Standing on the roof of England ~ Scafell Pike

Wasdale Water

The storms have passed (only yesterday I was moving ponies to higher ground to avoid the flooding) and the forecast is good so I’m driving to Wasdale Head the start of my journey up Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England.

I drive into the National Trust car park but realise I don’t have any money for car parking so I head down to Wasdale Head village green where the parking is free. Behind the pub is an old packhorse bridge which I’d wanted to see for a while now and seems the perfect place to start.

Packhorse bridge at Wasdale Head

Its an hour and a quarter drive from home so it’s already 11am as I start my ascent. Within 10 minutes I have stopped to take off my leggings and after another 5 minutes my jacket is tied round my waist.

Looking back at Wasdale

Once I turn onto Lingmell Gill I get my first glimpse of the summit and grasp the steepness of the incline. I’d read up on the routes up to Scafell Pike and they all said that none of the routes were easy, but I hadn’t been quite prepared for how steep it is.

There are already more people out than I’d seen on any other route all summer, slowly winding their way up the steps.

I’s found some Three Peaks Partnership route guides which talk about the beck crossing at Lingmell Gill and so as prepared to get my feet wet but I managed to scramble across with dry feet.

Crossing Lingmell Gill

Crossing Lingmell Gill

And then the steps begin in earnest for well over a km. It feels like a 1 in 4 ascent (actually I think as the crow flies from start to finish its probably more like 1:7 but it still hurts) and the steps are relentless. As the path winds beneath the crags of Lords Rake the path divides and I take the easier rout to the left past about 100 sacks of rocks that have been lifted in for repairing the steps.

The path divides

And then all of a sudden the path peters out and it starts to feel like a martian or lunar landscape. (I remember climbing Coniston Old Man when I passed through the mines thinking it reminded me of Mordor, well this feels like the escape from Mordor).

The escape from Mordor

And then another half hour later the views suddenly open up as the path gets higher and the mountains of the central Lakes come into view.

View from Scafell Pike summit

No more steps now - but rough stone paths that give way under foot. Paths join together now and I’m surprised by the number of people - as young as 7 or 8 and as old as 70 or 80 in a long train snaking their way to the top.

Scafell Pike plateau

And after over an hour and a half of steep uphill climbing, I reach the plateau and there’s only one more ridge to climb. The views are stunning - looking down on everything - this is the rooftop of England and what a day to have climbed to the top!

View from the Summit

My shirt and jumper are dripping with sweat. I have had more challenging climbs for different reasons (length and weather) but this climb challenged my fitness and stamina.

The summit cairn is dedicated to those who lost their lives in the first world war and what a place to contemplate life, but I reckon I’ve seen about 150 people on these paths and it’s not so peaceful at the top so after a banana and some chocolate brownie I decide to head back down.

Standing on the rooftop of England

It’s so steep that my journey down takes almost as long as my journey up and my knees are taking a pounding. The steps are just as relentless and all I can think about is getting to some level ground. So when I finally make it off the path I head straight to the beck and soak my feet in the cool waters.

The old packhorse bridge at Wasdale Head

Sitting with a little Guiness next to the packhorse bridge I can’t help but wonder how many packhorse men must have tethered their ponies out on the village green and sat right here having a well earned drink in the sunshine listening to the sound of water under the bridge.

With only another week to go before Mountain Leader training I still need another 2 mountain days under my belt. Next stop Skiddaw - and ponies!

1/2 pint by the pack horse bridge at Wasdale Head