Wild camping in the Lake District

Last weekend I went on a trip to the lake district, camera around my shoulder and tent packed in the back of my car. High hopes and excitement as I had been slacking off on the camera side of things, yet I came back with mixed emotions. *Be warned, this was written shortly after returning and some of the negativity might ring out louder than it will do in a few months time*

I did a fair bit of research about the area before I left – spoke to friends, read the guidebooks, looked at photography forums online. All my friends were telling me to go west, but most of the photography forums mentioned Derwentwater and Ullswater, which are north-east. So I decided in my 4 days to do a little introductory tour and see all the areas to choose a favourite for myself – after all, fear of missing out was a looming over my head. The only area I knew to avoid was Windermere – largest and furthest south, most tourists would be found here.

My choice of accommodation was camping. Free/wild camping to be exact – this was partly a financial thing and also the fact that it’s quite commonly done in the lake district. Despite the weather forecast not looking too positive, I decided to wait and see what it was like when I got there. It was the first proper weekend of the summer holidays, so most things were fully booked for the Friday and Saturday – little I could do.

I was off to a brilliant start: crazy traffic delayed my arrival to Ullswater so much that I arrived after sunset. It was getting a bit too dark to set up my tent, or even find a spot to do so (not many places in that area) so I decided to spend the first night in my car, joining the other campervans parked along the road. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise because the rains started coming down early in the morning and continued well into the Saturday. I was still fairly positive the rains wouldn’t last so I bided my time by looking visiting Castlerigg stone circle (underwhelming despite what the guidebooks say) as well as the Ospreys in Dodd wood – fyi photographers, they’re way too far away to get your camera out for.

Ullswater dock at night

Ullswater dock at night

Ullswater black and white reflection

Ullswater black and white reflection

Aira Force Falls, Cumbria

Aira Force Falls

I ventured into Keswick, and finally I saw some blue sky. I got a little overenthusiastic and cancelled my hostel booking before embarking on a walk up to Walla’s crag and Friar’s craig, both commonly mentioned on photography forums. About 1/3 of the way through the hike I was hiking on top of the fell open to the elements when, lo and behold, it started raining again and didn’t stop for the next 2 hours. Once I got back down to the lake shore I missed the sundown as well because, the hills being there and all, the sun disappeared an extra hour early. Underwhelmed by the hike, it started drizzling again soon after (on top of lack of wild camping sites around this area) so weather: 2, Ester: 0.

Lodore Falls, Cumbria

Lodore Falls

Sunset over Derwent Water

Sunset over Derwent Water

Derwentwater sunset

Derwent water sunset

Wet and tired, I had nowhere warm to shelter but my car. I managed to find a little pull in where, once again, I slept in my car. It rained throughout the night, the droplets making loud noises on the roof. I woke up completely miserable and cold, with nothing to show for it. Note to self: as much as I love bad weather photography, it’s not worth it if you don’t have somewhere waiting for you with a warm shower. Even if it means getting up an hour earlier to drive somewhere for sunrise! Plus you’ll have more motivation to get out of the car when the scenery does look good. I’m clearly still 21 at heart.

With half a heart to turn back to Bristol, I found a warm ‘coffee’ at a petrol station and made my way to Buttermere in the pouring rain. Even in the rain –this is what I had in mind when I thought of the Lake District. Despite this I still spent the entire morning sitting in the car waiting for the rain to abate – it did not. After a bit of reading and a spot of lunch I decided that I really ought to stretch my legs. I checked out the Sour Milk Gill waterfall – not really that great for photography. Some more car time later I braved it and walked up to Haystacks. Be warned, this hike is not for the faint-hearted, especially not in the rain with difficult to detect tracks and literally spots of rock climbing. The views are fairly impressive, though once again I was not entirely convinced it was worth it.

Haystacks over Buttermere in the rain

Haystacks looking at Buttermere

Back down at the bottom, back in the rain I had a pint at the pub to commiserate my ‘successful’ day and then spent a third night in my car, as the rain and wind continued to batter down.

Buttermere at dusk

Buttermere at dusk

Monday morning and I woke up to clouds, but not rain. An improvement – mais oui! No sunrise so I decided to do a full tour of the Lakes by making my way around to Eskdale to hike to Blea Tarn, a place lauded on photography forums. The drive was lovely and the south-western part of the district was definitely the quietest of all. The hike up… well, once I got to the tarn and it was still a bit dark, with dreary clouds… The earth did not move. And I felt infinitely sad, because I would leave with an impression contrary to how most people feel. It’s probably also to do with the fact I came here to do landscape photography: something that I find difficult regardless of poor weather conditions.

Sun rays over Eskdale Rare sun over Eskdale

On a positive note: as I headed off to Grasmere I did the most stunning drive I have done in the UK yet – through the Wrynose and Hardknott passes. Now THAT is what I call scenery! Not much photography done but some serious landscape appreciation happened right here. If you only do one thing in the Lake District, make sure it’s this. And my little car held up brilliantly.

Wrynose Pass

View from the Wrynose Pass

Valley of sun, Cumbria

Valley of sun

Wilbur on the pass

my car Wilbur on the pass

View from Hardknott pass

View from Hardknott pass

I went on to have lunch with a friend at a pub in Grasmere, a lovely little village full of tourists, and Grasmere lake is quite nice actually. It’s one that’s just about small enough to see the whole thing. I didn’t do any more hiking as my toes were now fairly sore and white, and the prospect of pulling on my wet, musty, poo-smelling socks was unappealing to say the least. I visited Coniston water for sunset and found the ideal little wild camping spot while the clear skies held out. I was so pleased with myself, as I climbed into my sleeping bag, comfy and cosy with stretched legs, ready for the night. 10 minutes after I closed my tent I heard a gunshot go off. Wild camping is fun with people, a bit more scary on your own in the dark. Not quite sure what to do, another one went off and now my head was racing with thoughts of a murderer on the loose about to kill me. I didn’t know whether to drive off or to stay put but my reluctance to get out won my desire for safety (strange priorities…?) For the next hour, I listened intently for the sound of footsteps nearing my tent before finally drifting off to sleep…

Coniston water sunset

Coniston water

Rydal water panorama

Rydal water

Skelwith waterfall

Skelwith waterfall

Grasmere water

Grasmere lake


Safe to say that I had had enough. I got up for sunrise, and temperatures must have been single digits as a strange thick fog lay on Elterwater – not just your morning mist. I finished off my trip by visiting Stock Ghyll Falls, probably my favourite waterfalls of the trip but not easy to photograph well and made an early start back to Bristol, eager clean socks and a hot shower.

Elterwater morningStock Ghyll Force Falls, Cumbria

Probably one of my worst camping experiences to date, and that is on par with what might have been a brown bear tearing up my food bag outside of my tent. I won’t be going back there any time soon, especially without a b&b booking and bad weather will make me think twice. Sorry Lake District.


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