A secret haven near Ambleside: Stagshaw Gardens and Skelghyll Wood

Stagshaw Gardens looking towards the lake
From Stagshaw Gardens looking through the trees towards the lake (Windermere)

I’ve been looking forward to visiting Stagshaw Gardens near Ambleside for some time now, and it turns out the garden really is a hidden gem. Owned by the National Trust, Stagshaw isn’t particularly well-known or publicised, but if you’re interested in woodland gardening, or would just like a quiet place to explore near to Ambleside, you’ll love a visit here.

Stagshaw Gardens

Stagshaw, an eight-acre woodland garden, was created by Cubby Acland, a former National Trust land agent who lived in the cottages at the foot of the garden. The cottages, the land where the garden now stands, and the woodland above, were passed from the Wansfell Estate to the National Trust in 1957, and Cubby created the garden from scratch between 1959 and his death in 1979.

The entrance to Stagshaw Gardens
The entrance to Stagshaw Gardens
Stagshaw Gardens notice and plan
A plan of Stagshaw Garden

Don’t visit Stagshaw expecting it to look like a conventional garden – its beauty lies in how collections of rhododendrons, camellias, azaleas and other planting have been placed naturally around the woodland so that it looks as though this is how things should always have been. A series of footpaths lead you around the woodland and over small wooden bridges which cross the delightful gurgling beck running down the hillside.

Stagshaw Gardens

View from Stagshaw Gardens bench
View from one of the benches at Stagshaw Gardens

Stagshaw GardensStagshaw Gardens

Stagshaw Gardens view
A bench with a view
Stagshaw Gardens rhododendrons
These rhododendrons are absolutely fascinating, with their beautiful leaves and colouring

Stagshaw GardensBecause of the species Cubby chose to grow here, the garden looks at its very best in spring – as it turns out, I timed my visit a little bit early (these images were taken on 7 May), so although some of the rhododendrons were in flower, the best was still to come if you decide to pay a visit for yourself! Hopefully I’ll be able to go back again towards the end of May, and I’ll post some more photographs to show the garden’s progress. Apparently the garden is also very beautiful in October when the colours are changing – but after a long winter I think we should enjoy the summer first before we think that far ahead!

Stagshaw GardensStagshaw GardensAccess to Stagshaw can be a bit tricky, so I wouldn’t really recommend visiting by car if that is how you are getting about – there is space for about four or five cars up a long and narrow single track signposted from the main road, but turning room is also minimal. The best solution is probably to park in the public car park at Waterhead and to walk the short distance back.

Skelghyll Wood and the search for Cumbria’s Tallest Tree

Just as we were about to leave, we went to take a look at the National Trust notice which shows a map of Skelghyll Wood, the piece of woodland on the hill above Stagshaw Gardens. And guess what? Just a five minute walk from the garden stands Cumbria’s Tallest Tree – surely we had to go and see this!?

National Trust Skelghyll Wood
Notice with a plan of Skelghyll Wood
Cumbria's Tallest Tree
Apparently Cumbria’s tallest tree is taller than a dozen double-decker buses stacked on top of each other – though in all honesty I find that just as difficult to imagine as the size of the tree!

In short, 20 minutes after beginning the prescribed circular route, we still hadn’t located the tree (though I’m pretty sure we passed it…), and despite referring back to the map which I’d taken a picture of on my camera, it was becoming less and less obvious where we were going. With time pressing on, we gave up on our search and ventured back the way we had come…

Skelghyll Wood
Skelghyll Wood

It turns out you’re supposed to take the circular route anti-clockwise and the path is then sign-posted with numbers on wooden posts. If you decide to do the circular trail, ignore the sign with the arrow that points to Jenkins Crag (as in our defence, this is what started the confusion! 🙂 ), otherwise you’ll start the route clockwise and be just as confused as we were!

Jenkin's Crag sign
To Jenkins Crag
Champion Tree Trail sign
The start of the Champion Tree Trail… take note!
Tree in Skelghll Wood
Not Cumbria’s tallest tree… but ssh, no-one will ever know!





  1. I’ve been amazed by the social media response to this article – many of you clearly love Stagshaw Gardens, so if you haven’t visited it yet, it may be a good idea to do so while the spring colours are out.

  2. Jenny Sanderson

    Hi There,

    I have come across your website whilst looking for “Hidden Gems” in the Lake District. We are also members of the National Trust and one of the places on our list is Stagshaw Gardens, which your article above also states, looks beautiful. Taking note of the parking facilities, are note you say to park at the Public Car Park and walk the short distance. Do you remember the name of the car park? I’ve found a few but all are like a half hour walk, which we don’t mind, but anything closer would be good. Thank you

  3. Margaret Heron

    Hello, hoping to visit Stagshaw Gardens by foot from Lakeside where I shall get the bus to. Is a very long or uphill walk, I am not getting any younger ! Many thanks Margaret.

    • Hi Margaret, I wouldn’t describe the walk as steep, although I think you do go uphill from the A591 up a long driveway to the garden. I can’t remember how much of a hill that is. As for length, everyone’s so different in what they would describe as ‘long’. I wonder if looking at Google maps or an Ordnance Survey map would help you decide, as I wouldn’t want to mislead you. I hope you enjoy your visit – it should be lovely as the colours turn for autumn!

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