The highs and lows of Lake­land

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - DAVID BUT­TER­FIELD

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

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