Of all the stretches of water in the Lake District I’ve visited so far, Derwentwater has to have one of the nicest atmospheres I’ve experienced.
It holds great memories for me because, as a child at primary school, I used to canoe on the lake. Although I can’t remember which area of the lake we were on, it was one of the most beautiful and tranquil places I’d ever seen – and, if you are familiar with Beatrix Potter’s stories, you may also recognise it as Squirrel Nutkin sailing country!
For some time now I’ve been planning to explore Derwentwater afresh, and so on seeing a particularly beautiful day forecast, I decided to take a road trip to get some photos along the eastern shore of the lake.
Whenever you explore somewhere new to you, it is something of a learning curve – they say every day’s a school day, and this day turned out to be quite a lesson, starting in Keswick itself when I took a loo stop and visited a couple of the shops in town!
Lesson 1: If paying to enter public toilets, don’t enter your coins into the turnstile as someone is exiting.
Whether it was the other person leaving, or a dodgy coin (my coin-making machine doesn’t work as it used to… 😉 ), I don’t know, but the machine wouldn’t give my change back and I ended up paying 10p extra for my visit – it’s not going to leave me penniless, but it could have serious consequences if you’re down to your last coins and in a hurry!
Lesson 2: The turnstile doesn’t turn the same as those I’ve used at the London train stations – it’s got a magic green button…
In my (perhaps limited) experience of turnstiles, the turnstile usually moves around when you push it, allowing you to exit. This time it didn’t budge, and the only thing I nearly received was a bruise! ‘Open sesame’ didn’t work either. Step back and you’ll notice that there’s an illuminated green button grinning at you. Remember this (well, ladies, anyway) – I take the bruises so you don’t have to!
The drive down from Keswick towards Borrowdale is, as you might expect, absolutely beautiful, and what appealed to me was that there were several car parks marked on the map, so lots of convenient stop-off points from which to set out for photographs. It turns out that only one car park is on the lakeside, and this is the most southerly stop-off point along the lake itself, Kettlewell car park.
Lesson 3: If you’re planning a day out involving car parks, you’ll need to take a wheelbarrow to the bank to stock up on change beforehand.
National Trust members park free here, and for non-members, parking for the day is £6.50. I’m not complaining about the charges, as no doubt the National Trust’s conservation work is extremely costly, but add this to the loo stop in town and parking there, and it’s easy but very inconvenient to run out of coins!
Lesson 4: One National Trust parking ticket is transferable across the four car parks on this drive, which later in the day I found described in a National Trust leaflet, ‘A Scenic Drive to Watendlath’. The car parks are: Kettlewell, Ashness Bridge, Surprise View and Watendlath. Not only is this good value for money, it saves a lot of ticket purchases which are, quite frankly, exhausting after a while.
Although I decided that the light had actually been better for photographing at the north end of the Lake, I stayed at the southern Kettlewell car park, and took a bit of a wander north along a lakeside path that forms part of the Derwentwater Walk, a waymarked walk around the lake.
This stretch of path is currently rather rocky and uneven, and gathers water, but at least you don’t have to walk along the road itself (you walk just below it, which means for a short while your head is level with the car tyres rushing by on the other side of the wall – slightly strange until you get used to it).
Lodore Falls is apparently about a 20-minute walk in the southerly direction from the car park, but as there hadn’t been any recent rainfall I opted instead to move on to the car parks at Ashness Bridge and Surprise View.
Just as I was about to leave, I was quite surprised to witness four Herdwick sheep running down a footpath opposite the car park and filing past the parking machine before taking a stroll around the car park and along the lakeside. On deciding they’d had enough of this, they then proceeded to wander along the road.
Eventually I caught up with the Herdwicks in the car some distance down the road, where they had found some particularly tasty treats and were causing traffic to stop in both directions. Finally they decided to take a further stroll by the lake by exiting onto another footpath on the Derwentwater Walk.
