The small village of Elterwater at the head of 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.
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.
If you need accommodation we have details of 48 properties offering rooms near the start of this walk. Here are some examples:
Walk height profile
note that gradients are usually grossly exaggerated
From the Britannia Inn behind the big maple tree in the middle of the village walk down towards the bridge and Great Langdale Beck, just before turn left through the National Trust car park. Bear right and go through the gate alongside the beck onto the newly restored cobbled path.
The path passes through more gates and skirts round the north side of Elter Water, below the Langdale road. Behind you are fantastic views to the Langdale Pikes. Continue to the far end of the fields and go through the gate. Here the road is only just to your left, the wall has occasional gaps.
Reaching the footbridge, don't cross yet, but first carry on along the path for 50m (55 yards) and drop down to your right to the walkway onto rocks beside the Force. When the river is in spate the noise of the falls is tremendous, way louder than any of the lorries on the road.
Return to the path and turn left, walk back 100m (110 yards) again to the footbridge and cross. Bear left on the path through the woods. You get another view of the force from this side. Follow the path round to the right, let it sweep you right to the gate into the field.
Cross the field by the path, and bear right onto the farm track. At Park House - an interesting old barn, go through the small iron kissing gates to the left signposted "Colwith" and into the next field. Cross this field to Park farm.
Go through the farm yard, beware of the loose hens, and follow the directions of the small yellow footpath marker on to the path: not the farm driveway. At the end of the field climb over the stile, cross the next field bearing left to the stone stile. Go over the stile into the narrow lane.
Reaching the farm at Low Park cross the road, do not go into the farmyard, but bear slightly right to a kissing gate. Cross the field following the path to a stile. Follow the path along the terrace to the steps. Down the steps, and across this field to the minor road at the stone stile. Bear right and in 100m turn up left to the gate. Go through and bear right on the rocky path to the force.
There are good two viewpoints. The first is obvious. To continue to the second retrace your steps for 20m (22 yards) and turn right up stone steps. At the top bear right and follow the path round. The upper falls come into view.
To continue the walk, carry on following the path through the woodland. This gets a little boggy at times. Climb to the far wall corner. Go through the gate and along the edge of the field. Bear right through another gate towards the farm at High Park. Turn left up the driveway to the quiet lane. Turn right and follow the lane to Stang End.
At Stang End don't go into the farmyard but turn left into the lane which soon turns into a rough track with a wall on your right. If you look over the wall and fields you may catch a glimpse through the trees of one of the entrances to Cathedral Quarry.
Bear right through the gate and continue on the track to Hodge Close - which is one of the second set of buildings. Opposite The Old Forge, bear right through a gate. It isn't marked other than "close the gate". Follow the track as it winds down firstly left and then right. Below the spoil heap at the stream the track seemingly splits. Follow the middle one! it may appear to be a stream, certainly was in wet weather, but it does become a dry track a little way down.
Reaching the Tilberthwaite to Little Langdale bridleway, bear right. Go through the gate, and in 800m (880 yards), just before reaching the bridge over Greenburn Beck, is a stone stile in the wall to your left with oddly worded National Trust notice.
Climb through the stile, noting the sign beyond. Follow the rough eroded path ahead up into the trees, swinging left. In only 30m (33 yards) bear left off the remains of the path into a clearing. This is the top of a spoil heap and to your right is the long tunnel entrance. This is why you need a head torch. Go through the tunnel minding your head!
At the junction keep straight ahead and out over rocks into the light. Bear right around the edge of the rocky jumble, past the wooden railings to the upper cavern viewpoint.
You can clamber down the jumble of rocks behind you to the lower level, with care, but you may prefer to experience the tunnel again and go in the other entrance.
So retrace your steps back through the tunnel. Bear left and down to the stile and the track. turn left, shortly reaching the river and bridge turn left again. In 60m (66 yards) climb up the small stone stile high in the wall on your left. Bear right to the other entrance and go through the much shorter tunnel, you won't need a torch here, into the lower cavern.
Having explored in the cavern return to the lower track, and bear left.
In 100m (110 yards) go through the kissing gate on your right down to the delightful little stone Slater Bridge. Follow the path bearing left to climb above a little rocky knoll. Follow the path at the top of the fields beside the wall on your right, to High Birk Howe farm.
