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Bill Birkett - My top five Lakeland walks

PUBLISHED: 00:00 27 August 2014 | UPDATED: 16:45 19 January 2016

Looking over Watendlath Tarn

Looking over Watendlath Tarn

Bill Birkett

Bill Birkett has just published his fourth Lake District walking book. We asked him to pick out a handful of his favourites for Lakeland Life readers

When the editor asked me to pen a few words on my five favourite walks taken from my walking guidebook series, I was happy to jump at the chance. Then, as the enormity of the task gradually sank in, I wondered just how I was going to do it.

From four different areas there are 80 walks in all. Each circular walk, a voyage through some of the most sublime and devastatingly beautiful country on earth, is completely different and full of its own particular character.

They vary from scaling the high fells to exploring the many hidden facets at valley level. My journeys have taken me to the rugged heights of the Langdale Pikes, the gentle curves of Skiddaw, to the serene tarns of Watendlath, Styhead, Sprinkling and Blea, to the crashing falls of Taylor Gill, Skelwith and Colwith Force, to the oaks of High Hows Wood and Rob Rash, the daffodils around Grasmere, the bluebells around Rydal Water, the caves of Cathedral Quarry and Millican Dalton’s ‘Cave Hotel’, to the majesty of Windermere, Derwentwater and Bassenthwaite.

And, of course, each changes dramatically with every season, on every day and with every moment of light. On the heights how could I possibly choose between a walk over Langdale Pikes, my own backyard, and Great Gable, an evocative mountain loved by so many. Or the popular Catbells or Loughrigg, the tarns of Dock, Lily or Stickle, the woods, waterfalls and stone built villages?

In short I couldn’t do it. Every walk I’ve described in these guidebooks, which range from a half hour easy stroll to a tour de force, is a classic in its own right.

They are all my favourites! So in the end, I have selected a walk from each of my four grades of difficulty (Easy, Moderate, Mildly Difficult and Difficult), one from each of the four guidebooks then added an extra one from my latest book, Walk Borrowdale & Keswick for good measure.

1 Skelwith Bridge to Loughrigg Tarn. Easy. Taken from ‘Walk The Langdales’.

A heady mix of river, waterfall, a lake, two tarns, mixed woods and fine vistas make this a delightful and enchanting outing. From Skelwith Bridge proceed up the River Brathay to pass Skelwith Force waterfall, the Brathay Meadows, Elter Water and Rob Rash Wood. Above the woods Little Loughrigg Tarn is passed and a visit made to the superlative viewpoint of Crag Head before descent leads to the circuit of Loughrigg Tarn. The little road below Tarn Foot leads down directly to Skelwith Bridge.

LENGTH: 4.5km

TIME: 2 hours

DIFFICULTY: Mild though making a little ascent (200m) and descent

START & FINISH: Limited Parking beside the Langdale Road at Skelwith Bridge (344035)

ALTERNATIVE START: Limited parking at the head of the little road below Tarn Foot

MAPS: OS L90 or OL7

HOSTELRIES: Chesters Café and Skelwith Bridge Hotel.

2 Gummer’s How. Mildly Difficult. Taken from ‘Walk Windermere & Hawkshead’.

Along the length of Windermere and across to the Southern, Western, Central and Eastern Fells, to The Howgills, Yorkshire’s Ingleborough, over the Kent Estuary and Morecambe Bay, to Whitbarrow Scar, Arnside Knott and out to sea, it really isn’t fair that such a short walk, involving so little effort, offers such an outstanding view.

LENGTH: 2½km.

TIME: 1 hour.

DIFFICULTY: Mildly difficult, with moderately strenuous ascent on reasonable paths.

START & FINISH: Large car park above road on Fell Foot Brow (389 876).

MAPS: OS L90 or OL7.

HOSTELRIES: Non en-route. Nearby are Masons Arms on Strawberry Bank, and Newby Bridge Hotel.

3 Castle Crag from Rosthwaite. Difficult. Taken from ‘Walk Borrowdale & Keswick’.

Within the ‘Jaws of Borrowdale’ the ancient hill fort of Castle Crag rises from sylvan splendour and the crystal clear waters of the River Derwent to take commanding position over beautiful Borrowdale. With an option to visit Millican Dalton’s ‘Cave Hotel’ this route circumnavigates the craggy outcrop before ascending to the summit.

CLASS: Low Fell Walk (alt 290m).

LENGTH: 6 km.

TIME: 2 hours.

DIFFICULTY: Difficult, strenuous ascent (290m) and descent.

START & FINISH: Car parks in Rosthwaite (256 149)

MAPS: OS L89 or OL4.

HOSTELRIES: The Flock-in Tearoom and Scafell Inn in Rosthwaite.

4 The Fairfield Horseshoe. Very Difficult. Taken from ‘Walk Ambleside, Rydal & Grasmere’.

An absolute classic high fell outing and one of the great mountain walks of the Lake district.

Topped by Fairfield, high above the hamlet of Rydal, a rising horseshoe of fells makes a semi circle around the hanging valley of Rydal. The eastern leg of the horseshoe rises from Ambleside and the western leg falls in a long shoulder above Grasmere down to Rydal. The going is straightforward though subject to all the challenges of a high mountain outing.

LENGTH: 17km.

TIME: 7 hours.

DIFFICULTY: A difficult and long mountain route with sustained ascent (875m) and descent.

START & FINISH: Ambleside’s Rydal Road main car park (376047).

MAPS: OS L90 & both OL5 &OL7.

HOSTELRIES: Plentiful in Ambleside.

5 ‘Rosthwaite to Watendlath and Dock Tarn’. Taken from “Walk Borrowdale and Keswick”.

Contrasting the remote wildness of Watendlath and Dock Tarn with the sylvan beauty of the Borrowdale valley this is a very fine outing indeed. Weather permitting this walk is suitable for most times of the year but is arguably at its finest in late spring, when the lambs gamble and May blossom blooms, or early summertime when Dock Tarn is white with water lilies.

CLASSIFICATION: Intermediate Fell Walk (alt 420m).

LENGTH: 8.5 km.

TIME: 4 hours.

DIFFICULTY: Mildly difficult, with steepish ascent (500m) and descent.

START & FINISH: Car parks in Rosthwaite (256 149)

MAPS: OS L89 or OL4.

HOSTELRIES: The Flock-in Tearoom and Scafell Inn in Rosthwaite. Caffle House Tearoom in Watendlath.

The fourth Book in Bill Birkett’s highly successful guidebook series has just been published. Walk Borrowdale & Keswick is priced at £9.95 and is available from www.billbirkett.co.uk or from bookshops, inns and cafes throughout the Lakes.


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