Lesson 5 – Quite a serious one this: you really don’t know what you’ll find round each and every corner on the roads – so do be prepared as best you can for the unexpected.
If you’ve seen one photograph taken in the Lake District, it’s bound to be of Ashness Bridge. It has to be one of the most famous views in the area – a Lake District gem, but certainly not a hidden gem!
What did surprise me though was that there is a little barn just up the hill from the bridge, and occasionally it is opened by National Trust volunteers to provide a seat by the fire, and you can help yourself to a cup of tea in return for a donation.
Lesson 6: What goes up must come down – gracefully or disgracefully! So wear the correct boots all the time. It only takes a few steps from the tarmac to get in to trouble, and then you might as well be at the top of Helvellyn in flip flops!
The only problem with capturing an image of somewhere like Ashness Bridge is that everyone else wants to capture it too, so it occurred to me that if I walked up the other side of the river, I might be able to get some nice pictures there.
I’ve got a great pair of warm, long black boots, which have a Gore-Tex outer layer for the wet and a fantastic sole for snow – strangely though, I’m finding they are appalling on slippery mud. But, of course, I wasn’t going to walk anywhere really…
Armed with my camera equipment, I squelched my way round the rocks and into a decent position for the photos. Just a little bit higher… just a few more steps. Satisfied with the images I’d taken, I didn’t have time to think about how I was going to get down before my foot slipped on the muddy grass and I was off down the hill.
It was either slide on my backside, or launch forward to counter the effect, and before I knew it I had entered a high speed sprint down the hillside, which was so slippery I couldn’t apply the brakes.
Camera equipment flying around by its straps, there was a tense moment when a rather large group of rocks loomed in front of me, but with some fortunate choices of footing I made one final leap onto the tarmac, gave a cheery ‘afternoon!’ to a slightly startled gentleman on the bridge (as though this was all perfectly normal behaviour), and recovered on a rock in the now vacant perfect spot I’d been after in the first place!
Last on my list for the afternoon was Surprise View, half a mile up from Ashness Bridge.
I didn’t take the final journey up to the tiny hamlet of Watendlath, which is a couple of miles further on. I went there when I was young actually – didn’t intend to, but one of my school class-mates turned his ankle up on whatever fell we were on, so we abandoned our planned route, returning to civilization via Watendlath. And while he was treated with a bandage and a trip to A&E, we were treated to ice cream while we waited for the minibus…
Lesson 7: There’s usually a reason behind the place name.
To say that the view from Surprise View is spectacular is a complete understatement. As I said to a photographer I’d come across at Ashness Bridge, ‘it’s a complete surprise’! He very politely and patiently pointed out that the clue was in the name. 🙂
Lesson 8: Exploring Ashness Bridge and Surprise View by car is very enjoyable and well worthwhile, especially if you need to use a car, but I would recommend you visit outside the busy season to make it easy for yourself.
The roads are very narrow, and if you meet another car here (as I did, in an extremely narrow spot), you’ll need patience and a good dose of common sense on both sides to ensure a successful outcome!
I picked a lovely quiet day, and on the whole driving there was fine. Choose a hot summer holiday’s day and you really couldn’t pay me to drive up there – and it certainly wouldn’t be relaxing!
The alternative would be to walk from the Kettlewell car park instead. And if you are a serious walker, you’ll definitely want to access these viewpoints on foot, perhaps as a detour from your circuit of Derwentwater, or as part of another nearby walking route. You could also explore from bus stops on the Borrowdale road (Stagecoach 78 route from Keswick to Seatoller), or take a Keswick Launch and plan a walking route from the nearest jetties.
I’m really looking forward to returning to beautiful Derwentwater and trying out new ways of experiencing it. In particular I think that a Keswick Launch sounds a great way to ditch the challenge of driving and car parking altogether, so I hope at some point to test that theory and report back to you!
Have you spent time exploring the eastern shore of Derwentwater? Have you any tips or favourite places to share with other readers of the blog? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts – please leave a comment below!