Bear left and follow the farm driveway to the Wrynose Pass road. Take the lane opposite signposted "Ambleside (challenging option)" which is part of national cycle route 37, via a short left then right staggered junction.
Follow the road up to the farm at Dale End and bear left onto the rough track. Cresting the pass below Howe Banks, continue on the track.
As you drop towards Elterwater keep right on the track.
Reaching the tarmac again bear right.
Reaching the road above Eltermere Inn bear left to return to the village on the other side of the bridge at the start of the walk.
If you like this walk then why not try one of our other nearby walks:
|An Elterwater Stroll||14m (15 yards) away|
|Loughrigg Fell from White Moss||2.6km (1.6 miles) away|
|Grasmere and Rydal Water||2.8km (1.7 miles) away|
|A circuit of Grasmere||2.8km (1.7 miles) away|
|Alcock Tarn||2.8km (1.7 miles) away|
|Stone Arthur, Great Rigg, Heron Pike and Nab Scar||2.8km (1.7 miles) away|
|Red Bank from White Moss near Ambleside||2.9km (1.8 miles) away|
|Helm Crag||2.9km (1.8 miles) away|
|Steel Fell, Calf Crag, Gibson Knott and Helm Crag||2.9km (1.8 miles) away|
|Silver How||3.0km (1.8 miles) away|
|Easedale Tarn||3.0km (1.9 miles) away|
|Allan Bank Woodland Walk||3.0km (1.9 miles) away|
|Easedale Tarn, Codale Tarn, and Tarn Crag||3.1km (1.9 miles) away|
|Blea Tarn above Langdale||3.2km (2.0 miles) away|
|The Langdale Pikes: Pavey Ark, Thunacar Knott, Pike of Stickle, Harrison Stickle||3.7km (2.3 miles) away|
|High Raise, Sergeant Man, and Blea Rigg from Langdale||3.7km (2.3 miles) away|
|Cumbria Way - Dungeon Ghyll to Keswick||3.7km (2.3 miles) away|
|A Journey from Dungeon Ghyll over the Fells to Ambleside||3.7km (2.3 miles) away|
|Loughrigg Fell from Rydal||4.0km (2.5 miles) away|
|Nab Scar and Alcock Tarn||4.0km (2.5 miles) away|
|Steel Edge and Wetherlam Edge, from Tilberthwaite||4.3km (2.7 miles) away|
|A visit to Cathedral Cavern from Tilberthwaite||4.3km (2.7 miles) away|
|Crinkle Crags||4.3km (2.7 miles) away|
|Lingmoor Fell and Side Pike||4.3km (2.7 miles) away|
|Bowfell, via Worneyside Force, Hell Gill, and the Great Slab||4.4km (2.7 miles) away|
|Rossett Pike, Angle Tarn, Esk Pike and Bowfell||4.4km (2.7 miles) away|
|Seat Sandal||4.5km (2.8 miles) away|
|The Fairfield Horseshoe||4.9km (3.0 miles) away|
|An Ambleside Waterfalls Wander - Stockghyll Force and Blue Hill Wood||4.9km (3.0 miles) away|
|Loughrigg Tarn||4.9km (3.0 miles) away|
|Loughrigg Fell from Ambleside||4.9km (3.0 miles) away|
|Wansfell, and Wansfell Pike||4.9km (3.0 miles) away|
|High Sweden Bridge Circular||4.9km (3.1 miles) away|
|Stockghyll Force - Ambleside||4.9km (3.1 miles) away|
|Red Screes and Middle Dodd from Ambleside||4.9km (3.1 miles) away|
|Wansfell Pike, Troutbeck, and Skelghyll Wood||4.9km (3.1 miles) away|
|Lily Tarn above Ambleside||5.0km (3.1 miles) away|
Unless otherwise stated the text in this walk is the copyright of Hug Solutions Ltd trading as The Hug and the photographs are the copyright of Elizabeth Oldham. Hill data is derived from Database of British and Irish hills which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. Maps contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011 and paths © OpenStreetMap Contributors,CC-BY-SA, 2011