk to the lake, which shares the name Loweswater.
In the soft light of the late afternoon and evening, we were treated to some of the best photographic conditions during our walk and got some of my favorite photos of the whole trip.
We stayed at the Buttermere Court Hotel (née the Fish Inn), home of Mary Robinson, “he Maid of Buttermere,” cheated in love by John Hatfield, and written about by Coleridge and in Wordsworth‘s “The Prelude.”