Cumbria is a large county in North West England and contains the Lake District and Lake District National Park. It is bounded to the north by the Scottish Borders, Dumfries and Galloway, to the west by the Irish Sea, to the south by Lancashire, to the south east by North Yorkshire, and to the east by County Durham and Northumberland. Cumbria is very mountainous containing every peak in England over 3,000ft above sea level with Scafell Pike being England’s highest mountain at 978 m (3,209ft). Cumbria is also one of England’s most outstanding areas of natural beauty attracting mountain climbers, hikers and walkers, cyclists, runners and tourists and holds a source of inspiration for artists, writers and musicians. Cumbria consists of six districts Eden, Carlisle, Allerdale, Copeland, South Lakeland and Barrow-in-Furness.
The Lake District is an area with stunning scenery located within in the County of Cumbria. Commonly known as The Lakes or Lakeland it was granted National Park status on 9th May 1951 less than a month after the first UK designated National Park, The Peak District. It is the largest of thirteen National Parks in England and Wales and the largest in the UK after the Cairngorms. The Lake District National Park itself covers an area of 885 square miles and stretches 30 miles from Ravenglass in the west to Shap in the east and 35 miles from Caldbeck in the north to Lindale in the south. Crammed with so much natural beauty the Lakes attract visitors, tourists and holiday makers from all over the world. As the name suggests there are many lakes each with their own uniqueness, amenities and activities such as lakeside walks, sailing, waterskiing, boat trips and ferries. All of the lakes except Bassenthwaite Lake are named by water, tarn or mere and are surrounded by stunning scenery and magnificent fells. There are some wonderful towns to explore such as Keswick, Windermere, Ambleside, Kendal, Hawkshead, Grasmere and Cockermouth all with a splendid mixture of shops, cafes, pubs, bars and restaurants. There are also many museums, theatres, historic homes, gardens and many easy walks for the not so energetic visitor wishing not to climb the fells. William Wordsworth the famous British poet was born in Cockermouth and later lived in Grasmere where he wrote some of his best works before moving to Rydal Mount near Ambleside for his last 37 years. Both places are open to visitors and so is Brantwood home to John Ruskin until his death. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Southey and Thomas de Quincey all followed Wordsworth to the Lake District. Arthur Ransome, author of Swallows and Amazons, also grew to love the lakes and settled in the Winster Valley near Windermere. The painters Thomas Gainsborough, JMW Turner and John Constable were early visitors to the lakes but it was John Ruskin who settled here at Brantwood on the shore of Coniston Water. Farming and especially sheep farming has been historically and still is the main industry of the Lake District. The tough Herdwick breed with their stocky build and distinctive grey coat are especially hardy for the Lakeland fells and its weather. Sheep farming has probably been here since Viking times and is an important factor both to the economy of the lakes as well as in preserving the stunning landscape which attracts visitors and hence income to the region. Walking is a big attraction in the Lake District whether strolling around the low lying lakes or climbing up into the mountainous fells whichever is undertaken the scenery is magnificent. Alfred Wainwright’s famous hand written book, The Pictorial Guide to the Lake District, published in 1955 is a collection of seven books each illustrated with his unique style and charm of the 214 fells inspiring many visitors and tourists from all over the world.
Grasmere village is a very pretty and popular tourist destination. It is situated on the River Rothay which flows into Grasmere Lake from where the village takes its name. Surrounded by hills the village is overlooked from the north-west by the rocky hill of Helm Crag also known as “The Lion and the Lamb” or the “Old Lady at the Piano”. These names are derived from the shape of rock formations on its summit depending on which side you view it from. To the east it is overlooked by Heron Pike and Great Rigg on the western ridge of the Fairfield horseshoe. To the south-east by Loughrigg Fell and to the west the long ridge comes down from High Raise. There are a number of walks that start from Grasmere and the village is also on the route of Alfred Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Walk. Grasmere is home to Sarah Nelson’s Gingerbread and the famous Grasmere Gingerbread Shop can be found at Church Cottage tucked away at the corner of St Oswald’s churchyard. Church Cottage which was built in 1630 was originally the village school. William Wordsworth who described the village as “the loveliest spot that man hath ever found” lived in Grasmere for fourteen years. Dove Cottage located on the main road just outside the village was once an inn and became the home of the famous poet William Wordsworth for 8 years in 1799. He married Mary in 1802 and three of his five children were born there. Dove Cottage, the Wordsworth Museum next door and Dove Cottage Garden, which has been restore to the half wild state that William and his sister Dorothy created, are all open to the public. Wordsworth moved to Allan Bank in Grasmere village to accommodate his growing family and finally in 1813 to Rydal Mount in Rydal until his death in 1850. He is buried in St Oswald’s Parish Churchyard alongside his wife Mary, daughter Dora and other family members. Next to the church is a Daffodil Garden in memory of the poet. Grasmere Lake, one of the Lake District’s smaller lakes, is both fed and drained by the River Rothay which rises close to Rough Crag above Dunmail Raise and flows through the village of Grasmere before entering the lake and then exits downstream into Rydal Water then continues south to merge with the River Brathay. The rivers then continue into the northern end of Windermere. The lake containing a single island known simply as The Island is leased by the Lowther Estate to the National Trust.
