Waterfalls and the Cathedral Cavern, from Elterwater

The small village of Elterwater at the entrance to the Great Langdale valley is the start of this fabulous walk. Elter Water itself is rather picturesque with fantastic views to the Langdale Pikes. You then visit two waterfalls: Skelwith Force and Colwith Force before taking a wander into the industrial past at Hodge Close. As you wander along the lane to the Close look over the wall across the valley as you should be able to spot the entrance to Cathedral Cavern. This man made quarry is more spectacular than pictures alone can convey. It also has a wonderful echo. The National Trust have signs at the two entrances warning that visitors may enter at their own risk! One of the tunnels is over 100m (110 yards) long and requires a torch to see. The quarries here produced a rich green slate, or more correctly in geomorphology terms Borrowdale Tuff: a volcanic ash some 450 million years old metamorphosed by heat and pressure into the rock we see today.

Cathedral Quarry partial closure, NY314028

On 3rd July, 2023 Coniston MRT reported that:

There has been a large rockfall at Cathedral Quarry, and the National Trust has consequently closed the upper parts of the quarry and the tunnels until the area has been inspected. A boulder the size of a large car had collapsed. The bottom main chamber (the Cathedral) remains open at this time. Visitors and climbers need to be aware that access is restricted, and comply with posted signs on-site.

So at the moment you will not be able to do this walk exactly as described here but there is still access to Cathedral Cavern. Please rely on local signage.

Crossing the River Brathay, just above Skelwith Force is the interesting Woodburn Bridge. Built and installed by Chris Brammall of Ulverston, officially opened in July 2007, it was named after local parish council chairman Trevor Woodburn who originally suggested linking the two sides of the river back in 1998. The new bridge allows walkers to avoid a short but quite dodgy section of the Ambleside to Coniston road.

Keeping with the bridges theme you also cross the Slater's Bridge. This delightful 17th century packhorse bridge between Tilberthwaite and Little Langdale enabled the quarry men to cross the River Brathay to the workings either side.

The name Elter Water comes from the Old Norse elptr vatn for swan lake. You'll likely find swans on the water, perhaps Whooper Swans that migrate from Scandinavia in winter, geese, and many ducks! Apparently it is pretty shallow and is gradually silting up. One of its feeds, the Great Langdale Beck flows along the valley which is thought to have once been a lake but silted up many thousands of years ago. Another source, the River Brathay's name also has Norse origins meaning 'broad river'.

On the outskirts of the village of Elterwater, where the Langdale Hotel now stands, was the site of a gunpowder factory. Elterwater Gunpowder Works operated from 1824 to 1930. Power for the mills was provided by Great Langdale Beck, Stickle Tarn high above the valley was dammed to ensure continuity during dry spells. Local wood, mainly juniper, silver birch and alder, was burned in large retorts to make the charcoal with other ingredients of saltpetre and sulphur being imported. Later owned by ICI its closure was due to poor transport links, and the discovery and taming of more powerful explosives like dynamite.

Parking in Elterwater is limited. There is the National Trust pay and display car park beside the bridge at the bottom of the village. Alternatively there is the rough car park just to the north of the village on the opposite side of the Langdale road, at Walthwaite Bottom. We have seen water lapping at the fringes of the NT car park so be aware in particularly wet weather if you are intent on this walk, or leaving a car there for long.