Lake District Hikes: Yewbarrow

Lake District Hikes: Yewbarrow.

Another day, another hike. Still in remote and beautiful Wasdale, this time I took on Yewbarrow, which is low and long but commanding wonderful views. After a long hike up Kirk Fell and Great Gable the day before I didn’t need much excuse to rest, but the absolutely fabulous sunshine meant my hiking plans were pushed well back into the afternoon. Instead I spent my morning soaking up the rays and enjoying the tranquillity of being lakeside in the sunshine. Just the remedy for a busy life.

Relaxing during the day beside Wast Water

Only when the sun started to set did I strike out, leaving the shores of Wast Water at Overbeck Bridge and following Over Beck to a steep track up the southern end of the mountain. As I climbed higher there were better and better views of both Wast Water behind me and the Over Beck valley beside me, a green fold of land filled with mixed sunshine and shadow.

The route up Yewbarrow

I followed a sheep-fence up a spine of the hill with an imposing summit of crags above drawing nearer. The rocks jumbled at the southern edge of Yewbarrow’s plateau-like summit are like a set of fortifications guarding the rest of the mountain. They loomed over me like some primordial fortress, like an ancient castle ruined and blasted by time and weather. It was as I reached these that a steep walk turned into a stern scramble. With peregrines wheeling overhead I climbed up through the ‘Great Door’ and gained the top of the mountain.

The Yewbarrow path

There were wonderful early evening views from up here, with the full length of Wast Water beneath me in cobalt blue and a sunset line creeping down The Screes on the far side of the lake. Sadly to the west the sky was turning hazy, and the spectacular sunset I’d hoped for turned a bit insipid. So it was in hazy evening light that I hiked the uneven plateau of Yewbarrow, with not another sole in sight. The Scafell Massif loomed across the valley to the east, and other less distinct peaks rose ahead to the north and west. It was a very peaceful hike, a pleasant change from walking in the heat of the day.

A peregrine falcon above the crags

When I got to the northern end of Yewbarrow I found my way barred by more crags, Stirrup Crag this time. The world seemed to drop away beneath my feet as I stood surveying the ring of mountains in the gathering gloom. It promised to be a tough descent and I was not disappointed, frequently having to scrabble for foot-holds and lower myself fully down with my arms. Then there were treacherous scree slopes beneath. From below the crags looked impregnable, no less a bastion than those I’d climbed at the southern end. They very much book-end the Yewbarrow route.

Sumptuous views of Wast Water from Yewbarrow’s southern crags

By this point I was on a saddle of land part-way along a path between Yewbarrow and Red Pike to the north-west. On my left the ground fell away into the head of Over Beck valley, whilst to my right was the route that I needed to take down into Mosedale. That would lead me back to Wasdale and the campsite. But it was not easy to discern the right path, because the ground just fell away in sudden drops and it was impossible to see from above how to get down.

Looking down from Yewbarrow’s northern crags

In the end I had to almost take a leap of faith, plunging over the edge and onto the invisible slopes below. I made a calculated guess as to where the path was, and only as I went down did I manage to find it not far off. This is where my hiking poles came in handy, helping me navigate an incredibly steep slope. The part I’d already descended rose up almost sheer behind me like a wall battlemented by crags, and the part below was just an unbroken stretch of mountain-grass, moss and scree.

 

It wasn’t an easy descent, especially with the light failing, but I made it down in one piece and struck the path alongside Mosedale Beck. Suddenly the challenging route became a lot gentler and instead of the intense concentration of trying not to fall down a mountain-side I was able to appreciate the sights, sounds and scents again. The sights were of Kirk Fell and other mountains forming a steep ring around the valley; the sounds were of bubbling water laughing over a rocky stream-bed; the scents were of distant pine resin wafting on the clear mountain air.

 

Although my legs were aching from two good hikes, it was a lovely atmospheric evening. I felt like I was walking in The Hobbit, especially that passage in Out of the Frying Pan into the Fire where Bilbo and the dwarves are scrabbling down scree-slopes and through the pinewoods on the slopes of the Misty Mountains. All right, I wasn’t being chased by goblins and wolves, but the multi-sensory experience took my right back to reading that passage in my childhood. I too passed through a small stand of fragrant pines and suddenly I was back in Wasdale, following the stream down to the inn.

 

It was really quite dark now, a good time to end. I trudged back to the campsite happy in the knowledge of having enjoyed some fell-walking and conquered another few Wainwrights, but sad at the thought of having to leave it tomorrow and return to civilisation. I will need to get planning for my next trip right away…

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