Exploring the remote Western Lake District: A birthday adventure to Eskdale 

I’ve only been to the western region of the Lake District a handful of times since moving here four years ago.

It requires a little effort to reach, a steepish hike from Borrowdale or Langdale, a drive over two of England’s highest mountain passes, or a long division out to the west Cumbrian coast before heading inland.

The journey on public transport is even longer, but if you have time to meander along, it’s a journey I would definitely recommend for the variety of scenic sea and mountain views.

I looked at the logistics in search of another adventure for my birthday in May (and to escape the King’s coronation, which just so happened also fell birthday).

Two buses from my home in Ambleside (one to Keswick and then one to Workington, on the west coast) and a regular public train from Workington, I arrived in the tiny village of Ravensglass perched just inside the Lake District National Park boundary.

Exploring Ravensglass in West Cumbria

Before the next bit of my journey, I jumped off to explore for an hour. The low tide in the estuary allowed me to walk a short way along the shoreline before I retreated into the cute tearoom and art gallery inside the Rosegarth B&B for a lovely local pie and piccalilli.

My original plan was actually to hike from Ravensglass over the Muncaster Fells and into the Eskdale valley, but due to arriving later than planned and feeling a bit tired, I decided instead to take the steam train.

Riding on the Ravensglass to Eskdale Steam Train

Affectionally known as the La’al Ratty (little railway in the old Cumbrian dialect), the Ravensglass to Eskdale steam train is one of England’s oldest and longest narrow gauge railways. You can choose to sit in an open, semi-enclosed or slightly more expensive and fancy enclosed coach for the 7-mile journey that takes in the estuary views before heading out below the Muncaster fells.

I chose to sit in a semi-enclosed carriage and loved watching the train trundle through the valley, past woodlands dotted with bluebells and the first of the wildflowers emerging after a long winter.

Ravensglass Steam Train

Keen to get a small hike in before heading straight to my hostel in Eskdale, I jumped off at The Green a couple of stops before the end of the line and set out through the country lanes in search of the local woods and a secret garden that I had read about in my Wild Guide to the Lake District….

Discovering the secret Japanese garden in Eskdale

After a quick Google, I found more extensive directions to the gardens in this blog post. The little stone signs the guys from the blog had photographed with directions seemed to have disappeared, but I was soon climbing the steps into the forest and stumbling across an unusual patch of bamboo which led to the Japanese garden.

And oh my, it was worth searching for! Acer trees in a variety of colours, and azaleas were just beginning to flower in a variety of colours. I sat by the small wooden bridge for a while, thinking about what a wonderful idea this was to create a secret garden within a woodland. I only saw one other person the whole time I was there (it was around 5 pm on a weekday, so I imagine it might be busier at the weekend!).

Walking over the fells to Boot in Eskdale

After leaving the Japanese garden behind, I traced the path back out of the woods and traversed across the open fellside. Behind me lay the Muncaster fells and the Irish Sea, and the majestic western hills lay ahead. The scent of coconut filled the evening spring air from the multiple gorse bushes which lined the path.

As I climbed towards Blea Tarn, the wind really started to pick up, buffeting me around. Instead of the nice paddle I had planned at the tarn, I descended straight down to Boot and walked the last section on the quiet country lanes to YHA Eskdale, where I was spending the night.

Hiking to Eel and Burnmoor Tarn

After a fairly peaceful night’s sleep (for a dorm room), I had quite a chilled start to the day with a spot of journal writing in the little hostel lean-to before heading out into the hills. The forecast wasn’t great, so I decided to just head up to Eel Tarn, a short 150m uphill from the hostel and take it from there.

The winding path was fairly straightforward grassy terrain, lined by more gorse before opening out to the sizeable tarn. I sat and watched the Canadian geese honking at each other, watching the clouds move ominously towards me.

I decided to carry on up towards Burnmoor Tarn, on a slightly boggy path with a few hops across streams along the way.

Eel Tarn

Burnmoor turned out to be an even bigger tarn, with what looked like to be an abandoned house/bothy alongside it. A quick exploration around its perimeter didn’t leave many clues, with fences and bordered-up windows and doors – perhaps it was an old shepherd’s hut?

I’d not seen a single person all morning until I reached the tarn; a lady was heading up in the direction of the path up to Scafell, England’s second-highest mountain next to it’s lofty neighbour.

Climbing to the summit of Illgill Head

As the weather seemed to be holding out, I decided to continue on in search of another Wainwright summit. Illgill Head was only 300m up from the tarn, and I waded through scrubby heather after losing the path and failing to read the map properly.

It was a fairly unenjoyable slog to the summit, but the views back down to Wasdale and Wastwater were worth it. After checking the map more rigorously, I found a more enjoyable route down.

Back down at Burnmoor Tarn, the sun had burst through the late afternoon sky, and I kicked off my boots to bathe my tired feet in the tarn. I’d seen a grand total of 7 people all day, and it felt a blissful change from my days full of people back home in Ambleside.

I followed the path down towards Boot on my descent, which felt a little never-ending! I was thrilled to find the Brook House Inn were still serving dinner when I arrived and tucked into a lamb bonbon starter and a tiny mini cheese board for one, washed down with a local Lakes Brew Co ale.

The next day was my birthday, and before treating myself to a cooked breakfast, I went for a little wander around the grounds of the hostel. To my absolute surprise, I walked into the garden to find a red squirrel on the bird feeder! I kept my distance and watched as it tamely feed before hopping into the bushes – birthday already made!

I really loved staying at YHA Eskdale, and whilst it feels a little old in places, all the staff were really friendly, and it’s one of the few YHA hostels in the Lake District that is still offering affordable prices for dorm rooms.

All packed up, I choose to return to Dalegarth station along the footpath that follows the River Esk. Five minutes into the walk, I spotted this bridge and couldn’t resist going for a quick birthday dip! It was bracing but oh so beautiful and again, I found I had the place mostly to myself.

I continued along the path, through a small farm and a short stretch of woodland where Herdwick sheep roamed with their newly born black lambs.

Primroses and bluebells dotted the woodland, and Gill Force waterfall tumbled down as the river narrowed.

I had hoped I would have time to visit Stanley Force waterfall, the most impressive in the area, but due to my dip, I was running out of time to make the train I had booked for my return journey, so instead headed straight for the station taking the steam train back to Ravensglass.

Western Lake District Eskdale Adventure
Western Lake District Eskdale Adventure

On my way home, I decided to split the journey up a bit – stopping for homemade ice cream in Ravensglass before catching the train to St Bees, a small beach village famous for the starting point of the long-distance Coast to Coast path. I was gutted to read my favourite cafe next to the beach was shut due to the coronation, so I took a gourmet lunch of Dairylea Dunkers and old-school Frazzles down to the coast path to enjoy the sea views.

And then it was time for the second dip of the day (swimsuit rinsed out). Changing into my swimsuit in the public toilets, I walked out to the far end of the beach and gingerly peeled off my layers for a quick dunk in the sea, ignoring the heckles from a group of lads on the shoreline.

A daring and memorable way to end my birthday adventure to mark turning 38.

Catch up on my previous birthday Lake District adventures….

Hiking to England’s highest hostel: a night at Skiddaw House

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