During the autumn and winter months it’s rare to get a bright, sunny day here in Cumbria, so when I discovered that the forecast for my childfree day was one of crisp, endless sunshine, I could barely contain my excitement. As I set off from Keswick, I felt I had hit the weather jackpot: not too hot, not too cold, no wind, and no rain.

The only cloud that could be seen was the remnants of the low-level mists that had filled the valleys overnight, a weather phenomenon that creates picture perfect images across the Lake District. My goal for the day was to complete a circuit of Derwent Water, visiting some of my most treasured viewpoints of the Lake. Cumbria might be brimming with walking opportunities, but Derwent Water is a place that I return to again, and again, and again. It was the first body of water I visited when I moved to Cumbria and I was instantly captivated by its beauty.

Departing Keswick

Derwent Water as seen from the Nicol End Marina café

Derwent Water as seen from the Nicol End Marina café

I park the car at the Keswick Football Club car park at Crosthwaite Road. They charge just £3 for the entire day, and payment is via an honesty box. It’s a bargain when compared with the town centre car parks and means that I have more cash for ice cream later. I could take a clockwise route around the lake, heading along the eastern shore first, but I haven’t had breakfast yet, which gives me the perfect excuse to visit a much-loved café of mine. So, instead I head out along the Cumbria Way. It runs straight through farmland across the top of Derwent Water before arriving at Portinscale.

Portinscale

It’s still quite early when I arrive in the village and as a result, I have a rare opportunity to appreciate its charms without the usual crowds, though I note that popular café, the Chalet, is already starting to fill up. The name Portinscale apparently comes from Old English and means “Harlot’s Hut”, but today, it’s a slightly more well-to-do affair, attracting a rather genteel crowd of keen walkers. It’s a quintessential chocolate box village, filled with pretty white-washed buildings, many of which have been given over to tourist accommodation.

I leave the village and take the Cumbria Way alongside Nichol End Marina. The lack of wind has created a mirror effect on the lake and the boats are reflected beautifully on the water. The marina café is open, and I’m tempted to stop for one of their incredible giant, fluffy scones, but I press on, determined to reach my preferred breakfast stop.

Alpaca Spotting & Breakfast at the Lingholm Kitchen

Sourdough Toast at Lingholm

Sourdough Toast at Lingholm

I follow the path as it leads through woodland close to the lake shore and I overtake a couple on the way. They stop and ask where the path goes to. Now that’s a question. The Cumbria Way from here leads all the way down to Ulverston, some 30 odd miles away, but given that they’re wearing jeans and not carrying a large rucksack I surmise that they are probably after a slightly shorter adventure, so I suggest they visit Lingholm, which is where I’m also heading. I later spot them in the café and hope they find it as delightful as I do.

The Lingholm Kitchen & Walled Garden

I arrive at Lingholm and am greeted by an alpaca out for a walk (more on that later) and a statue of Peter Rabbit. Beatrix Potter spent multiple summer holidays at this estate and it’s here that she first fell in love with the Lake District. The inspiration for Mr McGregor’s garden is said to have come from the original kitchen garden. Today, you can walk around a walled garden and learn more about Beatrix’s time here, as well as admire the impressive array of vegetables that are grown here despite the Cumbrian weather.

I head into the café and opt for a simple breakfast of sourdough toast with jam. I’d normally choose one of the scrumptious brunches the café offers but I need something light for the long walk ahead. The bread is all made on site and you can buy loaves to take away. There’s a lovely gift shop in the café where you can pick up a pretty keepsake and, if you book in advance, you can indulge in a magnificent afternoon tea.

Toast gobbled up, I head back out and pass the alpaca paddock on the way. If you’ve ever felt that something was missing from your Lake District walks, then check out Alpacaly Ever After. It might be that the missing element was a big fluffy alpaca.

Cat Bells: The Hunt for Mrs Tiggy-Winkle

Skiddaw as seen from Cat Bells. A sketch of this view appears in <em>The Tale of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle.</em>

Skiddaw as seen from Cat Bells. A sketch of this view appears in The Tale of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle.

“Lucie climbed upon the stile and looked up at the hill behind Little-town—a hill that goes up—up—into the clouds as though it had no top!” -The Tale of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle by Beatrix Potter

I walk through woodland before arriving at an open field that is cut through by the Cumbria Way. Directly ahead of me is Cat Bells. I’m now following in the footsteps of Beatrix Potter, who, during her stay at Lingholm in 1904, visited Cat Bells and made sketches of the distinctively shaped mountain and the surrounding Newlands Valley.

Cat Bells

These drawings formed the basis of The Tale of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle where a young girl named Lucie set off from Little-town in Newlands Valley and climbed the hill in search of her lost handkerchiefs. Lucie comes across a door in the hillside and discovers the home of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, a hedgehog with a fondness for doing the laundry. This magical tale made a quiet corner of the Lake District famous around the world and today, Cat Bells is one of the most popular fell walks for visitors. Indeed, as Wainwright himself put it, “No Keswick holiday is consummated without a visit to Catbells”.

