Everything about the La’al Ratty (more formally known as the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway) is chuffing fabulous: great views, fascinating history and a selection of mouth-watering food and beer in the Ratty Arms. Of course you could buy a “there and back” ticket and enjoy the views from the miniature steam train, but even just a short walk away from the tracks will open up new adventures and glimpses into the past. All aboard for our favourite La’al Ratty walks!
Start/Finish: Ravenglass Station
Before you even hop on the train there’s a wonderful walk to be had around Ravenglass – as you've come all this way, you'll probably want to explore the village a little! To the south of the town is the old Roman bathhouse. Don’t worry about packing a towel as there aren’t any actual baths there anymore, but there are a lot of walls and a fine information board explaining just what went on both here, and in the fort which used to be in the opposite field. To make a proper walk of it follow the path to Newtown Knott then back around the coast. Also, don’t be alarmed if you hear the occasional loud bang – the military sometimes use nearby Eskmeals Dunes for target practice. Duck!
2. Muncaster Mill
Start/Finish: Muncaster Mill station
There’s only one place to go from Muncaster Mill and that’s Muncaster Castle – there is a tiny section of this walk which follows the road so please do be careful on that stretch. There's loads to see and do at this magnificent mansion all year around, including miles of glorious gardens to explore and stunning birds of prey displays. If you fancy a longer toddle there’s a lovely route back down into Ravenglass: follow the waymarked path up and out of the castle gardens and then down into Newtown. On a clear day you can see right across to the Isle of Man!
3. Miteside Halt
Start/Finish: Miteside Halt
Seeking solitude away from the crowds but with miles of glorious views to enjoy? Then seek no more for this is the walk for you! On the face of it, it’s a short stroll around a few farm tracks but, in a county known for its high hills, this is a blissfully flat walk giving you plenty of time to enjoy the mountains all around you. Ancient routes like this have been connecting the local farms for centuries and this track loops around several of them. Road names like ‘The Old Vicarage’ and ‘Crag Farm’ give us a few tantalising clues to the past. Although most of this route is over hard track, a couple of sections cross fields so make sure you have your good walking shoes on. From the station, take the public footpath to Gasketh, then on around Moorgate, Cuddys Fields and Wood End, then back to Gasketh.
4. Murthwaite Halt
Start/Finish: Murthwaite Halt
On an aerial photo, Parkgate Tarn looks a bit like PacMan – honestly, Google it and you’ll see what I mean! But don’t worry, there will be no ghosts chasing you around the roads here, and, sadly, no magic energy pills either! This route starts out across farmland before winding up through the woods to the tarn. If you’re feeling brave - and know what you’re doing - pack a cossie and go for a dip in the tarn before you head back to the train. But don’t linger too long, you don’t want to miss the last train. Toot toot!
5. Irton Road Station
Start/Finish: Irton Road Station
From the station, loop down to Muncaster Head, then back via Forge Bridge and Eskdale Green, where you’ll find the rather lovely St Bega’s church. The church was built around 1900 and, in there, you’ll find the Discover Eskdale Centre, which is brimming over with fascinating facts about the history of the region and St Bega herself. The centre was opened by local author and broadcaster Eric Robson, is wonderfully illustrated, and provides lots of fascinating insights into the life and times of this quiet little valley.
6. Fisherground Station
Start/Finish: Fisherground Station
This is a bit of a yomp, but Devoke Water is worth it. One of the more remote, and certainly less visited, of all the water bodies in Cumbria and, at 236m long, it is officially the largest tarn in the National Park. From Fisherground Station, cut through the campsite to the road, then follow the path through Milkingstead Wood to another road and follow it all the way up onto Birker Fell (it’s a quiet road but keep your eyes peeled for cars). Once you’ve visited the tarn it’s time to take in the waterfalls at Stanley Force (passing the fabulously named Wonder Hill on the way!). It’s up to you whether you hop back onto the train at Beckfoot or follow the path back down to Fisherground. Either way, the views are amazing!
Start/Finish: Beckfoot Station
From the station, head off up the footpath and into the nearby fells to find Blea Tarn. Along the way you’ll pass some old mine workings which are a pertinent reminder that this peaceful valley was once a hive of industrial activity. In fact, it was these mines that were the initial reason the railway was built in the first place – the trains used to carry the ore down to the main line station at Ravenglass! It’s a bit of a slog up to the tarn but there’s plenty of time to take in the views while you catch your breath. There are at least four (probably more) Blea Tarns in Cumbria; the name simply means “deep blue tarn” so it’s not surprising that there are plenty of them around.
8. Dalegarth Station for Hardknott Fort
Start/Finish: Dalegarth Station
Once you get to Dalegarth station you could just sit down with a nice pot of tea and a huge slice of cake, or, you could take a 6-mile walk to Hardknott Fort, one of the most magnificent Roman forts in Britain. Your call. The easiest way to get there is to stick to the road – just keep your wits about you. You could also take the footpath which, if you check your OS map, sort of runs parallel, but does add nearly a mile to the journey. The fort dates back to the second century and is free to access all year around. Many of the walls, although fallen down, are still there so you can get a real feel for the layout of the place, including the Parade Ground, where you can practice your marching drills if you have any energy left!
9. Dalegarth Station for Gill Force
Start/Finish: Dalegarth Station
If you don’t fancy a 6 – 7 mile hike but do still want to stretch your legs, then take tiny toddle down around past Dalegarth Hall to the perennially pretty Gill Force. This is a popular spot with wild swimmers but you can admire it safe and snug from the river bank before heading back to the station for an ice cream and a sit down.
10. Dalegarth Station for Ravenglass
Start: Dalegarth Station, Finish: Ravenglass
Save yourself the cost of a return ticket and walk the whole way back! Though it's the longest walk on our list 8 miles, it’s mostly downhill. Hurrah! The Eskdale Trail is fairly well signposted and, because it aims to attract cyclists as well, it’s a well laid track that's easy on the legs. There are also plenty of pubs along the route (we’re not encouraging you to tackle a long distance pub crawl, they serve food and soft drinks too!) and it’s a really popular option for many folks.
Eskdale and Ravenglass both have lots of fabulous walks and things to do. So after you've tried out these walks from the La'al Ratty, head further afield to find even more! Don't forget to find your perfect holiday cottage in Eskdale for the stunning scenery, or in Ravenglass for the coast and history!