Camping Inspiration: The Hidden Lake District
If there’s a downside to the Lake District, it’s that it can sometimes feel a little too popular. And no wonder. It offers something for everyone, from solo backpackers to families on a summer holiday, which is why millions of us visit the area every year.
But don’t be put off by the crowds, because if you’re clever enough you can always find a quiet corner to enjoy Lakeland’s natural beauty, even at the peak times.
When campers think of taking their tents to the Lake District they generally think of the hotspots like Windermere, Borrowdale, Ullswater and Grasmere. These are all stunning places to go camping, but they can get a little busy on sunny summer weekends.
But on the west side of Lakeland you will find a whole new world which will come as a big surprise to many campers. You might consider valleys such as Ennerdale, Wasdale and Eskdale as the domain of the hardened fell walker or rock climber, where camping facilities are geared up to accommodate tough outdoors types. And while it is true that you will come across some basic sites that have attracted walkers, climbers and mountain bikers for decades, you will also find a good selection of larger sites with good facilities and perfect for bringing your family to explore this delightfully tucked away region.
There is plenty to see and do here and a lot of exploring to undertake. The hill walking is dramatic and can be made as hard or easy as you like, with towering mountains to explore including England’s two highest summits, Scafell Pike and Scafell rising above Wasdale and Wastwater. The low level walking along lake shores and river banks is excellent too. using an excellent footpath network. For cyclists there are plenty of opportunities and some lovely quiet lanes to be explored. And for family campers the sheer joy of sitting in front of your tent surrounded by some of Lakeland’s most dramatic views will be the thing that gets you hooked on the western Lake District.
There is so much here for the outdoor lover to enjoy, but for many it will be the peace and quiet, the less crowded roads and the chance to just unwind, that will hold most appeal.
Part of the reason Cumbria’s western side is quieter is that it takes a while to reach from the main road network that most campers use. But like all good things it is well worth the effort involved. And it really doesn’t matter what route you use to get to these hidden Lakeland valleys – once you have pitched your tent here once you will find you quickly add the region to your list of favourite destinations and come back time and again.
Wasdale is probably the wildest of all the Lakeland valleys and much loved by walkers and climbers. It has three claims to fame – the highest mountain in England (Scafell Pike), the country’s deepest lake (Wastwater) and possibly the smallest church (St Olaf’s). Wastwater is a superb example of a glacial lake and has the awesome rock fall known as the Screes tumbling from the twin summits of Illgill Head and Whin Rigg to the water’s edge along its south eastern side. If you get the chance to see the Screes at sunset you will be amazed at how dramatic the rock colours become, but at any time of the day they are an awesome sight. Wastwater is around three miles long, about a third of a mile wide and an incredible 258 ft deep. It is a magnet for scuba divers and there was once a gnome garden, complete with picket fence, set up on the lake bottom for divers to go and see!
At the head of the Wasdale Valley is the small settlement of Wasdale Head, where you’ll find the famous inn and a couple of campsites. The scenery here is simply stunning and the valley floor is surrounded by some of the highest mountains in England The valley is the one of the birthplaces of the British rock climbing movement as climbers based themselves at the inn and took to the rocks all around to put up new and daring routes on the likes of Napes Needle and Scafell Crag. For walkers there is a plethora of great outings that often take you to high rugged ground with stunning views. The view down Wastwater to Wasdale Head was voted the best in Britain by TV viewers in 2007 and is the emblem of the Lake District National Park. But for all its beauty, camping in the Wasdale Valley is a remote experience and one that will live long in your memory.
WASDALE NATIONAL TRUST CAMPSITE
Wasdale Head, Seascale, Cumbria CA20 1EX
This site is spectacularly located near the head of the Wasdale Valley and right underneath Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain. The site is owned by the National Trust and set among trees on flat grass. There are also 11 hard standing campervan pitches with electric hook-ups and there are some electric hook-ups for campers too. The site has a shop, which is just as well as it is so remote, a laundry and even a charging point for electric bikes. The toilet and shower block is clean and tidy and is being upgraded for 2019. There are 120 pitches overall.
Ennerdale is the most northerly of the Lake District’s western valleys and is a real gem. Crystal clear Ennerdale Water is the most westerly lake in Lakeland and probably the remotest overall. The valley is simply stunning and surrounded by some of the Lake District’s highest fells. This hidden lake and valley comes as a surprise to many visitors, as it is generally very much the haunt of fell walkers and mountain bikers, although it is also much loved by dog walkers from the nearby villages. It is a great location set in almost Alpine surroundings and one visit is never enough. Unfortunately, apart from the youth hostel, accommodation in the valley itself is scarce and campers will probably need to camp nearby and visit for a day. Alfred Wainwright’s 192 mile-long Coast-To-Coast footpath runs along the lake’s southerly shoreline, before heading over high ground to reach Borrowdale and continue on its long eastward journey towards Robin Hoods Bay on the Yorkshire Coast. Apart from its beauty Ennerdale has a unique claim to fame as it was on the banks of Ennerdale Water that former US President Bill Clinton proposed to his wife Hillary in 1973.