I reach the start of the path up the mountain and already, despite it being a Wednesday morning in October, there is a considerably large procession of people snaking up the hill side. The path rises steeply and walkers are quickly rewarded for their efforts with a stunning view of Derwent Water, Skiddaw, and out towards the west of Cumbria.

On this clear day, I can see the wind turbines at Tallentire and, in the distance, the mountains of Dumfries and Galloway across the Solway Firth. I reach the first mini scramble. I have seen many people turn back here, put off by the climb, which is a great shame because it is in no way as intimidating as it first appears. At the top of this climb, I’m able to take in the breath-taking view of the Newlands Valley, just as Beatrix Potter once did.

I continue onwards and upwards, again taking on another scramble towards the summit. The top of the mountain is crowded but the views are simply magnificent. The panorama includes the Newlands Valley, Borrowdale, Bassenthwaite, Skiddaw, Blencathra, and out towards the Pennines on one side and Scotland on the other. I don’t spend too much time at the top, as it’s too crowded for my liking, so instead I head down the other side, towards Maiden Moor. At the dip between the two fells, I head left down towards the lake. Here the pitched path can be rough on the knees and I find it easier to breakout into a jog as there’s less impact. I pass a man on the way who is begging his dog to slow down. Four legs are definitely better than two in these circumstances.

“Don’t Waste Words, Jump to Conclusions”

Millican Dalton’s Cave

Millican Dalton’s Cave

I reach the road that runs between Hawse End and Grange and come across another man who asks me for directions. It transpires that the boardwalk along the southern tip of the lake is flooded and impassable - not an unusual occurrence - but it does scupper my plans somewhat. Still, I’m not short on time so I decide to opt for a longer route that will take me through the Jaws of Borrowdale.

I reach the small village of Grange where a good number of people are sat outside the café enjoying the sunshine. I head out of the village on the Cumbria Way, passing through the Hollows Farm campsite and eventually join the River Derwent that has played such a vital role in carving out the landscape of the Lake District. There’s a delightful spot just beyond the campsite that is popular with families. The river spreads wide here and it’s perfect for paddling in during a summer’s day.

I continue to follow the path as it winds into Borrowdale, and I catch a glimpse of Castle Crag overhead. This is the smallest of the Wainwrights, being the only one below 300m, and was included by Wainwright because he considered it “so magnificently independent, so ruggedly individual, so aggressively unashamed of its lack of inches”. Today, however, I’m skipping the summit in search of another, lesser known Lake District icon, Millican Dalton.

Millican Dalton

Long before ethical living became a modern trend, Millican Dalton espoused a sustainable lifestyle. Trapped by the humdrum of life as an insurance clerk in London, Dalton relinquished the modern comforts that were to be found in the 1920s and headed north to Cumbria, where he adopted a cave below Castle Crag as his summer home. However, he was certainly no recluse, leading guided mountaineering and camping trips around the Lake District, and he was a firm believer in a more natural style of living, eating vegetarian food and making his own clothes.

I take the small path that leads off the Cumbria Way up the mountain side and reach the first, lower cave that is often mistook for the one Dalton once inhabited. I continue to gain height and reach a second cave, and then a third. It’s this third cave where Dalton spent his summers. Water is dripping through the roof and on one side the faded epitaph that Dalton himself etched into the cave wall: “Don’t Waste Words, Jump to Conclusions”.

The self-styled “Professor of Adventure” left a long-lasting legacy. He was a pioneer in the creation of light-weight camping and mountaineering gear that led to greater accessibility to more remote areas, and at a time when women were considered little more than decoration, Millican taught them rock-climbing and encouraged them to lead expeditions themselves. As much as I love the idea of becoming intimately connected with the natural world, I can’t help thinking, as I peer into his cave, how cold and uncomfortable it would be at night.

Rosthwaite to Watendlath

Watendlath Tarn

Watendlath Tarn

Just beyond Dalton’s cave someone has helpfully constructed a bench from slate and I can see the remains of a campfire. I stop here for lunch before heading back down to the Cumbria Way and I continue heading towards Rosthwaite.

I reach the stone bridge where a gaggle of ramblers have congregated for a group picture. I briefly ponder what Dalton, Wainwright, and Potter would make of the modern Lake District with its influx of tourists. Would they be pleased that so many more people are seeking out the natural wonders of the landscape, or dismayed that the area is no longer as idyllic as it once was?

