Walking the Windermere Way

Orrest Head on the Windermere WayWINDERMERE is the largest natural lake in England, and thanks to Phil Kirkby it has its own long-distance walk (or ultra-run) which takes hikers on a 45-mile journey from, well, wherever they wish to start.

Phil devised the Windermere Way walk in 2003 and although it’s a designated National Trail it is, apparently, not an official route probably because it links a series of existing footpaths and bridleways around the lake.

There’s only a short section of the walk along the actual shoreline, most of it is in the hills far above which is, by far and away, the best way to see the lake anyway.

The official route map divides the walk into four sections in an anti-clockwise way; none of that for me though, I did it clockwise and in three days.

The reasons for that were that time was tight and I know how much ground I can cover in a day, and both of these factors also had a say in where I wanted to stay and ultimately which way round I would do it. Confused?

I’d decided to treat myself to staying in a couple of B&Bs because I didn’t want to walk with my tent, ground mat, sleeping bag etc.

The Lake District isn’t cheap and I didn’t want to pay a fortune for my rooms so this meant a series of telephone calls to see what was available on certain days for my preferred two places, and this determined which direction I would walk; but surely clockwise makes more sense, doesn’t it?

CLOCKWISE

Clockwise it was, starting from Windermere after leaving my car in a lay-by just outside the town centre; I had considered travelling there by train but it would have eaten into my available time.

A short trot down the hill to Bowness-on-Windermere, coffee in the not very Italian sounding Rumours Pizzeria and I was on my way; back uphill along Brantfell Road and past the back of the Royal Oak, where I have a “bit of previous“.

Brantfell Road leads to the Dales Way, remember earlier on when I said the Windermere Way was a series of existing paths; and the other end of it is in Ilkley, a few miles from where I live.

As you might imagine Brantfell Road leads to Brant Fell, which is 629 feet in height and it gives the first sight of Windermere from above.

For several miles the route pretty much runs parallel with the lake, undulating along well worn grassland, with a few short sections of minor road, including some confusion over the direction at Lunnderburn Hill, until Blake Holme Plantation; a lovely mature and tranquil wood.

Unfortunately just beyond it that I missed the turning at Whinny Knott for Gummer’s How, a just over 100ft 360 degrees viewpoint, which meant a short trek along a minor road to Sow How Lane and then to Chapel House Plantation.

The first part of this had been felled and, therefore, looked very desolate before the track entered the wooded section leading to telecommunications transmitters at Barrow Banks.

Another error, I missed a very minor path (I remember seeing and thinking it was too minor) so I carried on which meant I ended up on the A590 road, which takes traffic from the M6 to Barrow-in-Furness.

NEWBY BRIDGE

And there was no footpath, just long grass and a very uneven surface; but this did bring me directly to my bed for the night; Lyndhurst Country House, at Newby Bridge.

A quick shower and a change of clothes then into the village centre to eat; although it’s not a village, it’s a hamlet.

I chose the Newby Bridge Hotel over the Swan Hotel (it was slightly closer to my B&B); however, the experience was not good.

I ordered a pint and asked about the menu. The barmaid pulled my pint and then told me that I’d have to wait about an hour for food.

“Well I don’t really want the beer then,” I said. “You’ll have to have it now”, she replied. I could have just walked out but I took it on the chin and shuffled into the beer garden at the front and drank it quickly; and then headed over the River Leven bridge to the Swan Inn.

And, it turned out that the Swan was a far better place; a great menu, nicer surroundings and football on TV (my team, Manchester City, against Newcastle; 4-0, in case you’re interested).

The first port of call the next morning was Lakeside to stock up on food. Lakeside is where the Windermere cruise boats come and go, and it’s also the start, or finish, of the Lakeside & Haverthwaite Railway.

And at Lakeside the food was miserable: “Okay I’ll survive on an expensive grated Cheddar cheese on white bread sandwich, crisps and chocolate until I get to Far Sawrey Windermere Ferry Terminal”. And I didn’t even know what was waiting for me there.

STOTT PARK BOBBIN MILL

I opted to not go up to via Finsthwaite to High Dam and Stott Park Height, instead walking along the road which took me to the English Heritage site of Stott Park Bobbin Mill, which once supplied up to a quarter of a million bobbins per week to the Lancashire weaving and spinning industry. What do you mean, what’s a bobbin?

