A warm and muggy morning in Borrowdale, with low cloud brushing the hilltops and the weatherman muttering of downpours and thunderstorms.
First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The side dale of Langstrath was full of the bleating of Herdwick sheep, white-faced with blue-grey coats, the black-coated and black-muzzled lambs stolidly chewing alongside their dams.
From the fellside above Stonethwaite we climbed steeply away through oakwoods, the stepped and stone-flagged path rising under trees mottled with gleams of sunshine, rags of blue and smears of grey sailing overhead among the branches. Willygrass Gill tinkled and rustled down a narrow channel of gleaming black rocks, the water falling in a succession of leaps, jumps and pauses for reflection in still pools. We sat to watch a jay hopping from branch to branch, roguish in chestnut, black and white with a flash of blue – a handsome and swaggering buccaneer of a bird.
At the treeline the view opened tremendously, a stand-and-gasp moment – the steep converging clefts of Greenup Gill and Langstrath under their twin crowns of Eagle Crag and Heron Crag, and away in the west the enormous eroded cliffs that hang ominously over Honister Hause and its slate mine workings, the old tramway running straight as a die up the hill behind and the road snaking steeply down into Borrowdale.
Dock Tarn lies sheltered in a ring of little craggy hills. The water lily blooms were out, white crowns scattered on green mats of leaves. The tarn lay perfectly still, emitting a faint shimmer as the wind crumpled the wavelets around a rocky islet crowned with a handful of rowans.
You could stay all day in such a place, searching for frogs and orchids, dreaming your dreams. Eventually the stony path called us on, through a pass and down over a broad rushy upland, gold-spotted with bog asphodel and heavy with the scent of wet peat and sun-warmed bog myrtle. We came down to Watendlath Farm along the shore of Watendlath Tarn where families were swimming and picnicking. We could have murdered a cuppa there, but the cosy-looking tearoom was cash only, no cards. Hellfire and damnation!
A rough and rocky old bridleway leads over from Watendlath to Borrowdale, with classic lakeland views ahead over the green meadows of the flat-bottomed dale to the heights of the Borrowdale Fells. Down in Rosthwaite, before setting back to Stonethwaite, we looked into the Royal Oak. I did my first ever Lake District walks from this little inn when I was fifteen. My boots bit into my heels, I was sulky with my Dad and sore-legged each morning, but it instilled a love of these enchanting hills that has never gone away.
Start: Langstrath Hotel, Stonethwaite, Borrowdale, Cumbria CA12 5XG (OS ref NY 263137)
Getting there: Stonethwaite is signed off B5289 Borrowdale road just south of Rosthwaite (Arriva Bus Service 77, 78).
Walk (6 miles, moderate/hard, OS Explorer OL4. NB: online map, more walks at christophersomerville.co.uk): From Langstrath Hotel, right along road. Right (‘Greenup Edge’) across beck; right (‘Greenup Edge’); in 200m, left (265137, post with yellow arrow) up slope. Cross stone stile in wall (268136); very steeply up through woods, then across moorland to Dock Tarn (274143). Continue north on good stony track for 1½ miles to Watendlath (274163). Right across bridge to tearoom, or left (‘Rosthwaite’), following signs to Rosthwaite. At bridge (259150), right into village, or forward (‘Stonethwaite’) to Stonethwaite.
NB – steep climb through woods below Dock Tarn!
Lunch/Accommodation: Watendlath tearoom (cash only!); Langstrath Hotel, Stonethwaite (01768-777239; thelangstrath.com) – lively, friendly country inn
Information: Keswick TIC (01768-772645)