Quite simply, Yewbarrow is the best fell in Wasdale. But before you Great Gable or Scafell lovers shoot me down, let me explain my reasoning.
Yewbarrow’s principal asset should be obvious to anyone looking up Wastwater, or indeed looking across from, say Whin Rigg or Illgill Head. It looks great. A number of times I’ve heard fells described as looking like the hull of an upturned boat, but nowhere is this more true than Yewbarrow. The rocky top part of the ridge really gives the impression of a keel sticking into the sky. Coming from a nautically-inclined family, it’s a sure winner.
Sometimes when a fell is likened to a particular shape or object, you have to squint or look from the right place to see it, but not with Yewbarrow. It’s so perfectly boat-shaped that no effort is needed. And unlike some such fells, it’s really obvious from the map too.
Britain’s favourite view, apparently, is the classic view of the head of Wastwater, and it was certainly the one I voted for back in 2007. A stylised version of this view is used as the symbol of the National park itself. Whilst many clearly recognise Great Gable in the centre, which isn’t one of my favourite fells, few stop to think about the fells sloping in from either side – Lingmell on the right and Yewbarrow on the left, both of which are favourites.
I’m going to go even further by saying that what makes this view is not Great Gable – true it provides a necessary shape in the middle – but it would be nothing without the fells sloping down either side to frame it in the centre of the shot. Yewbarrow, on the left is a much more interesting shape and provides most of the colour in the picture, being a patchwork of reds and greens.
The other main reason why Yewbarrow is a favourite is that as well as looking good, it’s fun to be on too. I climbed Yewbarrow in September 2008, having been in Norway the week before looking at glaciers. And it certainly wasn’t a let down. Having arrived in the Lakes via the coastal rail line to Ravenglass and then La’al Ratty to Eskdale Green, followed by a walk over into Wasdale, the next day I needed to get to Black Sail, and the route chosen was over Yewbarrow, Red Pike, Scoat Fell and Pillar.
Having found out in the hostel the night before that Mark, a fellow hosteller I met there, was doing the same as me, we decided to walk together. We walked along the road to Overbeck Bridge to begin the climb of Yewbarrow’s south ridge. We slogged our way up alongside the dry stone wall until we came to Bell Rib looming above us, then diverted left below the crag to scramble up by Dropping Crag and to arrive on the ridge at Great Door. A walk along the narrow rocky ridge took us to the summit and a lunch stop.
Of course, all the while the views back down into Wasdale were superb, with the contrast between the Wastwater Screes on the left and the lower land on the right being stark.
After lunch we then tried the descent to Dore Head via Stirrup Crag, but downwards isn’t the best way to take that end of the fell. It seemed precariously steep and as we were both quite heavily loaded and couldn’t really see where we were going, we backed out of it, regained the top of the ridge and in the end took a sloping descent off the western side of the fell. We then continued onto Red Pike and Scoat Fell before the final climb of the day from Wind Gap onto Pillar. We arrived at Black Sail just in time for a hot meal, a great end to a memorable day, of which the best part of the walk was Yewbarrow by a big margin.
I returned to Wasdale in 2011 having walked over from Ennerdale, and the next day found myself again on that same walk to Overbeck Bridge, marvelling at the shape and colour of Yewbarrow. That day however, my route was over Lingmell, but I promised myself I’d be back for another day on Yewbarrow just as soon as I could arrange it.
Wasdale isn’t my favourite Lakeland valley, although I know it is many people’s. But for me, Yewbarrow is my favourite thing in the valley, and makes any trip to Wasdale worthwhile on its own. If it had only had a tarn as well, it could easily have been my most favourite fell.