Wasdale in the far west of the Lake District is a valley of contrast and extremes. High craggy fells gradually melt away to a wooded rolling landscape and further still to the sea. It is the home to England’s highest mountain, deepest lake and smallest church.
Though popular parts of it mean there can be a few visitors, its remoteness also means there are wonderfully quiet areas to discover, too. It's the perfect place to escape the crowds and find your own peaceful corner of the world.
1. Scafell Pike
How could we not kick off this list with England’s highest mountain? At 978 metres above sea level, it’s not a climb for the fainthearted or the inexperienced! One of the most popular mountains in the Lake District, it's also a war memorial that was gifted to the National Trust after World War 1 in memory of those who died. If you’re setting out for a hike up Scafell Pike, make sure you’re fully equipped and knowledgeable about fell walking.
You can also see all of our holiday cottages close to Scafell Pike.
Wastwater’s iconic view of screes tumbling into the water is well known. At 3 miles long, half a mile wide and 260 feet deep, there’s plenty of spectacular lake to take in. Scafell Pike towers over it alongside many other impressive and craggy fells. If you’re familiar with the Lake District, you may also recognise Wastwater as forming part of the National Park’s logo!
3. St Olaf’s Church
At the very northern end of Wastwater is the tiny village of Wasdale Head and it's here where you will find England’s smallest church, St. Olaf’s! The earliest record mentioning the church is from 1550, though it’s likely that the building – or parts of it – date from much earlier. The roof beams, for example, are said to come from a Viking longship! It also has connections with the world of climbing: the south window includes a pane showing Napes Needle on Great Gable. The church is open for visitors during the day and is a perfect place for a bit of quiet reflection.
4. The Biggest Liar
We’ve had the tallest mountain, deepest lake and smallest church, but did you know that Wasdale is also home to The World's Biggest Liar competition? Taking place every year in November and The Bridge Inn, Santon, competitors attend from all over the world and have 5 minutes to tell their most convincing ‘tall tale’. The winner is then crowned following a vote from all the attendees! This unique competition began in the 19th century by the then-landlord of the Wasdale Head Inn, Will Ritson, who was known for his exciting and fantastical stories. Previous winners include comedian Sue Perkins and, reputedly, a Bishop of Carlisle who said “I have never told a lie in my life.”!
5. The Joss Naylor Challenge
Joss Naylor, MBE is perhaps Wasdale’s most famous son. The sheep farmer and fell runner, who has set many long-distance records over the years, was born and lives in the valley. His amazing achievements include running 72 peaks in 23 hours and 20 minutes in 1975; at age 50 completing all the Wainwrights in 7 days, 1 hour and 25 minutes and; and, at age 70, running 70 Lakeland fell tops in under 21 hours!
Those who want to follow in the footsteps of the man known as ‘King of the Fells’ can take on the Joss Naylor challenge. This long distance route starts at Pooley Bridge on Ullswater and finishes on Greendale Bridge in Wasdale. Only those over the age of 50 are eligible and it takes in 30 summits, covers 48 miles, and involves climbing 17,000 feet!
6. Agricultural Shows
Wasdale is particularly well known for the iconic Herdwick sheep, the hardy and lovely-looking animals that can be spotted in many areas of the Lake District. The annual Wasdale Show and Shepherds’ Meet is an important date in the Herdwick farmer's year and is a wonderful day out for visitors, too! There is a host of different events taking place during the show including animal judging, children’s sporting events, fell races, hound trails, traditional wrestling, and even staff/crook judging!
Just beyond the Wasdale valley is the hidden west coast of Cumbria. This undiscovered gem is a delightful place of quiet sandy beaches and rolling sand dunes. The rivers Esk and Irt flow together and out into the Irish Sea at Ravenglass and there are long stretches of beaches to be discovered: perfect for gentle walks and to really escape the crowds!
8. Rock Climbing
The wider Lake District holds a huge attraction for rock climbers because of the huge amount of fantastic options available for all grades. Wasdale is of particular interest as it is known as the birthplace of British climbing and has seen several ground-breaking achievements. Napes Needle on Great Gable is a favourite and popularly regarded as the UK's first rock climb. Scafell has many craggy features that make for interesting and challenging climbs.
9. Ritsons Force
Thought to be named for Will Ritson – the popular landlord at Wasdale Head Inn and the first World’s Biggest Liar – Ritsons Force is a series of waterfalls on the river that flows past the inn as well as past the Great Gable Brewing Company. To get there, head through the back of the Wasdale Head Inn’s beer garden and follow that path to a gap in the wall and then on to a group of trees up the hill. Here there is a wooden gate that you can pass through to reach the force.
The Lake District has some wonderful spots for stargazing thanks to its lack of light pollution and the isolation of many areas of the national park. Wasdale is one such place where you can really admire the night skies. There are plenty of spots in the vast valley bottom where you can lie back and observe or, if you’re an experienced nighttime hiker, head up Great Gable or Yewbarrow for a spectacular outlook.
I hope this gives you lots of choice for things to do in Wasdale. You can also check out our area guides for the surrounding areas of Eskdale and Ennerdale for even more places to escape from the crowds! Wherever you go, don’t forget to find your perfect holiday cottage.