The valley of Eskdale, born under the eaves of the highest fells in England, descending to a lonely, quiet estuary letting onto the Irish Sea, is a treasure to all discerning visitors to the Lake District. It has often, by many people, been described as the purest valley in the Lakes.
That’s an odd description, and I’ve yet to read any definition of the meaning of ‘pure’ in this context. I’d venture a guess that, at least in part, it refers to Eskdale not having a Lake or two with which to attract tourists, though that would imply that those who do not seduced by sparkling waters are, in some fashion, more serious.
Be that as it may, I’d still go along with the description. From the magnificent rock scenery at its head to the lonely sands as the Esk finally emerges from the gentle foothills of the pastoral lower valley, Eskdale is a delight. A balance of strength, serenity, drama and beauty.
Full of contrasts, Eskdale breaks into three stages, each of which deserve a separate word. The photo above is an awesome aerial shot of Lower Eskdale, seen from the air as only it can. Here, within sight of the estuary, Eskdale is a place of calm and beauty, of green pastures, working farms, low walls offering an intimation of what is to come further on.
Lower Eskdale turns its back on the world. The road through Eskdale, en route to Hard Knott Pass, avoids it. The only access for traffic is an unsignposted lane, meandering through the sylvan peace of the place. It’s a beautiful drive, worth omitting a visit to Ravenglass for, but its quietness is its joy, so take care not to draw attention to it.
The Lower end of the valley turns its back upon the tourists. It offers them no great fells, stirring views, sparkling waters, or even little tea-shops offering cream cakes. Such things it leaves for the more commercially oriented middle part of the valley. Lower Eskdale gets on with its work, neither friendly or unfriendly.
That such places can continue to exist in the Lakes, and especially so close to great attractions, is a minor miracle, and this part of the Valley should be treated as such. Pass through, once in a while, take in the quiet, but don’t spoil it.