Borrowdale Area Guide
We can’t better Alfred Wainwright for his description of Borrowdale as ‘a pageant of beauty from end to end’. Turner painted it, Constable painted it, and Wordsworth wrote about it. Borrowdale has everything you need for a proper Cumbrian adventure: a grand lake, soaring mountains, emerald valleys, woodlands, tumbling gills and cold, clear tarns.
The best place to sneak a preview of the delights of Borrowdale is at Friar’s Crag, a viewing point on Derwentwater easily accessed from the path by the lakeside in Keswick. This path is well-surfaced and the ideal place for wheelchair users and tots in push chairs to get easy access to real Cumbrian countryside, with mature trees, woodland flowers, Herdwick sheep, and, of course, lake and mountain views. The path has undergone improvements recently and now has lots of benches and picnic tables. The more adventurous can follow the path along the shingled shore-side, and if you have a dog… well, try to stop them jumping in the lake! This is dog paradise, as the very many wet mutts testify. There are several boats to take you on a stately trip across the lake, or, for the brave, opportunity to hire a rowing boat.
Back to Friar’s Crag. Guidebooks will tell you that this is one of Ruskin’s earliest memories – which is why the Ruskin Monument is nearby – but it deserves a place in everyone’s mind’s eye. You look beyond the many islands on the lake, to the staggered peak of Cat Bells, down the narrow neck of the Borrowdale Valley. The wind funnels through the valley, clouds brew atop distant peaks, and the weariest visitor wonders what lies beyond.
Soon after leaving Keswick on the Borrowdale road, you reach a left turn over an ancient packhorse bridge at Ashness and travel on to the isolated village of Watendlath. Here, there is a tarn of matchless beauty, with a very easy walk around it.
Back on the main Borrowdale road, you soon reach the Lodore Falls. The Falls are behind the Lodore Hotel; there is plenty of parking and a small charge to access the site. It’s always worth a visit, even if the water has dwindled to a trickle, as it often does in dry periods. The trees emerge from the beck side at utterly unlikely angles, and the almost year-round shade provides the perfect environment for amazingly frothy mosses and ferns.
Back on the Borrowdale road, you will soon see a rather remarkable bridge to your right. This low-slung, double bridge over the Derwent was built in the seventeenth century, before the road existed, to accommodate packhorses coming in and out of the village of Grange-in-Borrowdale. The river is usually shallow and clear here, making it ideal for paddling territory for children, dogs and hot-footed adults.
Grange is an old, old village, with history stretching at least as far as the seventh century, and possibly well before. The land was owned by Furness Abbey, who sent monks to clear the fields, plant grain and farm sheep. It remains a small place, with white-washed and slate-built cottages running along a narrow road as far as the well-known Borrowdale Gates Hotel. It is still surrounded by fields of sheep and overlooked by mountains that are close enough to seem impossibly vast. There are many good walks to be had from Grange, and a couple of excellent cafes for refreshments.
Beyond Grange, you begin to understand why this part of the valley is known as the Jaws of Borrowdale. The road, only built in the eighteenth century, squeezes between high peaks; look right, and you will see Castle Crag, a sharp point of Borrowdale Volcanic rock, and yes, once upon a time, it did have a castle. The crag, a third higher than it is now, once housed an Iron Age fort, but it didn’t survive some very pragmatic nineteenth-century builders who only saw lots of free building material. The fort, it seems, is now incorporated into some elegant Keswick town houses!
Opposite Castle Crag is a perfect place for a civilised picnic whilst contemplating the Bowder Stone, ‘a mass of rock, resembling…a stranded ship, with keel upturned, that rests careless of winds and waves’ (with thanks to Wordsworth). People have been coming to visit it ever since Borrowdale registered on the tourist trail a century-and-a-half ago, and no-one has yet succeeded in pushing it off its narrow perch…although, not for want of trying!
The next site is Rosthwaite, a pretty, white-washed village. The Scafell Hotel offers bar meals and good ale in the Riverside Bar. The Flock Inn tea room offers a selection of goods now that the only valley shop has closed down. As you proceed beyond Rosthwaite, you can either take the minor road on your left, or the pretty footpath along Stonethwaite Beck, to Stonethwaite village. It’s on both the Cumbria Way and the Coast-to-Coast walk, which makes it unsurprising that the Langstrath Inn is geared up for walkers. This is a great place for a light lunch before setting off along the Langstrath valley, a bare and wild walk echoing the old packhorse route to the Langdales.
Back on the main road through the valley, you arrive at Seathwaite, a dead end abutting the great fells of Green Gable, Great Gable, Glaramara and Scafell beyond. The narrow roads here can become clogged with traffic and parked cars, so it’s a good idea to set off early to avoid the crowds.
