The Foxes Tarn Route from Eskdale
19.10.2009 15 °C
Scafell is the second highest mountain in England and receives a small fraction of the visitors who dutifully troop up its slightly higher neighbour Scafell Pike. The mountain rises above the isolated country between Wasdale and Eskdale and this route via Sampsons Stones and Foxes Tarn is - by Lakeland Fellwalking standards - a fairly tough walk but varied and interesting throughout.
It wasn't actually raining but the amorphous grey cloud hid everything above 2000 feet as I set out up the track from near Wha House Farm in the Eskdale valley. Passing the attractively sited cottage of Birdhow, I reached Taw House Farm where I ignored both the (tied up) dogs and the sign for Brotherikeld to the right to follow a lane straight on past a couple of bemused and damp looking donkeys to gain open fields on the slopes beyond. A short while later I crossed the stile to the open fellside above with views back down the green valley of Eskdale.
Beyond the stone wall the path led a little way to the right before I took a left branch up a slope of bracken. This climbed up steeply, passing some waterfalls amongst the trees on the left soon leaving the valley behind to level out in an area of rough grassland and low crags. Topping a low rise, the way ahead was clear to see across a flattish green expanse and to the right of some higher crags perhaps a mile away. Beyond all was shrouded in mist.
So this was the Lake District on a summer weekend. Where were the crowds of tourists? Presumably wandering down the middle of the road in Bowness and Ambleside making the traffic jams even worse. There was nobody else here, for this was Upper Eskdale, the regions's remotest valley and I had it to myself which is how it should be! Passing below the higher crags, I could now see towards the head of the valley across the damp green expanse known as the Great Moss where the River Esk and its tributaries wound like ribbons on their journey down from the mountains. The cloud had lifted a little now showing some of the rough stony ridges leading up to Bowfell and Esk Pike though the summits remained hidden. Above Scafell appeared impregnable with the rocky bastion of Cam Spout Crag guarding any approach, a wall of forbidding grey rock that rose into mist of a similar shade.
I followed the path down towards the river and past an ancient sheepfold to the gargantuan boulders known as Sampson's Stones. I was surprised to see no-one here either as this is also the route to Scafell Pike from Eskdale. I remembered sheltering from a snowstorm here with Dad in the Easter holidays many years before and spent a few minutes identifying where we'd been.
From Sampson's Stones my route lay across what the stream of Cam Spout though today it was more of a raging torrent - the waterfall of the same name crashing with some force down the mountainside above - and at first I couldn't see an immediate crossing that would allow me to stay dry! There's always a way though - and by wandering downstream from the path to where it was easier I was soon heading up the steep ground on its far side. The scrambling here remains easy if you keep well over to the right and don't approach the waterfall too closely and where the path gave out I was able to follow a nice easy groove in the rock back to the left higher up where with minimal use of the hands I gained the grassy slopes above.
I paused to admire the wild beauty of Upper Eskdale below before setting off again up into the all enveloping mist now just above. The path here is clear up to Mickledore - the ridge separating Scafell from Scafell Pike - albeit very steep and loose in its upper sections. I actually missed my way here as the route to Foxes Tarn couldn't be seen in the mist. If you keep on the main path it's the way to Scafell Pike but when I'd managed to locate it - I turned up into a gully on the left which had a small waterfall emerging from its lower reaches.
The gully was a forbidding place today and its enclosing rock walls rose into the mist on either side dripping with water. Each time there was an obstacle though there vwas always an easy way around it and despite the river I stayed dry - well almost - and gained height quickly. Soon I emerged at Foxes Tarn which is basically a small pool with a big rock in the middle. From here the path climbed steeply but without further obstacles up through the damp greyness towards the top of Scafell somewhere above.
I remember the summit of Scafell having breathtaking views though today there was only grey fog and damp grey rocks the same as below but a bit colder and breezier. There was no need to stay so I set off on the path down the ridge towards the subsidiary peak of Slight Side where the view was exactly the same as from Scafell. In bad visibility it's important not to stray too far to the left here as there are steep crags along the length of the ridge. From Slight Side I actually went too far to the right to avoid the cliffs but it's safer on that side.
Passing some very old looking aircraft wreckage the mist suddenly parted and there was the Irish Sea seen over grassy hills dappled with small shining tarns beneath the grey ceiling. Recognising the unfamiliar side of the Wastwater Screes ahead I went back to the left where the going was now easy and found a path that appeared in the grass leading me towards the pointed top of Harter Fell on the far side of Eskdale.
I took a path that led off the main one down to the left to take me back to where I was parked and this led unerringly in the right direction until instead of crossin a stone wall it followed it on the right through some fairly thick bush of bracken and fern. The path never faded though despite being hidden in places by the undergrowth and where the wall turned back uphill there was a stile and I was able to follow the route back down to the road.
Essentials >>> Up 960m >>> Down 960m >>> How Far? 15.1km >>> How High? 964m/3162ft