The Eskdale Valley
The Valley of Eskdale is home to the villages of Boot, Eskdale Green and Ravenglass.
The river Esk starts its journey high in the fells and the stream swelled by many becks becomes a river and encounters its first road at the foot of Hardknott Pass before taking on a gentler character as it passes through some of the most beautiful oak woodland in Cumbria. The Esk is responsible for carving this remarkable landscape which is both picturesque and dramatic with majestic high peaks, stunning waterfalls and rolling green hills.
There are plenty of places to stop and walk from and why not have a meal and a pint in one of several pubs.
The Woolpack Inn, The Brookhouse Inn, The Boot Inn, King George IV, The Bower House or the The Bridge.
Eskdale begins in the wild, lofty Lake District heartland of the Scafell massif, running south-west to the coast. This is the only place in England where mountains plunge almost directly into the sea. It is a mixed and dramatic landscape, going from steep, craggy and volcanic uplands, through softer, broader land and down to its wide open, tidal estuary at Ravenglass.
Human presence in Eskdale can be traced back to around 8,000BC, when Mesolithic hunters settled by the sea. Later prehistoric sites include both Neolithic and Bronze Age stone circles and settlement remains on Boot Bank and around Devoke Water. There are also burial sites at Eskdale Moor, Bootle Fell, Stainton and Great Grassoms.
In Roman times, forts were built on the coast at Ravenglass and high up on the mountain pass at Hardknott, where up to five hundred cavalry would have been garrisoned. Some of the Roman remains at Ravenglass now form part of the Frontiers of the Roman Empire (Hadrian’s Wall) World Heritage site.Like many other places in the Lake District, Norse settlers and farmers left their mark through numerous place names, including Brotherilkeld meaning ‘the booth of Ulfkell’ and with the use of the word ‘thwaite’ meaning ‘a clearing’.
By the 12th century, much of Eskdale was part of the Copeland Forest and used as hunting land, with manors owned by feudal barons. On the coast, Ravenglass developed as a harbour and trading port and to the south, Bootle grew in size with its market and fair charter granted in 1347. It was at the close of the 16th century that the more distinctive Lake District farmsteads began to take their modern form.
In 1875, a narrow-gauge railway was built to take iron ore away to the coast at Ravenglass and then later used to transport granite from Eskdale’s quarries. Today, La’l Ratty, as it’s known locally, is a popular tourist attraction boasting the oldest working 15” gauge locomotive in the world.
Because of its more remote, westerly position, Eskdale didn’t receive the same degree of attention from 18th century visitors as did the other, more accessible valleys. JMW Turner sketched Eskdale Mill at Boot but probably never visited in person, basing his work on an earlier composition by Edward Dayes. Coleridge, however, did pay a visit and wrote passionately about the landscape in his ‘Notebook’ of 1802.
From a conservation perspective, The National Trust now owns and manages a number of farms in upper Eskdale, with a total of 4,959 hectares and the Friends of the Lake District campaigned strongly against a large hydro-electric generation plan in upper Eskdale in the 1940s.
With its high mountains at one end and lovely coastline at the other, and its strong farming and industrial heritage, Eskdale has a very special character.
Some Places worth Visiting
1 Hardknott Roman Fort
This remote and dramatically-sited fort was founded under Hadrian's rule in the 2nd century. Well-marked remains include the headquarters building, commandant's house and bath house.
2 The Woolpack Inn
3 The Brookhouse Inn
4 The Boot Inn
5 Eskdale Mill
Located in Boot, Eskdale Mill still boasts an historic overshot waterwheel with working machinery, is one of the oldest water powered corn mills in England, and now the last remaining working mill in the Lake District. This historic building and its unique machinery, has been Grade 2 listed and is a vital survivor of a vanishing heritage.
6 Ravenglass and Eskdale Steam Railway
The “La’al Ratty” narrow gauge railway runs 7 miles through spectacular scenery between Dalegarth in Boot and Ravenglass.
7 King George IV Inn
8 Giggle Alley Japanese Garden
Following decades of neglect the garden is now restored by local volunteers and Forest Enterprise. There are thickets of bamboo, a stunning display of Japanese maples and the heady scent of azaleas in the spring. The whole forest is open to the public and makes for an ideal Sunday afternoon walk.
9 Eskdale Stores
As well as a well-stocked shop selling fresh and local produce, they sell a range of outdoor clothing, walking accessories and maps.
10 The Bridge Inn at Santon
11 Santon Bridge Craft and Gift Shop
Described as an Aladdin's Cave of gifts and ideas. As well as paintings and prints, the shop sells quality knitwear, jewellery, sheepskin products, books and toys, and there's The Woodlands Tea Room next door.