Tim Gent finds the best route along the Wast Water Screes: by canoe. He also describes a Wast Water Screes walk.
Consider the words used by outdoor writer Mark Richards to describe the Wast Water Screes: “the most awful tilt of boulders nature bequeathed a Lakeland path.” Hardly encouraging. Even Wainwright wrote: “This section is really trying and progress is slow, laborious and just a little dangerous.” No wonder then that having climbed everything else within reach of Wasdale Head, the inviting ridge holding Illgill Head and Whin Rigg, with a classic return along this shattered path, remained unvisited. That is until I looked again at Wast Water, turned to gaze on my trusty canoe, and spotted what Baldrick might term ‘a cunning plan’. This cunning plan involved 9km/5.5 miles walked, 4.5km/3 miles paddled, and 540m/2,148ft of ascent, and it took 4-5 hours.
They’re a kindly lot at Wasdale Hall. Once assured that I had eyes only for their lakeside lawn, the YHA staff let us deposit canoe and paddling kit by the water. They tell me they’re happy to babysit other craft, as long as their modest car park isn’t filled with unloading paddle-climbers for too long. Ten minutes later, and we were parked at the National Trust Brackenclose site below Scafell Pike (in some free spaces opposite entrance).
Views of England’s finest peaks
At first we joined those heading for England’s loftiest spot, soon turning right to leave them as we reached a fork in the path. Heading towards our goal, we broke out first into a short section of pasture, then onto a good path alongside Fence Wood. You can stick to this path for a while, or cross Straighthead Gill to take the hill head on. Either way, the route steepens, then steepens again, until the last haul up the grassy slope to the top of Illgill really tests the cardio-vascular system. The morning had been half-decent, but as we strode those last few metres towards what I’d been informed were glorious views down the scree to Wast Water, with some of England’s finest peaks studding the horizon, the mist, wind and rain hit. We’re used to this sort of thing of course – what hillwalker isn’t? But I did want some photos.
We sat in the lee of a welcome stone, camera returned to a dry-bag, munching slightly dejectedly on cheese sandwiches. And then the sun came out again. By the time we reached Whin Rigg the views out to the distant sea were silver-edged and sparkling. Things improved rapidly as we made our way to the head of Greathall Gill, before dropping downslope among the bracken to cross Lund Bridge and find our canoe.
Afternoon sun had turned Wast Water a rare blue. Fluffy clouds added character to an even deeper blue sky. With a warm breeze at our backs, and one of the most stunning and shattered rock slopes, and paths, in England bathed in warm light alongside, it was all rather lovely.
A final haul up the incline onto the road by the cattle grid (probably the only sensible exit point) reunited canoe with van.
No canoe? Walk around the NE side of the lake or along the foot of the screes.
- Unload your craft at Wasdale Hall, driving to park (NT charged) at Brackenclose.
- Take the Scafell path, turning R at the hut/hostel. Follow the path to pass Fence Wood, then turn SW to climb Illgill Head.
- Continue SW to Whin Rigg, then find the head of Greathall Gill.
- Descend to cross Lund Bridge, finding the road and turning right towards Wasdale Hall.
- Paddle up the lake, exiting by the cattle grid before going in search of your vehicle.