What To Do

Skelwith Bridge and Loughrigg


Map based on Ordnance Survey mapping by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of the Controller of Her Majesty’s Stationery Office. © Crown Copyright.

 Start Skelwith Bridge.

Grid Ref 344035 or Silverthwaite National Trust Car Park

Distance 4 miles (6.5km), climbing 1,000 feet (300m)

OS Map English Lakes 1:25,000 (South East)

Walking Time Allow 2 hours

Loughrigg Fell, at 1,100 feet (335m), has a name meaning ‘ridge above the lake’. This is Ambleside’s own little mountain, and an exceptional viewpoint for Lakeland. Our walk from Skelwith Bridge, in what Wordsworth called a ‘small and peaceful valley’, is not strenuous, except where the path climbs steeply to the felltop. When visiting Loughrigg, chose clear weather – it is a magnificent vantage point – but carry some waterproofs, just in case! An alternative parking spot has been given in case the small car park at Skelwith Bridge is full.

Skelwith Bridge is usually approached from Ambleside, via Clappersgate. ‘Clapper’ is a primitive type of bridge and ‘gate’ refers to a road. Skelwith Bridge, a cluster of buildings, has a hotel and the Kirkstone Galleries (selling slate products and incorporating a cafe). There is limited parking in the vicinity. A larger car park is to be found a quarter of a mile (400m) away on the B5343

Two options exist for beginning this walk, and the two paths join at Crag Head.

The main footpath is signposted on the side of the Langdale road at Skelwith Bridge and crosses directly to Crag Head. Pay heed to the waymarking through Neaum Crag chalet park. If no free parking space exists, motor the short distance along the B5343 from Skelwith Bridge to the National Trust’s park in a disused quarry at Silver thwaite, a former quarry (look for the road side sign, right of the road).

Silverthwaite is a pleasant spot, being flanked on three sides by trees and shrubs which harbour willow warblers in spring. The park was mainly intended to serve motorists who use a footpath down to the popular route beside Elterwater and the Brathay. Those who leave their car at Silverthwaite should follow a track which begins 200 yards (180m) further north which climbs to join the main route at Crag Head.

The common has an attractive wildness, with crags, birch and bracken. A raven croaks as it flies over. A hedge sparrow’s sweet little song is heard from a tree-shaded stretch of wall. If you catch sight of the bird, notice its robin-like appearance, but with grey beneath and heavily-streaked flanks. It is nothing like a sparrow and some naturalists insist on using the name dunnock.

Loughrigg Tarn and Fell are revealed straight head. The path joins the direct one from Skelwith Bridge at Crag Head. Walk on to Loughrigg Fold, where a narrow road is encountered. Turn left and follow it to a Y-junction, going left and, at the end of an attractive stretch of mixed (mainly deciduous) woodland, going right by over stiles and across pastureland which, with mature trees, has the attributes of a park. Initially, keep to the right of a drystone wall and then let waymarks (yellow arrows) be your guide.

At the road (which, if you turned left, would lead to Red Bank, above Grasmere), go right for a short distance. A stile (left) gives access to the ‘skirts’ of Loughrigg. The path follows the foot of the fell, through an area where a conifer plantation has been clear-felled, over a second stile and with a gate a few yards ahead. In this space between stile and gate, look left to see, faintly delineated against a steep fellside, the route to the summit of Loughrigg.

Boards mark out areas where conservationists are remedying bad erosion by re seeding. A stream tumbles down a rock staircase to the left. Junipers rise above the tangle of vegetation where a plantation has been cleared. Juniper, a shrub-like growth, likes moist conditions. The smoke from smouldering juniper was used for flavouring ham, and this tree was considered, in pagan times, to be an excellent deterrent to witches.

A surprising bird sound, on this rocky hillside, is the scolding voice of a common wren – an astonishingly loud voice for a very small bird. The wren will be skulking among vegetation, like a little brown mouse. Notice the comparatively large head and the jaunty little tail.

From a vantage point high on Loughrigg, looking west, Elterwater is seen to consist of three inter-connected tarns. Where the gradient eases, there is grass. Soon the main footpath across Loughrigg comes into view, with its big shapeless cairns. Go left to reach the summit. The trig point is marked OS BM S5470. Such markers have become redundant now that mapping takes place from the air.

Scartufts (complete with cairn) is a feature a quarter of a mile (400m) along the route which is yet another vantage point. Loughrigg Fell has a veritable rash of knolls. To the north is Grasmere, with Dunmail Raise. Southwards is Windermere, in a gentler setting. Contrast the hard volcanic rocks at your feet (rocks which were ice-scoured 18,000 years ago) with the dramatic mudstones and shales of the Silurian country to the south.

It is easy to get lost among the knolls and little tarns of Loughrigg Fell. Wainwright commented that it has a bulk out of all proportion to its modest altitude. Cairns come in all sizes. The tarns vary in extent and shape, sustaining the familiar water lily, also bog bean (protruding, with three leaflets, above the water, the stem sporting pink or white flowers in a long cluster) and sundew. The last-named plant should be peered at close up, noticing how it is one of nature’s fly-traps. The leaves, with rounded blades, are covered with hairs which are glandular. An insect sticks to a leaf, which then closes and the plant absorbs nourishment.

Just remember where that main path is to be found and eventually seek it out, following it south-eastwards to Black Mire and a quick (and usually sodden) descent to where the Skelwith Bridge path branches off. This is the only grassless path you will see on the right, so it is unmistakable. It makes a steady route downwards, with a drystone wall on the left, followed by a steeping descent over larch roots and rock to a lane with walls.

A gate leading to Loughrigg Tarn is seen on the right. A short walk to view the tarn is worthwhile. The floral wealth includes yellow flag and yellow and white water lilies. The fish in this tarn includes pike, trout and dace.

Cross a narrow road to Tarn Foot, then drop down to another road. Turn right, then left for a rapid descent to Skelwith Bridge. A walker who has left a car at Silverthwaite has the delight of a walk from Skelwith Bridge alongside the Brathay, passing Skelwith Force (large volume of water but drop of no more than 20 feet/6m in attractive woodland) to the open bank of the Brathay. The by-path to Silverthwaite passes through a tract of rocks and trees.

From ‘The Walker’s Guide to Central Lakeland’ by W R Mitchell

The information given in this walk has been provided in good faith and is intended only as a general guide. Whilst all reasonable efforts have been made to ensure that details were correct at the time of publication, the author and Country Publications Ltd cannot accept any responsibility for inaccuracies. It is the responsibility of individuals undertaking outdoor activities to approach the activity with caution and, especially if inexperienced, to do so under appropriate supervision. The activity described in this walk is strenuous and individuals should ensure that they are suitably fit before embarking upon it. They should carry the appropriate equipment and maps, be properly clothed and have adequate footwear. They should also take note of weather conditions and forecasts, and leave notice of their intended route and estimated time of return.