The Borrowdale Yews & Stockley Bridge

Two of the Ancient Yew Trees

The Ancient Yew Trees

Celebrated by William Wordsworth in his poem Yew-Trees as the “fraternal four of Borrowdale, Joined in one solemn and capacious grove,” the ancient yew trees that inhabit the far end of Borrowdale valley are thought to be between 1,500 and 2,000 years old, making them amongst the oldest living organisms in the UK. Sadly, one of the “fraternal four” was felled by a storm a few years ago, but there’s something strangely peaceful, almost emotional, about the grove inhabited by the remaining three.

Indeed, yew trees were once worshipped by ancient pagan tribes who considered them markers of spiritual places, and you certainly get a sense of the mystical when exploring their twisted trunks. This walk begins at Seathwaite in Borrowdale, and will take you to the yew trees, before heading up to Stockley Bridge, an ancient packhorse bridge, with the return simply requiring you to retrace your steps. It’s suitable for young children as the distance is fairly short, and there’s plenty of opportunity for stone throwing and pooh sticks along the way.

Quick Facts

Distance: 1.5 to 2 miles

Time: 1 to 2 hours with young children

Terrain: Mostly level paths; Very short steep section to yew trees

Suitable For: Older Children, Younger Children with Assistance, Babies and Toddlers in Carriers

Parking: Free off road parking at Seathwaite; Grid Ref NY236 123

Facilities: Public toilets at Seathwaite Farm with donation to the National Trust requested; No food and drink facilities on the walk, but there are pubs and a tea room at the nearby village of Rosthwaite

The Start of the Walk – Parking at Seathwaite

The grassed verge near the farm

The Grassed Verge near the Farm

The walk begins in the furthest reaches of Borrowdale Valley, near Seathwaite Farm. Take the B5289 from Keswick through the Borrowdale valley, passing through the villages of Grange and Rosthwaite along the way. Just before the hamlet of Seatoller there is a turning on the right, signposted for Seathwaite. Follow the narrow track for approximately 1 mile and go over a stone bridge.

Beyond the bridge, just before the farm, there is a layby on the left with plenty of parking, as well as wide grassed verges. However, you must take care not to park on the road itself, parking away from any gates, and only park on one side of the road. In 2017, several cars were damaged after a frustrated farmer drove a tractor between cars that had partially blocked the road, causing drivers hundreds of pounds worth of damage each. Once parked, walk back along the road away from the farm and towards the stone bridge.

The Path Towards the Yew Trees

The Turning by the Bridge

The Turning by the Bridge

Go back over the stone bridge and there is a gate on the left hand side with a signpost indicating a public footpath. Go through the gate and turn left, going through a second gate so that you are now doubling back on yourself along the footpath.

Follow the path as it winds alongside the stream (the start of the River Derwent) and you will note that there are a good number of gnarly ancient looking trees along the way. Go through a gap in the fence and cross over a shallow stream where there a good number of loose rocks that have come down from the mountainside.

The Borrowdale Yews

Two of the Ancient Yew Trees

Two of the Ancient Yew Trees

Look up to your left and you will see a short distance above you a green sign that marks the site of the yew trees. Head up the path. It is a little steep and can be slippery in wet weather so young children will need supervision. Behind the sign there is a stile that you can cross over to get into the grove. Within the grove there are three ancient trees, with mostly hollow trunks.

They are estimated to be between 1,500 and 2,000 years old and some research has suggested that they are from the same rootstock. Please do not climb on the trunks in order to help maintain the preservation of these ancient lifeforms. Two of the trees sit close to one another, the third is a few metres away with a clear path between them.

Heading Towards the Farm

Two Footbridges Overlooked by Hind Crag

Two Footbridges Overlooked by Hind Crag

Go back over the stile and back down the steep path towards the stream, returning to the main path. Continue to follow the path along the river. The summits of Base Brown and Seathwaite fells loom in the distance. Go through a gate in a farm wall and just beyond this there is a stream to cross. Beyond the stream you will see two footbridges ahead of you with fabulous views of the surrounding fells.

Cross over the two bridges and now follow the track through the farm and campsite. The track ends at an arch through a farm building with a gate on the end. Go through the gate. If you wish to end the walk here you can turn left to return to the road where you parked. Alternatively, turn right.

The Path to Stockley Bridge

The Path to the Bridge with Taylorgill Force in the Background

The Path to the Bridge with Taylorgill Force in the Background

Follow the farm track through the buildings and you will see a signpost ahead. At the signpost, take the right hand fork, signposted for Styhead. Go through two farm gates in quick succession to one another. You will now once again be on a path that follows the stream.

There may be grazing livestock in this area, so do take care to keep dogs under control as required. You will see in the distance the steep Taylorgill Force as it plummets down the rocks that lie between the summits of Base Brown fell and Seathwaite Fell.

Stockley Bridge

Stockley Bridge

Stockley Bridge

Cross over another stream and go through another gate. The track now undulates along the valley, and eventually Stockley Bridge will come into view. The bridge is part of an ancient packhorse route and is thought to date back to the early 18th century.

It was widened in 1887 in response to the increase in tourists that were drawn to the area with the emergence of fell walking as a pastime. On the other side of the bridge, there is a pretty waterfall and some large boulders that make for delightful picnic spots.

Return to the Car Park

Looking Out Towards Borrowdale

Looking Out Towards Borrowdale

The return back to your car simply requires you to retrace your steps back to the farm, and then take the road back to the layby. However, those with older children who are perhaps a little more adventurous may wish to continue up to Styhead Tarn. It just over a mile from the bridge, up a fairly steep section. Go over the bridge and go through the gate directly ahead of you.

Follow the path up the fell. It takes you to the top of Taylorgill Force and then along to the tarn, crossing a footbridge on the way. The section of the path above the waterfall does attract the wind and low cloud, so do take care in poor weather.