Wildcamping in the Lake District

I’ve just come back from a lovely short camping trip in the eastern fells of the Lake District. One of the few places in the Britain where you can enjoy scenery like this:


Our hike started with a hard walk up Dovedale. It looks like a nice steady walk from the map, but in reality is quite difficult with a weekends worth of camping gear and supplies in your back. The valley is beautiful. It climbs steeply from Brothers Water up between the rugged outcrops of Dove Crag and Hart Crag. Water flows from three small natural springs near the peak which gather momentum as they tumble down the hill until they combine in to a number of small waterfalls. Water is plentiful in this valley. The flat, soft ground near the peak would be a great spot for a wild camp. If you prefer something a little more wild, the assertive head of Dove Crag hides a cave called Priests Hole, which is largely protected from the elements and offers spectacular views over Lakeland. Our goal was Grisdale Tarn, the legendary resting place of crown of the Kingdom of Cumbria.

The last King of Cumbria, Dunmail, was slain by English and Scottish forces in 945AD. A band of his loyal soldiers escorted his crown back to Grisdale and laid the crown to rest in the deep waters of the tarn where it could be recovered by Dunmail when he rose from the dead to lead them again. The ghosts of his loyal army are said to return to the tarn each year to recover the crown and carry it to a cairn dedicated to the King. They strike the cairn with their weapons but are told by a voice that the time is not yet right. Legend has it that you may hear the cries of the distraught soldiers if you are at the Tarn at the right time.

Our tired legs slowly hobbled over the peaks of Fairfield, including Hart Crag and Rydal Head, before reaching the slippery shale path down to Grisdale Tarn. It appears out of nowhere, a shimmering semi-circular expanse of black water closely surrounded on three sides by steep mountains, the east and west exposed to the long valleys leading down to the settlements below. I prefer to camp wild rather than on a site, especially in somewhere like the Lake District which can offer isolation as well as spectacular scenery up on the peaks. We camped on a grassy outcrop with views of the tarn on one side and the valley leading to Grasmere on the other. I dozed with one eye open, watching and listening for the soldiers of Dunmail before falling into a exhausted sleep.

On the second day we stayed local, deciding to rest our tired bodies instead of climbing up out of the valley and over Hellvelyn as planned. We were just not as fit enough for the demands of the landscape, especially carrying heavy packs. We took a leisurely walk down Grisdale Valley, stopping for lunch on the way (porridge for me, pot noodle for my companion) until we hit, almost literally, the climbing shack, then headed up the hills towards Hard Tarn. Hard Tarn had been the ultimate goal of our shortened route; a small circular tarn directly below Nethermost Pike. It is very secluded; just a small rocky outcrop holding a tiny body of water that only just deserves the grand’ish title of tarn. My research suggested that it would have enough room for a couple of tents and not much else, but it would offer plentiful water from nearby springs and a spectacular view of the nearby fells. In truth, we were exhausted. Our legs and lungs screamed for us to stop, so we did. The land leading up to Hard Tarn provided too much temptation and the cold streams, waterfalls, shallow crystal clear pools and soft, peaty ground made for a perfect spot to camp up for night two.

After some breakfast, a long but undemanding walk down Grisdale Valley was all that was left for the final day. Now that we were well rested it was easy to forget the strains from the previous days. The scenery was idyllic and the weather calm. We ambled back to the car happily, pleased with our efforts