A British television presenter once described the Lake District as a “pocket paradise.” I’ve been walking there for thirty years, for about ten years extensively with my camera, and I continually return. The Lakes have a charm which is a combination of outstanding beauty in compact proportion. I’ve been to the Pyrenees seven times, the Alps twice, Scotland five times, Wales and the Peak District innumerable times, and backpacked in Corsica. Amongst this catalogue of experiences I regard the Lakes as unique.
The Pyrenees, Alps and even Scotland – in places – offer more serious walking with greater height and effort involved. The Lakes have a more manageable experience with a greater concentration of delight. The disadvantage is after you walk there a few years there’s no more exploration or thrill because it’s familiar. Yet the attraction of the Lakes derives from the same point. Compared to other famous mountain locales it’s relatively easy walking: but with disproportionate rewards. It’s an exquisite place.
My favourite valleys are probably Ullswater and Eskdale. I say ‘probably’ because this changes and I’m also fond of the Buttermere valley for example, but over the years I’ve most enjoyed those two places. This is a distinctive feature of the Lake District, where the valleys are so lovely they are integral to your trip. I enjoy the Nant Gwynant valley in Wales (by comparison) but not so much.
From the Ullswater area you can climb Helvellyn, Sheffield Pike, Saint Sunday Crag and Place Fell, which I recommend combining with the lakeside path for a returning circuit. Across the lake from the small town of Glenridding you find one of the most scenic camp sites of the Lake District. From Eskdale you have access to the Scafells (Scafell Pike is the highest mountain in England), Harter Fell (a modest walk), an impressive Roman fort, Green Crag (a rough moor-like area with views back to the Scafells), and via Burnmoor Tarn you can walk to Wasdale with even further possibilities: Great Gable, Illgill Head, and Pillar which is one of my favourites. When I first discovered Pillar I walked there several times over a period of months and years later I spent one of my best wild camp nights below the mountain at Black Sail, ready for Pillar the next day.
Wasdale is described as the brother to sister Eskdale, one with a kind of masculine drama while the other is a softer and more comforting place. The camp site at Wasdale Head is a wonderful location, and there are two camp sites and various accommodation options in Eskdale. In either valley you can, if you wish, spend large amounts of money for plush rooms with comfortable facilities. The Wasdale Head Inn is a fine and historic place for refreshments, with a garden area beside a river with views up to Pillar. Eskdale has four hostelries; I like The Boot Inn which has a lovely garden where I’ve spent many hours. These establishments are traditional places with wood paneling and open fires.
This introduction gives a taste of the Lake District and why it is unique. There are other valleys and mountains I could mention and my favourites won’t necessarily be yours. Borrowdale is a popular valley and offers a wonderful walk up to Great Gable, the Buttermere ridge walk is undoubtedly one of the best…and so on. People visit the Lakes for tourist reasons and literary associations: the towns are attractive historic places (albeit busy), and Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter famously lived in the area. For me though it’s the hills – the big, pocket paradise hills – which are quintessential Lakeland and why I return. My photographs give you a sample of what you find there.