There are many beautiful waterfalls across the Lake District, but few are as easy to reach as Stockghyll Force, which is just a short walk from the heart of Ambleside.
Whilst some would regard the walk to Stockghyll Force as too well-known to be regarded a ‘hidden gem’, it would be so easy to miss this charming walk if you didn’t know it was there – and despite saying for years that I have intended to visit, I only did so for the very first time one sunny morning a couple of weeks ago.
To find the walk for yourself, nearly all the local guidebooks tell you to head to Barclays Bank in the town, which unfortunately is no longer there! So instead, the next best landmark to look out for is perhaps the Ambleside Salutation Hotel. From there, walk along the pavement following the flow of one-way traffic (don’t head into the hotel’s driveway), and then turn left between the next set of buildings to the narrow lane behind. You’ll know you’re in the right place, because on the stone wall you’ll see this rather characterful sign…
Following the direction of the hand on the sign, you head uphill on a lane for 10 minutes. It follows the river below to your left-hand side, through trees, and you’ll then come to another sign directing you off the road onto a footpath.
Keep on this uneven footpath for another 5-10 minutes, following the handy red arrows as you climb up towards the waterfall.
There are a couple of small fenced viewing points parallel to the waterfall, and a larger viewing area just above. I didn’t realise from the photographs I’d seen previously just how imposing the falls are. They’re an amazing sight for such little effort!
The area around the viewing platform opens up a little, with benches and more formal steps, which I presume is because the falls were once popular with Victorian tourists, who would pass through a turnstile and pay a penny to see them. You’ll see the turnstile at the end of the walk, so keep reading!
If you like a circular walk, you can continue on the pathway past the falls, cross the wooden bridge at the top, and take the path down the other side, before crossing the river again at the bottom. One guide I’ve read warns of quite steep steps on this side of the river though.
I got as far as crossing the bridge and making my way down the other side, only to come across a steep step and a fair bit of mud. Having only just got rid of one knee problem (and not wanting to set off another), and seeing the wet mud below the step, I rated my chances of ending up with a muddy derrière as about 50:50. Not liking those odds too much, I reluctantly headed back over the bridge and down the way I came!
However you choose to do the walk though, you simply have to return to the main viewing platform and exit using the short level path from here, as this is where you will see the Victorian turnstile. Children, in particular, will be fascinated by it! If you don’t want to exit onto the road, you could instead see the turnstile and then retrace your steps on the footpath below. Whichever route you choose, you can then take a walk down the same lane as before, and back into Ambleside for a cuppa.
If you’re a keen walker, you may also plan to continue up the lane, which connects to far more challenging walking routes including Wansfell.
I love the feeling of history at Stockghyll Force, and the thought of how a pleasant summer’s afternoon there might have looked in Victorian times – quite a lot of imagination needed on the day I visited, because admittedly the paths were rather soggy!
It’s often said that Stockghyll Force is at its most photogenic in autumn, when golden leaves look stunning against the carpets of green moss which gather on the stone surfaces there. I can imagine from the photos I’ve seen that this is the case, so if I make it back in the autumn I’ll let you know!
Which is your favourite waterfall walk in the Lake District? Let us know by leaving a comment below!