The Ullswater Way
If you fancy getting away from busy Borrowdale for a quieter long distant walk around Ullswater this is for you! I took it leisurely on the 22 miles but still got a few Wainwrights in. Is it really as good a walk as they say it is though?
The scenery isn’t quite Coledale Horseshoe or Netherbeck Round but my experience is really what matters here, not the rocks under my feet or spiky horizons.
I love Ullswater, the villages and what an amazing way to spend some time around them but my feet have never been so painful, I’ve never wanted to collapse in a heap in the road in the dead of night so much.
I’ve fancied the Ullswater Way since it was ‘opened’ by Eric Robson last year. After the floods of 2015/16 somebody, in their wisdom said, ‘we need to draw a dotted line around the lake on the map and say it’s ok to walk there. That’ll bring people in.’ I think it worked and it was a good idea.
To me it was like waving a red rag to a bull, I just had a few other things to do first.
Plotting The Route
A month later I parked up at Glencoyne Bay and set off clockwise up the track.
I talk everyday to people around the world who go out for days on end, from the trails of North America to two weeks in the Arctic Circle (the last sentence I read this morning on Facebook started, ‘I go out for a week or more at a time.’) These people know how to walk! Us Brits are day hikers. When our boots are wet inside we go home, then leave them in the hallway to dry out naturally for two weeks. We’ll have a big breakfast, walk without packing much more than a mars bar then hit the pub for a big meaty meal and the compulsory pint. I’m generalising.
I’d planned on starting in the morning and getting to Pooley Bridge for my dinner then camping up on Bonscale Pike by the towers but I got it into my head to make a new tarp! I spent most of the day in the workshop sewing together some feather light material I’d bought a few weeks ago. I didn’t finish making it until 3pm when I’d actually ran out of thread so although all the hems weren’t finished, I had four hoops on the corners and one where the pole will hold the porch up, that’ll do me for the night.
Aira Force At Night
By the time I got to Aira Force it was dark and under the canopy of the trees I needed the torch. It’s a bit spooky in there in the dead of night. Beautiful but creepy. Noisy when you pass the thundering falls but nobody to squeeze past and nobody to delete from your photos in Photoshop. This was an amazing experience in itself and one I recommend, even if you don’t follow it up with a 22 mile hike and a night under canvas.
I picked up my water for the night at High Force and navigated my way around the back end of Gowbarrow Fell and up to it’s summit.
Wild Camping On Gowbarrow Fell
It was a rather windy on the summit. I lay on the heather just North of the trig facing out of the wind looking towards one of my favourite little hills, Great Mell Fell, then pitched the new WildFire tarp.
I bloody love wild camping.
My set up for the night under The Shadow was a Terra Nova bivvy that has a bug net and inside that an Alpkit SH700 sleeping bag which is toasty warm for a cold sleeper. When I’m out for one or two nights only I’ll just sleep in my warm clothes I’m wearing, the sleeping bag will no doubt get heavier but I can throw it over a line at the workshop while I’m at work.
I get a few good hours but most of the night I’m thinking about photography and how I need to change my kit to get better pics of camp. It’s hard when I’m not well enough to be carrying more than the 6.5kg I left the van with and my camera setup would add 1.2kg. 34km is a long way to be carrying more than you’re comfortable with.
Breakfast At Granny Dowbekins
Next morning, I set off happy and the 8km or so to Pooley Bridge were interesting ones through Swinburns Park and farmland. After the big feed at Granny Dowbekins by the bridge I headed East up the high street and turned left at St Pauls up towards Barton Fell.
This long plod takes you up to Arthurs Pike and Bonscale Pike. I got chatting to a really nice fella on a bike who only lives in Penrith but, having a camper, stays locally by the roadside with his girlfriend and comes for a ride while she marks school books in the T4. What a lovely weekend I thought. There are so many nice people around that you’ll never see again but bring a little more colour to each day.
Arthurs Pike and Bonscale Pike
My new way up to Arthur’s Pike reveals a couple of false summits which comes as a reminder to study the map a little more and stay on the ball. Only mildly annoying in this good weather. From the cairn on the highest point looking South I remember how I felt coming up the first time in cloud, being very concerned and unsure where I even was. A lot of water has passed under (and over) the bridge since then, in fact, the Pooley Bridge was washed away!
I bloody love Ullswater.
A little descent to Swarth Beck gives me another drink of water and I’m ready for it. I’m not carrying water along my way, just taking in 500ml or so through the Sawyer filter as I find it, there’s plenty of it. Even if you do carry water and happy doing so, the Sawyer Squeeze at £48 or the Sawyer Mini at £22 can be a life-saver, quite literally.
It’s a steep path up to Bonscale now but ends sooner than I think when I approach the two towers and their wonderful view of my favourite lake in the district.
Now for me to see if the side of this hill is as steep as it was a couple of years ago.
Yes, it’s still a bastard!
I’m thinking that I’m home and dry when I pass the pier at Howtown Wyke and through half a dozen gates to the foot of Hallin Fell (one of my favourites but I won’t be summiting it today). I’ve decided that I can make it back to the van before dark. I really should have pitched tonight but again I’m not studying the map and underestimate what turns out to be 12km back round to the bay.
It’s hard going as well, around the trail skirting Hallin Fell. There’s a bench before too long, a resting spot to text Teresa.
Just as I’m about to get a photo of a rare boatless Ullswater somebody decides to poke their bow out from the trees, it’s the Lady Of The Lake and the last voyage of the day. This diesel powered vessel started life in 1877, back then it was steam powered. She’s sank twice and even burned to death in the 60’s before being resurrected in 1979. She then took us to Pooley Bridge in August last year and is said to be the oldest working passenger ferry in the whole world.
If I wasn’t so tired, these last 12km around Hallin Fell and Birk Fell would be a lovely walk. It’s getting darker and by the time I get round to Silver Bay and sit on the crag looking over to my desired location I think I should have camped. In fact, this crag would make an ideal pitch. I imagine how one day I can plan a route that will coincide with a night here. I can’t imagine anyone passing by here at night so it’ll be very peaceful just like the mountain tops.
Seeing Side Farm camp site over the wall I think how peaceful it can be staying there but I have little interest in camp sites these days. Great location if you don’t fancy wild camping.
Glenridding At Night
I pass through the farm and down the private road to come out near the school at Patterdale and round into a sleepy Glenridding. I sit for 10 minutes on a bench just up from the bridge, silent, undistracted. My feet are sore. I fantasize about getting the sleeping bag out right here on the bench and Jason from the café waking me in the morning with a large fried breakfast.
It’s a painful last 2 kilometres up to Glencoyne and I’ve never been happier seeing a red patch through the rain that is the van.
I drive up to Burgerking on the A66, ‘Can I have the biggest burger you do, the biggest fries you do and a massive coffee please?’
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