Tilberthwaite, Hodge Close, Cathedral Cavern & Slater Bridge

Inside Cathedral Cavern

Inside Cathedral Cavern

This Little Langdale walk is a long one for children, at just over five-miles that will be wearying for younger travellers. However, you will find plenty to motivate younger walkers here. There is a huge cave to explore, abandoned quarries with loose slate screes for building towers, trees to climb and more. It is low level throughout, with only mild inclines. If you are feeling brave, you could take an all-terrain pushchair, but you will need to lift it over rocky terrain at times, and therefore a baby carrier is probably the best choice.

The walk starts at Tilberthwaite in Little Langdale and takes you into the Lake District’s industrial past, to the quarries of Hodge Close, along to the dramatic Cathedral Cavern, which is a vast forty foot high cave, and a brief trip to the ancient Slater Bridge – a photography hotspot. You will need to take plenty of supplies, as there are no shops or pubs on the way (though a brief detour to a pub is available). However, with dramatic scenery and the option to build your own bench from slate, a picnic is probably preferable.

Quick Facts

Distance: 5 miles

Time: 3 hours with children

Terrain: Mostly level paths with mild inclines, but rocky and uneven in places

Suitable For: Children 5+, Babies and Toddlers in Carriers, All terrain pushchairs with two strong adults for carrying at times, Dogs with good recall or on lead due to roaming sheep

Parking: Free parking is available close to Tilberthwaite Farm; Use postcode LA21 8DG for satnav; Grid reference NY306009

Facilities: None on route, however, a detour to the Three Shires Inn is possible

Parking at Tilberthwaite Ghyll

The Car Park

The Car Park

The walk begins at Tilberthwaite Ghyll car park. This is a large layby close to Tilberthwaite Farm and is accessed via a single-track road that leads from the A593 between Ambleside and Coniston. The track is signposted from the A593 for Tilberthwaite and the car park is on the left hand side. It’s worth noting that this track can be icy in winter and passing places are few and far between, however, it’s a relatively short distance from the main road to the car park.

It’s also worth noting that space in the car park is limited, and the road ends at the farm a short distance away, so in peak tourist periods, you should aim to get there early. The car park is free, but there is a donation box for the Lake District National Park Authority.

Passing through the Farm onto the Packhorse Track

Looking Back to the Farm from the Track

Looking Back to the Farm from the Track

Once parked, turn left back onto the road to continue away from the direction you came from. You will pass some holiday cottages on the left. Keep going along the road and you will find that it ends at the farm. Go through the farm buildings and you will see ahead a choice of two gates to go through. Take the right hand gate. You will now be on the old packhorse track used for transporting mined materials. Continue straight and go through a second gate. The path takes you into woodland, but the small caves and carved rocks underneath the wild growth give a glimpse of the area’s past.

The Turning for Hodge Close

The Turning for Hodge Close

The Turning for Hodge Close

You will presently see a turning on the right with a locked gate and clear signs warning walkers not to enter due to the unstable ground. Heed these warnings and continue straight along the path. A short distance after, there is a fork in the path. However, the right hand fork (the one you need to take) is not so clear and easy to miss if you are not paying attention.

Take the right hand fork and the path quickly becomes clear. This path is initially fairly level and well maintained, but the firm surface quickly becomes loose slate scree and rises on a moderate incline. At the top of this incline you will come to a junction. There is a path leading to the left and two paths leading to the right. The one nearest the path you are on seems to lead back almost parallel to your path. Do not take this path but instead take the second right that leads up to a farm gate.

Hodge Close

The Path to Hodge Close

The Path to Hodge Close

Go through the gate and continue along the path. You will see quarry works on your left and eventually some buildings will be visible in front of you. Go through the farm gate when you reach the buildings to stay on the track. The track will lead you to a tarmacked road. Here you need to turn left, however, you can make a brief detour here to look at part of Hodge Close Quarry. To do so, turn right and follow the road up the hill.

After a short distance, you will notice some boulders lining the road and warning signs referencing sharp drops. On the left hand side, if you peek over the edge, you will see a deep drop into a lagoon with caves at the bottom. It is very, very steep here and the ground drops away quickly, so do take extra care. To return to the route, go back along the road to the buildings, and the road ends at a farm gate. Go through this gate.

