England’s deepest lake
, and my own favourite bit of the universe
. Wastwater—once named Broadwater--dominates the Wasdale valley on the south-western side of the Lake District
. It is the most difficult of the big lakes to get to, which means it is the least touristy of all the lakes in the Lake District
. It is awe-inspiring to all who visit, but especially so in fine sunny weather, which (in my fond memories) is very common.
The lake is about 5 km long (3 miles) and about 700m wide (0.5 miles). The deepest recorded part of the lake is 73 metres, although local divers say they have been down to 76m. While the water is usually very clear (20m visibility or more, according to dive sites), silt near the bottom is very fine and quickly blocks all visibility when disturbed.
Secret gnome garden
Search carefully on the dive sites and you will find reference to an underwater garden populated by garden gnomes. The garden is located in an area called the Pinnacles, on the north-western shore of the lake and has a cable/rope leading down to it. It is not well signposted, but if you see a group of divers hanging around near a car park between the last turn-off and the little copse with a bridge, you have probably found it.
Unfortunately, the garden is close to the depth limit of free diving, giving little time for divers to locate the site, and at least three divers have drowned trying to find the gnomes.
Word has it that the collection of 40 or more gnomes was put there to add interest to an otherwise boring lake bed. The garden also contains memorial stones to at least three divers who died while diving in the lake.
Here is a description of how to find the gnomes, given by diver, Paul Renucci: "It's a case of over the end and
descend the abyssal face passing the deceased diver plaques as you go at around the 30 /40 metre mark. There is even a gnome city at 32 metres (subsequently moved deeper, to 46m or so) if you can find them - take a gnome down and leave him/her there as a novelty gesture, the more the merrier! Many have tried to reach Australia but have sadly never made it so please stop here. It's very cold and freeze ups are common past 40 metres."
The road running along the north-west shore is around 70m above sea level, making the bottom of the lake below sea level. At the downstream end (south-west), there is still a dam and sluice, which keep the lake surface at the same height with respect to the surrounding land. The lake is under the control of the Cumbria water board.
So much for the practical details of Wastwater. The area around it, Wasdale, and especially Wasdale Head at the top end of the lake, claim a place in the hearts of many who know the area, not least because of the Wasdale Head Hotel, which serves well-kept beer, hearty, filling food, and has a range of malt whiskies unrivalled in many Scottish pubs! Stop me if I get too lyrical, I am, after all, biased.
Visit the virtual Wasdale Head Hotel: http://www.wasdale.com/
To me, Wasdale is the epitome of a beautiful glaciated valley. The browns and greens of the fellside, combined with slate grey up on the screes, the great hills up at the top of the valley, and the silence and scale of the place really do something for me.
It is the classic U-shape. On the south-eastern side there are the awesome screes: shattered rock, made of boulders and pebbles, some the size of peas, some the size of houses. A whole mountainside is crumbling under the slow, relentless attack of rain and ice and wind, and as it crumbles, it tumbles down toward the lake. Two miles long and 500 metres high, the screes are erosion in action. Forget your physical geography lessons, just visit Wastwater and walk under the screes.
On the other side, mountain streams and fell views fill the eyes. Here on the north-western side of Wasdale, you can stop your car under a grove of pine trees, and walk beside some of the finest mountain streams in the world. The water is pure and cold, and tastes of peat. It tumbles over ancient rocks, falling into deep, silent pools, and making the most refreshing sounds known to man.
At the head, there is majesty! Three great hills shapely and dignified. Lingmell, Yewbarrow, and above all, Gable. There are few sights to beat those three magnificent peaks, bathed in afternoon sunshine, as you return to the valley after years of absence.
But there is yet more. Turn right at the top of the valley, and you can work your way toward Scafell and Scafell Pikes, the highest mountain in England. The walk is exhilarating and steep, ending in the far-seeing eyrie at the top of the country.
Turn left, and you come to Pillar Rock, always crawling with climbers, or go straight over the pass to Ennerdale, another beautiful Lakeland valley, inaccessible by car, except to forest rangers.
Heh. Bet you want to go there now; I certainly do!