Lakes of the Lakes : Derwent Water

Lakes of the Lakes : Derwent Water

ROUTE STATS (including map)

Derwent Water

Happy new year! I hope you’ve all enjoyed the break and have returned to work with a renewed enthusiasm – to make sure you do more outdoor activities in 2019!

I started my Lakes of the Lakes challenge on Saturday by ticking off this walk around Derwent Water from the list. An absolute corker which whetted my appetite for the remaining lakes over the next four seasons.

I’ll be honest with you. It was a bit of a safe choice. I’ve done this route umpteen times over the years but deciding on the first lake was always going to be difficult. I was like a kid in a sweet shop – 18 lakes to choose from, the promise of decent weather and no real pressures from work to worry about. Can I do them all please?

In the end, the choice was made for me as I ended up with a crippling man cold. I wasn’t getting much sympathy so decided to see if I could shift it with some Lakeland air on a familiar route (surprisingly effective as a remedy by the way). 2019’s challenge had begun.

After an early start, I arrived at the Portinscale suspension bridge NY254238 just after 7am in total darkness. There’s something mysterious about arriving in the Lakes without seeing any mountains. As morning arrives and their familiar silhouettes appear against the inky blue sky, you experience an assault on the senses as your brain processes the sights, sounds and smells of the mountains in one intense hit. Just the lift you need after your long drive in the dark.

The darkness gave me time to enjoy a coffee and a pre-toasted bagel before lacing up and heading over the suspension bridge. The pre-dawn silence was almost deafening. You hear sounds you don’t normally tune into – the rustle of clothing, the gentle thud of each footstep. It’s like listening to a piece of music for the first time with decent headphones – you hear new sounds which have always been there but with a new clarity.

And then, almost imperceptibly, you start to hear the first birdsong as the darkness gives way to light. The stillness retreats as the world catches up with you but the mountains have begun to work their magic already. Amazing how such a short time outside can make you feel better. Even running out of tissues for my streaming nose couldn’t dampen my spirits!

Just past the Nichol End Marine, you take a track into a wooded area which emerges at the entrance to the Lingholm Estate. I continued along the path to the right of the private driveway where I passed a field full of pheasants, competing with the resident llamas and alpacas for territory.

This path leads through another short stretch of woodland where the anticipation of seeing the lake starts to build. Winter is a great time to do this walk as the naked trees offer a glimpse of summit of Cat Bells before more summits are revealed at a clearing. Looking up can often be as rewarding as looking down.

A few hundred yards past the Hawse End Activity Centre, a footpath breaks off and you’ll get your first glimpse of the lake. This view across Derwent Water encourages you to skip down the path to the jetty to drink in the views of the Eastern shoreline, Keswick and Skiddaw to the North and the Borrowdale valley to the South.

Obligatory photos taken, any concerns about route-finding are forgotten. As long as you keep the lake on your left, you’ll end up back in Keswick. You pass through some pretty woodland and various jetties with plenty of interest on the way. This side of the lake is quiet at this time of year. Looking up to Cat Bells, I was able to pick out a number of bods on the summit. Shows that sometimes the mountains are not necessarily the places to go for solitude and the low-level paths can be just as peaceful.

This peacefulness was accompanied by a soundtrack of a buzzard calling overhead and the unmistakable sound of a nearby (but elusive) woodpecker. It’s the kind of music you’d pay to hear in an expensive spa but it’s all there for free if you are prepared to make the effort.

The woodland path eventually brings you out on a rocky shoreline and a shed, which is home to the Teddy in the Window. Well-wishers have written to the teddy, who has a tribe of followers to make even the most influential Instagrammer envious. Teddy is hiding in the third pane down in the right hand window…

As you approach the southern aspect of the lake, follow signs to Lodore across a number of boardwalks. I loved these growing up and my brother and I would pretend to be trains, much to the annoyance of passing walkers. The boardwalks even have built in passing places (or stations if you are playing trains) at regular intervals. A very British touch!

It’s worth pausing here and orientating yourself north to enjoy the views across the length of Derwent Water with Skiddaw at its tip. You can see the full Cat Bells ridge to your left and the majestic cliffs above Lodore to your right. There were no rock climbers up there today but it’s a treat to watch them tackle the crags on sunnier days.