Alcock Tarn situated at 360 metres on the western flakes of Heron Pike was originally a small natural tarn known as Butter Crags Tarn. This stunning tarn was enlarged by means of a stone and earth dam in the 19th century to a depth of about 2 metres and it was then stocked with brown trout by its owner Mr Alcock of Hollins in Grasmere. The walk up to the tarn offers some of the best views of the Grasmere valley and the tarn provides wonderful views of Grasmere and Grasmere Lake to the west, Lake Windermere to the south and Coniston to the south-west. On a clear day Blackpool Tower can be seen in the far distance.
Heron Pike at 612 metres rises on the long southern ridge of its parent fell Fairfield and is mostly climbed as part of the Fairfield horseshoe walk. It sits between the adjoining fells of Nab Scar and Great Rigg. The fells eastern side, featuring Erne Crag and Blind Cove, falls away steeply towards Rydal Beck and its western side featuring Alcock Tarn falls towards Grasmere. Heron Pike has a secondary top, named Heron Pike North Top, about 400 metres north of the main summit. The North Top bears the remains of a cross wall some of which has been used to form a small cairn whilst the main summit has flashes of Quartz in the uppermost rock and has superb views of Windermere and the Coniston and Central Fells.
We turn left out of the car park to the main road and take the lane opposite to pass by Dove Cottage. We head forwards uphill for ¼ mile to How Top Farm on our right opposite a pond. We turn left at the signpost no through road for motors and path to Rydal and head steeply uphill for a short way. We turn left onto a stony track signposted Alcock Tarn. At the National Trust sign Brackenfell we go through the gate and follow the track through the trees to go through a second gate. At a junction of paths we bear right and follow the stony track passing through a gate as it winds steeply uphill to the high pinnacle of Grey Crag. We bear left skirting round Grey Crag and soon start to level out. We continue forward through a gap in the stone wall and follow the grassy path to Alcock Tarn. With the tarn on our right we follow the path to go through a metal gate at the far end of the tarn. We now continue forwards following the path which soon descends steeply to the far corner of some trees. We then turn left still downhill to Greenhead Gill. We cross the gill at a safe place because the floods have washed away the wooden bridge then turn left downhill to go through a gate. We head forwards following the tarmac track to a lane we now turn left and follow the lane to meet the main road next to the Swan Hotel. We cross over the main road and take the lane opposite. We follow the lane which bears left into Grasmere village and then make our way back to the car park.
This is moderate walk with a steep climb to the tarn on good stony and grass paths and tracks. There is also some quiet tarmac lanes and the main road, A591, to cross.
Elevation: Approx lowest point 65.6m (215.2ft) approx highest point 370m (1214.2ft) approx ascent 325.5m (1068ft).
Distance and Start Point
Approx 3.3 miles allow 2 – 2½ hours using OS Explorer Map OL7, The English Lakes South-eastern area. This walk is anti-clockwise.
Start point: Main car park on the right just off the A591.
Grasmere is located just off the A591 north of Windermere and Ambleside in the Lake District, Cumbria.
Directions and Parking
From the A66 at Threlkeld take the B5322 on the left. At the t-junction at Legburthwaite turn left onto the A591 which runs by the side of Thirlmere Lake. At the roundabout turn right into Grasmere. The main pay and display car park is just on the right. The free parking lay-by is on the left before the roundabout.
Parking: There are three Pay and Display car parks, £8 for all day, in Grasmere and very limited free road side parking. There are two free lay-by car parks on the main A591.
Toilets and Refreshments
There are public toilets in the pay and display car park on the right just before the village and also in the village near the police station. For refreshments in Grasmere there are three pubs the Red Lion, the Wordsworth Hotel and Spar and the Grasmere Hotel plus there are many cafes and other places to eat and drink. There are also plenty of shops to browse round. There are three more pubs nearby on the A591 the Travellers Rest, the Swan Inn and the Daffodil Hotel and Spar. The nearest town is Ambleside.