Ennerdale is one of the more remote Lakeland valleys and it has a distinctive character of its own with a sense of tranquillity, ruggedness and wildness more akin to Scotland. It’s one of my favourite valleys along with Eskdale.
Six months ago I backpacked round the Ennerdale Horseshoe by myself to celebrate my 47th birthday. Strange way to celebrate a birthday maybe, but that’s just me. My dad had died very suddenly 6 weeks previously and we were about to enter lockdown. The world seemed to be turning upside down and I wasn’t sure it was ever going to right itself. I sat at the head of Ennerdale on that March evening drinking whisky and watching the sun go down over the Irish Sea and I took the photo on the home page of my blog. I promised myself that I would return as soon as I could.
Hannah returned to school this week after over 5 months at home and life feels strangely empty. No shadow following me everywhere talking non-stop and making me laugh. It was time to reclaim my life and return to Ennerdale.
The forecast was dry and cloudy but cooler than of late. Autumn is definitely on the way. I parked at the carpark at Bowness Knott on the north side of Ennerdale Water and started up Herdus at the start of the High Stile ridge. Great Borne and Starling Dodd passed quickly by, then onto Red Pike and High Stile. After High Stile I stopped to watch some climbers on Grey Crag. I’ve had my eye on some routes on there for quite a few years, some nice easy Diffs and V Diffs which is all I can climb these days. I then walked over the top of Eagle Crag, home to Eagle Front, the classic VS which I climbed one hot day in July 2003 with Roland. I was climbing well at the time and led the 5a crux without hesitation. One of my best climbs if not my best climb. We finished the day with a swim across Buttermere. Good times.
Back to 2020 and I was soon at High Crag starting the brutal descent down to Scarth Gap. I was going well and had gained about an hour on my March time. The next hill was Haystacks which always seems to take a long time to walk over. This was Wainwright’s favourite hill and his ashes are scattered here. I’ve never fancied wild camping here as I don’t like the idea of a ghostly Wainwright wandering round in the middle of the night. Not that I’m superstitious or anything 😀.
After 6 hours of walking I reached my campsite for the night underneath Gable at the head of Ennerdale. The wind was getting up, the rain was starting and it was decidedly chilly. It would be a cold night in my one season sleeping bag and insulated jacket which is all I use in summer. I then proceeded to nearly set fire to my tent which was extremely stupid of me. I’ve started using tiny gas cylinders for my small MSR stove to save weight and they make the stove very unstable when a pan is on top. The wind blew the stove over and the gas jet flared up into a huge flame, setting fire to the grass and almost touching the flysheet of the tent. I was expecting the flysheet to go up in flames any second. Quickly I reached across, turned off the gas and poured what was left of the cooking water over the grass. Disaster had been narrowly averted. Of course I had been cooking inside the porch with the tent door shut as I always do in bad weather, sat in my sleeping bag, and I would have struggled to escape had the flysheet caught fire. Even if I had escaped I would have been stuck at 700m above sea level, miles from anywhere, in bad weather, possibly with no boots or waterproofs or phone or head torch and with night fast approaching. Time to have another look at my cooking system and make sure that never happens again.
So I spent the evening sat at the head of Ennerdale again, watching the night descend over the Irish Sea and the lights of Workington. I’m not as keen on walking alone as I used to be, I had enough isolation in lockdown to last a lifetime, but I still love spending the night in a wild place with the wind, the rain and the stars for company. The world did turn upside down 6 months ago and I’m still not sure it will ever right itself, but it doesn’t seem to matter as much now. Go with the flow and take each day as it comes, things usually work out for the best in the end. Just don’t set fire to your tent 🙂.
Copyright – Text and pictures J Ascroft