Having visited the tourist honeypots of Windermere, Ambleside and Grasmere a few months back, Laurence and I were keen to head a bit further off-grid on this trip to the Lake District. Cue: a four-hour train ride to the south-western Lakes for a taste of Britain’s “favourite view” (according to ITV viewers) in the form of Wast Water, a suitably remote and picturesque spot surrounded by England’s highest peaks, the Scafell range, and hundreds of adorable Herdwick sheep.
Leaving Leeds behind, our train passed along the southern edge of the Yorkshire Dales before going cross-country to Lancaster, a university town close to the west coast of England. From here, we boarded the most luxurious Northern line train I have ever set foot on (those on the Manchester to Chester line are hardly exemplar trains!) to Barrow-in-Furness, before changing trains again to reach Ravenglass, the Lake District’s only coastal town.
Resembling pack mules with our enormous food-filled rucksacks on our backs (see below for reference) we crossed the track to buy tickets for the Ravenglass and Eskdale steam railway. Known locally as the “La’al Ratty”, meaning “little railway” in Cumbrian dialect, this is one of England’s oldest and longest narrow gauge railways. Over the course of the forty-minute journey, the La’al Ratty crosses seven miles of idyllic countryside before reaching the foothills of the Scafell range.
Opting for a semi-sheltered carriage, we settled in ready to ride the La’al Ratty all the way to the railway’s terminus: Dalegarth for Boot.
With a puff of smoke, the La’al Ratty was off – veering away from Ravenglass and the estuary of the River Mite and into lush, green woodland. Before long, mist-covered mountains and swathes of ferns came into view, giving the valley a cloud forest-esque atmosphere.
Upon arrival at Dalegarth for Boot station, we lingered on the platform to get some photos of our engine, Northern Rock. Laurence thought he was in for a full-sized steam train ride, so was rather amused by the fact that it was a miniature railway and that the majority of passengers were a few decades older than us at least!
Leaving the station behind, we made our way along the narrow country lane to Eskdale Campsite – which was the most deluxe campsite I have ever stayed at, by a large margin. Besides the fairy tale-esque log cabins in sheltered woodland, the campsite had freshly mowed fields, a little shop, washing up facilities, unlimited hot showers and glorious views, all for £7.95 pp/pn. I’d even go so far as to say that this glampsite was nicer than many of the hostels I’ve stayed in put together. Since the power was out when we arrived, we pitched up in the backpackers’ area and were told to pay later in the evening.
A short walk took us to Eskdale Mill, the last remaining working mill in Lakeland. Complete with its historic working machinery, this is a Grade 2* listed structure – but since the waterwheel itself was covered in scaffolding at the time, we decided not to investigate further. Looking back towards Boot, rooftops peeked out behind swathes of bright-green ferns.
We then wandered south with the intention of seeing a couple of waterfalls, namely: Gill Force and Stanley Ghyll (which confusingly was labelled on the map as Stanley Force and signposted as Dalegarth Falls). En route to Gill Force, we noticed a small shore next to the edge of the (small) river – and decided to clamber down the bank to reach it! Since no one else found the need to descend the mossy rocks, we had the shore to ourselves.
We then passed by Gill Force – quite literally, as it was more of a trickle so we didn’t think it could possibly be a named waterfall on the map. Turns out it was just rather unexciting, compared to Stanley Ghyll. After a brief wander through some woodland, we were soon gaining height – and desperately hoping we could make it there before the rain came. The unsolved mystery of the day took the form of a set of underwear left on a rock by the side of the path – if the owner had gone for a swim, it would certainly have been a chilly one! Once we reached the waterfall, it was time to descend yet more acutely slippery rocks to get a better view.
The water tumbled over the rock, cascading into a small pool before wending its way down the hillside in parallel with the footpath. As the rain persisted, we climbed back up the rocks and made our way back towards the campsite to seek refuge in our dry tent (and pay for said tent’s pitch). Once fed and watered – and crucially, with the rain gone – we decided to go for a wander as the sun was setting over the hills, spotting another waterfall, a gorgeous ginger cat, a pair of Highland cows and a field full of Herdwick sheep on our meandering down the country lanes.
Eventually it was time to hit the sack so we could be bright eyed and bushy tailed in the morning, ready to cross Eskdale Moor to reach our base for the rest of the trip: Wasdale National Trust Campsite.
- Although these sights are all well-signposted, if you want to deviate from the signposted paths you should obtain the OS Explorer OL6 map.
- Take care on the descent to the waterfall pool at Stanley Ghyll – the rocks are slippery and should be avoided in wet weather.