(Upper Esk Valley) – The Lake District

“Walking into a painting”
– Simon Gibbs

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Route Summary

Starting at the bottom of the Hardknott Pass at the end of the Eskdale valley; we parked the car and stepped off the metalled road. As we left the road; I noticed a sign warning of 30% gradients over the Hardknott Pass! A worthy contender to any Alpine ascent!

Start of Hardknott Pass with 30% grades! Note: the destroyed phone box

The Hardknott Pass is ancient way across the western fells of the Lake District; from the Duddon Valley towards the Irish Sea. The name comes from Old Norse words: hartr and knutr; meaning: hard craggy hill. It was built by the Romans to connect their forts at Ambleside and Kendal with their fort at Ravenglass and the sea. The Romans built a fort to protect the pass; in which 500 infrantymen were garrisoned until the 4th Century. After the Romans it fell into disrepair and was only properly repaired in the 19th Century.

Nowerdays, if you want to strain the engine and burn out the brakes of your modern chariot; this is the place to come. A more noble challenge; is to try and ride this pass along with the neighbouring Wrynose Pass on a bicycle. Apparently, it is a little easier to ride from west to east; yet check your bike and brake-pads and be sure to rest both up and down!

Walking into a painting

We had to pass through a farm called Brotherilkeld and numerous stiles and walls; before we could truly leave behind civilisation and all its entrapment’s. If you have a dog, take care here; keep them on a lead until you are well clear of the farm. It seems the farmer has had sheep mauled in the past; so don’t put your pooch at risk and try and help restore the faith.

The last high dry stone wall; had steep steps without any gate for a dog, so you will have to lift them over a nearby locked gate. After this the path split, with one following the riverbank over soft grass and the other staying higher on a tough rocky track. I recommend the lower; so you can get closer to the River Esk. You have better views of this spectacular glacial valley and you can better hear the water babble and break over smooth rocks in the riverbed.

After approximately two miles of gentle ascent; we came to Throstle Garth Bridge or Lingcove Bridge. A pack horse bridge probably dating from the 17th Century; that is the oldest and highest crossing on the river Esk. Here where Lingcove Beck joins the River Esk; there are many waterfalls where the two streams have to drop a great height over a step in hard rock from the valley above.

Stopping for a minute to take in the mid-winter views and a sandwich; we could only feel relaxed. I made a short video to try and capture the essence of the place that you can see below; yet you must come and see for yourself.

Lingcove Beck and a retreat from the darkness

After resting at the bridge, we ascended the southern path alongside the Lingcove Beck. A steep climb over the step gave way to a gentler gradient on smooth fell land. Soon we were in a great natural amphitheatre; with the peaks of Bowfell and Crinkle Crags looking down upon us. The beck gently descended over marshy fell land from higher ground, sheep looked on and the wind eased; as we tried to comprehend this ethereal scene.

However, climbing in mid winter meant we were battling against short days and inclement weather. So as the clocked struck three; we knew we only had an hour of daylight left. Deciding that caution is the better part of valour; we planned our escape back down to terra firma!

The age old problem of crossing a river beset us as we chose to descend on the far side of the valley. We tossed into the fast flowing streams as we could; yet still managed to get wet feet!

Fording the Lingcove Beck

A chance to contemplate

After crossing the river we followed an animal trail over the fells and back down the valley to Throstle Garth Bridge. Whilst passing over a small rise; the setting sun reflected off the small river and gave the fell land a golden hue.

I cannot really describe the feeling of being completely relaxed and at peace with nature; so come and see what feelings conjure in your mind.

When we had descended to the bridge; the path down was easy and safe in the dying light. We had brought head torches; yet they were not needed as our eyes naturally grew accustomed to the darkness.

Golden hound runs across the land
Papa in the golden light.

Parking, refreshments and other tips

We were walking in mid winter and saw no other souls on the mountain; so we managed to park in a lay-by near the farm. There is another parking area further up the Hardknott Pass and some on road parking coming from Boot. However, in mid summer this area is very popular; so arrive early to avoid disappointment.

At the bottom of the Hardknott Pass is a vandalised telephone box. The handset has been smashed, all the windows broken and a helpful notice stating that the phonebox will not be repaired. Reading this on a smart fruitphone you may laugh at me describing a fallen phonebox. Yet here between the high iron rich mountains of the Lake District there is no mobile reception. So if you cannot raise help at a nearby farmhouse; help is many hours away if something goes wrong.

That said, come prepared for foul weather whilst the sun shines. Pack a head torch in the morning. Bring provisions when you are not hungry. Come with friends or tell someone where you have gone. Be prepared and enjoy every possibility.

Energy required:
1,236 calories

Time taken:
3 hours 39 minutes

Feeling as lazy as the Esk!