A short trek along the road and then left at the YMCA National Centre for a walk along the shoreline, although some of the path was underwater meaning a hop over the fence into the neighbouring fields.

Most of the second day was down by the shoreline apart from a couple of short road sections, bear in mind though that on the road sections you’ll see very few cars.

On the section up to the Ferry House, near Far Sawrey, which is where the chain driven ferry to Bowness goes from, you realise just how many (large) houses there are on the opposite side of the lake, it’s not exactly the Italian Lakes but still an impressive sight. But who owns these houses?

After the Ferry House the route takes you through what feels like a country estate, due to several miles of decent road.

Not far from the top of the lake at High Wray Bay the path takes you away from the water’s edge.

The path heads along a road for quite a while here, but do you remember what I said about the roads earlier on?

SKELWITH FOLD

The road heads in a direct line to Skelwith Fold, interrupted by a section by a wood, and then to Skelwith Bridge.

My destination was Holmeshead Farm at Skelwith Fold; again a quick shower and a change of clothes, the same ones as the night before, and then a 15-minute walk to Skelwith Bridge for food.

Nothing much here other than the Skelwith Bridge Hotel and its Talbot Bar; the food was very good, the interior decor wasn’t.

Holmeshead Farm was crazy, but I mean that in a nice way. It’s an extremely old building with mullion windows, low ceilings and doorways, even I had to duck. And it is very remote. I slept well, zero noise; bleating sheep and crows kowwing are excused.

Next morning, the final day; low clouds meant I opted not to go up the 1,100ft Loughrigg Fell at the other side of Skelwith Bridge.

Instead I took a lower path, a bridleway just opposite Little Loughrigg which went past Ivy Crags and onto open moorland giving a spectacular panoramic view down the length of Windermere.

At Deer Hows the path turned into a rough farm track allowing access to a remote house there, before becoming a single track and then a very steep road leading to Ambleside’s Rothay Park.

It was only 11 o’clock when I arrived in the town centre so it was time for coffee and a look around Gaynor Sport, one of the best outdoor shops in the Lakes.

COFFEE TIME

After coffee (and a flapjack) and stocking up on food for lunch it was time to leave Ambleside for the final leg to Windermere.

The official route heads in an approximate easterly direction to Wansfell Pike, high up above Ambleside at 1,581ft and then onto Troutbeck, but I decided to take a major diversion through Skelghyll Wood; not that much shorter and potentially just as strenuous an uphill hike.

The route was on a well-defined twisting bridleway past Victorian mansions through mature woodlands and rhododendron bushes and onto open moorland.

Having skirted around the lower edge of Wansfell I arrived at High Skelghyll and instead of going over a stile slightly to the left I mistakenly carried on down the farm track and past Lower Skelghyll.

It was a basic map reading error and meant I missed a ford, which I’d been looking forward; you can never be sure if they are going to be really exciting deep ones.

Not to bother, my mistake didn’t take me much out of my way; I still ended up at Town End on the Troutbeck to Troutbeck Bridge road.

ORREST HEAD

A series of narrow paths at the back of some houses took me across Trout Beck and into the green fields leading to the final hill top of Orrest Head, all the time with Windermere glistening to my right.

In 1930 Alfred Wainwright visited the Lake District from industrial Blackburn for the first time, and climbed the 780ft Orrest Head, nowhere near the highest point in the area but the view was more than enough to have a profound effect on his life.

It’s said that the panorama from Orrest Head of Windermere and the fells beyond was where his love affair with the Lakes began.

Wainwright was on a week’s holiday with his cousin Eric Beardsall; and in my mind they would have arrived at Windermere railway station, crossed the road and made their way uphill on paths through a small forest to open land; where, gasping and panting (it’s quite a pull up) they would have reached the stone pinnacle, turned around and gasped.

There’s now a slate view finder near the summit inscribed with Wainwright’s words: “Those few hours on Orrest Head cast a spell that changed my life”.

On the spot where Wainwright began his journey, I was ending mine; other than a short walk downhill back to my car.

What a great three days; a variety of scenery, good weather, excellent B&Bs, tranquillity and lots of solitude.

Would I do it again? Of course I would, and I might even stick to the map!

By Richard Hamer.

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