Great End wild camp in summer

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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

Parking up at the hamlet of Seathwaite

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. This would be the first outing for my tent this year. As is often the case, when I set out I wasn’t sure exactly where I was going to end up. However I knew that by setting off from the head of Borrowdale there would be plenty of options. Consequently the small hamlet of Seathwaite was a good place to start.

And so it was that I drove up Borrowdale to 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 lane.


From Seathwaite Into the fells

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. Under the clear skies the scene up Grains was particularly verdant so I also took a photo.

Grains Gill stream bounded by dry stone walls in verdant Grains valley
Grains Gill from Stockley Bridge

I guessed that both Styhead Tarn and Sprinkling Tarn would be surrounded by tents so decided to take the left fork up Grains, bypassing both. The footpath is behind the dry stone wall to the right of the beck. I would come down via Styhead Pass the following day anyway.

It wasn’t going to cool down any time soon so no point putting it off: I set off on the long climb.

One of the great things about being a photographer is that when I get out of breath I can use taking a photo as an excuse for a break. 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.

Grains Gill sweeps down towards Borrowdale and Castle Crag in summer
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. However 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. From the junction the path down to the right leads to Sprinkling Tarn. I was heading uphill though so took the left hand path that leads left up to Esk Hause.


Finding somewhere to camp above Esk Hause

The high pass of Esk Hause is the junction of many paths out of the valleys of Eskdale, Langdale and Borrowdale. I had camped here a couple of years ago as from here its a short climb to a few fell tops as well. All in all a good place to hedge your bets and set camp. However I was actually enjoying the masochistic climb in the heat so headed 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 flat area covered in grass and rocks. After a quick recce I found 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 the tent photograph 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, uninterrupted in three directions as they are. Scafell Pike obviously prevents a 360 degree view. Due the angle of the setting sun the best vista was looking directly down on Sprinkling Tarn on Seathwaite Fell and Grains Gill.

Part of 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. And to the left is Styhead Tarn near the top of Styhead Pass – my route down would take me past there.

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 I leapt into action and took a series of photos when the ever-changing light looked promising. A few days later I would stitch some of these photos to produce the following panorama.

As the sun dipped behind the cloud on the western horizon I returned to my little campsite on Great End summit. Even during blue hour the views from such a lofty position were great.

blue hour Lake District fells under pink dusk sky
Looking north-west towards the Coledale Fell from Great End at dusk

I’m always surprised at how light it stays during summer nights so despite it being past 10pm I didn’t need a torch.

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. However in the softer light after sunset 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.


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 than the summit of Great End. Fortunately the calm weather ensured that didn’t matter 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.

Great End, Broad Crag, Scafell Pike and Lingmell from Styhead Gill and
The Scafell Pike range from Styhead Gill

Great End can be seen peeking out from behind Seathwaite Fell on the left. Other peaks on the Scafell ridge can be seen to the right: Broad Crag, Scafell Pike and Lingmell. It was quite satisfying looking up to the lofty ridge 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.

track leading through green meadows towards seathwaite fell above borrowdale
Looking back up the track towards Seathwaite Fell

Afterthoughts

To be fair, it was hardly surprising that I was shattered as that was a strenuous climb, especially with all the kit I was carrying. The walk turned out to be about 9 miles in total. And later, having processed all the photos I had taken, I realised how productive it had been on that front. 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.

Great End wild camp in summer was last modified: March 21st, 2021 by Gavin Dronfield

Further reading:

  • Blencathra wild camp in autumn
    September 2015 :

  • Haystacks wild camp at Innominate Tarn
    October 2016 :

  • Sergeant Man wild camp from Grasmere village
    June 2018 :


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