The western lakes is where I call ‘home’. Wild, rugged, remote. Just how I like it.
When I started my photography, naturally I gravitated towards shooting the immediate area around me, luckily for me, that area was the Western Lakes and most notably, Wasdale.
For me, unquestionably the best time to shoot here is between November and February - between these months the combination of the low sun and its sunset position (directly behind most shooting locations) means the fells are lit up bright orange in the last hours of sunlight. If you happen to strike it lucky and get a calm lake with the fells lit up blood red, there’s no place quite like it in the Lake District. If you plan to shoot sunrise here, I’d recommend the summer months as the sun rises directly behind Great Gable. If you catch it on the right morning (despite the horrendous early get up) the results can be quite spectacular. The most colourful sunrises I’ve experienced have been down here, however you’ll rarely have company given the time required to get out of bed and the remoteness of the location.
This is the area I know best in the Lake District, with living only a short 10 minute drive from this beautiful location. I consider myself extemely fortunate to live so close, as photographers from far and wide flock to this iconic place all year round to try and capture something special here.
Wastwater itself is the epitome of all those adjectives I used earlier, and then some. With its close proximity to the coast, the wind often whips off the sea, turning the lake into something more resembling a seascape, which is often when it’s at its best. I’ll often hear fellow photographers moan about ‘not getting great conditions here’ with many having a preconceived idea of an idyllic mirror-calm lake and beautiful skies. Allow me knock that illusion out of your head right now. If you’re thinking of coming here from afar, speaking as someone who shoots this place more than any other landscape photographer currently, I can safely say I can count on one hand how many times i’ve seen this place calm, it’s just not that sort of place, the weather patterns and topography of the landscape don’t allow it. If you embrace its ruggedness you’ll be rewarded in spades. Work against it and try to force a style that doesn’t suit the surroundings, and you’ll come away like many have empty-handed and dissappointed. It can be a tough gig here, so if you like your landscape photography ‘easy’ then perhaps this isn’t the place for you.
What to shoot?
The first place people tend to go to is the lake, starting at the area immediately surrounding the main layby’s as it provides easy access to the shoreline. Shooting this area is a great choice if the water is relatively low, revealing many of the large rocks that scatter the shoreline, providing plenty of foreground interest (see image right). The one issue you have to be careful of however is the island in the mid-distance (seen in the image opposite 2/3rds up the frame) which can encroach on many compositions. I’d tend to avoid this area if the water levels are really high, where many of the rocks then become submerged and hidden.
The second place I would perhaps look at is much further down the lake, about 500m before you get to Overbeck car park (OS Grid Ref: NY 16252 06612). There is a small pull in which is often empty, leaving a short walk down to a small secluded bay where there is a rather nice fence which leads into the water. This can be shot from either side of the fence, and is a great option as an alternative to higher up the lake near the layby’s if the water level is high. This spot also offers probably a better view of the Scafells which are partially hidden from further up the lake.
A third option is to park at the Youth Hostel (OS Grid Ref: NY 14402 04367), and shoot the Western end of the lake. Here feels a much more enclosed space, as opposed to the feeling of vastness further up the water where the vista feels much wider and grander. The Wastwater Screes dominate the skyline above, and because of the shape of the lake you’re much closer to them as well. The surrounding woodland gives a much more hemmed in feeling, but also possibly offers greater photo opportunities than the more standard views seen repeated further up the lake.
One place definitely worth visiting is the remote pumphouse, which often looks great in Autumn as the woodland behind frames the composition nicely, with the mountains in the distance offering a glimpse of what’s beyond.
The Wasdale Fells
Again, being quite biased, the fells around Wasdale offer some of the finest views in the Lake District. I’ve climbed pretty much all of these, though here i’m going to offer a few of the best ones to consider - the rest you’ll have to find out for yourself!
Scafell Pike is without doubt the most popular fell in the area to climb given its appeal as the highest mountain in England at 978m, however from a photography point of view I’d argue it has little to offer. I’d recommend any of the other fells as an alternative, as they offer better views and probably a lot less traffic on them as well. The fells to the west side of the lake offer the most remoteness, and probably the best view looking across to the higher ground of the Scafells and Great Gable.
The first one i’ll offer is Yewbarrow. It isn’t the biggest fell by any stretch at 627m, however don’t be fooled, the route up the nose of Yewbarrow requires scrambling across 2 sections which can be quite hairy in the wrong conditions. The view from the top to be honest isn’t all the great photography-wise, it’s one of those which is a grand view but perhaps not a great photo. To this end I’d recommend climbing perhaps halfway up and using the scattered rocks and wall to add interest to your composition looking down towards the lake and on the Screes in the distance.
The second and much more arduous viewpoint I’d recommend is that of Dore Head (right), which is a col located between Yewbarrow and the path up to Red Pike. There’s no easy way of getting to this spot - after following Over Beck from the car park for a mile or so you’re then required to slog it across some fairly indistinct paths and boggy ground in order to reach your destination. A tip is to allow more time than you think you’ll need here - the distance to cover across the boggy terrain takes more time than you’d think despite the overall elevation gain being around 500m. What you’re rewarded with however is a quite spectacular view into both Mosedale below and the paths leading up Lingmell Beck towards Styhead Pass.
The only people you’re likely to encounter at this place is people doing the Mosedale Horseshoe, a long 11-12 mile route taking in the high fells around Mosedale including Pillar, Scoat Fell, and Red Pike.
For both these routes park at Overbeck NT car park as your starting point (OS Grid Ref: NY 16801 06908).
A third option is the underrated Middle Fell. You’ll rarely see many walkers on this route as many favour the more popular routes up Scafell Pike and Great Gable, however for modest effort (adound 590m ascent) you’re rewarded with yet another superb panoramic view towards all the high fells in the area. The area just below the summit is scattered with many erratics which make for great foreground interest. To start this route you’ll need to follow quite an obvious looking path from the large pull in at Greendale (OS Grid Ref: NY 14432 05626), following the route for about 200m ascent before making a sharp right turn and continuing on a well marked path from there. Miss this turn and you end up following the beck which cuts between Middle Fell and Buckbarrow, leading you further away from your intended route.
The image opposite was shot at sunset in the middle of winter a few years ago - it’s when Wasdale is arguably at its best, when the sun sets directly behind you and you get that lovely low, raking light.
In summary, for sheer remoteness the Western fells around Wasdale take some beating. They can be a bit of a pain to get to, though I’d argue the spectacular views more than make up for the added duration on your journey.