See Cumbria's deepest lake, most magnificent screes and prettiest woods.
Distance 4.5 miles (7.2km)
Minimum time 2hrs 30min
Ascent/gradient 165ft (50m)
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Well-defined paths and farm tracks, 7 stiles
Landscape Farm pasture, deciduous woodland, low moor
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer OL 6 The English Lakes (SW)
Start/finish NY 128038
Dog friendliness Can run free in Low Wood, on lead elsewhere
Parking Verges of road triangle east of Nether Wasdale village
Public toilets None on route
1 From the triangle take the southbound Santon Bridge road, which straddles the River Irt on a stone bridge. Just beyond the bridge by Flass House, turn left, following a farm track signed 'Lake Foot'. The track leads through fields to Easthwaite Farm. Go through the farmyard and continue along the track through more fields, but now tucked beneath the rocks of Irton Fell. Keep on the main track, ignoring a right fork beyond the farm. After joining a riverside path by Low Wood the track reaches the Wast Water Pumphouse at the southern tip of Wast Water. Water from the lake is pumped from here to the nuclear plant at Sellafield.
2 As lakes go Wast Water is fairly sterile. When water tumbles down the impervious volcanic rocks of the surrounding mountains, few of the minerals needed for a rich cycle of life are leached out into the lake. You'll see some black-headed gulls and maybe the occasional red-breasted merganser duck on an excursion from the salt marshes of the Irt Estuary, but the most fascinating visitor to Wast Water is a fish. The Arctic char comes here to spawn in the lake's ice-cold waters each year between November and March, and has been doing so since the last Ice Age.
3 Beyond the pumphouse a narrow, undulating path traces the lakeshore to reach the great fans of boulder known as the Wast Water Screes. This is a fragile environment, but the purple saxifrage grows in the gullies, as does the more common alpine lady's mantle, a dwarf plant with tiny yellow-green flowers.
Retrace your steps, to Low Wood. Here a waymarked path follows the field edge by the Irt to Lund Bridge where you cross over, into the woods. A path now winds through the trees, bends left behind a little boathouse and continues with the riverbank to the right. The leafy path weaves through oak beech and birch. Winter greenery is added by the odd yew and holly bush. Unfortunately, the greenery is also supplemented by that of the rhododendron. Introduced to Britain's gardens and parks from Asia, this fast growing shrub has quickly adapted itself to the countryside, particularly woodland. Here its dense foliage blocks out light and prevents other plant species from taking root.
4 The path joins a wider track, which descends from the left. Continue to follow it by the riverside. On the left you'll see Wasdale Hall, a magnificent mansion, now used as a youth hostel - ignore paths to it. Beyond a ladder stile over a wall the path climbs out to the Wasdale Head road. Here, you get a grand view over the lake towards the screes, Yewbarrow and Great Gable.
5 Turn left along the road then, after about 300yds (274m), turn right along a wide stony track through High Birkhow Woods, passing to the left of Wasdale Hall's old walled gardens. Go over a stile at the end of the track to enter high pastures with the crags of Buckbarrow and Middle Fell ahead. The path begins as a faint grooved track, heading half left across the pastures towards a small crag. From here it becomes well defined and winds downhill to meet a bridleway. Turn left to follow the grassy bridleway, which aims south west with the rocks of Ashness How to your left. You could make a short there-and-back detour to see Woodhow Tarn.
6 Otherwise continue straight ahead over another stile to follow a track that passes a cottage before veering left to the Nether Wasdale road. Turn right, back to the triangle.
If you're driving past Nether Wasdale, chances are you're on the way to Wasdale Head, and thinking about the climb to Great Gable, or England's highest mountain, Scafell Pike. Nether Wasdale and its surrounding oak woods are pretty, but these narrow, twisting lanes and their claustrophobic stone walls mean you have to concentrate on your driving. But Nether Wasdale's too good to be dismissed. Delightful paths through those oak woods lead to the shores of Wast Water, where you can look across to the expansive steel-cold screes that fan out from murky and mysterious gullies in Whin Rigg's rockfaces.
The welcoming Strands is a typically English country inn with low beams and a real fire to warm you on a winter's evening. It's a free house with guest beers and a wide range of bar meals.
Take a look round Gosforth village. In St Mary's churchyard you'll find a 14ft (4m) ancient cross, the highest of its kind in England. The cross has pagan Viking symbols on one side and Christian engravings on the other.
Peregrines nest on the cliff edges and precipitous crags around Buckbarrow. This medium sized falcon is distinctive with its wingtops and upper body flecked with various shades of grey. Its cheeks are white, and its lower body, pale with dark grey streaks. The peregrine's unbelievably good eyesight allows it to see prey from 2 miles (3.2km) away. When it finds something, the bird dives at great speed from the sky and with talons outstretched towards its unfortunate victim.