Borrowdale – Rosthwaite to Watendlath round

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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.

Borrowdale, often referred to as Cumberland Borrowdale to distinguish it from Borrowdale in the county of Westmorland, lies in the central Lake District. The River Derwent flows through the dale into the lake of Derwent Water. Derwent Water is situated at the northern end of the valley and the dramatic Honister Pass leads away from the southern end. Borrowdale is also completely within the Lake District National Park and houses the villages of Grange, Rosthwaite, Seathwaite, Seatoller, Stonethwaite and Watendlath. Above Grange Bridge, Borrowdale is constricted between the steep slopes of King’s How on Grange Fell and Castle Crag below High Spy. This narrow gorge, known as the Jaws of Borrowdale, was carved by the last Ice Age and erosion over thousands of years. Borrowdale is one of the most beautiful places in Cumbria with sheep grazed uplands and extensive areas of oak woodland draping the hillsides. The valley pastures are divided into fields by massive stone walls and ancient packhorse tracks wind their way through the landscape along with the River Derwent and its tributaries. In the 16th century an enormous deposit of graphite was discovered near the hamlet of Seathwaite. Known locally as ‘wadd’ or ‘black lead’ the locals found it was very useful for marking sheep. This deposit of graphite was extremely pure and solid and it could easily be sawed into sticks hence the pencil industry was born in Keswick. Seatoller, a cluster of white and grey cottages at the foot of Honister Pass, once housed miners from the graphite mine and quarrymen from Honister Slate Mine. Slate quarrying developed in the early 18th century and a narrow band of Lakeland Green Slate running through Borrowdale and up to Honister became the primary building material for Victorian Keswick. Honister Slate Mine, reopened in 1996, continues to mine slate commercially and offers underground tours to visitors. The mine also offers a Via Ferrata tour which the Victorian miners used to use. The valley is a very popular tourist location, with hotels, guesthouses, holiday cottages, bed and breakfasts, youth hostels and campsites catering for the lowland visitor as well as the hill walker. The National Trust cares for and undertakes a great amount of conservation and access work in this very special and beautiful area.

Rosthwaite is a very small village, six miles south of Keswick, consisting of a few houses, the Royal Oak pub and the Flock-in Tearoom for walkers. The Royal Oak, once an 18th century farmhouse and former miner’s tavern has been providing accommodation for visitors and walkers for over a hundred years. Since 1970 this small family run hotel have taken great pride in maintaining the homely atmosphere and excellent value for money. The Flock-in, a walker’s tearoom, provides a good varied menu of local homemade food including gluten free soup, cake and ice cream. The tearoom at Yew Tree Farm is based in a barn opposite the farmhouse which provides bed and breakfast accommodation.

Watendlath is a very attractive hamlet and tarn owned by the National Trust and is situated at 263 metres between the Borrowdale and Thirlmere valleys surrounded by fells in a classic ‘hanging valley’. Watendlath Tarn is 7 acres in size and was given to the National Trust by Queen Victoria’s daughter, Princess Louise, in memory of her brother, King Edward VII. Blea Tarn Gill 210 metres above Watendlath Tarn, provides the tarn with its water which then flows into Watendlath Beck and eventually feeds Lodore Falls, a tourist attraction from Victorian times, and ends up in Derwent Water. The tarn is stocked with brown trout and rainbow trout and is popular with anglers. The Lakeland farm and the herd of Herdwick sheep are rented out by the National Trust aiming to ensure this rare breed survives. The hamlet houses a cafe, a tea room and also a Bothy which sits next to the tarn and should be treated very much as a ‘stone tent’ as it has very basic facilities so visitors are advised to take their own equipment as for camping. The traditional packhorse bridge leading into Watendlath is the most well known and most photographed packhorse bridge in England. The famous painting of Watendlath, by Dora Carrington in the early 20th century, hangs in the Tate Gallery. Watendlath was used by Sir Hugh Walpole as a setting for the fictional home of Judith Paris in his haunting Herries saga published in the early 1930’s. Watendlath can be reached by a single track unmarked road leading off the Borrowdale Road. It is a steep climb with passing places and crosses the famous Ashness Bridge and then past Surprise View where it is possible to park and admire the whole view of the Derwent Water valley. There are no barriers at this cliff top so please take care with children.

Dock Tarn is a very pretty tarn situated on the moorland at 400 metres near the summit of Great Crag, midway between Watendlath, the Stonethwaite valley and Borrowdale. The small tarn, about 300 by 200 metres, has rocky headlands and bays and a tiny island with a few small Rowan trees growing on it. Watch out for the wildlife we saw two Goosanders.

The Cumbrian Way is a 70 mile long distance footpath passing through the heart of the Lake District National Park linking the two historic towns of Ulverston and Carlisle. The route cuts through the most beautiful Lakeland countryside via Coniston, Langdale, Borrowdale, Derwent Water, Skiddaw Forest and Caldbeck. The Cumbrian Way was originally developed in the 1970’s by local Ramblers’ Association members and is mainly low level but does contain some high level exposed sections and the highest point is High Pike at 658 metres (2,159 ft). The waymarking of the entire route was completed by volunteers and national park staff in May 2007.

The Walk

We turn left out of the car park and head forwards past the public toilets to the main road. We turn left then opposite the bus stop we turn right at the sign post for Watendlath 1½. After crossing the bridge we turn right and follow a narrow path between two walls with Stonethwaite Beck on our right. We pass through a gate and keep heading forwards and go through another gate. When we come to a sheep fold we start to bear left uphill. We go over a wall via a stile and keep heading forwards uphill through the trees. We cross over another stile and keep heading very steeply uphill. At the top we keep following the path by the side the stream until we arrive at Dock Tarn. We now keep following the path by the side of the tarn and when the path starts going downhill Watendlath comes into view. We keep heading downhill, going through a gate and over a stream in, until we arrive at Watendlath Tarn. We walk by the side of the tarn to the end and turn left at the signpost for Rosthwaite. We now follow the track uphill. The path levels out and we go through a gate before we start heading downhill. We keep heading downhill to a sign post and turn right through the gate and still keep heading downhill following the path back to Rosthwaite which we can now see in front of us.


This is a moderate to hard walk on distinct stony tracks with some very steep inclines and declines.

Elevation: Approx lowest point 87.70m (287.7ft) approx highest point 421.10m (1381.5ft)

Distance and Start Point

Approx 4.8 miles allow 2½ hours using OS Explorer map OL4, The English Lakes North-Western area

Start point: Borrowdale Institute car park in Rosthwaite


Rosthwaite is in Borrowdale in the Lake District, Cumbria.

Directions and Parking

From the A66 coming from the east take the A5271 for Keswick. At the junction turn right. At the traffic lights carry on forward. At the mini roundabout turn left then left again at the junction. At the roundabout go straight over then at the next roundabout turn right and follow this road passing Derwent Water then Grange on the right. Continue on to Rosthwaite and turn right at the car park sign. The car parks are on the right.
Parking: The Borrowdale Institute car park £3 all day honesty box and the main pay and display car park.

Toilets and Refreshments

There are public toilets just next to the car park and for refreshments there is the Royal Oak pub in Rosthwaite on the main road and the Flock-in Tearoom at Yew Tree Farm. There are also public toilets in Watendlath along with a car park, a cafe and a tearoom.

One response to “Borrowdale – Rosthwaite to Watendlath round”

  1. Mike says:


    Brings back memories of a soggy wild camp on the shoulder of Great Crag and locked tearooms at Watendlath village! This was the day my mate’s waterproof jacket failed.

    Good Herdwick stew at the Flock In was very welcome.


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