Wild camping on Tongue Head

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Climbing Tongue Head from Borrowdale for a camp before witnessing a wonderful dawn above the mist

The ridge of Tongue Head under Esk Pike

Tongue Head isn’t a fell in its own right, its really a ridge running north-east from Esk Pike down towards the Langstrath Valley. As such Wainwright never counted it as a fell and consequently it doesn’t get as much traffic as the ‘genuine’ fells surrounding it.

Up until the previous summer I’d never considered Tongue Head as a place to wild camp. That was until I climbed this ridge from Angle Tarn and got talking to another chap who was also out for the night. Whereas I was on my way to camp on Allen Crags he’d named Tongue Head as his spot for the night. On getting to his little campsite I looked round and realised what a good little spot it was as there was nothing but wild scenery in sight.

Since then I tried once to camp there but found it occupied so headed off elsewhere as there’s not much space. Luckily this area of the fells has a lot of options for a Plan B.

So, not to be put off I thought I’d try again despite the forecast being for low cloud.

The climb from Seathwaite up to Esk Hause

As is often the case when camping in the fells in this area my starting point was Seathwaite in Upper Borrowdale. Turning up so late in the day, just three hours from sunset, I also found a parking spot at the very end of the road close to the farmhouse. Every yard of walking saved would be appreciated the following day!

On my previous blog entry about camping on Allen Crags I had taken a circuitous route from here via the Stonethwaite and Langstrath valleys. Not wanting to repeat the same walk I chose a more direct route this time and headed straight for Stockley Bridge. Having walked through the farmyard I was soon out into open country.

footpath alongside grains gill in bright summer sunshine with grains valley in background
The path heading from Seathwaite to Stockley Bridge

It was looking like I would get no views before sunset as the fells ahead were shrouded in cloud. With this in mind I took the direct route to Esk Hause by turning left after the bridge and heading up the valley of Grains. Soon enough I was at the foot of the ravine of Ruddy Gill looking up into grey nothingness.

foot of stone choked ruddy gill ravine looking up into cloud enshrouded summits
Looking up Ruddy Gill into cloud

Nothing for it but to head up into the cloud.

Any hope of getting above the cloud were dashed at the top of the gill as the view got more and more limited. At least the lack of grand sweeping views meant I wasn’t pausing for photos and was staying on schedule.

Turning left at the top of Ruddy Gill I soon reached Esk Hause, the high pass that links so many valleys. After a small diversion I managed to find the stone cross shelter in the mist and stopped for one last break.

esk hause stone cross shelter and cairn beside footpath in grey misty weather
Found it! The stone shelter at Esk Hause

I love the views from here towards Langdale but I’d have to hope that they’d be visible the following morning. On a clear day Tongue Head can also be seen from here but not today so I had no idea whether or not anyone was already camping there. The few people I’d passed on my way up said they’d seen a few tents in the fells but none had passed that way.

Finding somewhere to camp on Tongue Head

Pretty soon after descending towards the head of Allencrags Gill the views did open out a bit, enough for me to see my intended pitch for the night.

footpath over tongue head ridge in mist seen from paved path off esk hause
Tongue Head on the other side of Allencrags Gill from Esk Hause

It was hard to be sure from this distance but it looked like my luck was in and no one was camping there. And so with an optimistic skip in my stride I walked over the head of Allencrags Gill and up to the crags marking the summit of Tongue Head. Fortunately my eyesight didn’t let me down and there turned out to be no tents there. Result!

And without further ado I searched for somewhere to pitch my tent for the night. It took some finding but eventually I did find a spot that would allow me some sleep. I have seen a number of tents pitched here in the past but I could only find this one comfy location. I must be either be a picky camper or they could sleep anywhere!

terra nova laser competition 1 tent pitched on tongue head at sunset with glaramara summit visible over the cloud
Tent sorted for the night as the skies cleared

Admittedly its a fantastic spot being close to the small tarn on the ridge and overlooking the Langstrath Valley. Oh, and as the sun set the mist started to clear bringing Glaramara into view.

Sunset views from the ridge

Given clear skies dawn from Tongue Head was always going to offer better views than sunset owing to the western horizon being blocked by the ridge of Allen Crags. Even so I got my photography kit ready to make the most of the conditions which, to say the least, were changeable.

As the sun set mists rolled in and a few minutes later disappeared. One minute things views were restricted and moody.

And the next much more open.

langstrath beck meandering down the langstrath valley at dusk
Looking down the Langstrath Valley from Tongue Head at sunset

Over time the skies did clear though and the wind dropped.

misty monochrome view from unnamed tarn on tongue head in dwindling light of dusk
Esk Hause at sunset from the tarn on Tongue Head

While there was enough light to wander further afield I returned to the main path linking Esk Hause to Angle Tarn to take one last photo looking towards Bow Fell.

