Wordsworth’s Rydal to Heron Pike and Alcock Tarn round
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.
Rydal is a very small village situated on the A591 midway between Grasmere and Ambleside consisting of a few houses, St Mary’s church, Rydal Hall, The Glen Rothay Hotel, the Rydal Lodge Hotel and the famous Rydal Mount the home of William Wordsworth from 1813 until his death in 1850. Close by is Rydal Water, a small lake but very beautiful with Heron Island situated in the centre. The water three quarters of a mile long, a quarter of a mile wide and about 55 feet deep is fed and drained by the River Rothay, which flows from Grasmere upstream and heads towards Windermere downstream. The southern half of Rydal Water is leased by the Lowther Estate to the National Trust whilst the northern half belongs to the estate of Rydal Hall. Nab Cottage which overlooks the lake was once the home to Thomas de Quincey and Hartley Coleridge, the son of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. White Moss House situated at the northern end of Rydal Water is said to be the only house owned by Wordsworth which he bought for his son, Willie, and remained in the Wordsworth family until the 1930’s. There is a walk around Rydal Water which takes in the two homes of Wordsworth, Dove Cottage and Rydal Mount, and also Rydal Cave a disused quarry working. At the western end of the lake steps lead to Wordsworth’s seat which is said to have been his favourite view point in the Lake District.
Rydal Mount is best known as the home of poet William Wordsworth from 1813 until his death in 1850. He designed the layout of the gardens and built a small writing hut on the high side of the grounds enabling wonderful views over the gardens towards Windermere and Grasmere Lakes. The grounds were his office and he spent most of his writing time in the hut which provided shelter from the winds and rain and also a means of escape from the house. Rydal Mount was rented by the Wordsworth family for 46 years until the death of William’s wife Mary in 1859. William’s great, great granddaughter, Mary Henderson (nee Wordsworth) acquired Rydal Mount in 1969. Mary opened it to the public in 1970 and it still remains the property of the Wordsworth family. Wordsworth was born in Cockermouth in 1770. He left the Lake District he had grown to love in 1787 to study at the University of Cambridge. He then travelled Britain and Europe for 12 years before he moved into Dove Cottage near Grasmere from 1799 to 1808. His next move was to Allan Bank in Grasmere to accommodate his growing family and many visitors. Finally the Wordsworth’s moved to Rydal Mount in 1813. St Mary’s Church, built in 1824, is where Wordsworth and his family worshiped he was the church warden from 1833 to 1834. The Rash field at the side of the church was bought by Wordsworth originally to build a house but when his daughter Dora died in 1847 he and his wife, sister and gardener planted hundreds of daffodils as a memorial to her. Dora’s Field now belongs to the National Trust.
Rydal Hall a Grade II listed house with an early 19th century front facade is used for retreats, conferences, courses and holidays. It used to be owned by the Le Fleming family but now belongs to the Diocese of Carlisle. The grounds are included in the English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest and are open to the public.
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.
Alcock Tarn situated at 360 metres on the western flakes of Heron Pike was originally known as Butter Crags Tarn. This stunning tarn was enlarged by means of a stone and earth dam in the 19th century to depth of about 2 metres and it was then stocked with brown trout by its owner Mr Alcock of Grasmere.
From the church we head forwards uphill following the little road past Rydal Hall on the right and Rydal Mount and the Coffin Road on the left. We keep heading uphill to the last building then turn left uphill following the footpath sign. We go through the gate on the right and just keep following the track steeply uphill. We cross over a ladder stile and eventually come to a wall, the track then bears right. We follow the track and go over a stile in the wall and continue following the track uphill to Heron Pike. At the top of Heron Pike we head forwards downhill slightly and turn left very steeply downhill, no visible distinct path but is marked on the OS map, keeping Rowantree Gill on our right and heading towards the plantation in the distance. At the bottom turn left picking up the path to the left of Greenhead Gill. When we reach the plantation we turn left steeply uphill and follow the track which zigzags until we reach Alcock Tarn. We head forwards with the tarn on our left. At the end of the tarn we bear right through the wall and follow the path which soon starts heading downhill zigzagging through some quarry workings and a wood, turning left at the yellow arrow on a post. After going through a gate we head forwards to a tarmac track and then turn left uphill signposted Coffin Route to Rydal. We follow the Coffin Route passing two paths on the right that lead to car parks until we reach the track we started out on. We turn right and head downhill back to the church.
This is a hard walk with steep inclines and declines on well used tracks except on the descent from Heron Pike which is grassy and rugged with no visible distinct path.
Elevation: approx lowest point 60.5m (198.5ft) approx highest point 608.3m (1995.7ft)
Approx 5.25 miles allow at least 3 to 4 hours using OS Explorer Map OL7, The English Lakes Southern-eastern area.
Start point: St Mary’s Church, Rydal.
Rydal is between Grasmere 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 by the side of Thirlmere. After by-passing Grasmere village keep following the road to Rydal. At Rydal take the little road on the left sign posted Rydal Mount opposite the Rydal Lodge Hotel.
Parking: Free parking near the church on the left hand side of the road only or the Rydal Water pay and display car park on the other side of the main road.
Toilets and Refreshments
There are no public toilets the nearest ones are at nearby Grassmere and Ambleside. For refreshments there is the Badger Bar attached to the Glen Rothay Hotel and the Old School Room Tea Shop located on the Coffin Route between Rydal and Grasmere. There are ample shops, cafes, restaurants and pubs at Grasmere and Ambleside.