The Windermere Way

Ambleside to Ferry House

© 2019 Phil Kirby Email
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Distance 21 kilometres, 13.25 miles

Time 5-7 hours

This section of the Windermere Way climbs Loughrigg, one of the outstanding small peaks in the Lake District before visiting Loughrigg Tarn, Skelwith Force and then back to the Lakeshore. The final stretch offers a choice of high or low level routes through Claife.

This page describes the current recommended route, click here for the Classic Route.
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Start at the steamer pier in Waterhead and head north along the short promenade. Once past the Wateredge Hotel, drop down into Borrans Park on the left. Cross the park, either path will do and exit through one of the kissing gates on the far side. This takes you into the old Roman fort of Galava which was part of a network of roman fortifications in the North of England.
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Waterhead promenade.

Roman roads from here have been traced to Hardknott Fort and on to the port at Ravenglass and in the other direction over to Troutbeck then on to High Street.
Keeping the fort on your right, a path across the field then leads into Birdhouse meadows, a great place for wild flowers and insects in the spring and summer. The confluence of the rivers Brathey and Rothay is here.
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BBirdhouse Meadows

The river runs deep and the bank opposite is a well made stone wall which runs for some distance up the Brathey. In the early days of quarrying this wharf was where slate carried down from Langdale was loaded on to barges for transportation to the foot of the lake.
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Confluence of the Brathey and Rawthey. Note the slate wharf on the opposite bank.

Continue to the end of the meadows at at the gate, turn sharp left and cross the Rothay by the Bronwen Nixon Memorial Bridge. Turn left again and stay on the footpath alongside the road until you reach the junction to Hawkshead.
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Bronwen Nixon footbridge

Cross over and take the footpath just past the phone box, that leads up the fell.
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Start of the ascent of Loughrigg

Of all the hills in the Lake District, Loughrigg has to be one of the most popular. It has many rocky outcrops, several small tarns and is crossed by a plethora of footpaths. To try and give a definitive route across Loughrigg is a fools errand, although there is one major path which is more distinct than the rest.

To some extent it doesn’t matter which route you follow so long as it leads to the top and there are indeed alternative and less steep routes from Ambleside.

I’ve chose this ascent for the Windermere Way for several reasons. It’s far less crowded, the views back towards Windermere are better and it passes Lily Tarn, a worthwhile destination in itself.

This is not the most popular, nor the easiest route up Loughrigg but it does have arguably the best views back over Windermere, it’s far less crowded than the main route and it emerges just below Todd Crag and the beautiful little Lily Tarn, a worthwhile diversion. Go through the first gate that you come to on to the open fell. Continue upwards til the next kissing gate.
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The view opens up as you climb

Don’t go through, but bear sharp right and continue up the fell. As the angle eases, the path splits. Follow the right hand fork and continue steeply up.

At the top of the zig-zags keep right and head for a small rocky outcrop. From the top you’ll get extensive views over Ambleside and the Lake or keeping it on your right bear left at a tiny tarn and over the next small rise you’ll come out by Lily Tarn.
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Lily Tarn

Continue in a northwesterly direction til you meet the land rover track coming up from Ambleside. This peters out on the fell and becomes a good path, which drops down a little before crossing a beck, then starts to climb steeply towards Loughrigg’s fine summit.
Again, it’s not essential to follow the main path, there are so many variations, the important thing is to keep going upwards. That said, in the mist Loughrigg becomes a real challenge and even locals can be disorientated at time. Also in summer the bracken grows very high making route finding sometimes a challenge.
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Helm Crag, Steel Fell and Fairfield from Loughrigg

The local mountain rescue team was once called by a group who found themselves ‘brackenfast’. Needless to say, they declined to attend, instead offer some navigational advice on the phone, as far as we know the group eventually got down safely.
The route continues upwards in a series of steps til eventually you reach Loughrigg’s summit. The views from here are extensive. Not only can you see most of Windermere to the south but you also get a great view of the Langdale Fells, northward to Grasmere and Fairfield.
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Looking back from the summit, the descant path drops away to the right.

