Visit Borrowdale – a microcosm of the Lake District.
They say the Isle of Arran is a microcosm of Scotland; I would say that Borrowdale is a microcosm of the Lake District.
Why is Borrowdale a microcosm of the Lake District? Because in Borrowdale you will find examples of all that is best about the Lake District.
South of Keswick the Borrowdale valley is a beautiful mix of woodland and fields, with the River Derwent bubbling through. Surrounded by Lakeland’s fells, there are small villages and hamlets. And of course there is…
There are lovely Lakeland valleys without lakes (stand proud, Eskdale) but to be a microcosm of the Lake District, a valley does have to have a lake. And Borrowdale certainly does.
A raised walkway crosses the marshy southern boundary of Derwentwater, and from it the view north is beautiful. On a clear day the lake stretches away from you towards Skiddaw in the distance. To your right and left the fells climb to the sky. The panorama can take your breath away.
The Keswick Launch chugs around the lake stopping at the jetties closest to Borrowdale – Lodore on the east side and High Brandelhow on the west. You can walk between them on the raised walkway, and then continue north on the western shore of Derwentwater through gorgeous woodland.
Walking the lower fells
From Borrowdale you can walk up some of the lower fells of Lakeland and yet have seriously good views. Catbells (or Cat Bells – we don’t seem to able to make our minds up which is correct) is justifiably popular. It can either be climbed from its southern, Borrowdale, end, or you can use a lovely path that contours around the eastern side as far as the northern ridge, and climb from there. Catbells is just under 1,500 foot high, or 450m, so achievable for most, and the view over the lake is stunning.
In Borrowdale itself, in fact in the Jaws of Borrowdale, you will find Castle Crag. After a flat start to the walk from Rosthwaite, it’s steep at the end. You might need more of a head for heights than climbing Catbells, but it is lower at about 950 foot / 290m, and just under 3 miles. Again, the reward from the top is magnificent. Highly recommended.
Much less often walked are the two fells on the eastern side of Borrowdale: Grange Fell at 1,345 foot / 410 m and Great Crag at 1,444 foot / 440m. You will need closer scrutiny of maps to make your way up these, but the chances are that you will have the fells to yourselves much of the time.
Walking the higher fells
The higher fells are of course also asking to be walked from Borrowdale. To the west of Borrowdale you will find Maiden Moor, High Spy and Dale Head, in themselves a goodish day walk for the fairly fit. For the very fit, you can extend the walk to take in Hindscarth and even Robinson in the Buttermere valley, and catch the bus back from Buttermere!
To the south of Borrowdale lie some wonderful fells, such as Rosthwaite Fell, Glaramara and Allen Crags, or from the Stonethwaite valley you can reach Eagle Crag and Sergeant’s Crag.
But for many, Borrowdale is the starting point for the iconic fells of the Lake District: Scafell Pike, Scafell and Great Gable.
Grand expeditions these – but be prepared on any of the fells for changes in the weather. And nothing beats knowing how to use a map and compass. Take a look at ‘Stay Safe and Enjoy the Fells’ from Lake District Mountain Search and Rescue.
Low-level walks – river valleys and woodland
Of course, you don’t have to climb any of Borrowdale’s fells to have some great walks. Here are some favourites:
- From Rosthwaite follow the path up one side of the Stonethwaite valley, returning on the other side.
- Starting at Grange take the path through the valley to Rosthwaite mostly hugging the River Derwent, and passing under beautiful woodland.
- From Seatoller climb a short, sharp hill footpath northwards, then follow the path past the base of Castle Crag, circle back round towards Rosthwaite, then follow the riverside path back towards Seatoller.
If you want a very short walk, park at the Bowder Stone car park and follow the signposts. The Bowder Stone is an enormous boulder carried here in the ice age and left standing on an edge. You can climb to the top on a ladder, although often you will find rock climbers there practising their bouldering skills on the overhangs.
Close enough to a great town, but not too close
Keswick is a fabulous town to visit. It has the Theatre By The Lake, a cinema, excellent pubs and cafés, and more outdoor gear shops than you could comfortably shake a stick at. The town also has a great atmosphere and is lively with visitors, but with the locals still giving the town a Cumbrian feel.
Borrowdale is close enough to all that, but not so close that you feel you are still on the town’s periphery. Borrowdale still feels wild.
Borrowdale’s villages are tiny – Rosthwaite, Grange and Seatoller – with many farms, guest houses, hotels and cottages spread around the valley. Nowhere dominates, and yet there is a feeling of community here.
Great places to stay
From camping, caravans and hostels, through B&Bs, guest houses and self-catering cottages, to some of the best possible hotels, Borrowdale has so many options.
Here are a few:
- The campsite at Seatoller Farm
- YHA Borrowdale
- Yew Tree Farm Guest House
- High Lodore Farm B&B
- Seatoller House
- The Royal Oak
- Glaramara Hotel
- Leathes Head Hotel
- Mary Mount Hotel
- Scafell Hotel
- Borrowdale Hotel
- Borrowdale Gates Hotel
- Lodore Falls Hotel
Something for every pocket, I would say.
Tea shops for visitors and walkers, pub grub, and top restaurants within the best hotels, you can choose whatever you want in Borrowdale.
And if you are going posh:
Apparently it’s not always dry in the Lake District. In fact, I have to admit that sometimes it is wet: Seathwaite, at the bottom end of the valley, is officially the wettest inhabited place in England. So while the Honister Slate Mine is not strictly in Borrowdale, it’s reachable by car or bus, and the tour of the mine is extraordinary. On a dry day of course, the Slate Mine has the quite scary Via Ferrata.
And then there is Keswick – not in Borrowdale but close enough. Theatre, cinema, pubs – see above. Definitely indoor attractions.
Wildlife in Borrowdale includes the delightful red squirrels. Missing now from much of England, they are still to be found in the Lake District, and if you are lucky enough to come across one, you will see why they are a much loved creature. They still thrive in Borrowdale, although the threat from disease carried by grey squirrels is a real one.
Soaring above Borrowdale, as elsewhere in the Lake District, are the birds of prey: buzzards and kestrels, and – again if you are lucky – you might see peregrine falcons. Generally nesting on Falcon Crag, not far from the road to Watendlath, the Lake District’s climbers look out for them.
There are smaller birds too for birdwatchers, such as the wagtails along the river bank, or the finches, tits and treecreepers to be seen most easily at Mary Mount Hotel.
You might also spot deer – roe deer here in Borrowdale usually – the smaller of the Lake District’s deer breeds. They are shy creatures, usually hiding away during the day.
Do Herdwick sheep count as wildlife? They probably shouldn’t, but my blog, my rules!
Herdwicks are the distinctive sheep of Lakeland – no-nonsense tough creatures, who can stand the Lake District winters and thrive. They seem to have real character and have become almost the emblem of the Lake District.
I can only pass on a conversation in one of the tea rooms, with a friend who prides himself on the strength of tea he drinks – he’s from Yorkshire.
“Three teas please, and could you make one of them really strong.”
“You know, pretty well black. So that the spoon stands up in it.”
“Round here,” she said, “we call that ‘tea’.”
“In that case,” I said, “two weak teas and one ‘tea’.”
The people of Borrowdale. Yes.
Beautiful Borrowdale – a microcosm of the Lake District