Eskdale was a brilliant place to grow up. The valley itself is beautiful and I think the fact that it takes that tiny bit extra effort to get to it means that it hasn’t been spoiled and is still one of the quieter valleys in the Lake District. Because it is quiet we were pretty much left to our own devices when we were younger.
We used to get a season ticket on the Ravenglass and Eskdale steam railway and spend long summer holidays chugging up and down. It’s a beautiful ride (not that we noticed at the time) and it seems that adults get just as much out of it as children! When it’s hot, the open air carriages are full and even dogs are allowed to travel with a special dog ticket!
Then, once we’d learned how to ride a bike there was no stopping us. We’d cycle up and down the valley stopping off at various swimming spots along the river Esk. I’m not sure if I’d be confident enough do it now but we used to jump off Forge Bridge, then Trough House Bridge and then (working our way up the valley) jump off the rocks into the Upper Eskdale pools. They were just fantastic. I think I might find it a bit cold now but maybe I should revisit my childhood and try it again.
Certainly whenever I come back to Eskdale it feels like I’m coming home. All I want to do is get out there on the fells. Blea Tarn was always a particular favourite of mine – a walk with a point and it took less than an hour to walk there. Rob, of course, prefers the high fells and will go up Giggle Alley (beautiful Japanese gardens there, by the way), over the fells and up Scafell Pike before dropping down into Wasdale for a well earned pie and pint. If it were me, I would drive up Hardknott Pass to gain some height first. Then you can walk over Crinkle Crags, Bow Fell and eventually Scafell Pike. It’s still quite a hike though.
Talking of Hardknott Pass, this is an amazing road although not for the faint hearted. It leads to Ambleside and Windermere beyond but is a day out in itself. It is a tiny road winding up into the mountains. It is noted for being the steepest road in England with an incline of 1 in 3. Combine this with some very sharp hairpin bends, the odd car coming the other way and sheep on the road and you have a very interesting journey indeed. My dad took me up there when I’d only been learning to drive for a couple of weeks. He spent most of the journey with his head in his hands from what I remember. I’m not too sure because I think I had my eyes closed too! I certainly practised my hill starts that day.
Anyway, halfway up Hardknott Pass is Hardknott Fort, a Roman staging post in an amazing setting. It’s well worth a stop off there to imagine what it would have been like to be stationed there all those hundreds of years ago. If you like a bit of history, check out the Roman Bathhouse at Ravenglass which is 7 miles from Eskdale, on the coast.
April and May is my favourite time of year in Eskdale a great time to visit one of our Lake District cottages. The woods are full of bluebells and the woodland walk to St Catherine’s church is magical. Even better, take a detour at St Catherine’s up to Stanley Ghyll waterfall. The walk has a feel of being in a rainforest and the narrow paths lead you up a small ravine which criss-crosses the river over wooden bridges. The waterfall at the end of the walk is stunning – perfect for a moment’s quiet reflection.
Muncaster Castle is at its best in April and May too. The rhododendrons are fabulous in March/April and then once again the bluebells are fantastic here in May. The gardens are my favourite in Muncaster – I used to work there and it took me almost three years to explore them fully. If you’re quiet, the deer and rabbits may come out to play with you. I now come with my two little ones who love the playground and the ice-creams. I loved working there and occasionally would do a guided tour of the castle for groups. There’s a painting of Nelson which is one of only two full length portraits of him in the country … except that the frame the Pennington family had for him was a tad small so they cut off the bottom of his legs! There’s also a ghost there – I know because I slept in the haunted room and couldn’t believe it when I felt a cold presence and deep pressure on my chest. we have cottages in Ravenglass too.
If you would like a bit more quiet reflection, then I would suggest a trip to Wastwater in the moonlight. It’s just in the next valley to Eskdale and was voted Britain’s favourite view (in the daylight of course). Even with this accolade, it’s still a peaceful valley. Another great place for self catering in the Lake District.
And of course, sometimes enough quiet reflection is enough. It’s time for the pub and Eskdale is well placed for pubs with five in the valley plus a few others nearby. Self catering cottages in Eskdale