Lakes of the Lakes : Ennerdale Water

Lakes of the Lakes : Ennerdale Water

Check out this walk around Ennerdale Water if you are after a glimpse of the wilder side of the Lake District.

ROUTE STATS (including map)

Wild Ennerdale

I think of myself as a mountain man, yet I haven’t been to Scotland. OK, that’s not quite true. I’ve been to Edinburgh. And the Scottish Borders. But I haven’t experienced ‘proper’ Scotland. The Highlands. The lochs. The Munros. The remoteness that’s unique to that landscape.

It’s a gap on my outdoors CV I hope to rectify soon, particularly as my attitude towards ‘having a proper job’ changes and I’m more comfortable allowing myself to seek out experiences, instead of pretending to want to be ‘crazy busy’ with work.

That’s why I’ve been looking forward to this walk around Ennerdale Water. Housed in a remote valley in the western Lake District, surrounded by iconic peaks, a unique youth hostel and with no roads, it promised an experience of Scotland this side of the border.

Former charm

Although it seems wild enough, like many places in the Lake District humans have exploited it for commercial gain in the past. Read the pages of Alfred Wainwright’s Pictorial Guide to the Western Fells and you’ll sense his anger. He calls the forestry works ‘an intrusion that nobody who knew Ennerdale of old can ever forgive’.

Thanks to the efforts of Wild Ennerdale, we can once again start to experience what that ‘former charm’ may have been like. From where I was standing as day broke on this crisp Autumn morning, things looked pretty wild. A cold breeze swept along the length of the lake from the valley beyond. Mist swirled ominously around the higher peaks. The place felt utterly deserted and I enjoyed the sense of isolation as I began my walk around Ennerdale Water.

Despite all this talk of wilderness, the lake is surprisingly accessible from one of two car parks – Bleach Green or Bowness Knott. A path runs around the circumference of the lake, making a circuit easy to negotiate.

It’s straightforward walking throughout, except for one short section below Angler’s Crag, which requires a little scrambling. It’s like the lake wants to give you a taste of the rocky excitement to be found in the mountains beyond.

Once past the rocky bit, you have miles of delightful paths to enjoy. The further you head towards the pointy end of the lake, the greater the sense of travelling towards the heart of the Lakes. Look back towards the start, and the valley levels out towards the sea. I felt like one of the mini alien ships being drawn towards the mother ship in Independence Day.

At the far end of the lake, it’s tempting to continue and explore the iconic slopes of Steeple and Pillar which flank the valley. But you have to remember it’s a long walk in, which means a long walk out. These are big mountain days. Best saved for British Summer Time, unless you fancy a long trudge back in the dark. I reluctantly turned away, leaving them for another time.

A lake of two halves

The second half has a different feel about it. Yes the scenery is just as spectacular but the path widens into a forest road, so it never feels quite as isolated. Forestry works threatened to spoil the peace and quiet but the guys were friendly and switched off their machinery as I passed.

This stretch was busier than I expected. I saw fewer people around the bigger, more accessible lakes! But then I was distracted by the shriek of a buzzard overhead and the sight of Pillar Rock emerging from the mist in the distance. I noticed the clear waters and the lack of traffic noise. And I was back in the wild.

The walk was over far too quickly and I’ll definitely return to explore more of the Ennerdale valley. The number of cars now parked up suggested the valley’s charms are no longer a secret. But, like Scotland, you can soon leave the tourist trail behind and feel like you have the place to yourself. And that’s something the other lakes can only hope to compete with.

Highs and Lowdown


Start / Finish: Bleach Green or Bowness Knott car parks near Ennerdale Bridge

Distance: 7.5 miles (12 km)

Navigation: Easy. Clear path throughout with information boards in the car parks and reassuring blue signs from time to time.

Terrain: Very good. Lakeside path and forest road. One short section of easy scrambling.

Facilities: Very little nearby – that’s part of the appeal! Check out the Black Sail Youth Hostel if you want to extend your stay in the wild.


*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.

Enjoyed this? Find out more about my Lakes of the Lakes challenge.

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