Leave the summit of Loughrigg by the same path that you came up on but after the first short descent, turn right and head south west, towards Elterwater. This is a well constructed stepped path and loses height quickly. At the foot of the descent, turn left, go through the gate and follow the path as it contours around the side of the fell, loosing height gradually before coming to another gate on the right that leads in a few meters to the good track around Loughrigg Tarn.
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The route by Loughrigg Tarn

Turn left again, then a hundred metres along just past a cottage on the left, go through another gate on the right and take the path that leads back across the fields to join the minor road that runs around the tarn. Turn left here then again after a hundred metres look out for the track on the right.
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Turning off to Skewith

This leads up past a couple of cottages then out on to the fell, before going through a gate into Neaum Crag caravan site.
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Footpath to Skelwith

The footpath follows the main access road through the site, leaving just after a crossroads and descending down to come out on the B5343 opposite the Skelwith Bridge Hotel.
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Exit from Neaum Crag Caravan Park

Cross over and turn right, then once past the hotel, left through the parking area of the former Kirkstone Quarries site and then right alongside the River Brathey. A short way up this path you’ll pass the spectacular Skelwith Force which if there has been recent rain is one of the highlights of the walk.
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Skelwith Force

Continue up the track past the falls and 30m beyond is the attractive Skelwith Force bridge. Constructed in 2007 the bridge offers a much more pleasant alternative to the road bridge.

If you are planning on staying in hostels this is a good jumping off point for Elterwater Hostel.
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The Trevor Woodburn Bridge above Skelwith Force

Cross over and follow the path for about 100m, to a junction, turn left and go through a gate and then shortly after, another gate. This brings you out on the A593, turn left and cross over and walk downhill a short distance to where the road turns sharp left and a minor junction leads off to the right. Follow this minor road which climbs upwards for about half a kilometre.
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Turn right here

At the next junction, keep left and 100m further on when the road levels out, turn right and look out for the signpost to Pull Wyke on the left.
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Plaque set into the wall just before High Wray

This leads to Skewith Fold caravan park and the path bears right at the entrance. It now heads gently downhill for just over a kilometre before coming out on the B5286. Cross straight over and turn right on the permissive footpath opposite.
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Footpath by Skelwith Fold caravan park

Cross the beck and in another 50 metres just before the entrance to Pull Woods, a path signposted Wray Castle leads off to the left. Take this path which is clearly signposted through the woods and the field beyond to come out on the minor road, leading to Wray Castle.
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Entrance to Pullwoods, turn left here and follow the footpath

Cross over and continue along the permitted footpath until its end opposite the entrance to Wray campsite. Rejoin the road here for the short section up to Wray Castle entrance.
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Wray castle entrance

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Balla Wray Boathouse

Just past the entrance a track leads off to the left, go down this path till it joins the lakeshore at High Wray Bay then follow it along the lakeshore for about 1.5k till it leaves the lakeside at Bass Rock.

You now have a choice of routes, the high level version over Claife Heights or the slightly shorter low level one that generally follows the shoreline. Both are a mix of forest walking with occasional views.
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Leave the lakeshore here for high level route

High level route via Claife Heights

Claife Heights is a working forest and the route alternates between areas of mature Oak woodland and newer coniferous plantations. You may find the way diverted from time to time by forest operations. Please observe all signs and take care in these areas.

Bass Rock is the small headland that rises up just by Belle Grange. The original ferry that crossed from Millerground would have had it’s western jetty around here and the route we’re following would have been the continuation of the road to Hawkshead. Immediately after belle Grange take the path that leads away from the lake and starts to climb. This is paved for most of it’s length a mixture of new and old stone paving, some of it good some less so.
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The old road to Hawkshead

Continue up through the woods for around 500 metres till you come to a junction. We leave the Hawkshead road here and take the left fork. The track deteriorates into a rather stony forest track and continues quite steeply for a while before returning to a good path once again, eventually levelling out on the Crest of Claife Heights.
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Path junction to Claife Heights

The path now contours along the edge of Claife Heights through mature old forest, affording occasional views over to Windermere and Bowness.

At an obvious gap in the wall the path enters into the new part of the forest. At this point we are close to the summit of Claife Heights but the excursion to find it involves a flog through the trees and isn’t really worth the effort.
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On Claife Heights

The path then zig-zags down Low Pate Crag before emerging temporarily into open fields with views over to the Coniston Fells to the west. Look out for a path junction then turn sharp left, almost back on yourself.
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Descending from Claife, turn sharp left

Then a couple of hundred meters later, right through a kissing gate, signposted The Station and Ferry. The path at this point feels more like the earlier section of the Claife path. It undulates for a little while before descending steeply towards Claife Station.
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Then right.

The station is worth a few minutes exploration before dropping down to the road. The ferry is left, the Windermere Way continues south.
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The restored Claife Station

Theres a small cafe operates just below Claife Station and in season there’s usually an ice cream van down by the ferry.
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Claife Station, looking North.

Lakeshore alternative

The alternative to Claife Heights if you’ve had enough climbing for the day is to continue along the lakeshore track. There are no navigational issues along this path, just keep following it through the woodlands with occasional glimpses of the lake til it opens out into fields and becomes a metalled road. Follow this till you reach a junction. If you’re returning by the ferry turn left but if you’re continuing on the Windermere Way turn right.
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Belle Isle and the North Basin from the Lakeshore path