Many moons ago, Ria and I did a fair bit of wild camping and self-supported multi day walking trips which we thoroughly enjoyed. I have watched quite a few Youtube vlogs from folks doing solo trips and it has always appealed to me but I have never had the opportunity to actually put it into practice. Al Humphreys (round the world cyclist, adventure travel writer and one time next door neighbour) is a strong advocate of “Micro-adventures” – taking yourself outside your comfort zone by trying something different but not necessarily on a massive scale and it occurred to me that this autumn I was finally in a place to try a solo mini adventure…. Ria was busy with coursework, I don’t have the family commitments I have had for many years and my busy summer courier work had finished…
In a previous blog, I wrote about the fantastic River Esk and a gorgeous dip at Dalegarth Bridge in February, so I decided a revisit to Eskdale, but a bit further up, was on the cards. I swear by a book called “Wild Guide – Lake District and Yorkshire Dales” and consulted that for swimmy ideas, then spent a good while looking at OS maps and aerial photos for potential tent pitches. I didn’t intend to walk a vast distance, but just wanted to get a true wilderness experience. So after a fair amount of delightful faffage – choosing what to take, making some homemade fruit, nut and seed oatcakes (I guesstimated quantities so it ended up more like Florentine biscuit base and was GORGEOUS) and packing and repacking my rucksack several times – I set off on a wonderful autumnal morning for the Lakes.
After a fantastic drive I arrived at the foot of Hardknott pass about lunchtime and parked up. The weather was glorious. Putting my boots on, the excitement butterflies were doing a superb dance in my tummy but soon calmed down as I set off to walk up the river Esk. I knew I had about four and a half hours of daylight left so didn’t want to dawdle too long before reaching potential dip and camp spots. The forecast for the following day was for sunshine first thing but clouding in by mid morning, so my thinking was to make the most of this first afternoon’s fantastic sunshine and bimble back down the valley the following day. I had vaguely earmarked Lingcove Bridge as a possible base, realising that it was sort of in the middle of several pools I was interested in, and that was about an hours walk (without allowing for Stu gawping at other pools time…).
The views on the walk up were simply stunning!! The bracken covered fellsides were glowing in the afternoon sun and the river was sparkling and tinkling alongside the path. I was keen to get in the water but thought that if I dipped in the lower stretches, I might not get chance to explore further up where I had read there were some fantastic pools. I had read about Kail Pot but bypassed that, intending to have a look on my walk back down the following day. I saw several other potential “interesting” pools (more about a couple of them later) on the way up but plodded on towards the confluence of Lingcove Beck and the River Esk where I was hoping to scout about for a bit of flat ground for my tent…
As I was approaching the sheepfold next to the bridge, I could see a big group of people getting changed into wetsuits, buoyancy aids and hard hats just about where I had thought a tent pitch may be possible – a ghyll scrambling party. They were preparing to start at Tongue Pot, one of the pools I REALLY wanted to have a dip in….! I thought that if I stripped off into my trunks and took the plunge whilst they were all in full safety gear eyebrows might be raised… and that they wouldn’t be still there in a couple of hours. I decided to move on and had a look at the lowest waterfall on Lingcove Beck, which was simply beautiful.
The ground got steeper as I followed the river Esk past a whole series of cascades and pools in the ghyll bottom- some would be accessible but others not so readily dipped without the aid of ropes for safety as they would involve a bit of a scramble in and out.
At the top of Esk Falls, I came across one pool which was a dazzling azure greeny blue and it had a fantastic waterfall both in and out of it and superb views… and it was in the sun and sheltered from the biting Northerly wind. I sat eating my butties and taking in the fantastic surroundings and couldn’t procrastinate any longer – THIS WAS IT!! First dip…. no one about so clothes off and in for an amazingly chilly skinny dip…(#FreedomforYorkshire).
I was very concious that I was alone and if it all went pear shaped in the water, I was not in a position to be helped immediately. Bearing this in mind, I entered the water slowly and carefully and then curtailed my dip to about half the time I would normally spend in water at this temperature (5 and a bit degrees C) – our vague unwritten rule of thumb for swimming in company in cold water is roughly one minute per degree C.