Rosthwaite

I cross the bridge and make my way along the path, noting that even if I had wanted to attempt the alternative river crossing using the stepping stones further up, it would have been impossible to do so today, with the river levels far too high. I then arrive in Rosthwaite - the starting point for a great number of walking routes. A stone plaque on the exterior wall of the superb Flock-In tearoom tells me that the name Rosthwaite comes from the Old Norse for “the clearing of the rose thorns”. Rosthwaite was once a social hub for miners working in Borrowdale’s numerous mines and quarries, and today, it’s a gateway for walkers into the Borrowdale fells and beyond.

Watendlath

I’m starting to feel tired now and as I begin to tackle the steep path that leads from Rosthwaite up towards Watendlath I’m noticing various aches and pains around my body. I’m not as young as I once was - certainly not as fit - and I’m starting to notice on days like these. Long as the climb may feel, it’s also a pleasant one. Looking back, I am appreciative of a view of the craggy Borrowdale fells and the rich green pastures at their base.

It’s far quieter here, and I only encounter one other couple on this stretch, along with a tired looking bumblebee to whom I offer a few squeezes of juice from an orange segment. Eventually I arrive at Watendlath, and I’m pleased to see that the ancient and friendly sheepdog that patrols the shoreline is still there and that the small tearoom is open.

Watendlath to Ashness Bridge – A Honeypot of Instagrammers

Derwent Water as seen from Surprise View

Derwent Water as seen from Surprise View

I opt for a brief stop at the Caffle House tea-room for a cup of coffee. Most of the seating here is outside in the garden, where curious robins and chaffinches seek out the crumbs dropped from the tables. You can pick up some basic sandwiches and cakes here, but you do need cash to pay for them. Watendlath itself is a lovely spot. This hanging valley sits 263 metres above sea level and was donated to the National Trust by Queen Victoria’s daughter, Princess Louise. If you want to avoid the arduous walk up to the tarn and tea room, then ample parking is available, though the road from Derwent Water is very narrow.

It is this road that I now take to return to Keswick. I could take a path that cuts through the adjacent farmland and woodland, but I’m getting short on time with a school run to accomplish and being on the road allows me to break into a gentle jog, fuelled by my caffeine hit from the tea room. As the road descends gently down, I start to hear the roar of the Lodore Falls that are located amongst the cliffs below me. For those attempting a low level circuit of Derwent Water, a visit to these falls and a stop in the sumptuous Lodore Falls Hotel for an afternoon tea is a must.

Surprise View

I quickly arrive at Surprise View, an extraordinary viewpoint high above the Lake. Here I can see just how far I have left to go before I reach Keswick. This viewpoint and the surrounding woodlands was another of the first few places I visited when I first moved to Cumbria and is therefore of special significance to me. I particularly love visiting this area in the Autumn, and although it is still early on in the season, I can already see that many of the leaves are starting to adopt their golden hues that will eventually create an astonishing vista.

Ashness Bridge

A short while after I arrive at Ashness Bridge. Perhaps the most photographed packhorse bridge in the Lake District, it really does have everything needed to create the perfect shot, with a gushing waterfall and Skiddaw looming in the background. That being said, it’s rare these days to be able to take a photo of the bridge without other photographers in the background. An Instagram hotspot, you can often find models in clothing inappropriate clothing for the Lake District weather pulling various poses on and around the bridge.

There’s a fair few budding photographers here today, with their tripods and large lenses all vying for the perfect spot to shoot. It’s sad in a way. We no longer stop to admire the view, to breath it all in, and immerse ourselves in our surroundings. Instead we capture it, frame it, and upload it onto social media in the quest for likes. We see it all through a lens instead of our own eyes.

Ashness Bridge to Keswick By Boat

Ashness Gate Jetty

Ashness Gate Jetty

I’m now on the last stretch but I’m low on time, energy, and drinking water, which shows an element of poor planning on my part. The remaining section of the walk is one I have done many times, along Calfclose Bay, past the Millennium Stones, up to Strandshag Bay, and a return to Keswick via Friar’s Crag. It is certainly a pleasant walk, especially for those with young children or mobility difficulties, as it’s mostly flat and on good paths, and there are plenty of picnic spots along the way.

Ashness Gate

Today, however, to save time, I opt for a more direct route back to Keswick, and I head to the landing stage at Ashness Gate. I’m lucky that boats are operating, since the water levels are very high and several of the other jetties have been closed as a result. The end of the jetty is partially under the water and there is a fair breeze blowing now, no doubt bringing in a new weather front. I only have to wait around 15 minutes before a boat arrives and I climb aboard. As this is the last stop before Keswick, it costs just under £2.50, which is fantastic value for money considering this is one of Keswick’s main tourist attractions.

The boat is pretty packed with tourists, mostly those of retired age, with a few young parents and toddlers. In just ten minutes, we’re back at Keswick, and luckily for me, I still have time to purchase an English Lakes ice cream from the café near the lake before I need to return to the car to do the school run. It’s the perfect end to the perfect day.