The boardwalks end at a bridge, known by locals as the Chinese Bridge. It’s a popular spot for swimming in the warmer months but today, seeing the clear waters of the River Derwent flowing underneath was enough.

As an elderly couple approached from the other direction, they must have spooked a heron, which cumbersomely took off and flew right in front of me. Another tick in the wildlife box following the buzzard and woodpecker amuse-bouche earlier on.

Cross the bridge and follow your nose to the road, where you’ll turn left for a brief spell on tarmac. Pass the Lodore Hotel on your right, which is currently nearing the end of an exciting new spa development. Despite the size of the new building, it’s sympathetic to the surrounding landscape and makes you feel like you are in some alpine valley.

Unfortunately, you do have to walk a brief spell on the road just past the Lodore Hotel. Keep to the right, watching out for cars and you’ll soon find refuge on a roadside path behind a wall on the right.

The main route carries on to the Kettlewell National Trust car park but it’s worth taking a five minute diversion back on yourself to the Lodore Falls behind the hotel. Follow the sound of the water and you’ll reach the foot of this impressive waterfall. I stopped on the conveniently located bench to enjoy the sound of falling water before retracing my steps and picking up the route once more.

After a short stretch on this roadside footpath, you’ll cross into the National Trust car park and rejoin the lakeside path. After this brief departure, the sight of the water and a new vista across to the western shore will renew your enthusiasm and you can start the trek back to Keswick.

As I walked along, it dawned on me that there’s a lot more litter these days than I ever used to notice. In particular, bags of dog poo. What’s the point in bagging it up, only to discard the plastic bag? That’s worse than leaving it to decompose naturally in my opinion. If you’ve carried your rubbish in, you can easily carry it out. It’s just laziness and it saddens me that people expect others to clean up after them.

My internal grumbling was interrupted by a couple shouting at their dog. It was clearly having far too much fun splashing around in the lake and had no intention of returning to its frustrated owners. The couple hadn’t seen me and, when they did, apologised for disturbing the peace with their shouting! I had to admit it had amused me more than anything but they were clearly embarrassed by their mischievous mutt!

There’s a nice section of pebbly beach with a great view of Skiddaw just before the path starts to follow the line of the road for a while. Most of this section is passable, with only one part requiring a quick wade through the lake where the rock juts out. If the water levels were higher, you might need to retreat up to the road for this section, only to drop back down once the obstacle is cleared.

Here’s where you’ll start to meet the crowds approaching in the opposite direction from Keswick. There’s no avoiding it I’m afraid and it just shows how popular this section of the walk is for day-trippers. I don’t blame them – there are some cracking views of Castle Crag and the jaws of Borrowdale. Take advantage of the beaches, skim some stones and take lots of photos.

Go in the opposite direction to the tourists and you’ll end up by the terminal for the Keswick Launch. Enjoy your last views of the lake here as you head into town via an underpass where there’s always a guy playing the guitar.

I took the opportunity to do some browsing in George Fisher. A great shop which always evokes memories from childhood when I’d go in and ogle at all the shiny kit. I still get that feeling of excitement seeing all the rucksacks and climbing harnesses hung up on the walls.

Fantasy pocket money spent, I contemplated some fish and chips from the Old Keswickian chippy before the lure of my squashed tuna sandwich pulled me away (and before you admire my Herculean efforts at resisting fish and chips, I had some for tea when I got home instead…)

With the views of the lake now but a memory after the bustling metropolis of Keswick, it just remains for you to complete the circuit by heading down the main street towards the pencil museum. There, you’ll pick up the track back to the car with views across the school playing fields to the surrounding fells.

Lake one completed, man cold cured, I enjoyed a brew with thoughts of future adventures among the mountains, when I can look down on Derwent Water and reminisce about the circuit of this most excellent of lakes.

Highs and Lowdown


Start / Finish: Public car parks in Keswick; Great Wood National Trust car park; roadside parking by Portinscale suspension bridge

Distance: 9.5 miles (15.25 km)

Navigation: Easy

Terrain: Good, lakeside paths throughout

Facilities: Lots of options in Keswick; Lodore Hotel


*These routes and descriptions are only ever intended to be a personal record of my adventures, which may inspire your own. Hillwalking involves a degree of risk, so please make sure you are properly equipped and prepared if you choose to follow them.

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