I spend most of my time focussed in on the smallest inhabitants of lakes and streams, so I thought I would indulge myself in this post by looking at some grand panoramas in the region of the Lake District where I do most of my fieldwork. I have often looked up at the hills that surround the lakes and rivers of the western Lake District as I worked but my schedule was usually such that there was not time to climb them, even when the weather smiled upon us. A combination of fine weather and limitations on travel to more distant places gave us an opportunity to rectify this omission and we’ve climbed a few of the peaks surrounding Crummock Water and Ennerdale Water this summer. The views that these provide offer a great opportunity to set our fine-scale activities into context.
This involved following the old drove road between Ennerdale and Crummock up as far as Floutern Gap, then following the boundary fence up the side of Great Borne (616 metres) which overlooks Ennerdale Water. From here, we followed the ridge down and up to Starling Dodd (636 metres) then Red Pike (756 metres) and finally High Stile (806 metres). The latter two peaks are on the watershed between Ennerdale and the Buttermere/Crummock valleys, affording spectacular views of five lakes (Derwent Water was just visible through a gap in the fells). Further away, we could see the Solway Firth and the coast of Galloway to the north and, just on the eastern horizon, Cross Fell, the highest point on the Pennines, some 65 kilometres away.
To the south we could see the River Liza flowing along the flat valley floor of Ennerdale, with Pillar and Scoat Fell rising up on the opposite side and, towards the eastern end, the imposing face of Great Gable, with Scafell Pike just behind. Looking west, along Ennerdale Water, the high sides of the glacial valley give way abruptly (roughly between Angler’s Crag and Bowness Knott) to a softer landscape of improved pasture criss-crossed with dry stone walls. This reflects a transition from hard volcanic rocks of the Borrowdale group which form the high fells to softer sandstones and mudstones.
The scenery to the north was equally spectacular and its glacial origins even more obvious. From the south-east end of Buttermere, the Honister Pass climbing up through a classic U-shaped valley. There is almost no room for improved pasture on the floor of Buttermere, with the land rising even more steeply on the south side than it does on the north. At the north-west end, however, there is an area of flat land where Mill Beck has deposited silt over the millenia, dividing the original glacial lake into two. I remember that from O-level Geography as it was one of the examples we were expected to cite in an essay entitled “Lakes are temporary features of the landscape. Discuss.”
The entire outline of Crummock Water was also visible, with Grasmoor rising up on the north-eastern flank and Mellbreak on the south-western side. Grasmoor is the higher of the two peaks (852 metres) but Mellbreak is the more imposing, rising straight up from the lake almost as starkly as the Screes arise from Wastwater. Wainwright lets his usually measured prose run away when describing Melbreak: “Melbreak is isolated, independent of other high ground, aloof. Its one allegiance is to Crummock Water”. I’ve seen it from all four sides over the past month or so, as well as climbing to the summit last week and, though it is not a particularly high peak (511 metres), it punches above its weight. Forgive me for sharing a few of my photographs to underline Wainwright’s comments…
Beyond Crummock Water we could see the outline of Loweswater, which is unique amongst Lake District lakes because its outflow flows towards, rather than away from, the centre of the Lake District. Most of the Lake District’s lakes are deep, elongated affairs, formed in the valleys scoured out by glaciatian. Loweswater, by contrast, is relatively shallow (maximum depth: 16 metres) and set amongst gentler terrain. “Improved grassland” – enclosed fields where cattle and sheep graze – form almost a quarter of the catchment of Loweswater, compared to just 3 per cent of the catchment of Ennerdale, 2.3% of the catchment of Buttermere and 7.5% of the catchment of Crummock Water. Esthwaite Water, the most productive lake in the Lake District, by contrast, has improved grassland on about a third of its catchment area. Not surprisingly, Loweswater has had some issues with eutrophication in the past.
And finally, Derwent Water was just visible through a gap in the hills and we could also make out the summits of Skiddaw, Blencathra and Catbells from our vantage points on High Stile and Red Pike. We got a closer view of Derwent Water a couple of days later when we canoed from Portinscale near Keswick to St Herbert’s Island and back. A few years back I found my way to the lake impeded by a film set and spent an enjoyable few minutes watching a scene from Swallows and Amazons being filmed. Apparently, St Herbert’s Island appeared as Wild Cat Island in the film too and was also the fictional Owl Island in Beartrix Potter’s The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin. Oh yes, and someone called William Wordsworth wrote a poem about it. I wonder what became of him?
Some other highlights from this week:
Wrote this whilst listening to: Shores, the new album by Fleet Foxes
Cultural highlights: The Farewell, a 2019 film directed by Lulu Wang about a family trying to keep their grandmother from learning about her terminal cancer. A very warm and humorous film despite the subject matter.
Currently reading: Where I Was From, a collection of essays about the history of California by Joan Didion.
Culinary highlight: Homemade Battenburg cake, inspired by the efforts on the first week of Great British Bake Off.