As Penny said as we had nearly finished our run around Wast Water, “you’d think it would be easy to run round lakes”. It’s not: too many of them do not in fact have a nice trail all the way around and despite what you may think many of them are not flat either.
Wast Water was perhaps in a way the most challenging of the lot so far. Not in terms of fitness or distance, or even hills – at least not the way we ran round it. It’s a lake which holds a sinister fascination for me: somehow the water always seems infinitessimally black and The Screes glower over the water menacingly. Today was no exception: there was low-lying cloud on the fell tops and it was grey and threatening rain in the valley.
We approached from Gosforth and parked just off the road in a gravelly layby. There was then a couple of miles to run to the National Trust campsite at Wasdale Head, where you get on to the path that takes you round the lake. I had been told by two friends – one who grew up in Wasdale – that it would be better to go up hill on the southern side of the lake – up over Illgill Head and Whin Rigg. However the map clearly shows a path along the lake shore… We met a very friendly National Trust man in the car park, who told us that if we were going to follow the lake path over the screes we needed to be very careful – a lot of the rocks were slippery and some of the boulders were enormous. He thought we’d be better off going up to the hill top and along, even if it was further, and said that the lake shore route started off OK but got a lot, lot worse…
We had a bit of a dilemma. Penny needed to be home in order to go to a retirement do with her husband and despite an early start we knew that often these runs were taking far more time than a straightforward route would… as so often happens, we decided that we’d go with the challenge and stick by the lake. The worst bit to start with was the ferns, which had all grown quite high and were wet, and were often hiding holes or rocks in the path. Then we met the first bit of scree: it seemed OK and we wondered if the friendly National Trust man had been worrying too much. After all, Penny had admitted to him that she was about to turn 50 and I had said I was nearly 60 (well, I am nearer to 60 than to 50, but yes I was doing it for effect (and I think my daughter’s bad…)) so perhaps he just thought we were two vulnerable middle-aged women?
The penultimate area of scree was a different matter however: the rocks really were bigger and it was a case of 5 points of contact – both feet, both hands and quite often bum as well as it was easier to sit and swing your legs round in places. We were conscious that we didn’t want to slip, in particular not to slip and cause an avalanche of rocks which would hurtle us into the cold, deep, dark water along with them. When I created a small rock fall my heart skipped a beat or two.
Then looming ahead of us we saw another area of scree. Some of the boulders were enormous, and although some helpful person (or persons) had created small cairns every-so-often – I think to show the best route through – there was no obvious path, and it seemed to go on for ever. At one point Penny said what I was thinking – that if there was any more scree after this she would scream. The landscape was barren: a bit of moss, lots of lichen; raindrop-bejewelled cobwebs; the odd slug. Even the hardy fellside sheep hadn’t attempted to cross this scree.
Fortunately there wasn’t any more and after what I am sure was extremely good exercise in terms of twisting and turning your whole body, we got back to the path and to the lovely curly oak trees that seem to be a feature of this valley. As we headed up to the western end of the lake where the River Irt leaves the lake, we saw a Sellafield Fire and Rescue Service truck, a pump and a large pipe: for some reason they were pumping water out of the lake and then back into the river a little further along, avoiding a rather stagnant shallow-looking area.
From here we ran along the river and then over a lovely old packhorse bridge and through Low Wood, passing the YHA at Wasdale Hall. What an amazing building for a YHA, with an amazing view. My guess is that it’s an Arts and Crafts building but if anyone reading this knows its history, let me know!
A short mile or so along the road and we were back at the car, where a man stowing some diving kit in the boot of his truck asked if we were the two girls who had been seen scrambling over the scree on the opposite side of the lake. We owned up and had a chat with him about how deep the lake was and how there had been a few deaths there: but also how some divers had created a gnomes’ garden at the bottom, which had once had a white picket fence, garden gnomes and table and deckchairs! The lake is not that wide but is the deepest in the Lake District (79m or 258 feet – the amazing thing is that whilst the surface is 200 feet above sea level, its bottom is then 50 feet below), and we had been able to hear people’s voices from this side when we’d been scrambling on the other side.
There wasn’t time to stop for lunch properly, but we went back via Gosforth where the village store has a delicious range of freshly made sandwiches on various different types of bread, and a good selection of drinks. It was a pity we didn’t have time to visit the Hungry Parrot eatery upstairs. There are also public loos in the car park – always useful to know!
We had run 8 miles (13 km) in three hours – but according to Strava about 1 hour 20 of that had not been running time. It was yet another run around a lake where it had turned into a micro-adventure: and we both agreed that we would go back and do it again, but this time up over Illgill Head and Whin Rigg. Those screes were an achievement but neither of us would recommend them to anyone else. The National Trust man and my friends were quite right.