20081019_Grasmere, Rydal Water, Alcock Tarn Circular Walk

20081019_Grasmere, Rydal Water, Alcock Tarn Circular Walk
When : 19th October 2008
Who : Me and my sister Janet
Where : Lake District, Cumbria, England
Map : 1:25000 Outdoor Leisure Map no.7, The English Lakes – South East
Start + End Point : 336,079
Approx Distance : 7¾ miles, (12.4 km)
Heights : 1970 ft (600m) Ascent (and therefore descent as well) – Most significantly Alcock Tarn section.
Parking : As guests we were allowed to park in the Youth Hostel Car park, but for non-hostellers there are car parks in the village.
Public Transport : Yes, Grasmere is on a main bus route with regular services.

Summary : Grasmere Village ; West/South shore of Grasmere Lake ; Loughrigg Terrace ; Rydal Caves ; Rydal Water ;Rydal Village ; Corpse Road or Coffin Route ; White Moss Common ; Alcock Tarn ; Greenhead Gill ; Return to Grasmere Village.

Features :

  • Easy route finding and Good Paths.
  • Caves, Woods and Open Fell Sides.
  • Several Fantastic Viewpoints.
  • Famous Villages and Wordsworth Connections.
  • Variety of routes and various lengths possible.
  • Fairly low level of exertion required (except Alcock Tarn Section)

I’ll make my apologies at the front end here, as this is a longish post, but there’s so much to talk about on this superb walk!

I hope my pics here at least convey a bit of the beauty of this lovely place, despite the conditions not really lending themselves to our compact cameras.


This is the first of three walks we did on a short break of 3-days (2-nights) pretty much slap bang in the middle of the Lake District, centred on Grasmere village. If you’ve already read my previous post  you’ll already know a bit of background, but it’s not essential to what follows here. If you want to here’s a couple of links to some more of my scribblings. https://tothehills.wordpress.com/2008/11/05/20081019-21_lake-district-3-day-break/ and https://tothehills.wordpress.com/2008/11/21/20081019-21_lake-district-break-janets-panorama-photos/

My sister Janet wanted to do a walk to include Grasmere and Rydal Water lakes and the route we chose is a classic. From the numbers of people I’ve seen on paths around the area, it must be one of the most frequently walked areas in Lakeland, especially around the Loughrigg Terrace area.

In the past I’ve done various routes taking in these two charming lakes, and I was quite happy revisiting them again. The only down side is that because it’s low level I’ve tended to do them when the weather’s not been at it’s best … the high fells tend to win when the conditions are fine … The area really deserves better from me and I was hopeful for some decent conditions this time. We decided that whatever the weather, good, bad or indifferent, we’d do the walk on our first day of the trip … I was hopeful, but not very expectant.

Janet picked me up from home in Rugby at about 7am and after an uneventful trip up the M6, we were ready to start walking by about 11:30 even after dropping our food off in the youth hostel members kitchen … Many thanks for all the driving Jan’ it was much appreciated … there and back.

Unfortunately, the hoped for bright weather had once again forsaken The Lakes and we set off in Murky, grey, sort of weather. It wasn’t raining [yet] but it was rather gloomy. Still we happily set off determined to make the most of the day.

First up was a stretch of road walking, through Grasmere village and then on Red Bank Road in a wide curve around the west side of Grasmere Lake until, after a bit of a rise, we could leave the road on a permissive path. The path heads down to the Grasmere lakeshore soon after passing one of the scattering of impressive and very typically Lakeland buildings.


The walk on Red Bank Road isn’t too bad, as road walking goes, but the traffic can be quite busy at times, with the frequent bends helping to keep speeds low but at the same time obscuring who/what could be just around the corner …

Please take care whenever road-walking … I think it’s a pity the permissive path we joined doesn’t extend all the way around the west side of Grasmere lake. It would certainly take pedestrians off the road, and if it stretched all the way to The Faeryland Tea Rooms near Grasmere Village it might even create a bit of custom for the lakeside establishment.

That’s pie-in-the-sky really, as the road has to be negotiated, so back to the walk …. The easy path follows the shoreline, including a section through Redbank Woods, all the way to the weir at the outflow from the lake. Grasmere flows into a short stretch of the River Rothay here, on its way to Rydal Water lake. The views across the lake to the surrounding fells can be stunning, although we didn’t see them at their best because of the low cloud.


