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.
Hawkshead is an ancient village in south Lakeland and from Norse times belonged to the monks of Furness Abbey until the 12th century. Hawkshead was an important wool market in medieval times and after the Dissolution of the Monasteries grew as a market town. It was granted its first market charter by King James I in 1608. The Old Grammar School established in 1585 by the Archbishop of York, Edwin Sandys, is where the poet William Wordsworth was educated. He lodged in the village with Ann Tyson and her husband in a cottage that is now a holiday cottage, then at Colthouse where they moved to in 1783. The old school which closed in 1909 still retains many old desks covered in carvings done by the boys and in the former headmaster’s study and a classroom there is an exhibition displaying the history of the school, the founder and William Wordsworth. Beatrix Potter, the author of children’s stories, who also lived nearby married William Heelis, a local solicitor in 1913. The 17th century building which was once his office is now the Beatrix Potter Gallery exhibiting original drawings and illustrations. The gallery along with many other buildings and land around the village are owned by the National Trust. The village also home to Hawkshead Hall built by the monks and the 15th century parish Church of St Michael and court house. Hawkshead is a village of the past steeped in history and heritage with its warren of alleys, overhanging gables and a series of medieval squares is now car free and very popular with tourists.
Outgate is a small hamlet consisting of a few houses and farms and the 18th century Outgate Inn which was originally a smallholding. The inn has kept many of its original features giving that old world feeling. It offers a restaurant serving delicious home cooked meals, fine ales and en-suite accommodation.
Blelham Tarn, situated northeast of Hawkshead, is drained to the northeast by the short Blelham Beck into Windermere. The tarn which was previously straightened and lowered is home to many species of fish and waterfowl. Blelham Tarn and Bog, with a total area of 49 hectares, is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest and Blelham Bog is designated a National Nature Reserve.
Wray Castle is a Victorian neo-gothic castle built on the shores of Lake Windermere in 1840 for James Dawson, a retired Liverpudlian surgeon, along with Wray church using his wife’s fortune. After Dawson’s death the estate was inherited by his nephew Edward Preston Rawnsley. In 1877 Edward’s cousin, Hardwicke Rawnsley was appointed as vicar of Wray Church. Hardwicke became aware that the National Trust could buy and preserve places of natural beauty and historic interest. The National Trust was given the castle and 64 acres of land in 1929 and used for many purposes firstly, for a short time, it was a youth hostel. From 1931 to 1951 the castle housed the offices of the Freshwater Biological Association. From 1958 to 1998 it became a training collage for Merchant Navy radio officers. Beatrix Potter spent a family summer holiday in the castle when she was 16 in 1882. She fell in love with the place and its surroundings so she bought nearby Hill Top a small farm in 1905 with royalties from her first book The Tale of Peter Rabbit. She went on to buy much more land nearby. Today Wray Castle is a great place to spend a day out. You can explore inside around the hall, rooms with towers, turrets and arrow slots and winding passages used by the servants. Outside in the extensive grounds, open all year round, there are many picnic tables with amazing views and a walk down to the lake shore. There is also a car park, cafe, public toilets and the Peter Rabbit Adventure.
At the car park we go through the gate and follow the path with the wall and the road on our right which takes us to the road with the Outgate Inn opposite. We follow the road uphill past a row of white cottages on our left then take the stony track on the right near to the Outgate sign. We follow this track going through a few gates to a large area of rough pastureland then keep heading forwards with the wall on our left and Blelham Tarn on our right. We go through a gate at the edge of the field, cross over a beck and continue forwards following the path across low grassy mounds to until we reach a gate by the side of the road. We do not go through the gate but turn right following the path with the hedge on our left. We go through a swing gate and bear right then left up the track to Low Wray Campsite. At the y-junction we bear right uphill and make our way to Wray Castle. After a wander round the castle and a cup of tea we head down the tarmac road to the main entrance. We then turn left along the road and after a short decline we turn right through a gate signposted public footpath. We head forward, cross over a footbridge and keep heading forward through the fields to go over a stile. We head forwards following the yellow arrow and go through a gate. We follow the track and at the buildings we go through a gate and bear off slightly left along a tarmac track. We now head uphill and at the farm on our right we take the track on the right bearing slightly left. We head uphill and go through a gate then turn right following the wall on our right to the end of the field. We go through a gate, opposite stone barn, and turn left along a wide stony track. At a ford we cross over a footbridge and keep following the track until we reach the houses we turn right and follow the path until it brings us out at the next to the Outgate Inn. We cross the road, go through the gate and retrace our steps back to the car park.
This is an easy walk on grass, stony and gravel paths and tracks with some minor tarmac road.
Elevation: approx lowest point 42m (137.80ft) approx highest point 111.20m (364.83ft) approx ascent 150.30m (493.11ft)
Distance and Start Point
Approx 3.8 miles allow 1½ – 2 hours using OS Explorer Map OL7, The English Lakes South-eastern area. This walk is clockwise.
Start point: Free car park on the right just on the outskirts south of Outgate on the B5286.
Outgate is about 1 mile north of Hawkshead 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 by the side of Thirlmere. At Ambleside take A593 following the sign for the Langdales and Coniston. At Clappersgate turn left onto the B5286 signposted Hawkshead. Stay on the B5286 and the car park is on the right just after passing through Outgate.
Parking: free car park on the B5286 just on the outskirts of Outgate there is also a pay and display at Wray Castle.
Toilets and Refreshments
There are public toilets at Wray Castle the next nearest ones are at Hawkshead. For refreshments there is the Outgate Inn at Outgate, a cafe at Wray Castle and a variety of pubs, cafes and shops in Hawkshead.