A Thirlmere ramble

Walk date – 20th April 2024

Distance – 4.7 miles

Weather – Sunny spells and fair weather cloud, slight breeze


I had a severe cramp episode in my right calf  muscle a few days ago which left me with a very sore leg and resulted in my limping around the house and yelling ‘ouch’ every now and again. It has slowly improved but there was still a little tightness there so, after the Saturday morning chores were done, we decided to give it a trial run by taking a gentle ramble in the Thirlmere area. We haven’t done this particular walk since 2018 when slushy snow covered the ground on a damp January day. On that occasion it began to rain heavily so we cut the walk short by dropping back down to Thirlspot and walking back to Legburthwaite via the A591. Today we hoped for better weather so we could complete the section that we missed out on in 2018. Here in the east of the park it was quite cloudy to begin with but, by the time we got to Legburthwaite, it was beginning to brighten up and the sunshine and fair weather cloud was more than welcome after another dreary week. This is not the flat valley walk that it would seem to be, it undulates around Great How and Thirlmere water, and climbs back up fairly steeply alongside Helvellyn Gill to the underpass beneath the A591. Upon leaving the Swirls car park there is a rough and rocky path, with yet more undulations, traversing the fellsides below the Dodds and leading us back to Stanah and the car. Despite the undulations and the roughness my calf muscle held up fairly well, with just a couple of ‘ouches’ up some of the steeper parts, until we were back on the A591 where it began to ache again. We had started out from the parking area just after 1.00 pm and were back at the car a couple of minutes after 4.00 pm so all things considered it held up quite well although it very much appreciated the rest it received when we got back to the car. As things turned out it got more of a rest than expected during the journey home but more of that later.



Legburthwaite off road parking – A591 – Great How footpath – Dale Head Hall – Helvellyn Gill – A591 underpass – Swirls car park – footpath to Stanah – Legburthwaite off road parking

Looking towards Browncove Crags as we reached the beginning of the path alongside the A591. The car is parked about 100 yards behind us on the grass verge near the Pay and Display car park at Legburthwaite. Its very satisfying to get a free parking spot now and again.

Behind me is the start of the path which will lead us around Great How and over to Thirlmere water.

We met a few people along the way, cyclists mostly, but couples occasionally and solo dog walkers. Given the amount of cars we had seen parked both here and during our drive over I expect most of their occupants were out walking the higher fells today.

The path runs alongside Helvellyn Gill and across the fields is the little hamlet of Stanah with Stanah Gill behind it. To the left of Stanah Gill, as you look at the photo, is Watson’s Dodd.

A little further on and still walking beside Helvellyn Gill in the field opposite are a couple of ewes and their lambs. One lamb was utterly flaked out, the other had been sitting next to its mother but then decided to go exploring. Its back legs were still a bit unsteady so there were a few wobbles as it got to its feet. I could sympathise with that as I’ve had the same wobbliness all week.

A pause for a breather as we come to the fork in the path during the steady climb around Great How. When the path begins to flatten out at the brow of the hill …..

….. we get our first view of Thirlmere with the tree covered Raven Crag on the far side of it. Two lambs in the field below scuttled over to Mum as we approached no doubt seeking security and comfort in a drink of milk.

Looking back from the brow of the hill towards Watson’s Dodd with Great Dodd right behind it.

On we go and I manage to find a relatively tree free spot from which to take a shot of Browncove Crags. I think the fell to the left is White Side rather than Helvellyn.

From another undulation a look back towards Watson’s Dodd and Great Dodd.

Having climbed the undulation we drop down yet again and Thirlmere comes back into view. As there has been plenty of rain recently and Thirlmere is very full we didn’t bother dropping down onto the shoreline path in case it was waterlogged. Instead we followed the main path which rounds the corner at the uprooted tree and continued on that until …..

