Legburthwaite Thirlmere Reservoir to Swirls Car Park 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. 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.

St John’s in the Vale is a glacial valley in the northern area of the Lake District with a number of farms, small settlements and several disused quarry and mine workings. St John’s Beck flowing through the vale is the main route of outflow from Thirlmere reservoir. This scenic and peaceful vale lies under the craggy slopes of the Helvellyn Range and is surrounded by many of the most striking Lakeland fells with Clough Head to the east and High Rigg and Low Rigg to the west. The northern end of the vale widens to meet the valley of the River Greta near Threlkeld and is dominated by the views of Blencathra and Skiddaw. The southern end of the vale is a narrow pass between High Rigg and Great Dodd. Red squirrels can often be seen in the woodlands around the vale.

Legburthwaite is a small hamlet in the Allerdale District of Cumbria and is situated just north of Thirlmere Reservoir. The village houses a church, a youth hostel and a National Trust car park with toilets and a picnic area. The valley and Thirlmere, on which no water sports are allowed, are a much quieter part of the lakes and there are some lovely peaceful walks and sign posted nature trails through the wooded areas on the western side of the reservoir and beyond there are many fells such as Raven Crag, Armboth Fell, Bleaberry Fell and High Seat. To the eastern side there is great Dodd, Stybarrow Dodd, Raise, Helvellyn and Dollywaggon Pike for the much more adventurous. The reservoir and surrounding forested valley are owned and managed by United Utilities, a private water and utility company. The views from down below in the valley or up in the fells are wonderful.

Thirlmere is a reservoir constructed in the 19th century by the Manchester Corporation to provide the industrial city of Manchester with water supplies. At the time there was strong local opposition for they thought it would dramatically alter the beautiful valley so the Thirlmere Defence Association was formed to oppose the parliamentary act. The organisation managed to stall the reading of the act in 1878 but the act was passed at the second reading a year later. The water level was raised by the construction of a dam at the northern end of Thirlmere in 1890 which took four years to build. The reservoir would now be able to supply water to Manchester via the underground Thirlmere Aqueduct approximately 100 miles long. The waterworks are now impressive and resemble a fort or castle. Thirlmere is 3.7 miles long and runs south to north and is bordered on the western side by a minor road and the A591 on the eastern side and before the construction of the reservoir the area was two smaller lakes, Leathes Water and Wythburn Water.

Dale Head Hall Hotel is a 16th century Lake District hotel which sits alone on the tranquil shores of Thirlmere with Helvellyn rising in the distance behind. The hotel comprising of mature gardens and woodland with an abundance of wildlife provides the ideal starting point for your exploration of the beautiful Northern Lakes. Dale Head Hall is situated in an area that is designated as a red squirrel reserve and they are frequently spotted visiting the woodlands and gardens surround the hotel. Dale Head Hall Hotel has a unique and timely history which adds no end of character to every individual room in the building. There are a few lovely walks that can be started from the hotel.

The Walk

We walk to the end of the car park go through the gate and turn left. We follow the track to the main road and cross straight over then go through the gate, no marker, on the left opposite High Bridge Farm. We immediately go through the little gate on a permissive path heading towards Thirlmere. We keep following the path through the trees then at the bottom we go through a gate and turn right through a second gate. We follow the track going slightly uphill with the stream down below on our left. When the track bends round to the right it starts to get a bit steeper then levels out. We keep following the track with Thirlmere on our right and eventually go through a gate and turn right. We head forward following the track for a short way to Dale Head Hall Hotel. At the hotel the track bears left then we go through the gate on the right then turn right on to the hotel’s drive with the hotel on our right. At the end head straight forward on the gravel path between the Rhododendrons to the edge of Thirlmere. We turn left and just keep following the path along the shore of Thirlmere. After a while the path bears left uphill following a stream with waterfalls on our right. When we reach the tunnel under the main A591 road we go up the side to the road where there is some parking and quite often an ice-cream van. We turn right for a short way then cross over the road into Swirls Car Park. We bear left to the end of the car park cross over the footbridge go through the gate and follow the path uphill with the stream on our right. At the footpath sign we turn left to Stanah. We go through the gate keep heading forward following the wall on our left.  We pass over a few small waterfalls and streams and keep head forward at a footpath sign. After crossing over a long wooden bridge over a high waterfall we soon bear left downhill to the corner of the field. In the corner there are two gates we go through the one in the very corner connected to a wire fence. We pass another high waterfall and follow the path downhill towards the buildings. When we reach the road and telephone box we turn right along the minor tarmac road back to Legburthwaite car park which will be on the left.


This is an easy to moderate walk on grass/gravel paths and tracks with some minor tarmac road. There some inclines and declines, gates and stiles.

Elevation: approx lowest point 159m (523ft) approx highest point 295m (967ft) approx ascent 236m (775ft)

Distance and Start Point

Approx 4.6 miles allow 2 to 3 hours using OS Explorer Map OL5, The English Lakes, North-eastern area. This walk is done anti-clockwise.

Start point: Legburthwaite Pay and Display Car Park or can be started from Swirls Pay and Display Car Park. If you are staying at Dale Head Hall Hotel the walk can be started from there too.


Legburthwaite is at the northern end of Thirlmere Reservoir in St John’s in the Vale near Keswick in the Lake District of Cumbria.

Directions and Parking

From the A66 take the A591 or the B5322 heading towards Thirlmere Reservoir and Grasmere. The pay and display car park is on the B5322 at Legburthwaite just before the junction with the A591.

Parking: The National Trust Legburthwaite Pay and Display car park normally £5.50 for all day but was free when we did this walk. There is free parking in the lay-by on the A591, also in the lay-by at the junction with the B5322. There is also the National Trust Swirls Pay and Display car park further down on the A591.

Toilets and Refreshments

There are public toilets in Legburthwaite car park and public toilets with disabled facilities, picnic areas and often a van selling ice-cream in Swirls car park a little further down the road both belong to the National Trust. The nearest refreshments are at The Kings Head Inn a 17th century coaching inn situated on the A591 on the edge of Thirlmere at Thirlspot. The next nearest refreshments are at Keswick, Threlkeld and Grasmere where there are public toilets as well.

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