Still we chatted away quite happily as we strolled around the lake shore to the outflow weir, where a lull in the breeze gave some nice reflections across the water to Banneriggs woods.

Soon after leaving the weir, we turned to steeply climb for a short distance up a bank heading up the fell side of Loughrigg Terrace. This knoll, almost a small spur coming off the main rise of “The Terraces” afforded some superb views back over Grasmere and likewise turning the opposite direction over Rydal Water. 

This spot has it all:- Open Fells; Lakes with islands; views to high mountains ; Woods, Crags and to cap it all a host of potential routes to take.

We chose to ignore the most obvious path heading down the side of a wall towards Rydal Water’s shoreline, instead rising a little further to pick up a smaller but distinct path contouring around to the east.

After a short while we reached the large upper opening of Rydal Caves, which makes a super place for a lunch stop … which is exactly what we did along with a sizable number of other walkers.

For a bit more about Rydal caves and some pic’s , please see separate post https://tothehills.wordpress.com/2008/12/08/20081019_rydal-caves_during-grasmere-circular-walk/


Lunch over, we headed off down a broad track, at first making a zig-zag through the slate spoil heap directly away from the cave opening, before descending into an area of woodland.

Soon after, we passed the lower of the Rydal Caves, this one being much less accessible, being excavated below path level, as well as heading back into the wooded fell side.

The remaining angular crags of the quarry are still stark despite nature’s attempts to soften the sharp edges.


From here it didn’t take long to descend further, in some drizzle, on a well made path to reach a footbridge over the River Rothay on its way to Lake Windermere.

We crossed the river by means of the longish footbridge, stopping half way across to stand and admire a heron, stood sentinel in some shallows obviously waiting to strike out at any fishes foolish enough to come too close.

At the far end of the bridge, a short climb up some steps brought us out onto the busy A591 at Rydal village. Amazing how such a peaceful scene was so quickly transformed into looking out for speeding traffic on the main north-south thoroughfare through The Lake District.

Village is probably too big of a description for Rydal as there aren’t many buildings, but what few there are, are quite significant. The first being The Badger Bar in the Glen Rothay Hotel. I have to confess we called in here for a quick pint (for me) and a-half (for Jan). This was supped down in amongst a mix of seasoned looking hikers and a much smarter looking fraternity of Sunday Diners, wearing shirt and ties etc. A good mix of people happily mingling together, just as it should be … and good locally brewed beer as well.

After our little drink, we left the pub to pick up the nearby steep side road rising northwards to pass the impressive and very traditional looking Rydal Church (St. Mary’s, I think). This road was a bit of a pull, not helped perhaps by the alcohol imbibed moments earlier. Ignoring the path to Rydal Hall we continued up the road to pass Rydal Mount (one of Wordsworth’s Houses and open to the public) to immediately turn left onto a bridle track along side a tall wall above the buildings.

Some links follow that I’ve found for some of the places in Rydal. I make no endorsement of these places (but I did enjoy the pint at the Badger Bar) but they are extensively known and written about establishments. I hope they’re of interest …





Be careful not to plough straight on up the hill as you pass Rydal Mount, as another path heads on upwards to climb the flanks of Nab Scar and Lords Crag and ultimately the western flanks of The Fairfield Horseshoe … a fantastic walk in its own right but not one to get onto, when doing this Grasmere circular.

The bridle track we took I believe is part of the old Corpse Road or Coffin Route from Ambleside to Grasmere, used to transport the deceased for burial at the church in Grasmere. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been man-handling the coffins over this at times quite rugged path under Nab Scar, I suppose the low route where the A591 now runs, mustn’t have been developed back then?

There were some lovely autumn coloured trees along the bridle track (heading in a generally westerly direction) but these were muted considerable by the damp grey conditions, but some good views could be seen over Rydal Water to the charms of Loughrigg Fell, where we’d been walking before lunch. The Bridle track, at a first glance of the map, looks like it contours on the level, but in fact it rises quite steadily to skirt under the rump end of Nab Scar. The earlier drink did hit the legs muscles somewhat, pay-back time I guess after the pub-stop.

About a mile after leaving Rydal Village, the bridle track does a bit of a loop and a couple of paths join it from below, rising up from car parks on the A591.

Just after the 2nd of these adjoining paths, and just about opposite a little pool (blink and you could miss it) is a small but inviting path heading southwards to rise up through some open woodland, bracken, rocky outcrops and a couple of damp marshy bits (easily navigated around) to reach White Moss Common.

