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.
Swineside Knott and Common Fell are the two highest points on Watermillock Common which is a ridge of high land that rises 400 metres above Ullswater and is the end part of one of the long eastern ridges of Stybarrow Dodd. Swineside Knott being the highest by 1 metre at 553 metres (1814 feet) is only a rounded grassy mound with some protruding rocks but provides the most wonderful extensive views of Ullswater from the head of the lake at Patterdale to its foot at Pooley Bridge. Common Fell is a number of grassy mounds with a small cairn on the highest one and a glacial erratic boulder sits on one of the other mounds. Common Fell being more centrally place on the ridge gives the feeling of being Watermillock Common’s natural summit rather than Swineside Knott and provides wonderful views to the north and east. The majority of Watermillock Common is Open Access land.
Dockray is a very small village in Patterdale in the Lake District of Cumbria. Just near the bridge over Aira Beck there is the village inn, The Royal Hotel, which sells real ales and has accommodation. Dockray is only just over a mile from Ullswater one of England’s most beautiful lakes and is also England’s second largest lake. At approx 9 miles long and three quarters of a mile wide the lake is a typical narrow ‘ribbon lake’ formed after the last ice age by three separate glaciers. The surrounding fells give Ullswater its stretched Z shape with three distinct reaches and the lake now form’s most of the boundary between Cumberland and Westmorland. Pooley Bridge an attractive village popular with tourists lies at the very northern end of the lake, whilst Patterdale lies at the very southern end. Ullswater is the setting for William Wordsworth’s famous ‘Daffodils’ poem after he saw daffodils growing on its shores. Whatever the weather or the season Ullswater is a wonderful place with so much to offer whether breathtaking views or outdoor activities. Ullswater is very popular with sailing, yachting, rowing, motorboats and diving and marinas can be found around the lake edge. The Ullswater Steamers, although now powered by diesel, are a great way to see the lake. The steamers were originally working boats in the 1850’s moving mail, workers and goods to and from the Greenside lead mine at Glenridding which closed in 1962. They operate trips all year round calling at Pooley Bridge, Glenridding, Howtown and Aira Force. The popular tourist villages of Glenridding and Patterdale are only about 3miles further down the road.
Aira Beck flowing from the rolling fells of the Dodds passes through Dockray then turns south to find its way into Ullswater. The final stretch of Aira Beck drops over 200 feet over two waterfalls, High Force and Aira Force the latter having a bridge over the top and bottom of the fall making it one of the most popular and photographic waterfalls in the Lake District. Owned by the National Trust Aira Force has an impressive drop of 66 feet down a rocky ravine and after heavy rain it is even more impressive. In wet weather the paths can become very slippery so please take care.
From the car park we cross over the road and take the stile opposite then head forward following the path uphill. When the path splits we bear right, crossing many becks as we head slightly uphill through the trees to meet a wall. We go through and head forward more steeply uphill through thicker woodland. We eventually come to wall on the open fell we go through, turn right and follow the path a few feet above the wall but running parallel. At the brow and where the ground starts to drop down next to a tree just on the other side of the wall we bear left off the path steeply uphill over rough ground heading for a small knobble of high ground, Swineside Knott. At the top we head towards two stones one on top of the other and then head forwards to a small rocky outcrop with a small cairn. We now turn right and follow the clear quad bike tracks which weaves as it crosses some boggy ground and bears left towards the next highest point Common Fell. On the approach to Common Fell we bear left at the fork to reach the summit marked by a small cairn. We head to a large solitary boulder then bear slightly right downhill towards the wall to pick up the quad bike tracks again and bear left. When we reach a beck we cross over and turn left towards Dockray we can see in the distance. As we near the village we turn right towards a small stone building. We pass to the right of this to go through a gate and head forwards to the telephone box. We now turn left onto the road and immediately after crossing the bridge we turn sharp right along a track signposted Aira Force and Ulcat Row. The track bears left between two buildings signposted Aira Force. We cross over a bridge and bear right over a stream then go through a gate. We head forwards following the track we can see Common Fell on our right, into some woodland. At the first bridge we cross over it and turn left then left again at the signpost Aira Force. We now just follow the path keeping Aira Beck on our left. We pass an old stone bridge over Aira Force and bear right up the steps. At some steps going down and a bench we head forwards for a short way then turn right uphill back to the car park.
This is a moderate to hard walk on grass and stone paths and tracks. There is also a short distance on tarmac road.
Elevation: approx lowest point 194m (636.48ft) approx highest point 552.20m (1811.68ft) approx ascent 423.80m (1390.42ft)
Distance and Start Point
Approx 4.75 miles allow 2½ – 3 hours using OS Explorer Map OL5, The English Lakes North-eastern area. This walk is clockwise.
Start point: Park Brow, pay and display car park above Aira Force. This is the second small car park after the hamlet of Dockray. Fee is £6.50 for all day.
Dockray lies on the A5091 about 1 mile above Aira Force and the shore of Ullswater in the Lake District, Cumbria.
Directions and Parking
From the A66 at Troutbeck take the A5091 sign posted Ullswater. After approx 3.5 miles pass through Dockray and continue a little further to reach the second car park on the left, Park Brow.
Parking: There are two small pay and display car parks at the side of the road (A5091) between Dockray and Aira Force and a large pay and display car park at Aira Force.
Toilets and Refreshments
There is no public toilets on-route, but there are some in the pay and display car park at Aira Force. The next nearest ones are at the Glenridding. For refreshments there is The Royal Hotel at Dockray and there are pubs and shops at Glenridding and Patterdale.