With lovely weather forecast for the weekend, we decided we would visit the Lake District once more, to bag another Wainwright with Rowan. After a bit of research using the trusty Wainwright pictorial guides and the brilliant Hillbagging website, we decided to tackle Gowbarrow Fell. The walk we had planned was slightly shorter than our previous Wainwright walk, but included more of a climb so I was expecting it to be a bit of challenge for Rowan’s little legs.
We set off from Manchester at 8:30 and arrived at Aira Force car park around 10:40. I had been worried that we were going to struggle to park given the forecast was so good, but there were plenty of spaces available. As National Trust members we parked for free but, for the first time, we had to scan our membership card to get a ticket from the machine. After toilet stops, getting boots on and general messing about, we were ready to set off by about 11 o’clock. Rowan was really excited to be wearing his new adventure boots and socks. They are red, his favourite colour. He’s the red Power Ranger don’t you know.
After a drunk looking Rowan made his ritual consultation with the map, we left the car park following a well-made gravel track into the woods. Aira Force has a number of trails and tracks to follow. It is home to red squirrels so there is a Cyril the red squirrel ramble that children can take part in, learning as they go. There is also a tree trail which will take in the different varieties of trees that can be found in the woods.
Passing through a gate, we came across two of the little slate signs from the tree trail. After showing Rowan the Common Spruce, we took the track to our right and made our way down to a wooden (troll) bridge. After the obligatory stamping, we crossed the bridge and we took the path ahead climbing along the right hand side of the river. It was lovely being in the shade of the trees, listening to the sound of the water below us. The trees provided many points of interest. We spotted a tree with a huge nose, root hollows to hide in and various fallen trees forming bridges over the little gully. There was a bit of a drop to the left of us, so we made sure Rowan was aware to stay away from the edge.
Soon, we could hear the sound of thundering water and we took the steps that appeared on our left down to a bridge where the noise was coming from. It was here we found the magnificent Aira Force.
This stunning 70 foot waterfall has a tragic love story associated with it. The legend tells the story of Emma, a local girl, and her betrothed, Sir Eglamore. Sir Eglamore was a knight and was often away fighting. His periods of absence affected Emma badly and she began to sleep walk, often around the footpaths by Aira Force. During one such sleepwalking episode, the knight returned, and by reaching out to greet her, he awoke Emma. Startled, she fell down the water fall, and despite his best efforts, she died in his arms. Sir Eglamore was heartbroken and spent the rest of his life living as a hermit in a cave near the falls.
After watching the water tumble down the ravine, we made our way up to the higher level bridge via some steps – this site would be difficult for pushchairs, but little legs should manage to reach the waterfalls. After looking over the bridge to see the water rumbling underneath us, we continued on our route, following a rugged footpath along the right hand side of the river.
This path was brilliant. A proper adventure for Rowan. There were tree roots to climb over, stone steps to scramble and with the water just alongside us, it was easy to paddle in the stream. Rick took the dogs for a drink, and gave them a splash to keep them cool, which Rowan found hilarious – Pebble less so. The sound of the water and the green all around us made for a magical place. You could imagine all manner of forest sprites coming out to play at night. Despite only being a short distance from the main gathering of people at the waterfall, it had already become really peaceful.
The path led us to High Force another torrent of water, appearing to cut its way through the rock. I was glad to have the dogs on leads as there was a bit of a drop to Aira Beck below us at this point.
Backtracking slightly, we climbed a short section of eroded pitching and followed the path until we came to another gate. Passing through, we came out of the shade of the forest, into bright sunshine and open fields with views opening up behind and in front of us. I was surprised how far we had climbed, but knew there was more to come yet.
Whilst in the field, Rowan began his usual foraging. He found dandelion clocks to tell the time with and a new stone tyrannosaurus rex tooth for his collection.
Unfortunately, the tooth was soon lost in the long grass and a dejected little boy took the path on the right up to a gate before starting a short steep climb on the pitched path ahead of us. It seems though, that there used to be a lot of dinosaurs on Gowbarrow Fell, as we not only found another T Rex tooth, but a claw as well, which were safely tucked away in Rowan’s rucksack to avoid any future upset.
Following the line of a dry stone wall on our left, the rocky steps continued upwards, climbing about 200 metres in around a third of a mile. We took a couple of breaks for Rowan to rest his legs. This was greatly appreciated by all of us as not only did we get chance to catch our breath and have a little drink but we also had the opportunity to admire the mountains. Behind us were views towards Ullswater, Place Fell, Glenridding Dodd and Sheffield Pike. Looking over the dry stone wall we could see Blencathra and its many ridges.
The path eventually levelled out and we could see the trig point on the horizon. The path to the summit was clear to see and spongy underfoot, which felt lovely after the rocky climb. Rowan led the way to the top, and we were soon having our summit photo.
There were a few other people on the top as we had our dinner, including some other parents with children. Amazingly, the furry pair managed not to bark at everyone up there, with Rocky taking a well earned rest and Pebble seemingly admiring the views with the rest of us.
Eventually, we decided we’d best continue onwards. The path down from the summit was narrow and a bit gravely, so Rowan slipped a couple of times, but managed to stay on his feet. His confidence grew and we were soon making good progress down the hillside. Looking back, the top of Gowbarrow Fell looked fantastic – so green and bathed in sunlight.
Our route down was to circumnavigate Gowbarrow Fell, and coming round a corner we were greeted with lovely views of Ullswater and the far eastern fells. The OS map shows a shooting lodge marked by the path. I had brought a torch with us so we could explore it if we spotted it, but we didn’t. In hindsight, I think it may have been the ruins we found as another path met ours. No torch required.
Navigation was simple for the rest of the walk. The path was clear but narrow in places. Surrounded by bracken on both sides, there were occasional sections where the side of the fell dropped away quite steeply and we felt better having the dogs on the lead, but for much of the return leg, Rocky and Pebble were able to enjoy a bit of freedom off the lead. Pebble was trailblazing whilst Rocky preferred to offer himself as a buffet for ticks, snooping into the bracken. Rowan was also excited to find another tiny waterfall – where the fairies lived.
As we rounded the last corner, we came to the memorial seat marked on the OS map. We were beaten to it, but what a place to sit! The views towards Glenrdding and Patterdale were amazing.
The last section of route back to the car park was quite steep and rocky. It was part pitched and a little eroded round the stones in places, but the boy did really well, taking his time and coming down on his bottom when necessary. There were views over Lyulph’s Tower, its battlements meaning it was a castle to Rowan. It was built as a hunting lodge in the 1780’s. This area has been a deer park since medieval times and you can sometimes spot deer whilst walking the fells around Ullswater.
Soon we were back into the trees and as nettles prevented Rowan getting in the hollow tree, we followed the path back over the first troll bridge to return to the car park, treating ourselves to ice lollies from the National Trust shop. We walked just over 4 miles and climbed around 520 metres, taking around four and a half hours. If this walk looks good to you, the route can be found here, or if you’d like to spend the day exploring Aira Force, the beck and woodland, there is more information here.