….. we came to the path leading around Dale Head Hall. Originally a private house but now a hotel it has quite a history. You can read all about it here:  https://www.daleheadhall.co.uk/history-of-dale-head-hall

We followed the path around the Hall which offers this view of the Hall, its buildings and its gardens. Right on the shoreline of Thirlmere it would be a lovely spot to spend a few relaxing summer days.

We rejoined the path again after leaving the Hall and eventually reached the point at which the aqueduct carrying water across the fellsides finally reaches Thirlmere.

We begin the steepish walk alongside Helvellyn Gill up to the underpass where the water tumbles down over rocks and boulders at regular intervals.

Almost at the top of the rising path now and at the point where the water collected from the fellsides across the A591 pours from the aqueduct and down into Thirlmere. The residents of Manchester now have to share the waters of Thirlmere with the residents of West Cumbria following the completion of a pipeline to that area in 2022. West Cumbria used to receive its water from Ennerdale Water and the river Ehen but Thirlmere was thought to be more ‘sustainable’.

We approach the underpass beneath the A591 where J makes ghostly calls which reverberate off its metal cladding as we walk through it.

J holds the gate open at the end of the underpass with its fine view of Browncove Crags in the distance. From here we have only a short walk to the car park at Swirls. When we arrived there a picnic table was vacant so we made use of it and had a short break for drinks and snacks. The car park was full so there would have been plenty of walkers up on Helvellyn today. We noticed four more were about to start out but they took a long time to get going. They were four young lads, one of whom had to be over seventeen as he was the car driver, another was probably about the same age, and the other two looked as though they were still of school age, about fifteen or sixteen. To begin with they all decided that they had to visit ‘the gents’. When they came back there was a bit of rucksack hoisting and standing around talking, next the driver opened the car boot, extracted a box of canned drinks from which they all took a couple each, this was then followed by taking rucksacks off to put the cans into them. Rucksacks back on again, the two youngest wandered over to read a notice board while the other two sorted out the cardboard box disposal, after which the car was locked up and all four eventually set off up the path. We had finished our snacks by this time and as we got ready to go again the car driver re-appeared, opened the locked car, ferreted about inside, found what he had forgotten, locked up the car again and went to rejoin his companions who were patiently waiting a little way along the path. By now we were on the same path and as we reached the point where we left the Helvellyn path to walk back along the fellsides they stopped again. Having walked from the car park over to the path up Browncove Crags, only a very short distance, they had obviously decided to dispense with jackets and/or fleeces and were busy rolling up trouser legs and packing their excess gear away in their rucksacks. More de-hoisting and re-hoisting of rucksacks then! I don’t think we’ve seen a more disorganised bunch of walkers or a group which looked so obviously unsure of where they were going. We could only hope that the empty drinks cans were brought back down with them and not left strewn around the summit of Helvellyn, if they even got that far.

The crossing from the Swirls car park has a lovely view along the valley. On the left is Great How with High Rigg right behind it. On the centre skyline is the huge bulk of Blencathra and over towards the right is Clough Head. With a zoom in it might be possible to locate the aqueduct bringing the water across the fellside towards Helvellyn Gill.

As the path rises over the rocky terrain we catch a glimpse of High Tove just visible behind the tree covered slopes above Thirlmere.

Looking ahead we can see Raven Crag over on the left and Great How directly ahead of us. As can be seen the path is reasonable dry and firm now that we’ve had a couple of days without rain. We’ve had enough of waterlogged paths so dare we hope that we’re about to have a dry spell?

Approaching a footbridge across a nameless beck as we cross the warm sunlit fellsides …..

….. and the impressive view of the waterfalls from it.

The Helvellyn group and Lonscale Fell come into view over on the left behind Great How as we follow the path alongside the wall.

High Tove again together with a glimpse of High Seat over on the right as we climb one of those undulations …..

….. only to have to drop down the other side and lose the view of them.

A bit of a breather as we walk along a flatter section before …..

….. climbing up the next undulation at the top of which this slate sign is situated. I wouldn’t recommend following the ‘up’ arrow for Helvellyn as no path is apparent up the steep sides and …..