RAVENGLASS CAMPING AND CARAVANNING SITE
Ravenglass, Cumbria CA18 1SR
Ravenglass Camping and Caravanning Club Site is set on the west coast of Cumbria and makes a good general base if you want to visit each of the western Lakeland valleys in turn. The site is open to non-members and has 75 grass and hard standing pitches with plenty of electric hook-ups. The site is barrier controlled and has a one way road system. There are clean and tidy toilets and showers and a laundry. The site has Wi-Fi and is set on a sloping meadow side but pitches are flat.
Described by Wainwright as one of the loveliest of the Lakeland valleys, Eskdale is not quite as rugged and wild as either Ennerdale or Wasdale but it is still a feast for the eyes. The River Esk winds its way along the green valley floor through a smattering of farms, on its way to the sea at Ravenglass. Also sitting in the valley is the tiny village of Boot, where there are two pubs (the Boot Inn and the Brook House Inn) and further up you will find the famous Woolpack Inn, which has been much loved by generations of walkers. In fact, Eskdale is a true walkers’ valley, with high and low mountain routes just waiting to be explored. At the valley head, the road climbs over the magnificent (but scary) Hardknott Pass, where you find the dramatically-placed Roman fort of Mediobogdum. The Ravenglass and Eskdale Narrow Gauge Railway runs along the valley floor and is one of the Lake District’s must-do tourist attractions. Known affectionately as La’al Ratty, the line was originally built to transport iron ore mined above Boot to the coast at Ravenglass, but today it carries families and walkers on an atmospheric journey. For campers there are decent medium-sized campsites where you can pitch your tent in the most dramatic of surroundings.
Fisherground Farm, Eskdale, Holmrook, Cumbria CA19 1TF
01946 723723 or 07850 125952
Fisherground Campsite is set remotely in the Eskdale Valley among stunning mountain scenery in a clearing surrounded by trees. The site caters mainly for tents and most of the 170 pitches are grass, with a small number of electric hook-ups available. The site has a modern clean and tidy toilet and shower block with a laundry facility and there is a freezer. There is a great adventure playground for children with ropes and an adventure course and rafting on a pond. Fisherground allows open fires in fire pits and the site sells logs.
DUNNERDALE AND DUDDON VALLEY
If you really want to get far from the madding crowd, then this should be on your list of places to visit. Dunnerdale and the Duddon Valley are the most southerly of the western valleys and, although William Wordsworth was very fond of the area, they really are a quiet location and a haven for visitors tired of the crowds in the likes of Ambleside and Keswick. Even compared to the other western valleys of Eskdale, Wasdale and Ennerdale, this area is noticeably quieter than the rest of the Lakes. Walkers go gooey-eyed at the mere mention of the Duddon Valley, as it conjures up visions of lesser-known fells and emptier paths in remote settings. The two best-known settlements are the hamlet of Cockley Beck and the small village of Seathwaite, where you will find a nice pub and a campsite. The River Duddon gives the area its name and was one of Wordsworth’s wandering spots. The larger village of Broughton Mills is near the valley end and there are some dramatic roads to be found here which are narrow and require care. The views as you motor along however are stunning and well worth the effort involved.
TURNER HALL CAMPSITE
Seathwaite, Duddon Valley, Broughton in Furness, Cumbria LA20 6EE
Set in the Duddon Valley near the village of Seathwaite, Turner Hall Campsite has a backpacking area as well as a long main field. The pitches are all grass and there are no electric hook-ups. The field is quite open and has fences and some bushes around it with a track running down the field. The camping areas are quite undulating so you may have to search for a flat spot, especially if it is a busy weekend. The toilets and showers are near the site entrance and in separate buildings.
NEED TO DO
ESKDALE AND RAVENGLASS RAILWAY
Take an iconic steam train journey down the valley of Eskdale on a narrow gauge railway.
ST OLAF’S CHURCH
The yew-surrounded church in Wasdale is probably the smallest church in England.
A great family day out with landscaped grounds, displays, owls and hawks and a haunted castle too.
HARDKNOTT ROMAN FORT
Take a dramatic car journey to visit Mediobogdum, the Hardknott Pass Roman Fort high above Eskdale
A pretty coastal hamlet and the site of the Roman Naval base of Glannaventa.