Windermere (Part 2)
As I write this, I’m looking at hundreds of pictures online of smug wild campers basking in the bank holiday sunshine. The Lake District looks glorious and I’m only jealous I chose to visit last week on a particularly rainy day!
Walking in the rain does have its benefits. Particularly in August. Despite the deluge, it was warm with only a gentle breeze. And I didn’t see another walker all day; almost unheard of for Lake Windermere at this time of year.
I was even stopped by two well-meaning motorists offering me a lift. They couldn’t comprehend why I was walking in the rain for fun and assumed I must be lost or otherwise looking for the nearest tea room / hotel.
I think this mentality sums up the southern half of Lake Windermere and part two of the longest lake walk this year. There’s a sense of folk simply passing through. Why on earth would you want to walk for pleasure?!
While there’s a lakeside path along some of the western shoreline, the eastern stretch is largely private land. There was a definite feel of wanting to keep the riff-raff away from the magnificent properties alongside the lake, taking me away from the water to gaze from afar.
The day began early, parking in Bowness close to the ferry crossing. After changing from my shorts (massively optimistic) into full waterproofs (more appropriate), I wandered down the road to meet the ferry waiting for me.
There wasn’t a soul about and the conductor (right word?) opened the gate for a personal transfer across the lake. We made conversation about the weather and where I was headed and I alighted on the western shore before turning south for the morning.
A man-in-a-van soon stopped to ask if he could get to the M6 this way. I told him about the ferry crossing and he thought I was pulling his leg. I like to think I shaved some time off his journey.
The extent of the previous days’ rain was clear to see with standing water on the back roads and Lake Windermere itself straining against the banks.
At one point, I was met by a tree blocking the path. Couldn’t go round it without wading waist-deep into the lake or spiking myself on barbed wire. I committed to tackling it head on like an obstacle from The Crystal Maze. After ducking and diving through the tangled branches, I made it through unscathed.
Despite the rain, this was a pleasant part of the walk. Away from the road and through the woods with the lake close by. Tranquil bays and small wooden bridges crossing swollen streams feeding the lake. I enjoyed seeing this quieter side of Lake Windermere before being forced to rejoin the road.
Despite being a minor road, it’s not fun to walk along. There are signs alerting motorists to pedestrians in the road but this didn’t seem to make a difference. Drivers raced along, leaving me very little room. Not a relaxing way to spend the morning.
I soon passed the Stott Park Bobbin Mill, which I didn’t visit, but it did plant an irritating earworm of ‘Wind the Bobbin Up’ for the remainder of my walk. Those readers with children will understand.
After a few miles on the road, I sought refuge by taking a detour through Great Knott Wood. If you like woods, then this walk has plenty of them, Great Knott being a real highlight. I took the opportunity to practise some micro-navigation, finding woods particularly disorientating to navigate through.
My reward for going off piste was an incredible sighting of a deer. This beautiful creature emerged gracefully from the mist and tolerated me taking a few snaps. Not my greatest work but a magical experience. Think the patronus by the lake scene in the Harry Potter films and you are getting close.
The path through the woods emerges by Newby Bridge, where I darted between queuing cars and legged it to the other side by the main road.
It’s quite oppressive this bit. Big lorries and frustrated motorists thundered past. Walking solo sometimes becomes so absorbing that when you are faced with traffic all of a sudden it’s a real assault on the senses. I was grateful to reach another back road leading to the foot of Gummer’s How.
After a steep incline up the road, the hard work is mostly done, leaving you to enjoy the last off-road section to the summit and the expansive views across Lake Windermere. I say expansive but that’s in comparison to the heavy rain throughout the morning, which had eased slightly to allow me to see part of the opposite shore. Mist clung to the lower ground, creating some atmosphere as I scrambled over the final rocky section to admire the now non-existent view.
The mist gave more chance to practise some bearings from the summit which led through saturated woodland. Gloopy mud did its best to swallow my boots and make sure it looked like I’d had a proper day outdoors.
Before long, I joined a short stretch of road towards the serene Ghyll Head Reservoir. After greeting some friendly horses, I turned a corner to come face to face with another deer, who clearly hadn’t heard (or smelled) me coming. It stared for a while, deciding what to do, and I resisted the opportunity to grab my camera and simply enjoyed the moment, despite it being the perfect shot!
I also noticed the kissing gates increase in height round these parts – like a turnstile entrance to a football ground – presumably to corral the resident deer population.
The path continues through the splendid Rosthwaite Farm before crossing an A road to start the final couple of kilometres back to the start. Despite the short distance, this section took forever. You’ll need a keen eye for navigation as the footpaths are not clearly marked and soon disappear on the ground. Frustrating when you are so close to the end and your legs are tired!
The final section is along an unavoidable busy road. Not a nice finale to such a long walk. I descended as quickly as I could to the car park and took refuge from the rain to reflect on a successful circuit of England’s biggest lake.
First the good bits. It’s big. Really big. And that means you’ll have variety. Towns, villages, farmland, woodland, mountains, water, mud, tarmac, sheep, tourists, castles, campsites, peace and quiet, hustle and bustle.
But… I couldn’t warm to this walk, particularly the southern half. I can’t put my finger on it but I didn’t feel a connection to the lake as much as I have with others.
Windermere’s strengths lie elsewhere then. Best saved for when you want to drive, take a couple of hours to snap some photos, go on a boat trip, grab a tea and scone and jump back in the car again.
And I guess that’s the point. Not everyone wants to be in the middle of nowhere with only a soggy tuna sandwich from your rucksack on offer for lunch. Windermere does a fine job of making the Lake District accessible to all, with facilities galore and the comfort of people and convenience and noise and a taste of the outdoors. All good stuff but it’s just not for me.
So as we come to the end of the Summer months and people come to terms with the shorter days and the run up to Christmas, I’m excited to have the big-in-terms-of-size lakes under my belt and the big-in-terms-of-personality ones to come.
Can’t imagine I’ll be offered a lift around Wastwater, Ennerdale and Crummock Water, even if it is chucking it down!
Highs and Lowdown (Part 2)
Start / Finish: Bowness, Newby Bridge… Anywhere on the circuit
Distance: 17.5 miles (28 km)
Navigation: Moderate – tracks across farmland on the eastern shore are not clearly defined. You’ll need good map and compass skills to stop you ending up in the middle of a field of cows
Terrain: Wet and boggy following heavy rainfall. Woodland sections are quiet with a number of streams to cross
Facilities: Many options in Ambleside, Windermere and Bowness. Accommodation books up fast in Summer
*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.