Scrambling across The Screes of Wast Water

As we set off from the campsite towards Wast Water, the wispy grey clouds overhead looked somewhat ominous. Undeterred, we decided to go along with our original plan – a circuit of the three-mile long glacial lake, taking in the shoreline footpath along the southern edge before returning via the road on the northern edge. So far, so bon.


Leaving Wasdale Head and the Scafell range behind, the little track wove in and out of the ferns which smothered the hillside. As the path progressed, however, we were given increasingly large tasters of scree slopes which had the capability to roll you into the depths of Wast Water should you put a single toe wrong. Clearly this side of Wast Water wasn’t labelled The Screes for nothing – and when even the hardy Herdwick sheep have turned their noses up at it, you know you’re in for a tough one.


Sensing a small-scale adventure, we decided to pursue the scree slopes – and once we’d started, we couldn’t very well turn back. Why? Because each time we crossed a relatively small bit of scree (10 metres or so, perhaps) we would rejoin the grassy path, continue picking our way along, and then baulk at the next patch of scree before repeating the process all over again. It was all hands (and feet) on deck to scramble across the scree – though putting my hands into cobwebs sent my senses into meltdown at times! Laurence seemed to take utter delight in clambering across the rocks, whilst I was slightly more preoccupied with ensuring that none of the wobbly stones took me with them into the icy depths of England’s deepest lake (79m). At one point, we were moving painfully slowly across half a kilometre or so of semi-loose scree – and my concentration was being tested to the limit, since my brain had definitely gone into standby mode after exams. Eventually – finalement! – we neared the western tip of Wast Water; it only took us 3.5 hours . . .


We passed a few more craggy outcrops, but luckily no more expanses of exposed scree, en route to Wast Water’s western shore. Blue skies were rolling in, a promising turn in the weather for the return leg of our walk.


From Wast Water’s western edge, mountains rose out of the lake’s glossy surface – but the best views were yet to come.


Looking back towards ‘The Screes’, I was only too pleased to be leaving them behind and moving on to pastures (and footpaths) new.


Leaving the lakeshore, we passed a field of freshly-rolled hay bales before skirting round the edge of Low Wood to join the road. This narrow country lane was full of F1-wannabees – and consequently we took any opportunity we could to avoid the road, including detouring via the YHA Wast Water, a 19th century manor with a beautiful half-timbered façade. After a brief stint on the road, we crossed a cattle grid before reaching a rocky outcrop at the lake’s edge. From here, we had a full view of our outbound route (the photo below shows the worst bit) – which from this side of the lake looked bordering on reckless.


A little further on, the sloping grassy banks of the northern lakeshore and foothills of the Scafell range to the east converged to give us that postcard-perfect view of Wast Water.


Though the blue skies and rays of sunshine may indicate otherwise, time was getting on. Sheltered inlets were occupied by swimmers (insanity incarnate); others were kayaking or skimming stones across the surface.


The last shafts of sunlight disappeared behind Yewbarrow as we made our way towards our campsite – (not) ready to be eaten alive by midges as we had our tea. Next up: Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain.


  • Make sure you’re carrying a copy of the OS Explorer O6 map; alternatively, a photocopy (or two) of the relevant section will do.
  • I wouldn’t recommend taking young children (or dogs) across ‘The Screes’ – it’s an accident waiting to happen, and in all honesty the views are just as good from the roadside.
  • Take insect repellent – and lots of it. The Lake District midges are not to be messed with.

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