Winter in Ennerdale

Man and dogs on a snowy Iron Crag, Ennerdale

In winter, more than any other time of year, the small number of people out and about in Ennerdale makes it a great place for quiet contact with nature.

Winter in Ennerdale - 600 years ago

In winter, when the bracken has died back, the archaeological sites in the valley show up most clearly. The Smithy Beck settlements date back over 600 years containing a collection of buildings that resemble long-houses.

Winter sun on the Smithy Beck settlement, Ennerdale
Smithy Beck settlement in winter, Ennerdale, Lake District

The houses have a distinctive double-wall construction which, archaeologists say, suggests that they were lived in all year round, using the double wall to keep out the winter cold.

The settlement is linked to another cluster of settlements nearby where people used to mine the fell sides for iron ore. It’s one of nine scheduled ancient monuments in the valley – find out how to get there by downloading the Historic Sites Guide from the Wild Ennerdale website.

Overwintering Cattle

These black Galloway cattle look like big teddy bears, but they’re hardy beasts that live outdoors all winter, roaming over 1,700 hectares of forest, farmland, river and fell side. The farmer, a National Trust tenant, checks on them to make sure they’re healthy – but they need very little intervention, and even have their calves out in the forest.

Black Galloways in winter, Ennerdale
Black Galloways in winter, Ennerdale, Lake District

They were introduced to Ennerdale in 2006 to help the native woodland re-establish in the valley. They’re heavier than sheep and graze differently, so they disturb the ground more, allowing plants, shrubs and trees to grow.

They look fantastic in the landscape too and are helping to ‘blur’ the old boundaries between farmland and forest land.

Winter wildlife in Ennerdale

Close encounters with wildlife, like these red deer, is part of the appeal of Ennerdale
A red deer stag and two hinds

The Wild Ennerdale project has spent ten years reducing the dominance of Sitka Spruce in the valley – a legacy of the 1920’s work to replenish timber stocks after the first World War – and planting thousands of broadleaf trees.

The fact that Ennerdale has no public roads to the head of the valley, fewer visitors than the more popular ‘honey pot’ areas of the central lakes, mean it’s a big valley you can explore in peace, giving you a good chance of spotting wildlife – especially when the leaves are off the trees.

The YHA at Gillerthwaite has a whiteboard where walkers record their wildlife sightings. Red squirrels, deer and herons are commonly seen.

We’ve also received some unconfirmed sightings of pine martens. In 2011 we put up some marten nesting boxes in the hope of being able to confirm their presence in the valley, but there’s been nothing certain so far. If you see one when you’re out and about please let us know!
To find out what a Pine Marten looks like please visit the Wild Ennerdale website.