5 great waterfall walks in the Lake District
PUBLISHED: 09:03 13 October 2020 | UPDATED: 09:29 13 October 2020
©Vivienne Crow, 2016
Feel the force and explore some of Lakeland’s most dramatic scenery
Waterfalls are always an exhilarating sight: from noisy, tumultuous surges of foaming white-water to elegant ribbons plunging over the lip of dark rock faces, they never fail to entrance onlookers. At this time of year though, with more rain falling on the fells and feeding watercourses, those same falls, with their power amplified, have to be seen (and heard) to be believed.
The five featured here provide a taste of the many different types of dramatic waterfall you’ll find across the Lake District – and beyond.
Many carry the name ‘force’ – from the old Norse ‘foss’ simply meaning ‘waterfall’ – a remnant of the times when Norsemen dominated the uplands of this area.
Secreted away in a damp, narrow ravine on the northern slopes of Red Pike, Scale Force is Lakeland’s longest waterfall. It looks fairly impressive from neighbouring Mellbreak, but it’s only as you stand at its base and gaze up at it that you get any sense of the immense height lost in such a short distance.
The main drop, slender and elegant, falls a tremendous 38m. Add on the other falls and it totals about 52m. For the best circular route, park at Lanthwaite Wood, walk up into lonely Mosedale and then return via Crummock Water’s shore path, detouring to Scale Force from Mellbreak’s southern end.
Aira Force is probably the most famous of Lakeland waterfalls. From its source in the northernmost hills of the Helvellyn range, Aira Beck steadily gathers pace as it flows downstream. Nearing its rendezvous with Ullswater, it thunders through a wooded gorge in a whirling torrent until, finally, it reaches its crescendo and plummets a massive 21 metres over the bedrock.
At the foot of this tremendous drop are sheer-sided pools, and, all around, trees cling to the edges of the ravine. Follow Ullswater’s shore for almost three miles from Glenridding to Aira and then catch the bus or the ‘steamer’ back.
It may not be the most dramatic of cascades, but Holme Force’s secluded, atmospheric location makes it well worth a visit. It’s tucked away in the heart of Holme Wood, which cloaks the southwestern shore of Loweswater. Seeing few visitors other than deer and red squirrels, a succession of gentle falls culminates in a narrow ribbon of water that runs down a smooth-sided chute and then tumbles over the boulder-strewn bed of Holme Beck.
Combine a visit to the falls and the woods with a walk along the old corpse road that traverses the northern slopes of the Loweswater Fells.
As the becks draining the uplands of Grizedale Forest unite and gain momentum, the water comes crashing down through the trees in a series of foaming cascades. The tremendous force was once used to power corn and bobbin mills at Force Mill, built in 1694 and still standing at the base of the falls. It also powered a bloomery forge, used in the local iron-making industry until smelt furnaces were built further south.
Park at the tiny Blind Lane car park and walk the 500m to the falls, or take a more roundabout route by first exploring the surrounding forests, criss-crossed by dozens of waymarked trails.
It’s easy to believe that Lakeland has a monopoly on spectacular waterfalls, but it’s not true. Sitting in the shadow of the Howgill Fells is the beautiful, almost sylvan valley carved by the River Rawthey. The drama comes in the form of Cautley Spout, an astounding waterfall that plummets in a series of cascades for an impressive 198m from the rolling hills above.
Depending on how you measure your waterfalls, it’s the longest drop of any in England. A footbridge near the Cross Keys temperance inn enables walkers to access the west bank of the Rawthey and then walk up to the waterfall.
Vivienne Crow is an award-winning freelance writer and photographer, specialising in the outdoors. She has written more than a dozen guides to Cumbria and the Lake District.
Most of the waterfalls described here feature in her book Walks to Waterfalls (Northern Eye Books, £5.99).