Western Lake District

The Esk Valley under a winter solstice sun

An easy walk in the western Lake District. Over soft grassed fell land and back along a farm track in the Esk Valley. A couple of steady yet easy ascents. Possible anytime of year.

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Route summary

We parked in the free car park for Munster Castle. The seat of the Pennington family for over 800 years. It is said that Henry VI sought refuge here after the Battle of Towton in the War of the Roses in 1461. King Henry gave Sir John Pennington a glass drinking bowl in hope that they should both live long and prosper as long as the bowl was never broken by invading forces. Their luck held as it is still in the castle today!

Using a gravelled track called Fell Lane; we soon left the castle and busy road far behind. Looking back we saw views over the Esk estuary and out into the Irish Sea. The gentle gradient climbed steadily past a small tarn and up onto Muncaster Fell. In less than an hour we had reached the highest point of the walk on Hooker Crag at 231 meters above sea level. From here we could see the Esk Valley to the south and Sellafield nuclear power station to the north.

Muncaster Fell

The fell composed mostly of Granite rock; runs for approximately six kilometres inland. With peat bogs, moss, gorse and bracken covering its upper slopes.

Muncaster fell

So in late December; we found ourselves following a very boggy path through this almost otherworldly landscape. On top of the fell; the path rolled over one small rise after another. We stopped quite a few times to take in the view; as well as taking in sandwiches, pork pies and water from our flasks. I noticed the path has no cairns so care must be taken in foggy or nighttime conditions. After a couple of hours; the path and fell both led down to Muncaster Head and a small farm.

Esk Valley

To go full circle and return to Muncaster castle; we had the privilege of walking along the northern side of the Esk Valley.

Looking east up the Esk Valley

There are many rivers in England and Scotland named Esk. This is because Esk is a Celtic or Brythonic word; meaning: ‘abundant in fish’. This River Esk rises in the lower slopes of the Scafell mountain range; the highest mountains in England. Here we join the lower valley of the Esk river where it is almost a mile wide; before it runs in to a broad estuary and on out to the Irish Sea. Following a well made farm track; we made our way back west to Muncaster. We passed moss covered dry-stone walls, pine and beech forests and wide open fields with sheep grazing in the evening sun.

After a while we passed through a small hamlet of remote houses. Where some entrepreneurial soul had turned some of the pastures into a small golf course! When we had passed these buildings the access drive stuck to the valley floor and we turned and climbed back onto Muncaster Fell.

The reason for regaining height up a steep but well made track was to avoid walking on the busy main road back to Muncaster castle and the car. After a bit of huffing and puffing; we returned to Muncaster tarn and back down Fell Lane to the car.

Energy required:
443 calories

Time taken:
3 hrs 18 minutes

As relaxed as King Henry the VI

Parking, refreshments and other tips

Use the parking for Muncaster Castle; shown in the Google maps link below. There are no pubs or shops along the way; so bring enough food and drink to suit your needs. This route is possible anytime of year; even in deep snow. Yet bring check the weather forecast and bring a compass and map. In case the weather closes in and you have to navigate blindly; make sure you are able to navigate using a compass. What is more, try not to rely on mobile phones just in case they break or lose power.

Be prepared, dress and eat well, start early and relax into this beautiful landscape of the western Lake District.

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