Articles - Open Canoeing on Wastwater - Exploring England’s Deepest Lake by Canoe

Canoeing on Wastwater
Canoeing on Wastwater
Faye Smith - Posted on 27 Sep 2010
Wastwater, England’s deepest lake, situated in the wild and beautiful South Western fells of the Lake District, was awarded the prestigious title of ITV programme ‘Britain’s Favourite View’ a few years ago and although we always intended to witness this picture for ourselves from our trust canoe, our trip was always overlooked in favour of canoeing on the more popular and accessible waters of Derwent Water, Ullswater and Lake Windermere. But this year it was time to make it happen, so we headed to the south west Lakes and the remote valley of Wasdale. The secluded location is one of the features that is most appealing, the lake is isolated, unspoilt, tranquil, and a truly beautiful area in the Lake District National Park.

The road to Wastwater terminates at Wasdale Head, a starting point for climbers and fell walkers attempting to climb the favourites: Great Gable, Scafell Pike, Pillar, Kirkfell, the list goes on. At nearly three-miles long, almost half-a-mile wide and, with a depth of 258 feet, Wastwater, at its deepest is below sea level! Add to this the fact that it is overlooked by England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike at 3,210 feet, and it becomes an area of dramatic extremes that cries out to be explored by canoe.

Deep WatersOpen Canoeing on Wast Water in the Lake District
We discovered that, fortunately, only non-motorised boats are allowed on Wastwater, and there is a limit whereby only fifteen craft are allowed onto the lake at any one time, however, we imagined that overcrowding is rarely an issue, as we had the whole lake to ourselves for the whole day, just us in our prospector canoe and the sound of the our paddles gliding through the still water.
As we set off we soon felt in awe of the location, the mountains that surrounded us, the dark low-level clouds, the screes that comes right down to the shore. The mirror-flat water was crystal clear but suddenly, the lakebed appears to drop away rapidly, the water beneath you appears black and before long you can only imagine how far above the very bottom you are.

Poetry in Motion
The peace and solitude of Wastwater, coupled with the characteristic brooding feel of the valley, is a huge contrast to some of the more popular of the Lake District's lakes. Wordsworth described Wastwater as "long, stern and desolate" and I can understand how this landscape has inspired painters, poets, climbers, and now canoeists, over the centuries.
After an hour on the water we decided to have a break and take in the view from the other side of the lake. The backdrop was breathtaking, I stared hard and hoped I would always remember that view, like a photo, the colours of the mountains, the distinctive patterns of the clouds in the sky, the reflections of the fells, the stillness of the water. I also savoured the feeling of calm that I felt, such a rare sentiment in our hectic lives these days.
At the head of the valley, the mighty Great Gable is a central feature. On clear days canoeists and kayakers soak up views of the Scafell range of fells, the highest mountains in England standing tall above its deepest lake. To be amongst this most dramatic and rugged of landscapes makes you feel very humble indeed.

A Mirror to the FellsOpen Canoeing on Wast Water in the Lake District
After covering the length of the lake we decided to explore the woods at the edge of the water, the short height that we climbed gave us a totally different perspective and again, offered another opportunity to absorb the stunning scenery. I imagined the landscape from the height of the nearby mountains and how stunning the lake would look from a birds-eye view. By this time wind had started to unsettle the water and the reflection of the many mountains disappeared into the ripples. This made us realise how perfectly timed our trip was, at times that water was so still it felt that you were part of an optical illusion because within a lapse of concentration you couldn’t tell where the water met the land at the bottom of the mountains due to the motionless reflection. It was a real pleasure to canoe on the lake on such a serene morning with nothing other than the surrounding nature for company.

A Place for Reflection
Alfred Wainwright, in his Guide to the Southern Fells, describes Wasdale as “primitive and unspoiled, an emerald amongst sombre hills”. He was right Wastwater is indeed a precious jewel. Derwent Water, Ullswater and Windermere each have their own charm and character but Wastwater is unique, almost magical, it enabled me to forget the triviality in everyday life, it felt like a well kept secret, a perfect place to seek solitude. But will I be able to remember the detail in that imaginary snapshot in my minds eye? Always.

Useful info:
There is a National Trust ( campsite at the Wasdale Head (019467 26220) end of the lake. At the other end is the Wasdale Hall Youth Hostel (0870 770 6082), also owned by the National Trust.
There is no fee for paddling on Wastwater, but courtesy requires that you contact the National Trust’s Warden at Wasdale Head (Senior Warden Address: Western Valleys, The National Trust, The Lodge, Wasdale Hall, Wasdale, Seascale, Cumbria CA20 1ET

OS Maps:
Landranger 89 West Cumbria, Cockermouth and Wast Water
Explorer OL6 The English Lakes, SW Area, Coniston, Ulverston & Barrow-in-Furness

About the Author – Faye Smith
Faye spends her weekdays as the Offline Marketing Manager for clothing company Land’s End, but being married to CKUK’s Editor has meant that on weekends and holidays she has been dragged down many a river, across numerous lakes and out on various oceans. Faye soon figured that ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ and now loves to escape the 9 to 5 in her open canoe or sea kayak.

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