Trading Hotels For Caves In The UK's Lake District

8 April 2015

Spending a night at “Priest’s Hole”, a cave hidden high up on the side of a fell called Dove Crag, is almost a rite of passage for outdoors aficionados.

This isn’t a dark, scary tunnel deep in the mountainside; it’s merely a shallow overhang, big enough to keep the wind and rain at bay, but open enough to prevent any claustrophobia.

On a clear day it’s like having a penthouse view over the northern Lake District. Upon arrival, you’ll feel almost as though you’ve stumbled into a bothy: there’s usually a collection of tarps or groundsheets left by previous users, occasionally some camping stove gas canisters (usually left because there’s some gas remaining), and even a plastic box containing a visitors’ book and a pen.

 There aren't too many 5-star hotels with this kind of view (Image: Getty)

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Top Tip

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Caves are not naturally dry places and Priest’s Hole has a wide opening.

Make sure you take a waterproof bivvy for your sleeping bag, plenty of warm layers and hot food and drink. You could consider bringing a piece of tarp to lay under your camping mat as the floor is rocky and sharp in places.

Phoebe enjoys the spectacular view from the Priest's Hole. Phoebe enjoys the view from her ‘room’. Photograph: Neil S Price/Phoebe Smith

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Pre-Trip

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Once in the cave, it’s unlikely you’ll want to keep climbing up and down to fetch water, so take a good supply.

The nearest village is in Patterdale, where you can buy food and drink. For more in the way of camping supplies, head to either Windermere/Ambleside (south) or Keswick/Penrith (north) before you set off.
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Public Transport

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The nearest you can get to the start of your adventure using public transport is the Patterdale Hotel, around five kilometres from the start.

Take the Stagecoach Bus 108 (one every four hours) from Penrith, which is well served by buses and National Rail. You can walk or get a taxi from Patterdale to the start.


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The Plan

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The route to the Priest's Hole The route to Priest’s Hole

Day 1

1. Leaving the car park via the gate in the southwest corner, follow the wide track where it passes under trees on the edge of Brothers Water. This is clear and easy to follow until you reach the farm at Hartsop Hall.

2. Once at the farm, walk past the buildings and you will see the path fork. Take the fainter track on the far right, which begins to climb uphill.Things can get muddy at this point. Follow it above the wall line and over some very old stiles and ruined gates, climbing as you go. The trees eventually give way to open fellside and you then meet the water of Dovedale Beck.

3. Don’t cross the bridge to the beck’s southern bank, but keep the beck to your left and continue along the path. The track begins to climb over rocks and boulders, and you’ll note the spoil of old buildings to your right.

It’s around this point that, looking uphill in clear conditions, you’ll get your first glimpse of the cave to which you’re heading: it appears as a dark, egg-shaped shadow near the top of the crag and just right of centre.

The path steepens considerably here until the ground begins to level out and becomes grassier. You should see a large boulder ahead: walk to this.

4. Look left from the boulder and you should be able to make out a rough path – almost like a sheep track – that curves up and around the side of the rocks to the left.

Head for that, towards the rocks in front of you. You’ll need to use your hands in a couple of places, but it gets no more technical than that. After about five minutes, you should find yourself at the entrance to Priest’s Hole, your room for the night.

 A Lake District sunrise (Image: Getty)

Day 2

5. After remembering to fill in the visitors’ book – and taking out any excess rubbish you can carry – carefully retrace your steps back down to the big boulder you left yesterday. If you’re in a rush, you can simply return to the car, following the same route you took up.

If you have time, however, continue uphill to the col between the peaks of Dove Crag and Hart Crag.

6. Wainwright baggers will probably first want to nip southeast to summit the mountain inside which they have just camped.

From there, you can retrace your steps to the col and then continue for a final push up to the summit of Hart Crag.

7. From Hart Crag, take the obvious track northeast that follows the ridge along Hartsop Above How. This path steadily loses height then drops to the north of Low Wood.

8. Turn onto the road and walk back the short distance to Cow Bridge and your start point.

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Visit your local Flight Centre or call 131 600 for more advice and the latest deals on travelling to England's Lake District.

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This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk

This article was written by Phoebe Smith from The Guardian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

Phoebe Smith

Award-winning travel editor, writer and author Phoebe Smith has seen her love of dramatic landscapes and wild places take her on adventures all around the world – from wild camping on the Scottish islands, to meeting sea gypsies in Burma and watching the Northern Lights from a heated wigwam above the Arctic Circle. She is the editor of Wanderlust, the UK’s best adventure travel magazine (Consumer Magazine of the Year 2013, PPA, Independent Publisher’s Award) and in 2015 was named Editor of the Year (PPA, New Talent Awards).