The Track to Stang End

Fell Views from the Track

Fell Views from the Track

You will once more be on an old quarry route, and the level path will take you through a mixture of farmland and woodland with some delightful views of the surrounding fells. Pass through one gate, and then come to a fork in the path. Take the right fork to stay on the main track. Pass through two more gates and you will come to Stang End where the path ends at a crossroads and you will see some white cottages directly in front of you. Turn left here onto a tarmacked road. The road leads you down a gentle incline, over a bridge with a small stream underneath. The tarmacked section ends at a staggered crossroads.

Possible Detour – Three Shires Inn

The Turning on the Left Up Stone Steps onto the Bridge for the Three Shires

The Turning on the Left Up Stone Steps onto the Bridge for the Three Shires

At the staggered crossroads you will see first a turning on your left where there is a path. This is signposted for Tilberthwaite. Opposite this turning, there is a small turning space for cars, as from here the track becomes access only for vehicles. Just beyond the turning on the left you will see a turning on the right that takes you over a bridge.

If you want to call in at the Three Shires Inn at this point, you will need to cross this bridge. On the other side of the bridge, follow the track until it ends at the road, and turn right, and the Three Shires is just a few metres beyond the turning on the left hand side. It is about half a mile from the bridge. 

Cathedral Cavern

Inside Cathedral Cavern

Inside Cathedral Cavern

If you are not heading to the Three Shires Inn, ignore the bridge and continue straight on along the track, briefly following the river on the right. Look out for a turning on the left. There are no signposts and it turns sharply backwards so you could miss it. There is a locked gate across the turning, but there is a stile that walkers can use to cross over (pushchair users may want to consider leaving the pushchair by the gate temporarily).

Follow the track as it winds gently up the hill, and you will see a large information sign for Langdale Quarries adjacent to a tunnel. Go into the tunnel (it is only a short tunnel) and, at the other side, you will find yourself in Cathedral Cavern. Take some time to explore this vast cave, but do heed the ropes that have sectioned off unstable parts and be aware of the deep pond inside. A torch is not necessary thanks to the huge opening at the top of the cave.

An Ideal Picnic Spot & Returning to the Main Path

A Delightful Picnic Spot Above Cathedral Cavern Entrance

A Delightful Picnic Spot Above Cathedral Cavern Entrance

Once you have finished exploring the cavern, head back out using the tunnel that you entered by and turn left to continue following the track up the hill. After a very short distance, you will find yourself by a National Trust hut and on a small plateau where there is a lot of loose slate. Some of the slate has been used to create benches, mini tables, stone towers etc. and the plateau has delightful views of the fells.

This is a great spot for a picnic. Once you have finished, head back down the track, passing the entrance to the cave again, and continue back down to the bottom of the hill to the locked gate. Go back over the stile and turn left to continue along the track.

Slater Bridge

Slater Bridge

Slater Bridge

You will go through another farm gate, and then after a short distance look out for a kissing gate on the right-hand side. The path on the other side of this kissing gate will take you to Slater Bridge. This route does not require you to go through this gate down to the bridge, but it’s still worth a slight detour. The bridge is part of an ancient packhorse route and thought to date back to the 16th century.

It uses a large stone boulder in the middle of the river as part of its structure, and today there is a metal handrail to help people cross. It’s a popular photography spot and is also an ideal picnic spot. Once you have finished at the bridge, return to the main track via the kissing gate and turn right to continue along the route.

Retuning to Tilberthwaite

The Turning Signposted for Tilberthwaite

The Turning Signposted for Tilberthwaite

Continue along the track, passing a couple of cottages and going through a farm gate. The track beings to gentle rise up and the area offers some delightful views of the Coniston fells. You will see a signpost ahead with a turning on the left. The turning is signposted for Tilberthwaite. Take this turning. Stay on the track. It’s worth noting that there is legal permission for off-road vehicles to use this section of track and you may encounter 4x4s or off road bikes along the way. Go through a couple more farm gates and the path descends back down towards Tilberthwaite, eventually arriving at the farm and the road that takes you back to the car park.