If you love mountains, you’ll know you need to be fairly fit to tackle this range. Scafell Pike, the highest peak in England, can be reached via an eight-mile loop from Seathwaite along Styhead Gill.
Seathwaite was once very different to the sleepy place it is today; it had mines so valuable that raiders attacked them, and guards had to be posted day and night. The material? Graphite. The only pure source in the UK, graphite wasn’t just used to make pencil leads for the famous Cumberland Pencil Factory. At the time of its discovery in the 16th century, graphite was prized for its heat-resistant qualities, and it was used to make artillery shells and metal-working moulds. In 1752, Borrowdale graphite was sufficiently important to merit an Act of Parliament outlawing unofficial mining, and yet, a hundred years later, foreign graphite imports had closed the Seathwaite mines, and its brief spell in the industrial limelight had passed.
The Borrowdale valley is taken to end at Seatoller, a little way past the turning to Seathwaite. There’s a welcome Tourist Information Centre nestled here, with local crafts, talks, organised walks, maps, books, drinks and snacks.
For those who like the scenery but not the leg-strain of the mountains, there is a fabulous two-and-a-half mile nature trail through Johnny’s Wood. There are six woods in Borrowdale, all officially designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest, best known for mature oaks and spectacular mosses. Bliss on a warm summer’s day, and magical for children and adults alike.
At Seatoller, you can choose to double back along the valley towards Keswick or take the loop round by proceeding up Honister Pass, by the famous Honister slate mines & via ferrata.
PLACES TO EAT:
The Lodore Falls Hotel - Fine dining in the Lake View restaurant or try the cafe and lounge bar. Also has a monthly pudding club!
The Borrowdale Hotel - A lounge bar and restaurant offering a variety of dining options. Do not miss the exquisite wine cellar which you can tour prior to taking your seat at dinner.
Shepherds Caff - A mecca for climbers at this lovely spot at High Lodore. Cheap and cheerful food, pint mugs of tea and fabulous full English breakfasts.
Grange Bridge Cottage Tea Rooms – home-made country cooking. Great cakes and a wide range of English Lakes Ice Cream.
Grange Café – simple traditional cafe fayre, also sells maps, guide books and mars bars!
The Borrowdale Gates Hotel - a more formal and adventurous menu in a stylish setting.
The Scafell Hotel has two eating places: its formal restaurant and the Riverside Bar. Both offer a Cumbrian menu of local game, trout, sausages and so on, but the Riverside also serves more prosaic burgers and chips.
The Royal Oak Hotel - doesn’t offer lunch or dinner to non residents, but does offer a very memorable cream tea in the afternoon.
The Flock-Inn - a small charming tea room that gains top marks for humour with its ‘ewe-nique men-ewe’ (their words not mine!), heavily featuring local Herdwick lamb in stews and burgers. There is also a shop within the tea room.
The Langstrath Inn – very popular with walkers, with lots of outdoor seating. Very simple lunch menu, with a more extensive evening offer.
Booth’s supermarket is one of a small regional chain, and surprisingly useful, with eclectic local foods and more cosmopolitan offerings.
Bryson’s offers a wide range of sandwiches, specialty pastries and cakes.
Keswick market (Saturdays) has a number of food stalls offering fresh fruit, home-made pies, cheese, baked goods and, curiously, fabulous hot Indian food. …and finally, I know we’re not supposed to eat sweets these days but we have to mention Keswick’s old and famous sweet emporium, Ye Olde Friar’s.
There are lots of places to eat in Keswick, including a large number of modern bars and cafes. Places that have stood the test of time include:
The Dog and Gun – traditional food and good beer in a dog friendly low-beamed, slate-floored, atmospheric setting. Memorable.
The Old Keswickian - for fish and chips and home-made, traditional pies to eat in or take away. Fuel for life!
The Loose Box – tasty pizzas in a wide variety of flavours. Popular with kids.
Abraham’s Tea Room in the rafters of George Fisher offers well made food and is very popular with locals and visitors.
The Lakeland Pedlar – Keswick’s only vegetarian place with a healthy menu with a wide appeal. Gets very busy at lunchtimes, but is worth the wait.
Lakeside Gardens – next to the Theatre by the Lake. Straight-forward menu. Lots of outdoor seating with fabulous lake views.
Bryson’s – with a café above the bakery. Traditional, honest, no-argument grub. Good value.
If you would like to have a chef for the evening in your holiday cottage, have a look at what celebrity chef Peter Sidwell & Dan Grimshaw can offer you - they can cook your evening meal in your cottage and they also they offer cookery courses to people staying in our Lake District cottages.
Have a look at our Review of amazing local food suppliers.
Have a look at our review of Things to do down on the Farm in Borrowdale and beyond...