For a bit more (including some panorama pics) on White Moss Common please visit my post https://tothehills.wordpress.com/2008/11/21/20081019-21_lake-district-break-janets-panorama-photos/

After a short time and after taking in the views, we headed back to the main track the same way we’d come and turned left to head off past the little pool. Soon after, we had a decision to make.

Option-1 … Sorter and easy route.
Heading down a metalled minor road to pass another and probably the most famous of Wordsworth’s houses, “Dove Cottage” at Town End (open to the public) … and then on to the delights of nearby Grasmere Village. ( http://www.wordsworth.org.uk/history/index.asp?pageid=36 )

Option-2 … Longer and much more strenuous route.
Continuing the walk up to and past Alcock Tarn. 

The decision didn’t take long, we’d come to walk, so we set off in the increasingly persistent rain and freshening wind, to pick up a steeply rising zig-zagging path (it looks much straighter on the map).

After the ease of the bridle track before, the ascent came as a bit of a shock to the old leg muscles and I struggled at first to find climbing mode … I can’t speak for Jan’ here as she seemed to be going stronger than me as we started the climb.

After a while we had a brief rest from the climb at a tiny little reservoir pool with a dinky little dam. This is a charming spot and we took the opportunity to take a couple of damp looking photo’s in the rain.

It would be an understatement to say we were getting a tad wet and I wished I’d donned my over-trousers when the rain had first started … but I hadn’t (bad decision) and now decided it was too late, my trousers already sopping wet. It was a just a bit uncomfortable as the wet fabric clung to my legs. It was almost funny looking at the pair of us dripping as we went.

If you do the walk, don’t forget to look backwards as some super views open up down to Grasmere.


Continuing upwards (legs going much better on the climb now) we eventually reached Alcock Tarn, high up on the flanks of Heron Pike … Not that we could see much of the mountain, as we’d reached the swirling base of the clouds enveloping the tops.

In fact we could hardly see the other end of the tarn itself; however, the mists added an atmospheric feel to the place. I think Alcock Tarn is an odd place being perched so high on the fell side, just sort of nestled in behind a line of crags, you’d think all that water would just run off the hill into the valley some 300 metres below.


After passing the tarn heading northwards on it’s west bank, we started to head down a shallow valley, which is when I slipped on a flat rock, my right boot deciding to head sideways past my left leg. This left my 16+ stone frame (224+ lbs if you’re reading this in the USA) with nothing holding it upright and I ended up in a heap, head several feet below my feet, very inelegant! … Luckily, apart from a bit of a knock to my right elbow and very bruised pride I heaved myself upright, probably equally inelegantly and pretty much unscathed.

It certainly brings it home how easy serious injury could occur, and it’s good knowing that we’ve probably got the best mountain rescue organisation in the world to call upon given the need (more info at http://www.ldsamra.org.uk/ ) …. if you can please help fund this fine volunteer manned emergency service whenever you can.

Anyway, back to the walk, my tumble certainly made the steep descent towards Greenhead Gill a bit more interesting as my confidence in the wet had taken a bit of a knock.

Once the Gill was reached we followed the path down, sandwiched between the cascading stream and a stone wall.


We commented about how it wouldn’t have taken much more rain for the waters to cover the path ….

Little did we know, that’s exactly what happened during the OMM (Original Mountain Marathon) event in Borrowdale just a few days later, extensively reported on, on national TV. The internet has lots of posts, blogs and video’s of the 2008 OMM race, it’s worth browsing just to get an alternative (some may say more balanced) view of what happened.


The final stretch of the walk was on made-up roads/footpaths, the first picked up after crossing a little footbridge over the gill to emerge onto the A591 again. We crossed straight over to follow the B287 into Grasmere Village and on up to the youth hostel ( http://www.yha.org.uk/find-accommodation/the-lake-district/hostels/Grasmere-Butharlyp-Howe/facilities.aspx ) but only after dripping our way around the local CO-OP store, as we bought some treacle sponge puddings to go with our chicken curry to be cooked in the self-catering kitchens at the hostel. Good filling fare to replenish the body after the day’s exertions, all washed down nicely with a bottle of rose wine bought at the hostel reception. A good end, to a good days walking, even if it had ended up a bit wet.

I hope you enjoyed my scribblings ….
Next walk = https://tothehills.wordpress.com/2009/01/19/20081020_grasmere-helm-crag-ridge-easedale-circular-walk/



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