LAKELAND 600 PHOTOGUIDE DAY 9: ELTERWATER TO CONISTON (via Little Langdale, Tilberthwaite and the Yewdale Fells)
Every single one of the 60 days that make up this long journey around the Lakes has its own little bit of magic but, if I was ever in the unfortunate position of having to choose just one day’s walk, I think it would have to be this one. True, there are no well known fells to climb, no big lakes to walk beside and no famous viewpoints: but, what this walk does have is an amazing variety of scenery. The day is packed with interest and the second half of it involves a walk across the relatively little-trodden Yewdale Fells, a place that, to me, captures all that is good about wandering about in the Lakes.
From the Britannia Inn in Elterwater, walk down towards the bridge and turn left through the National Trust car park to pick up the wide track alongside Great Langdale Beck.
In about 10 minutes the track passes through woodland and emerges in a perfect spot just by the lake shore, from where there is a view back to the Langdale Pikes.
One of the many great things about the Lakes is the place names: the name Elter Water is from the old Norse for ‘the lake frequented by swans’ and the village takes its name from the lake, although it has become one word – Elterwater – in the process. Keep ahead on the obvious path alongside the River Brathay (which flows down from Little Langdale into Elter Water to merge with Great Langdale Beck). Although only short, this riverside stretch is full of good things, including the view over to Wetherlam…
…and the chance to catch the river in reflective mood or, early in the morning, as a kaleidoscope of colour.
Soon arrive at the new-ish footbridge over the Brathay. Before crossing it, it is worth walking the short distance downstream to catch a glimpse of Skelwith Force. This waterfall is small, even by Lake District standards, but is said to carry a higher volume of water than any other fall in the area. In spate it is a very impressive sight and the path down to the falls is adorned with notices warning of the risk of falling in.
Retrace your steps and cross the splendidly modern bridge.
Before following the clear path uphill away from the bridge, you can meander down to get a view of the falls from this side of the river: the photo below gives some idea of how popular this place can be.
Back on the good path, keep ahead at a junction (signposted to Colwith Bridge) and follow the easy way across fields and past the houses of Tiplog and Park Cottage. The track winds up to pass in front of the beautifully situated Elterwater Park Guest House…
…and then on via a series of short bits of path into a field that, on my most recent visit, had a nicely local warning about lambs being out and about.
For a short time Wetherlam dominates the view ahead but the path soon descends steeply on steps to river level and then crosses a tarmac road to enter the woodlands of Colwith. The path makes a little rocky step and then continues easily above the River Brathay to reach in about 200m the foot of a set of stone steps. Make a short diversion to the right to get a view of Colwith Force – much less frequented than Skelwith Force but none the worse for that.
Return to the steps, at the top of which the path moves away from the river and climbs gently through the splendid woodlands…
…to meet up with another path at a waymarked junction. Bear right and leave the woods through a gate into a field which leads us to High Park Farm (where you might be lucky enough to get a cup of tea and a bacon butty or even a piece of cake).
Go round the back of the farmhouse and come out on a small tarmac road. Turn right and follow the road to the little cluster of buildings at Stang End. Ignore the road going off left and follow the road as it winds down to cross Pierce How Beck, enjoying the fine views over Little Langdale towards Bowfell.
After the bridge over Pierce How Beck the road loses its tarmac surface and soon bring us to a footbridge and what, to all intents and purposes is the end of the road. It is officially designated as a ford but, in most conditions, only the most optimistic driver/ cyclist/ horse-person would regard it as such.
Turning left here makes a shortcut to High Tilberthwaite but you’d miss seeing Little Langdale Tarn, Slater Bridge and the astonishing Cathedral Quarry, so the recommended way keeps straight ahead on a good tack between the river and some tall slate tips. Regardless of those attractions, this makes for a better walk than the shortcut – in my opinion. If you want to venture into Cathedral Quarry, wait until you come to a padlocked gate on the left and use the stile next to it. Although fantastic, the Cathedral does come with a health warning about falling rocks etc. You certainly would not want to be in there when the whole shooting match comes tumbling down: my last visit was as fleeting as I could make it, but plenty of people do go in for longer and there are no prohibitions in force. So, it’s up to you…
Back on the main track we soon pass Slater Bridge, an attractive and unusual structure, being a packhorse bridge attached to a clapper bridge.
The track becomes rougher as it climbs between the buildings at Low Hallgarth to give a view of Little Langdale Tarn backed by the slopes of the entirely delightful Lingmoor Fell.