….. as this shot indicates there would be many rocks, boulders and crags to deal with along the way. The slate sign is just out of shot to the left, the path behind the wooden signpost leads back to Helvellyn Gill and we’ve just hauled ourselves up the undulation (aka a steep slope) coming in from the right. The wooden signpost has the same information as the slate one but I don’t think it mentioned the ‘up’ route to Helvellyn.

Dropping back down alongside the wall again with the Skiddaw group, Lonscale Fell and just the top of Great Calva on the skyline.

Looking along the A591 threading its way below High Rigg. We are heading towards …..

….. Fisherplace Gill. There is a path leading up to the higher waterfalls but we didn’t bother taking it as the lower section was providing some very charming views of its own.

I took a few shots and this was the last of them. The longer and steeper falls have given way to shorter and gentler ones and spring is probably the best time to view them before all the foliage really gets abundant and hides them all. As we stopped to take some views we noticed a group of four chaps coming down the path on the other side of the gill and joining the path we were using. By the time we got started again they were well on their way back to Stanah, or so we thought.

Fisher Place farm comes into view as we drop down towards Stanah and when we were directly above it we noticed a path leading down in that direction. We noticed that the group of four chaps had turned down that path and could hear them laughing and joking with each other.

We didn’t turn down that path but kept on walking the path they had diverted from. Looking down to our left we could see that they had reached a dead end and were now faced with quite a high stone wall which they were attempting to climb over. J kept looking back but none of them had been successful in scaling the wall so they were faced with climbing back up a steep slope just to get themselves on the right route again. Is that what is classed as being ‘stonewalled’?

High Rigg in front with the Skiddaw group right behind.

Almost at the end of path at this point as we cross Stanah Gill and …..

….. walk down the lane towards the hamlet of Stanah on what has turned out to be a warm and sunny afternoon.

Back on the A591 with a look over towards The Lodge in the Vale, an all day coffee shop and licensed bar which also offers accommodation. They don’t do full meals but The King’s Head, just up the road, serves all day gastro bar meals and also boasts a ‘fine dining restaurant’. Both hostelries are under the same ownership.

As we walked back to the car I took a shot of our route home. Between High Rigg (L) and Clough Head (R) is a minor B road through St John’s in the Vale leading over to the A66 which it joins just west of Threlkeld. We got in the car about 4.05 pm, joined that minor road and headed off towards the A66. When we reached the A66 junction we turned onto it and settled down expecting to be home just before 5.00 pm. At 4.20 pm we came to a halt somewhere between Threlkeld and Doddick behind a very long line of cars, many of which began turning around and heading back to Keswick. At 4.25 pm J decided to do the same as nothing at all was moving and looked unlikely to do so for quite a while. We headed back towards Keswick, turned off back into St John’s in the Vale and headed down to Ambleside thinking that we would make our way back via the Kirkstone pass. We crawled in a long line of cars all the way to Ambleside only to discover that ‘The Struggle’ road leading over to Kirkstone was closed. We continued crawling through Ambleside until we came to the turn off for Troutbeck which we took. Further along we were once again blocked by Road Closed notices telling us that the Kirkstone Pass was closed. Back to Ambleside and on to Kendal where we eventually picked up the A6 and finally got back home at 6.30 pm. Two and a half hours of driving to get back home instead of a leisurely thirty minute drive. I checked online to see what had caused the A66 hold up and found that there had been two separate accidents and probably serious ones given the time taken to fully re-open the A66. One occurred at the junction on the A5091 coming over from Ullswater and which joins the A66, the other happened at the Rheged roundabout. The Troutbeck incident had been cleared and the road re-opened about 6.15 pm, just before we got home, and the Rheged accident was scheduled to be cleared and the road fully re-opened by 7.15 pm. As things turned out the road didn’t fully re-open until 9.00 pm. We may have arrived home somewhat frazzled and much later than we expected but at least we were still in one piece. Our thoughts turned to those involved who may not have been so lucky.