Bow Fell Crag under red sunset sky above cloud inversion in great langdale
Bow Fell from the footpath over Tongue Head

The Great Langdale valley in the distance appeared to be overflowing with mist. Anyone camping at a campsite in that valley would be witnessing a right old pea-souper! Fortunately it was totally clear in my bit of the fells and hopefully it would stay that way. With my fingers crossed I went to bed.

A wonderful dawn on Tongue Head

As if often the case when camping the first bit of light tends to wake me up so I was fully dressed by the time my phone alarm started making a racket.

Realising my tent was very still I knew there was no wind. However it wasn’t until I unzipped my tent that I would realise quite what sort of dawn I was going to witness. Suffice it to say one look and I knew breakfast was going to wait. Grabbing my camera kit I headed outside into the cold pre-dawn air.

The sun was about thirty minutes from rising but the views towards the Langdale Pikes were already awesome.

cloud billowing out of great langdale into langstrath valley in from of silhouetted langdale pikes under colourful dawn skies
Silhouetted Langdale Pikes above a cloud inversion

As it slowly got lighter cloud started billowing out of Mickleden, threatening to obliterate the views.

langdale pikes in profile through rising mists out of great langdale under pre dawn sky
Langdale Pikes through swirling mists

Fortunately this was only temporary and the views soon returned, only this time they were even more spectacular.

I think this is my favourite photo from this camping trip.

No time to rest yet though. Just before the sun got above the horizon I wandered closer to the top of the slope overlooking the Langstrath Valley to get a better view of the valley below.

With that photo, I decided to sit down and enjoy the rest of the show. Hunger had kicked in and it was time for a long break for breakfast.

A warm walk from Tongue Head back to Borrowdale

Even though it was less than an hour after dawn I could already tell it was going to be a warm day. As I didn’t want a suntan I decided to pack up and get moving downhill into some shade.

Retracing my steps from the previous evening I was soon back on the main path and heading back up to Esk Hause. As this was my final climb of the day I took my time. Even so it didn’t take long.

As the skies were clear the views were very different from those seen the previous evening, mainly due to them existing this time around.

bow fell above great langdale cloud inversion seen from stone cross shelter at eask hause
Bow Fell and a misty Great Langdale from Esk Hause

Great Langdale was still hidden under a thick blanket of fog too. The views from the Pikes must have been great, although they weren’t too bad from here either.

On passing over Esk Hause the path down towards Styhead Pass was thankfully in shade.

paved footpath from esk hause down to styhead pass with great gable and green gable in profile on skyline
Footpath from Esk Hause down to Styhead Pass

To avoid retracing my steps too much I had decided to head down to Styhead Tarn, just for a bit of variety.

On passing Sprinkling Tarn I wasn’t surprised to see quite a few tents. It had been an ideal night for wild camping after all. After pausing for a couple of brief chats to those campers that were awake I pressed on downhill.

Styhead Tarn soon popped into view.

styhead tarn at foot of aaron slack viewed from sprinkling tarn footpath through boulder field
Looking down on Styhead Tarn below

Styhead Tarn was also surrounded by a number of tents too. Saturday night in September with a good forecast does bring out the campers. After a couple more chats I pushed on as it was getting much warmer as I headed downhill. Despite longing for some shade there were a couple of points where I couldn’t resist a photo break.

First was when a distant Derwent Water popped into view. Or is would have done had it not been under a thick blanket of fog.

view of borrowdale and derwent water under cloud inversion from footpath instyhead gill
Borrowdale from the Styhead Gill footpath

Later on I’d find out from passing fell walkers that the whole of Borrowdale had been foggy earlier on in the morning. However in the sun it had quickly burnt off.

As the path rounded Greenhow Knott I finally saw what I was looking for.

Normally I don’t like this bit of descent but the promise of some cool air made it a bit more pleasurable.

Having taken a long break to cool down at Stockley Bridge all that was left was the mile long walk back to Seathwaite and my car.

tree lines country lane leading to seathwaite hamlet and campsite
The road end at Seathwaite

There’s no doubt the fells have been busier with wild campers during Covid restrictions. Therefore managing to have a night out on a fell by myself in such fantastic conditions makes this camping trip a big success. As a bonus there’s been a few additions to my gallery of Lake District photos.

Wild camping on Tongue Head was last modified: January 10th, 2022 by Gavin Dronfield

Further reading:

  • Wild camping on Esk Pike
    July 2019 : Climbing from Seathwaite into the big fells on a sunny Saturday in summer looking for a place to wild camp. Esk Pike turned out to be a great choice!

  • Wild Camping on Allen Crags
    July 2020 : A long walk from the hamlet of Stonethwaite along the wild Langstrath valley to the summit of Allen Crags for a great night's wild camping before returning via Grains

  • 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

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