Dale Head wild camp

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A walk from Little Town in the Newlands Valley to the exposed summit of Dale Head on what fortunately turned out to be a very still night of wild camping

A good forecast on an August Bank Holiday weekend

A decent forecast on an August Bank Holiday weekend in The Lakes? Apparently so! Normally I wouldn’t go out camping when it would be so busy in the fells but it was gorgeous out and was forecast to stay that way so I couldn’t resist.

The only thing I needed was a location that wasn’t very popular so wouldn’t be crowded. Last time I was on Dale Head I spotted a patch of flat grass very close to the trig point on the summit and that sprang to mind. I hadn’t camped there before so I thought ‘why not?’. Actually there’s a very good reason why not: Dale Head is a very exposed summit with no shelter from the wind in any direction. However the forecast was for very still conditions so my fears were allayed and a plan was hatched: I was going to do a Dale Head wild camp.

The next decision was how to get there? The easiest climb is from Honister Pass but that’s almost cheating as its such a short climb. As I wanted a decent walk too I decided to climb from the other side: from the Newlands Valley up the steepest route, a total distance of between 7 and 8 miles.

Climbing Dale Head from Little Town

Sunset wasn’t until about 20:30 so a late start was in order. Arriving at the parking area next to Chapel Bridge at 17:00 I strode energetically along the track towards the climbing hut.

dale head and hindscarth from the track in newlands valley in bright summer sunshine
The track heading towards Newlands Climbing Hut

It was very warm so my pace quickly slowed to a more sensible pace. Fortunately I could see that the setting sun would soon cast the valley into shade so at least some of the climb would be out of the sun. Phew!

Just before the climbing starts there’s a choice to make as the path splits: the main path heads up to Dalehead Tarn but I decided to come down that way the following morning. This evening I took the right-hand more direct route to the summit – better to get the climbing over and done with I thought.

The first snag with this route became apparent straight away: Newlands Beck.

The obvious place to try to cross is at some stepping stones near the confluence of Newlands Beck with Near Tongue Gill. However I was weighed down with all my kit and didn’t fancy a soaking!

newlands beck stepping stones under dale head
Stepping Stones in Newlands Beck

However a bit further upstream the beck narrows to a point where its easier to cross.

narrow section of newlands beck
Narrow section of Newlands Beck

I’d like to say I leapt over this like a gazelle but it wouldn’t be true. Suffice it to say I got to the other side and was still dry!

The path continues by contouring up the grassy slope opposite and crosses Tongue Gill before reaching an old building, part of the now derelict Dale Head copper mining complex.

dale head mine ruin above newlands valley during summer sunset
Ruined mine workings above Newlands Valley on Dale Head

It was at this point that I had to leave the shade as the last section of path leading to the summit ridge of Dale Head was still in the sun. It was stupidly warm so I took my time. Just as I had used up my rich vocabulary of swear words I reached a small cairn marking the junction with the main ridge path. Time to collapse in a heap! I wasn’t far from the summit but needed a break so I just lay there for a while and cooled down a bit.

I also wondered why I didn’t chose the short walk from the top of Honister Pass as that would have been much easier!

Where to wild camp on Dale Head?

Having recovered I became aware of the sun getting lower so pushed on up the final slope. Within a few minutes I was there and, as expected, there were no other tents.

I found the small patch of grass next to the trig point and I could have camped there. A quick wander along the ridge lead me to a more grassy area within sight of the summit though. As this looked more comfy I pitched my tent here instead. Thanks to the total absence of any wind this proved to be a straightforward task.

tent pitched on dale head summit ridge at red summer dusk
My tent a few yards from the summit of Dale Head

Bed sorted for the night and it was time to explore as the sun was setting.

Last light over the fells

It was immediately apparent that there was going to be a colourful sunset and the best views were looking westwards, over the fells between Buttermere and Ennerdale.

dale head summit ridge view of the setting sun over loweswater fell in summer
Setting sun over the Buttermere Fells

I’ll admit at this point to neglecting photography. Rather than keep on looking for more photos to take I decided to just watch the ever-changing colours with my own eyes. Sometimes its just better to live in the moment rather than try to record it. I did take one more photo however after the sun had disappeared.

vibrant red orange and yellow summer sunset over silhouetted dale head ridge looking west over loweswater fells
Silhouetted Dale Head ridge after sunset

Sleeping on Dale Head

I’m not sure how comfortable the pitch next to the trig point is but the grassy area I found was more than adequate. I was very aware that had there been any wind it would have been a totally different tale though. Fortunately the forecast turned out to be correct and there was very little.

