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Wasdale and Wastwater.

July 31, 2010

Where to start. Wasdale boasts England’s Highest Mountain, Deepest Lake, Smallest Church, and biggest Liar, oh and a family of gnomes (more about that later).


Situated in the Western Lake District, Wasdale was described by Wordsworth as “long, narrow, stern and desolate”. The name comes from the old Norse Vatnsdair meaning valley of the water. Flowing through the valley is the River Irt which ends up at the Estuary at Ravenglass.

View of Wastwater.

Probably what makes the valley look, in Wordsworth’s opinion “desolate” is that the south east side of Wastwater is dominated by the screes. Rising about 200 feet they are made up of millions of fragments of brocken rock, slight glints of red coming from the presence of iron.

The Screes at Wastwater.

Situated at the top of the valley at Wasdale Head is the Wasdale Head Inn (formerly the Wastwater Hotel). The Hotel has many claims to fame. The birthplace of climbing being one. Situated around it are Great Gable which is England’s highest peak, Scafell Pike, Yewbarrow, Pillar and Napes Needle one of the classic rock climbs. Scafell is the starting point for the Three Peaks Challenge.

Ritson's Bar Wasdale Head.

Another claim to fame is, it is home to The World’s Biggest Liar competition in November every year. Folk come from all over to hear people compete for the title. It was Will Ritson former landlord of the Wastwater Hotel who proclaimed himself as such and he was well known for the grand tales he used to tell.

Home of the World's Biggest Liar.

One of Will Ritson’s fibs was that turnips grow so large in the Lake District that people carved them to make sheds for housing sheep!. And just for the record, neither politicians or lawyers can enter because they are judged to be too skilled at telling “porkies”.

Packhorse bridge, Wasdale Head.

Round the back of the Hotel is a packhorse bridge. Once both smuggling and trade routes led from the inn over Black Sail, Sty head and Burnmoor passes. Nowadays you are more likely to find a walker using the routes.

Wasdale Head.

Situated to the front of the Hotel is St. Olaf’s Church, known as the climbers church. It is England’s smallest church and probably dates from before the reformation. Earliest mention is about 1550.

Graveyard, St. Olaf's Church Wasdale.

The churchyard has the graves of climbers killed in the surrounding mountains and further afield. Inside is something that I have noticed a lot of people miss. Set into a tiny pane of glass is a little window, with a picture of Napes Needle, dedicated to members of the Fell & Rock Climbing Club who died in the 1st World War. As you enter it is to your left.

"I will lift mine eyes to the hills"

Another interesting feature of the church are the rafters. It is thought the valley was colonised by Norse Farmers in the 9th-10th Century. The rafters are thought to have come from Viking ships.

Interior St . Olaf's Church Wasdale.

Wasdale was voted “Britain’s Favourite View” recently. And you may have noticed that it is an image of Wasdale that is featured on the Lake District National Park Logo.

Enjoying the view. Wastwater.

Now about these gnomes!. Wastwater is 3 miles long and 258 feet deep, owned and maintained by the National Trust. Home to Brown Trout and Char and also gnomes. It is also a favourite spot for divers, and over the years a little colony of gnomes, complete with climbing helmets and a picket fence sprang up underwater as a place to aim for. Unfortunately there were several divers who died in Wastwater and a few years ago now, the police divers bagged up the gnomes and removed them. However, rumour has it that they are back in place and nothing can be done about it as they have been placed 50 metres lower than police divers can legally dive!.

Information Board. Wasdale.

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