Arrival at the junction where we have to turn left for our crossing into Tilberthwaite is marked by a signpost and, just before that, an astonishingly comfortable bench. If you can walk past that without sitting down and saying “Aaah!” then good for you. Even if you don’t sit down it’s worth stopping for a moment or two to enjoy the view ahead to the road making its improbably steep ascent of Wrynose Pass and, to the right, to the elegant outlines of Pike o’Stickle and Loft Crag.
Turn sharp left at the signposted junction and make a short sharp climb, after which the gradient eases, and we can enjoy a nice, easy walk through a fascinating landscape of humps, hollows and old quarries. There are views ahead to the knobbly little hill of Holme Fell – which we’ll see closer up on Day 10 – and, over to the left, the Kentmere fells (Ill Bell etc) make a surprise appearance.
As the track begins to descend to the farm of High Tilberthwaite there is a nice view over the flat Tilberthwaite valley towards the Yewdale Fells and Wetherlam.
Approaching from this direction on a walkers’ track, Tilberthwaite looks and feels a bit like a lost kingdom – an illusion soon shattered when the large car park comes into view and the tarmac road is reached as we leave High Tilberthwaite. It’s still a great place to be though.
Walk down the road to Low Tilberthwaite, a perfect Lakeland farmhouse complete with a gallery that may or may not have been used for spinning.
Continue on the road to the far end of the car park and do pay a visit to the Andy Goldsworthy sheepfold: he went to a lot of trouble after all, and it would be bad manners not to have a quick shufti.
Before continuing, it might be worth checking the time and the conditions. In very low cloud a short section of the walk across the Yewdale Fells might not be entirely straightforward and, in winter conditions, the little rock step above Tilberthwaite Gill might not be to everybody’s liking. The easier and shorter way to Coniston from here is to walk down the road to its junction with the main road and then follow the made path through woodland – a perfectly good alternative.
Otherwise, leave the car park up the flight of steps, paying heed to the warning notice about deep shafts: there are also steep, unprotected drops into some of the abandoned quarries, a couple of them being very close to the path, so do take care. The path at the top of the steps climbs away right at quite an easy gradient and the quarries add interest, as do the retrospective views over the Tilberthwaite valley. The ravine of Tilberthwaite Gill is just down to our right but it is far from being the tourist attraction it was in Victorian times. Access is difficult and, for ordinary walkers, probably dangerous. There is just one recognised path that crosses the gill and we soon reach the point where that path leaves ours.
We don’t want to cross the gill, however, so keep left at the junction. There is an unprotected quarry edge to the left of the path just here – it makes a very fine viewpoint, and almost certainly a very fine place to plunge to one’s doom.
Assuming you’re still with us, carry on along the good path which soon goes through a rocky trough, crosses a stream and comes to a formidable-looking rock step. This is easily surmounted but, bearing in mind the drop to the right, does demand a bit of care. In icy conditions it might be better left alone altogether.
The path levels out as it bends right to stay parallel with the gill and then passes a cairn on a little knoll. A bend to the left brings us to a junction with a small cairn. The public right of way crosses the stream hereabouts but our path doesn’t. The path remains generally OK but does fade from time to time in wet ground. If the weather is clear you should be able to make out the line of the path of Hole Rake leading to a dip in the skyline to the south, and that’s where we’re heading.
The path does improve and descends a little to cross one of the many feeders of Crook Beck just above a small waterfall by a lone tree. For what it’s worth, this might just be my favourite place in the Lake District – nothing remarkable, just great. Here are a couple of photos.
Once over the stream just stay with the now clear path: Hole Rake and the notch in the skyline are obvious now and the walking is a joy.
The rake itself is clearly a made path, presumably for the miners/ quarrymen who made their living from these unforgiving rocks. On the way to the notch the path passes a mine entrance…
…and then, after passing a pool, levels out. Just after the top there is a sudden view over the Coppermines Valley to the great wall of Coniston Old Man and Brim Fell – a great moment.
The descent to the Coppermines Valley is rougher and steeper than the path you used coming up, but the way is obvious and the views excellent: Coniston Water and Grizedale Forest are over to the left but the fells and the tortured landscape of the Coppermines Valley will probably hold the attention longer. Just zig-zag down the rough fellside to eventually reach the Coppermines Valley road.
Turn left along the road, pass the Coniston Hydroelectric Scheme and reach Miners Bridge.
Don’t cross but stay with the road as it wends its way down past a couple of large properties and the back of the Ruskin Museum to come out into Coniston village exactly at the Black Bull, home of Coniston Bluebird bitter.
To finish another grand day out, why not have a shamble around this friendly and unassuming village?