Ask people to name a lake in the Lake District. Odds are they’ll come up with Windermere. Some of the more creative ones might mention Coniston Water or Derwent Water. Those with more knowledge of the area might say Ullswater or Wastwater. The smarty pants will say Bassenthwaite (being the only body of water with ‘lake’ in its title).
Unless your name is Beatrix Potter, I’d guess no-one will come up with Esthwaite Water. And to be honest, before I started researching the candidates for this year’s challenge, neither would I.
Perhaps that’s why fitting in a walk around Esthwaite Water has been a bit of an enigma. It’s not significant enough a venture to warrant a trip of its own so I needed to tag it on to another walk. Despite tackling its neighbours, I could never bring myself to call off on the way home. It just wasn’t appealing enough.
As the year advanced and opportunities began to run out, I decided to make the diversion en route to the western Lakes.
Esthwaite Water is privately owned. That means it’s not very accessible (unless, it turns out, you are a fisherman/woman). There are perimeter roads but walking on tarmac is never appealing.
Some progress has been made following completion of the Claife Community Bridleway. The pathway was built following demand from locals to improve the safety of walkers, cyclists and motorists on the stretch between Hawkshead and Near Sawrey. Around two-thirds of the eastern leg of the walk is now off road but unfortunately you still have to negotiate speeding motorists at times.
No such option for the initial part of the walk. After parking at the Trout Fishery, I negotiated a particularly nasty stretch of road (no verges and blind corners) before seeking the refuge of a back road into Grizedale Forest. A track quickly leaves the road, taking you into the sanctuary of the trees.
As the track snaked through the woods, I saw a vehicle in the trees ahead. Given the roughness of the trail and the density of the canopy, my mind couldn’t compute how it had got there, until I realised it was a 4×4 doing some proper off-roading.
I stood to the side as the driver skilfully negotiated the rocky descent. The passenger wound down their window to let me know there were another three on the way (so 4x 4x4s in total – sorry!).
Sure enough, their friends soon arrived on an even more technical section than before. I enjoyed watching them creep down the steep terrain but quickly dismissed any thoughts of my family car doing the same.
At a junction, I turned on to a new track. The lake was far from view and I instead immersed myself in the forest. Scores of blackberries lined the track – a forager’s paradise – and birds serenaded me from the branches above.
The path soon leaves the trees as the views to the central fells open up. A rainbow streaked across the vista as I descended into Roger Ground and the pretty village of Hawkshead.
The community bridleway offers one of only two points on the walk where you get up close and personal with Esthwaite Water. As you join the path, the view opens out across the water with the occasional gap in the trees where you can access the shoreline. It all feels very restrictive; like you shouldn’t linger for too long. Take your photos and carry on walking.
The bridleway is, unfortunately, interspersed with sections of road, although visibility is generally good and most drivers slow down for you.
The final section of the walk around Esthwaite Water is arguably the best. There’s a quiet road along the southern boundary of the lake with views across the water to the Langdales. You leave the road to hug the shoreline along the Beatrix Potter Nature Walk, complete with information boards about the different characters from her books which you might encounter should you have the patience to sit for a while.
It is said that Esthwaite Water was Beatrix Potter’s favourite lake and was the inspiration for her character Jeremy Fisher. You can imagine her characters pottering about the tranquil waters and this short ‘out and back’ walk from the car park is ideal for families, who could round things off with a visit to the café at the Trout Fishery.
Walk complete, a solitary fisherman, in situ since I began a couple of hours earlier, helped me to figure out the purpose of this lake. It’s not one for walkers. It’s for Jeremy Fishers, content to linger on their lily pads, immersed in nature. An angler’s paradise.
So if you are a Beatrix Potter fan, a keen fisherman or an osprey, this one’s for you. Perhaps next time I’ll call off to while away the hours hoping for a bite on the end of my line. Only then am I likely to appreciate the true magic of this lake.
Highs and Lowdown
Start / Finish: Trout Fishery Car Park; Near Sawrey; or Hawkshead
Distance: 6.1 miles (9.8 km)
Navigation: Easy to moderate – you’ll need a map through Grizedale Forest but the paths are clearly defined and easy to follow
Terrain: Good paths; watch the board walks in the Beatrix Potter Nature Walk, which are slippery
Facilities: Hawkshead; take a short diversion to Grizedale Forest Visitor Centre
*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.