St Olaf's Church, Wasdale Head
Wasdale Head is a small agricultural village in Cumberland, deep amongst the Lake District fells. The village claims to be home of England's highest mountain, Scafell Pike, its deepest lake Wastwater, its smallest church, and its biggest liar. The last of these claims refers to Will Ritson, who proclaimed himself as such, though he might have been lying.
The village is at the head of Wasdale, a valley in which Wast Water lies, and it is surrounded by some of Cumberland's highest mountains: Scafell Pike, Sca Fell, Great Gable, Kirk Fell and Pillar. The little Mosedale Beck runs through the village. The Lingmell Beck runs down here across the narrow meadows the two joining a hundred yards or so below the village to feed the lake.
Ever since the passion for the Lake District began, Wasdale Head it has been a starting point for walks and climbing trips into the mountains. Today, it is the recognised starting point for the ascent of Scafell Pike as part of the National Three Peaks Challenge, a vehicle supported walk of the highest peaks of England, Scotland and Wales, which is regarded with mixed feelings by residents and regular walkers.
The village is also the starting point for the tough climb up Kirk Fell: "a relentless and unremitting treadmill, a turf clutching crawl, not a walk. There are only three opportunities of standing upright...".
Close to the village is St Olaf's Church, which is the smallest church in Cumberland. It has a reputation indeed as the smallest church in Britain (though the title is disputed by Bremilham Church near Malmesbury, which latter church is accepted by the Guinness Book of Records).
Brackenclose and Down in the Dale
Down in the Dale is another tiny place below Wasdale Head, close by where the becks join above Wast Water.
Will Ritson (1808–1890) was a landlord of the Wastwater Hotel (now called the Wasdale Head Inn) in Wasdale, and he told grand fables. One, for example, was about a wounded eagle he found near the inn. He kept it in his chicken coop and nursed it back to health. One night the coop was raided by a bitch hound. The eagle was unscathed, but five months later the dog gave birth to a litter of winged hounds.
The World's Biggest Liar competition is held annually in his memory.
| ("Wikimedia Commons" has material|
about Wasdale Head)
- Wainwright, Alfred: A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells, Volume 7 The Western Fells: Westmorland Gazette (1966): ISBN 0-7112-2460-9
- Adam Nicolson and Nick Meers, Panoramas of England, 1997, London: Orion (p. 102)