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Wild camping on Esk Pike

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Wild camping in summer in the Lakes

I often think twice before going wild camping in the Lakes at the weekend in July or August as it can be so damn busy, especially if the weather’s good. It can seem as if everyone is out camping! As a result I try to pick a quieter location, either heading somewhere well off the beaten track or where there’s a good choice of places to pitch a tent. On this latest trip I chose the latter option and headed into the busy fells at the head of Borrowdale.

And so late one gorgeous Saturday afternoon I parked at Seathwaite and set off along the path up the valley. At Stockley Bridge I took the right hand fork heading up to Styhead Tarn, the first of the wild camping spots I would pass.

It was warm. Very warm! The red faces on the people heading down suggested it had been that way all day and it wasn’t cooling down any time soon. Having got the steep bit of the climb out of the way I paused for a breather and a photo.

borrowdale valley from the footpath heading up to styhead pass
Borrowdale from the path up to Styhead Pass

Finding a place to camp above Borrowdale

Having crossed the wooden footbridge over Styhead Gill I was soon at Styhead Tarn, the first of the popular places to camp in the area. And there were loads of people and their tents already here.

tents pitched around the shore of styhead tarn on a summer evening
Tents at Styhead Tarn

I counted ten tents with many more people than that. There was definitely nowhere decent left for anyone else.

After a quick photo break I moved on, turning left at the mountain rescue box after the tarn and on up to Sprinkling Tarn. Surely there must be room there?

tents pitched around the shore of styhead tarn on a summer evening
Even more tents at Sprinkling Tarn

No, I was wrong. Its hard to tell from this photo as most of the tents were on the far shore but I counted eight in total. Ok, I know I could have camped amongst the crags on Seathwaite Fell (seen in the background of the photo) but any photos I took around here would probably have tents in them. As there were a few more hours of daylight I kept on climbing.

The path from here leads past the head of Ruddy Gill and up to Esk Hause, from which there’s a choice of directions to take.

footpath from Sprinkling Tarn to Esk Hause under Great End crag on a summer evening
The path from Sprinkling Tarn to Esk Hause

The lower part of Esk Hause (where the stone shelter is) was too stony to sleep on so I thought I’d check out the upper part between Esk Pike and Scafell. I had camped there before and found it to be quite hard ground – it hadn’t changed. So what to do?

With time on my hands I decided to carry on up Esk Pike and I’m so glad I did. Just below the stony summit crag was a small area of mossy grass that was spot on.

terra nova explorer tent pitched near summit crag of esk pike
My tent very conveniently close to the summit crag of Esk Pike

That was me sorted for the night. Time to explore.

Evening explorations around Esk Hause

I wasn’t expecting much of sunset as the Scafell ridge dominates the western horizon from Esk Pike so the sun was going to be hidden quite early. On the other hand sunrise would be much better from here. Even so I got my camera kit out and ventured off to see what I could do. While at it I could reccy some locations for the amazing sunrise I was going to bear witness to the following morning.

Heading back down Esk Pike towards Esk Hause the last light was already catching the fells.

sunset view from esk pike out over allen crags, glaramara and sprinkling tarn
View over Borrowdale’s fells towards a distant Derwent Water

As is often the case though I could see the light elsewhere was much better than where I was. Being on the fell tops overlooking Wasdale must have been spectacular!

Even so I was just grateful that it just turned out to be a very pleasant evening with no wind whatsoever.

Having waved goodbye to the sun I wandered back up to my tent. Despite being after sunset It was still fairly light, helped by the bright moon overhead.

moonlit terra nova explorer tent pitched under esk pike summit crag
My moonlit tent on Esk Pike

And it was still only 9:30pm: the night was young and it was way too early to go to bed. The only thing to do was to sit on Esk Pike and enjoy the views.

From my perch I could see some torch lights on the summit of Scafell Pike across the head of Eskdale – probably people doing the National Three Peaks. I’ve never understood why people do them all in one go but each to their own. I’d rather be here chilling out and watching them from a distance. Luckily I was far enough away to not hear them so was going to sleep well. Speaking of which it was bedtime.

The morning after wild camping on Esk Pike

As soon as it started to get light I was awake, well before dawn (at 04:30am). Time was of the essence as I wanted to get in place and get my camera set up for a series of colourful dawn photos. By climbing back to the summit of Esk Pike the view of the first light turning Scafell red should be something else. I was excited so without further ado I got dressed, jumped out of my tent and took the first photo of the day.

wil camping in a terra nova explorer tent in mist on esk pike
”Spectacular” dawn on Esk Pike

Oh dear. Actually that’s paraphrasing what I really said but the sentiment was pretty much the same.

Being an eternal optimist I still took the short scramble to the summit with my breakfast and camera kit to see if a miracle was going to happen.

At one point, mid-banana, the clouds did appear to be lifting revealing the summit of Scafell Pike.

scafell pike summit in cloud across head of eskdale from esk pike summit
Scafell Pike makes a dawn appearance

But it was all too brief and was soon hidden by the cloud.

cloudy enshrouded view from top of esk pike
Scafell Pike … gone

From Esk Pike down to Borrowdale

With the cloud seemingly set in, I finished my breakfast, packed up my kit and headed off downhill to Esk Hause.

two herdswick sheep on pasture land at a misty esk hause
Herdswick sheep guarding Esk Hause

While discussing the weather with the herdswicks at the hause the cloud threatened to lift once more.

Yet again it didn’t last so I just continued on my way down.

Rather than heading back the way I came I took the Ruddy Gill path back down to Seathwaite.

footpath down to grains gill valley alongside ruddy gill ravine
Footpath alongside the ravine of Ruddy Gill

At the foot of Ruddy Gill the valley widens into the Grains Valley and soon enough I arrived back at Stockley Bridge.

stockley bridge over grains gill beck and footpath back down to seathwaite in summer
Stockley Bridge near the mouth of the Grains Valley

One last stop for breakfast number two (it wasn’t 8am yet so it was allowed) before taking the mile long walk back along the valley to Seathwaite and my car.

This was not my first wild camping trip of the year but it was definitely the first that was successful from a photography point of view. There are more photos in this blog entry than I’ve ever managed before. Given that it was also very enjoyable I can highly recommend wild camping on Esk Pike.

Oh, and there’s more additions to my Lakes photo collection too.

Wild camping on Esk Pike was last modified: August 12th, 2019 by Gavin Dronfield

Further reading:

  • Great End wild camp in summer
    June 2016 : A climb from Seathwaite Farm in Borrowdale to the summit of Great End for a night’s wild camping.

  • Wild camp at Styhead Tarn
    October 2017 : Walking up from Seathwaite to spend a stormy night spent wild camping at Styhead Tarn

  • Lake District Wild Camping
    May 2018 : A list of wild camping locations in the Lake District tried and tested out by yours truly


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