Coffins and bogs fail to distract from a walk around Loughrigg in the Lake District. This autumn walk had every kind of scenery from villages and hamlets to rivers and lakes, and the mountainous backgrounds of the Fairfield Horseshoe and Langdale Pikes.
- community life
- Dove Cottage
- Loughrigg Tarn
- the Romans
MAP (click on it to open in a new window)
One of my intentions when I do a longer walk is to try to include water, mountain and village, to create something of mixed appeal and scenery. This walk achieves that intention. Admittedly, the mountains are in the background rather than underfoot, but everything else is in place.
The walk starts on the car park south of Rydal village and the route starts by dropping down through the trees to the River Rothay. The Rothay flows out of Rydal Water and on past Ambleside where it joins the Brathay and surrenders to Windermere. On this route I’ll pass the Wordsworth Museum, which has a fascinating relief map of the Lake District made out of wood and shows where all the rivers are, the directions they flow in and the lakes they’re associated with.
Across the road the Badger Bar tempts you with its promise of real ales. The bar of the Glen Rothay Hotel is a freehouse and always has a different selection of beers on tap. But more on that towards the end of the walk, because for now I’m off up the hill to join the corpse road!
You may have heard of these corpse roads or coffin trails and there a number of them in the Lake District. They date from a time when someone passing away in one valley would have to be buried in consecrated ground and if that meant a cemetery in another valley then the dearly departed would be carried over there along the corpse roads. This one links Ambleside, which had no consecrated church, to Grasmere and St. Oswalds and runs through (or should that be solemly walks through) the estate of Rydal Hall. Later St. Mary’s in Ambleside would be consecrated and the corpse road would no longer be needed.
Detours here can take you to Rydal Mount, home of William Wordsworth at the time of his death in 1850, and Rydal Hall once owned by the le Fleming family who lived at the hall for four hundred years. It was Lady le Fleming who rented Rydal Mount to Wordsworth. The hall is now owned by the Church of England and used as a conference centre. Its formal garden was designed by Thomas Mawson in 1909. Mawson was a leading figure in the late 19th and early 20th centrury garden design movement and in addition to designing several notable gardens wrote a number of influential books on the principles of garden design and landscape architecture. Rydal Hall also has a comfortable tea shop if you’re already worn out from the steep, but short slope from the main road. (Get a grip, there’s miles ahead of you yet!)
The corpse road has outstanding views of Rydal Water and Loughrigg behind it. Eventually it brings you to the stunning little White Moss Tarn. When I walked this route there were engineering works being carried out on the Thirlmere aqueduct. Now when you’re stood at the side of Thirlmere with thoughts of Manchester Corporation’s water supply to the big city you tend not to think of where that enormous pipe is, but it’s always there somewhere, underground, and here along the corpse road just before White Moss Tarn it’s buried in the side of Nab Scar quietly delivering its watery payload to thousands of Mancunians seventy miles away!
The route here is wooded, like a rainforest, with imported coniferous giants in hillside gardens of large hidden houses. Then the road drops down to Grasmere, passing the Wordsworth Museum and Dove Cottage on the way. Wordsworth’s tiny home is worth a visit and hopefully you’ll be told of Coleridge’s son Hartley and his inability to hold his drink. ‘On the way home from the pub it wasn’t the length of the road that was a problem, it was the width.’ Coleridge junior would often be found drunk to unconsciousness in a ditch. He lived at Nab Cottage next to Rydal Water.
The Wordsworths lived at Dove Cottage from 1799 to 1808 and it was during William’s time here that he wrote ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’. In spite of the size of the building, Wordsworth and his sister were squashed in with Mrs Wordsworth, Mary, her own sister and two children, so it’s no wonder they eventually upped sticks to move to the larger Allen Bank on the other side of Grasmere. Thomas de Quincey moved in next – as the British intelligentsia were simply queuing up to acquire houses in the Lake District – and eventually the house was taken over by the Wordsworth Trust in 1890. Built in the early 1600s as an inn called the Dove and Olive Bough it is a Grade I listed building and virtually untouched since the Wordsworth’s days here.
Next door to Dove Cottage is the Wordsworth Museum. It always has an exhibition of interest in addition to the permanent Wordsworth exhibition. Amongst many that I’ve seen have been Turner’s visit to the Lakes and watercolours by Constable. You can find out what’s on at any time by visiting the website here.
Onto Grasmere now and a coffee break in any one of the tea shops. In 1291 the church of Grasmere paid £16 in taxes to Pope Nicholas (a ‘crusading tithe’), which, without allowing for inflation, is more than a number of corporations would pay today. Don’t pass through the village without visiting the Heaton Cooper studio. Generations of the family are represented here and you can buy prints by all of them. For me William’s delicate pastel watercolours are some of the finest visualisations of the Lake District by any artist.
The road out of Grasmere is the only major bit of climbing, but nothing compared to some of the fells that surround the vale of Grasmere. One fell on the north side of the village, Helm Crag, is the only Lakeland summit that Wainwright didn’t top out. The Howitzer is a rocky outcrop and at thirty feet high is both the actual fell summit and a ‘non-Wainwright’.
But I’m off in the other direction and as I approach Loughrigg Tarn I’m out of the Vale of Grasmere and into the Langdale Valley. This is one of those places that can seduce you into stopping and staying for much longer than you intend. Set in a natural bowl Loughrigg Tarn is silent and peaceful. (Forget the fact that I heard and filmed an RAF jet howling overhead.) The only noise here is the blood pumping through your eardrums. In the distance, looking west, is the narrowing of the Langdale Valley and its imposing guardians: Harrison Stickle, Pike O-Stickle and Lingmoor Fell.
What you’re actually staring at when you look beyond the Langdale Valley is the Rossett Gill Fault; a great rift in the geological strata from Great Gable to Little Langdale. The fault runs over Rossett Pike, along Mickleden, down the south side of Lingmoor Fell to Little Langdale where it’s stopped by a bigger fault line running from Eskdale to Little Langdale. A fault line caused by the impact of Scotland in the Silurian period, 443 to 417 million years ago. Bet you feel quite young now. This part of the Lake District, the central fells, is the volcanic heart of the area and whilst the final form of the Lake District was moulded by glacial action, these fells are the ancient volcanos of the Devonian period.
From here I follow the road down to Skelwith Fold and look for the lanes which will take me across the hillsides that roll down to the River Brathay. The lane along here is Bog Lane, so no actual bogs just a play on words. It’s a pastoral green languid part of the route, composed of deciduous trees and babbling waters. At Clappersgate the path leaves the roadside as far as Galava, the 1st century Roman fort on the road from Brougham to Ravenglass. The site was excavated in 1915 by RG Collingwood, a Fellow of Pembroke College, Oxford. Coins, cutlery and other bits of Roman glass, jars and metalwork were found, but more importantly, the layout of the site was established: rectangular with corner turrets, ramps and ditches and numerous internal buildings and cellars.
After crossing the road I’m once again Under Loughrigg and a long pleasing walk in the shadow of the fell until I’m back at the car park, the promise of fish and chips and a pint of something with a stupendously daft name at the Badger Bar. (I once challenged myself to come up with names for a real ale during a walk in the Langdale Valley. I can remember two: Needs Must, and Old Crone. Maybe I need a couple of pints to get the creative brain cells fired up again.