Cumbria Scenes – 31.5.12

Upper Eskdale

And last, we come to Upper Eskdale.
The tourists have all gone away, trailing back towards the coast down the long lanes of the valley, or toughing it out on the steep hairpins to Hard Knott. The walkers are left alone to approach the still-distant head of Eskdale.
Like the valley itself, Upper Eskdale goes through three contrasting phases. First is the low-level, steady march from Brotherilkeld (locally pronounced Butterilket) at the foot of Hard Knott, to Throstlegarth, at the foot of Lingcove Beck falls. At first the valley is wide and green: a new path, diverting walkers away from  Brotherilkeld itself, follows the river. But the bluffs on its far side soon close in, the walls grow narrower, the path hugs the river because there is nowhere else for it to go, and the bridge is reached at the point where the only way now is up.
But not straight on: Lingcove Beck tumbles from its hidden valley, but the Esk disappears to the left, unseen, impossible to follow in its Gorge. The way onwards crosses the bridge and starts up a steep, narrow trod, levelling out precariously above the impassable Esk Gorge, leading into  a wilderland of meandering, mossy land. The wall of the Scafell Massif rises imposingly, the route turning towards Scafell Pike and Ill Crag, the very scene shown in the first of this series of photos and accounts.
And then the path emerges into the vastness of the uppermost part of Eskdale, the scene in this photo. The river, already immense, so high in the hills, loops lazily between wide banks. It seems impossible that so big and flat a space can be found this high, among the surrounding immensities. Everything is dwarfed: there could be a thousand people strewn about this place and each would see themselves as alone, removed from all the others.
Beyond, Eskdale tapers upwards, between walls growing nearer and more forbidding. Somewhere above are the first traces of the River Esk, somewhere beyond the path expires on the final climb to Esk Hause.
To my shame, I’ve never been that way. Few people do. The highest foot Pass in the Lakes is one of the least frequented. Few come this way to cross to Borrowdale. They come for the mountains, for the Pike, and the miles are long enough and hard enough to reach the highest land without walking all the way to Esk Hause and following a difficult and stony ridge back.
But all of us should visit the Upper Esk at least once in our lives. The beauty of the fells and mountains of Lakeland is that they are human sized: unlike the Scottish highlands or the Cambrian Mountains, they don’t overbear, they don’t overwhelm.
Except in this one place, far from the world, in more senses than one, where we look up at grandeur.
Eskdale is, after all, the purest valley.


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