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Eskdale is a lovely valley stretching deep into the heart of the central Lake District, with its green fields grazed by flocks of Herdwick sheep, watered by the sparkling River Esk and bordered by tracts of mature woodland.
Our favourite things to do in Eskdale
Known locally as the "la'al ratty", the Ravenglass and Eskdale steam railway runs through the valley linking the small villages of Eskdale Green and Boot – the latter being home to a working corn mill, five real-ale pubs, an old iron ore mine and one of Lakeland’s loveliest waterfalls. Here we have put together our top things to do in Eskdale if you are staying in one of our Holiday Cottages in Eskdale.
Hardknott Roman Fort
Described as ‘an enchanted fortress in the air’, Hardknott Roman fort is perched on an elevated shoulder of land with glorious views down Eskdale. This far-flung outpost of the Roman Empire (known as Mediobogdum) guarded the military road between the Roman port at Ravenglass and the fort at Ambleside (Galava). The ruins are well preserved (thanks to their remote setting) and comprise four gateways and corner towers, with the foundations of the Principia (headquarters building), Praetorium (commandant’s house) and Horrea (granaries) visible in the interior. Just outside the fort are the remains of the bath house, and further uphill is a levelled area that was used as a parade ground.
Hardknott And Wrynose Passes
If you want to get out of Eskdale eastwards, the only exit is via the tortuous switchback bends of the Hardknott and Wrynose passes into Little Langdale. These passes are not for the faint-hearted and should only be attempted if you have confident driving skills. They do, however, make for an exhilarating travel experience – if you like that sort of thing!
Real ale in Eskdale
Historically, trains of packhorses regularly passed through the valley carrying local goods for export and bringing back exotic spices, sugar, tobacco and spirits from overseas. It was thirsty work for the men and their packponies, so hostelries provided welcome refreshments and overnight accommodation. Eskdale is blessed with several of these inns that are still going strong today. These include Brook House Inn, King George IV Inn, Bower House Inn, Boot Inn and the Woolpack – all serving local real ales in traditional settings. The Boot Beer Festival takes place in early June every year, when you get the chance to sample a huge range of locally produced ales.
Waterfalls, woodlands and wiggly walks
Stanley Ghyll Force is an impressive plunging waterfall in a wooded setting, described by Wordsworth as one of the finest in the Lake District. It was named after the Stanley family, one-time occupants of Dalegarth Hall, who promoted the waterfall as a scenic attraction in Victorian times. In fact, rangers and volunteers for the National Park have now cleared invasive plants so that the upper part of the waterfall can be seen - a sight that has been hidden since the Victorian era! From Dalegarth Station it’s an interesting 4-mile circular walk that takes in a tiny riverside chapel, a series of stepping stones and plenty of woodland scenery. Be careful when approaching the falls because of potentially wet and slippery conditions.
The narrow ridge of Muncaster Fell divides Eskdale from Mitredale and offers an enjoyable elevated walk along a route that is partly Roman in origin. A popular option is to take the steam train from Ravenglass (or Muncaster Mill) to Irton Road or Eskdale Green stations and walk back along the top, taking in the delights of Muncaster Castle on the return leg.
With their distinctive white heads, grey fleeces and sturdy legs, it is impossible to mistake a Herdwick from any other sheep. This hardy breed is ideally suited to withstand harsh Cumbrian winters and remains the top choice of grazing animal for most local sheep farmers.
Brotherikeld Farm at the head of Eskdale was one of the original ‘herdwycks’ or sheep farms managed by Furness Abbey. Today, it is still one of the largest Herdwick farms in the Lake District.
Sheep farming was (and still is) an essential part of Cumbrian life and many local dialect words reflect this historical association. If you hear a farmer mention these words, this is what they mean . . .
- 'tup' or 'tip' - adult male ram
- 'ewe' or 'yow' - adult male ram
- 'grimmer' and 'hogg' - young female ewe
- 'shearling' - ewe between 1 and 2 years old
See Herdwicks for yourself by coming along to the Eskdale Show, held on the last Saturday of September every year.
The Beckside boggle of Mitredale
Mitredale is a secretive and lonely valley, separated from Eskdale by a craggy ridge. Although largely forested in its upper section, the valley has plenty of hidden delights for the intrepid explorer to discover and a chilling tale to boot . . .
At the head of Mitredale is an old farmhouse which now lies in ruins after the occupants fled in terror. One evening there was a knock on the door, which opened to reveal an old woman covered in a shawl. She asked if she could have lodging for the night and was invited into the parlour to keep warm by the fire. The farmer’s wife had been busy that evening boiling mutton fat (tallow) to make candles. Eventually the old woman fell asleep and the covering shawl slipped from her head revealing an unshaven man clutching a knife. The farmer’s wife was gripped with fear, and lifted the boiling pan of tallow and poured it over the stranger, choking him to death. The next day the farmer returned to find the corpse still in front of the fire. Not knowing what to do, they decided to bury the body secretly and never to speak of it again. But, thereafter, the family were plagued by constant troubles and had to flee the valley never to return.
The red ore of Boot
Just above Boot are the vestiges of Nab Gill iron ore mine. The remains of an incline, mine office and smithy can be seen, along with a railway platform. This was the original terminus of the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway (or La’al Ratty as it is better known), which opened in 1875 to carry iron ore from the mine to Ravenglass. For the best view, head to the track above Eskdale Mill and look across to the industrial remains.
Who would have thought that in the heart of Eskdale is a hidden Japanese garden? From Eskdale Green, follow the footpath through Giggle Alley Wood until you reach a flight of stone steps which delivers you into an oriental world far removed from the woodland surrounds. The garden, once part of the Gatehouse estate, was designed to utilise natural features to create an idealised eastern ‘garden’ enhanced by water features and judicious planting of bamboo, azaleas, Japanese maples and rhododendrons. The garden was abandoned in the 1950s but is now being lovingly restored to its former glory. Free admission.
To learn much more about this beautiful valley, go to St Bega’s Church in Eskdale Green. Here a series of highly attractive and informative panels richly illustrate all aspects of Eskdale’s amazing heritage and landscapes.
Useful Information for Eskdale
- Ten things to do in Eskdale
- There are lots of dog-friendly cottages in Eskdale if you bring your furry four legged friend. See our review of Dog-friendly Lake District Pubs.
- Tick list for recommended things to do in Eskdale & Wasdale
- Lake district short breaks information
- If you would like to spend a day of guided climbing, canoeing, ghyll scrambling or other outdoor adventure sports, then see our review of outdoor activities in the Lake District.