The highs and lows of Lakeland
Within a couple of kilometres of England’s deepest point is its highest. Towering a kilometre above the hidden depths of Wast Water looms the sublime massif of Scafell Pike. From here, the rooftop of England, the whole union reveals itself — Scotland, Wales and those glowering guardians of Northern Ireland, the Mountains of Mourne.
Most visitors to Lakeland know Scafell. For the tramping tourist and charity rambler, lured by the thrill of being atop its 978m peak, it’s a must-see goal. Its prominent summit cairn, memorialising Cumbrians who fell in the Great War, is large enough for a cricket team to picnic on. The terrain is astoundingly alien. Devoid of any greenery, it presents a surreal, Mars-like boulder-scape.
Yet Scafell Pike is a mere offshoot of Scafell proper, and locals — if not the Ordnance Survey — have always thought as much. The summit of Scafell (pedants note, the first syllable is “score’’), though so close in distance and only 14m below, is strikingly different. Yes, there are prettier peaks and daintier settings in the Lakes, but none more awesome and few so moving.
The Norse name Scafell (“bald mountain’’) is fair enough: the land is rugged and remote, windswept and raven-racked. But it affords the most breathtaking panorama and the elixir of utter silence. Gentle slopes to the south run to the isolated loveliness of Eskdale; to the northwest lies Wast Water, brooding beneath near-vertical screes.
To the east, between Scafell and Scafell Pike, stands one of England’s most perfect places — Mickledore, the “great door”, a thin col that joins the barren beauty of the pike to the east buttress of Scafell. This monumental cathedral of steel-grey stone is both spectacular and humbling. The wall of near-impassable rock encapsulates the frustrations of nature, reminding visitors the world is not wrought for man’s convenience. To author Alfred Wain- wright, that lover of Lakeland and loneliness, it was a “spectacle of massive strength and savage wildness”. Fittingly, these faces were the cradle of British rock-climbing, launching myriad adventures into the Alps and beyond.
In fact, this sheer crag witnessed the first recorded