Lakes of the Lakes : Rydal Water

Lakes of the Lakes : Rydal Water

ROUTE STATS (including map)

The Pretzel : Part 1

Determined not to let my challenge meet the same fate as so many resolutions before it, I put round 2 in the diary soon after my Derwent Water excursion.

Date booked, my thoughts turned to choosing a lake. I craved variety and wanted to turn some of the more pedestrian walks into a proper adventure. Something that required a little planning. An excuse to look at maps and design the perfect route.

With the Lake District bug well and truly in my system, I was drawn to three small specs of blue in the centre of the map: Rydal Water, Grasmere and Elter Water. Right in the heart of the district, these lakes are about as pedestrian as they get. In the high season, any one of these makes a popular post-Sunday lunch stroll. Indeed, these hotspots often feel more like central London at times.

It’s a different story in Winter. Yes they remain accessible and are great options to burn off that extra Yorkshire pud but something magical happens if you knit them together. Do this, and you have the makings of a fantastic low level walk. Arguably the finest 15 miles the Lakes has to offer without stepping too far away from civilisation.

Then came the fun part – designing a route. I wanted to walk round all three lakes without retracing my steps and ensuring a complete circuit of each. However hard I tried, I couldn’t shake the following image from my mind:

“The Pretzel” was born and I was excited about taking a bite…

North Side

The weather on arrival meant I was the only person mad enough to venture on to these well-trodden paths. The only “relief” from the rain was the odd icy blast of wind. On the plus side, I was excited to give my new waterproof trousers a road test so, with my head down, I ploughed on.

I started nibbling the pretzel at the top right hand corner, near Rydal Mount. As it was dark when I left the warmth of the car, I took the coffin route back towards Grasmere along the northern edge of Rydal Water. Despite the sinister name (it was once used to take the dead from Rydal to Grasmere), it affords some fine views of Rydal Water and Loughrigg Fell.

As the darkness gave way to light, I dropped down to the White Moss car park to pick up the network of paths between Rydal Water and Grasmere. I crossed a bridge with a notable lack of signage, only to find the sign submerged in the crystal clear waters below. On reaching the opposite side of the river, I was saddened to see a notice from the Police regarding vandalism in the area. Such mindless damage is something I’ll never understand.

With the lake hidden from view and this clearing having more of a park vibe with its picnic benches and meandering river, I ascended slightly through a wood to arrive at a junction. Left continues around Rydal Water with right heading towards neighbouring Grasmere. To save any overlap, I marked my location and turned right to Grasmere. The second half of Rydal Water would have to wait until I’d bagged two more lakes, saving an element of excitement for tired legs later in the day.

If you want to read about my walk in order, then jump to Grasmere now. Otherwise, imagine I stood on this spot for a few hours before continuing below…

South Side

The path turns back towards the lake shore where the noise of the busy road opposite is just about cancelled out by the sounds of water lapping against pebbly beaches. I lingered a while, not wanting to get back to the car too soon, and gazed across the water to a small island crowded with cormorants basking in the early afternoon sunshine.

My gaze was interrupted by a new shape moving across the water. Black and sleek, I reached for my camera, convinced I was about to make my fortune with the first image of the Rydal Water Monster. At full zoom, I realised it was a solitary swimmer braving the icy waters with only a wetsuit for insulation. To say temperatures were close to freezing, I can only imagine how cold the water felt. I love wild swimming but this was commitment!

A final stretch of woodland separated me from the car and I reflected on the day’s walk. Rydal Water was the weakest of the three for me. As a recreational site for swimming, bird-watching and a gentle family stroll it’s a fine option but it didn’t match up to the other two.

Grasmere is a lovely walk with plenty of interest and options to vary the circuit. I loved the view from the Loughrigg Terrace path across the water to Helm Crag and the valleys heading north.

For me, though, the highlight of the walk was Elter Water. The path along the River Brathay has everything: waterfalls; meadows; a calm river; wildlife; the Langdales; woods. It’s almost perfect, and the excitement continues as you leave this special place, craning your neck to clock that view of the Langdale Pikes one last time.

After a post-walk brew, I began the drive home. Heading towards Thirlmere, I heard the most almighty roar in the skies, as a Eurofighter Typhoon flew right above me, before banking to the right and disappearing from sight. I like to think the pilot was outlining their own pretzel around the lakes – just the adrenaline rush you need on a cold Winter’s day.

Highs and Lowdown (1)

Rydal Water


Start / Finish: Roadside parking near Rydal Mount; various car parks around the lake

Distance: 3 miles (4.75 km)

Navigation: Easy

Terrain: Good paths throughout

Facilities: Grasmere / Ambleside the nearest


*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.

Highs and Lowdown (2)

The Pretzel: Rydal Water, Grasmere and Elterwater


Start / Finish: Roadside parking near Rydal Mount

Distance: 13 miles (21 km)

Navigation: Straightforward

Terrain: Good paths throughout

Facilities: Elterwater and Skelwith Bridge have a few options but Grasmere is your best bet – a visit to Sarah Nelson’s Gingerbread shop is compulsory!


*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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