Some time in the early hours I was awoken though. At first I didn’t know why but I quickly saw that one side of the tent was glowing. At first I thought it was my mobile phone but no, its screen was dark. After a few moments of confusion I sussed out that it was some hikers’ torches. I’m not sure who or why anyone would be climbing Dale Head in the middle of the night but I wasn’t going to let that worry me so I fell back to sleep.

A surprise at dawn

When I was woken up by my alarm at 05:15 I could tell that it was already getting lighter although dawn was more than thirty minutes away. Plus there was obviously still very little wind as the tent was barely moving.

One final thing to check: visibility. I unzipped the tent and stuck my head out. Bugger, I couldn’t see a damn thing! The ridge disappeared off in both directions into thick cloud.

After a deep breath I decided to get up anyway, sort my kit out out and see if things changed. It was then that I got the second surprise of the morning: the people who had walked past my tent in the middle of the night had pitched their tent on the grassy patch next to the trig point. Oh dear. That might present a few photography problems.

The cloud was constantly parting and closing in, teasing me with fleeting long distance views. While having breakfast and packing my kit away I kept my camera kit ready so I could take some photos. Despite the cloud the red hues of dawn were very impressive but only fleetingly so.

The other tent was pitched just to the right of this view. Fortunately it didn’t get in the way so I didn’t have to wake them up and ask them to move!

After what seemed like no time whatsoever the sun had risen and the views changed to a more uniform grey.

murky grey clouds over silhouetted dale head summit cairn
A murky looking Dale Head summit

At times I could just about make out what Dale Head is best for: the view down the Newlands Valley, sadly not looking as spectacular as it can.

newlands valley under thick grey cloud from dale head summit
View along the Newlands Valley from Dale Head

The view was soon obliterated as the cloud closed back in though.

Descending Dale Head via Dalehead Tarn

Kit packed and it was time to head back down. I still wasn’t sure of which route I was going to take but I didn’t need to make a decision until I got back to where I’d joined the Dale Head ridge the evening before. And so off I strode, quietly so as not to wake the other campers.

As I left the summit the light briefly returned and I couldn’t resist one last shot.

cairn on dale head in warm dawn light under light grey mist
Leaving Dale Head summit cairn

I soon reached the small cairn marking the top of the previous night’s steep climb.

small cairn on footpath up eastern side of dale head at the top of the traverse
Small cairn at junction of paths on Dale Head

It was obvious that the old mining ruins were still in shade and there was no guarantee the light was going to last. I therefore decided not to retrace my steps from the previous evening but to head back via Dalehead Tarn instead. Fortunately this would turn out to be a good call.

Continuing down the same ridge the path zigzags back and forth until the gradient levels out and Dalehead Tarn is reached. The wind was still almost non-existent so more photos were begging to be taken, this one being one of my favourite ones.

It was quickly warming up so this was a good place for a quick rest, even though I’d not been walking for long. I was in no rush.

No sooner had I set off again than it was time for another quick photo break. Dalehead Tarn feeds Newlands Beck, the river I leapt gracefully across the previous evening in the valley below. In its infancy the beck flows through a small but very photogenic ravine.

A bit further down the valley the ravine ends where Newlands Beck plunges down some falls.

waterfall as newlands beck plunges over bare rock into a plunge pool
Waterfall in Newlands Beck

While taking this photo I noticed the cloud had finally made a decision: it was going to descend. Coming down this route had been the right choice, more by luck than good judgement admittedly.

From the falls is wasn’t far back down to the point I’d left the main path and crossed the beck the evening before.

newlands valley footpath towards newlands beck waterfalls and dale head hidden by cloud
Looking back up the footpath towards the falls and Dale Head

The cloud was definitely coming in and enveloping the fell tops.

After passing Newlands Climbing Hut the path becomes a decent track and walking was much easier. My walk became more of a swagger as I realised what a great camping trip I’d just had. To celebrate I took one more photo.

track towards newlands climbing hut with newlands fells under heavy cloud
Dale Head hidden under the incoming cloud

The other chaps camping on Dale Head were definitely not going to get any views when they woke up.

A few minutes later I was back in my car heading home, a great camping trip having been completed. Plus there was quite a bit of photo processing ahead of me, not that I’d ever complain about that as it resulted in a few additions to my Lake District landscape photo gallery.

Dale Head wild camp was last modified: January 10th, 2022 by Gavin Dronfield

Further reading:

  • Great End wild camp in summer
    June 2016 : The tale of a nine mile walk from Seathwaite Farm at the head of Borrowdale in the Lake District to the summit of Great End for a great night’s wild camping

  • Sergeant Man wild camp from Grasmere village
    June 2018 : An eleven mile climb from Grasmere village via Easedale Tarn for a wonderful night's wild camping under the summit of Sergeant Man

  • Lake District Wild Camping
    July 2023 : A list of wild camping locations in the Lake District National Park tried and tested out by yours truly, including tips and advice

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