Climbing from Seathwaite to Great End
The Lake District had a summer recently that lasted almost a week! As it was over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend I thought I’d grab the chance to go wild camping, the first outing for my tent this year. When I set out I wasn’t sure where I was going to end up but knew that from the head of Borrowdale there are plenty of options so it was a good place to start.
And so it was that I parked up at the small hamlet of Seathwaite at teatime. As it was late in the day a lot of people had been, hiked and gone by the time I arrived so I managed to park at the end of the road, very close to the farm. That was a bit lucky as I was passing parked cars for more than a mile before arriving at the end of the road so it saved me a long walk along the road.
Having got my kit from the car boot I strode out confidently through the farmyard and onwards up the track out of Borrowdale. It didn’t take long for me to realise that I was going to have to take my time as it was sweltering! Seeing the state of the hikers returning after a long day out in the fells only reinforced the point. I shortened my stride and slowed my pace.
On reaching Stockley Bridge I had my first decision to make. I guessed that both Styhead Tarn and Sprinkling Tarn would be surrounded by tents so took the left fork up Grains Gill, bypassing both. I would come down via Styhead Pass the following day anyway.
One of the great things about being a photographer in the fells is that when I get out of breath I can hide it by stopping to take a photo, thus preserving my male pride. I took plenty of ‘photo breaks’ on that climb, during some of which I actually did take a photo! My favourite was the one below, looking back down Grains Gill from part way up.
View down Grains Gill towards Borrowdale and Castle Crag
Eventually I reached the top of Grains Gill and the small ravine of Ruddy Gill. There was potentially a nice photo to be had from here but it was the wrong time of day and the light was coming from the wrong direction. I made a mental note to come back and pushed on to the footpath junction ahead.
The weather was still fine and there was barely a breeze so onwards and upwards I went. Ignoring the path down to the right that leads to Sprinkling Tarn, I took the path leading left up to Esk Hause.
The high pass of Esk Hause is the junction of many paths out of Eskdale, Langdale and Borrowdale so at this point there was yet another decision to make. I had camped here a couple of years ago as it is a short climb to a few good vantage points. It is therefore a good place to hedge your bets and set camp. But I was actually enjoying the masochistic climb in the heat so pressed on, up the main path towards Scafell Pike.
On arriving at the top of Calf Cove I was on the summit ridge of the Scafell Pike massif. There are only two options here: left along the ridge towards Scafell Pike or turn right and take the short climb to the summit of Great End. I chose the latter.
Great End’s summit plateau is quite a large area covered in grass and rocks but I did find a small patch of ground that was clear of rocks and big enough for my tent. There had been no wind all day and none was forecast so I decided this was to be my bed for the night. I wasn’t keen on going much further anyway but counted myself lucky at having found such a decent pitch, even if it was a bit exposed!
An evening of photography on Great End’s summit
Having pitched my tent and sorted all my kit out it was time for exploration and photography.
Normally at this point I’d take a photo of my tent as a record of camping in that location so I mounted my camera on the tripod and framed the shot. Just then another couple turned up and I ended up chatting to them for a while. Apparently they had pitched their tent at Sprinkling Tarn and were out on an evening stroll. Lovely people.
However by the time they wandered off I had totally forgotten about taking a photo of my tent so have no proof that it was ever there. People will just have to trust me!
Anyway, the views from Great End are pretty damn good, looking down on Esk Hause, Lingmell Beck and Sprinkling Tarn as it does. Due the angle of the setting sun the best vista was looking directly down on Seathwaite Fell and Grains Gill.
The small ravine of Ruddy Gill I was visiting the following morning can be seen at the head of Grains Gill in the bottom right.
What I was mainly here for though was a decent photo of Scafell Pike so well before the sun set I headed off to that side of Great End. Eventually I found what I thought was the best vantage point. Perched on a bloody uncomfortable rock I spent about half an hour staring at Scafell Pike, occasionally leaping into action and taking a series of photos when the ever-changing light looked promising. I would be unsure of the nett results until I got home but had I known that one of the results of my endeavours would have been the following photo I’d have been well chuffed!
Save for when I took the above photo there was precious little decent light at sunset so I returned to my little campsite on Great End summit and explored the area a bit more in the remaining daylight.
I’m always surprised at how light it stays during summer nights so despite it being past 10pm I didn’t need a torch but my options as to what to photograph were limited. Luckily I spotted a craggy outcrop earlier on so headed there and took some photos of the rocks. A 30-second exposure produced this image, one I am very happy with. During the day the colours are bleached out by the bright daylight but at this time of day, in the softer light, they show up very well.
Watching a clear dawn from Great End
At 4am the following morning, following a decent night’s sleep, I would like to say I leapt out of my tent but I didn’t. Its far too early to be that energetic! However on unzipping the tent and seeing that the skies were clear I was instantly put in a good mood. I was also very grateful the forecast had turned out to be correct and there had been no wind whatsoever.
It turns out Great End is very definitely better as a vantage point for sunsets than for sunrises. I still managed to take this photo though, looking north east between Clough Head and Blencathra towards the Eden Valley, taken just before the sun rose.
Descending from Great End back down to Borrowdale
After that I realised how blinkin’ cold it was so, after a quick breakfast, I broke camp and got moving! On my way down I saw a couple of tents at Esk Hause that weren’t there the previous evening. This is definitely a more sheltered location that Great End summit but that didn’t turn matter as it turned out so I didn’t regret my decision. Anything but!
On reaching the junction for the Ruddy Gill path I had climbed up the night before I took a quick detour down it and, as I suspected, the different angle of light made for a much better photo.
With the rising sun it was warming up quickly so my descent was slow with plenty of breaks. No need to rush. Despite there being numerous tents at Sprinkling Tarn there was still plenty of room for more. Further down, the grass around Styhead Tarn was pretty much packed to the rafters though. I took an extended break at the footbridge crossing Styhead Gill, a good place to look back and see where I had slept the night before.
The Scafell Pike range from Styhead Gill
Great End can be seen peeking out from behind Seathwaite Fell on the left, while to the right other peaks of the Scafell ridge can be seen: Broad Crag, Scafell Pike and Lingmell. It was quite satisfying to sit here knowing I had spent the previous night up there.
The descent back down to Seathwaite that followed was uneventful, something I was grateful for. Just before reaching the hamlet I found the energy for one last photo though.
Looking back up the track towards Seathwaite Fell
There was an immediate sense of achievement as I had survived. And later, having processed all the photos I had taken, I realised how successful it had been on that front too. I don’t think I have taken so many ‘keepers’ on a wild camping expedition before! A very worthy entry in my Lake District wild camping locations list.
All my photos of the National Park can be viewed by visiting my Lake District landscape photography gallery.
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