The tiny narrow-gauge Ravenglass & Eskdale steam railway, known to all as ‘Ratty’, winds its way up from Ravenglass on the Cumbrian coast deep into Eskdale in the western flanks of the Lake District.
First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
On a damp, steamy morning we set out from the Boot Inn to piece together three of the walks in Alfred Wainwright’s little booklet, ‘Walks from Ratty’, and make a good day in the hills.
St Catherine’s Church lay low and dusky pink beside the River Esk. In the churchyard we paid our respects to Tommy Dobson, Master of Eskdale and Ennerdale Foxhounds for 53 years until his death in 1910. His carved stone likeness, radiating humour and pugnacity, looked out from the graveslab, flanked by the heads of a fox and a hound.
We followed the glassy Esk through miniature gorges and past rocky rapids where grey wagtails bobbed rhythmically on the water-sculpted boulders, up to the graceful old packhorse span of Doctor Bridge. Above the nearby Woolpack Inn a gate led onto the brackeny hillside. High above, we found Eel Tarn spread under mats of water lilies and ruffles of wind – one of the quietest and loveliest spots in Lakeland.
The path led on over a wide upland of marshy ground and bracken. A pale smoky light lay on Eskdale. Ahead, Eskdale Fell hid its face in cloud. We squelched over wet ground full of golden stars of bog asphodel, and cross loud little Whillan Beck to come to Burnmoor Tarn, a steely oval in a hollow under great fells. We stripped off and went in, sliding over the pebbles into water full of peat-flecks, warm and silky on the skin.
We swam in lonely delight, before dressing on the tarn bank and making our way back down the old corpse road to Boot. Eskdale’s hay meadows gleamed pale green, and the shouts and whistles of the farmer at Gill Bank, busy training a young dog to muster the sheep, came faintly up to us from the fields around the farm.
Start: Dalegarth station, Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway, CA18 1TF (OS ref NY 174007)
Getting there: Rail – mainline service to Ravenglass (thetrainline.com); Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway (01229-717171; ravenglass-railway.co.uk) to Dalegarth station.
Road – Boot is signposted from Eskdale Green (minor roads from A595 at Duddon Bridge or Holmrook).
Walk (7 miles, moderate, OS Explorer OL6. NB: Online map, more walks at christophersomerville.co.uk): From Dalegarth station, left along road. At Brook House Inn (126008), right (‘St Catherine’s’) on stony lane to Eskdale Church (176003). Left along River Esk to Doctor Bridge (189007) and road (189009). Right for 200m; left before Woolpack Inn (yellow arrow, ‘Burnmoor, Wasdale Head’). Up track behind house, through gate (190011); up path through bracken with wall close on left. At gate/ladder stile (189014; ‘Boot, Woolpack’) don’t cross; continue uphill, leaving wall on left. By ruined house (188015) bear right and head north. Above house cross bog; bear right and go anti-clockwise round knoll, and on north. Skirt round left side of Eel Tarn (188019); right along north shore; at far side bear left/north (189021) towards Eskdale Fell, passing 2 lone trees. Cross Brockshaw Beck (190027); keep left of rock outcrops; descend to cross Lambford Bridge (188038). Bear right to Burnmoor Tarn (186043). Follow path back past (but not across) Lambford Bridge, down to Boot and Dalegarth Station.
Lunch/Accommodation: Boot Inn, Eskdale, CA19 1TG (01946-723711; bootinneskdale.co.uk); also Brook House Inn (01946-723288; brookhouseinn.co.uk), Woolpack Inn (01946-723230; woolpack.co.uk)
‘Walks from Ratty’ by A Wainwright – available from ‘Ratty”, £3