After rapidly getting dressed, I set off back downhill towards the Bridge again – stopping to admire some of the pools and spectacular waterfalls which make up Esk Falls. As I wandered down I noticed a massive flock (hundreds) of Herdwick sheep all strung out in a line across the opposite hillside above me and moving down the valley. When I looked closely, I could see a group of shepherds and dogs working them. I presume they were gathering them off the open fell to bring them down for tupping – what an undertaking (the gathering , not the tupping…)!!
I was still on the hunt for a bit of level and dry ground to pitch my tent for the night and not having much luck so far. As I came within sight of the sheepfold, I could see the scrambling party were still milling about round Tongue Pot and their gear was strewn about in the sheepfold. Nevertheless, I scouted round the area and saw one possible spot which might be suitable at a pinch… it didn’t really appeal though, being in the full blast of the wind funneling down Lingcove Beck. I had a vague recollection that as I walked up the river, I had passed some flat bracken covered areas about half a mile downstream…. hmmm.
Leaving the noisy scramblers to their fun I wandered back downstream a little way and found an ideal spot – after trampling an area of dead bracken down, I set to pitching my tent with it’s back to the wind (see photo on the header of this blog). Looking back upstream I could see that, by now, the group were getting changed again and would probably be on their way shortly so I wandered up to Tongue pot with my shoes, trunks and towel….
By now the sun was just getting to the edge of the hillside and would be disappearing very shortly, but in the meantime the pool was bathed in a glorious golden light and the view back down the valley was spellbinding.
I peeled off clothes on the bank (wearing trunks this time – I was in full view of the path and there were people coming down from the fells) and had a fantastic dip and jump from the rocks in the pool before heading back to the tent to get a meal, a brew and ready for nightfall. It was dark by just after 5pm and I knew it would start coming light around 6.30 the following morning so a long night was coming… The wind had picked up and it was COLD with no sun, so hatches were battened down and I snuggled into my sleeping bag to read from Kindle on my phone.. or so I thought! My phone, having no signal, wifi and location left turned on along with OS maps and one or two other apps, had decided it didn’t like the cold and drained the battery to a point where it shut off!! Fortunately I had a power bank so plugged that in and all was well.. I read for a couple of hours, made a whisky laced coffee, read a bit more, then finally settled down to sleep at 8.30.
I have got to that age where I can’t go all night without a bathroom stop, so by 3 a.m. I was at the point where I couldn’t put it off any longer and layered up to brave the wind outside…. WOW!! No light pollution and a clear sky made the stars look just amazing. I turned my torch off to enjoy the moment. The Plough and Orion were clearly visible along with the Pleiades and as my eyes got accustomed to the dark more and more stars were appearing and then I realised that the Milky Way was scattered right across the sky overhead like a sheen… I got a crick in my neck and a good shiver before bolting back into my sleeping bag, but it was so worth it to see that sight.
I was awake before first light so made a brew, and because the wind had dropped off, opened the tent door to watch the morning arrive. Just after first light I heard voices on the path above and stuck my head out to see… 4 chaps and eight or nine sheepdogs setting off onto the hill again…. no quad bikes would get where these fellows were going to find their sheep, so another long day walking on the rough fellsides rounding up and driving sheep was in order for them – Respect!!
I had seen a cracking series of pools a bit further downstream on my walk in and really wanted another look and probably a dip. So after breakfast I packed everything away and as the sun started to light the hilltops around me I ambled back down to try and find them again….
About a mile down from my campsite I came across what I had previously spotted – a little waterfall into a deep pool on a bend with another pool just below it. Standing on the rocks looking down into the crystal clear water was mesmerizing. I measured the temperature, fully expecting it to have dropped overnight… sure enough it had. Below the magic 5 degrees, this was going to be a great wake up!
The Northerly wind was picking up again so I found a great spot in the lee of some rocks and put on my chilly soggy trunks (nice!!) and went for it. This was my best dip of the trip – yes it was cold, but the location and the clarity of the water along with it still being fairly early in the morning gave me a lovely glow of euphoria. By the time I had changed into multiple layers of clothing and got my rucksack back on, the sun had gone and clouds had rolled in so I set off back towards the car intending to have a look at Kail Pot in passing.
I was glad I did, it is another absolute gem and one I will return to in the not too distant future hopefully.
I hope you have enjoyed this (rather long winded and self indulgent) blog, I enjoyed writing it because it helped me to remember the experience and if it encourages someone to push themselves just outside their usual comfort zone, so much the better.
Here is a Youtube video I compiled from the best bits of my footage from the trip –