A walk from the shores of Swan Lake

Mathilde walks

A series of walks that give you the chance to stop for coffee, cake, lunch or brunch at Mathilde’s at the Heaton Cooper Studio, the Lake District’s centre for mountain art. All the walks are free to everyone, connecting visitors with the natural surroundings of our unique landscape in this UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Elterwater, and the Langdale Pikes, by William Heaton Cooper

A lovely village with a lovely small lake of the same name, and that name means Swan Lake. We’re talking about Elterwater, one of the prettiest places in the whole of the Lake District, even if you’re not likely to see any swans now.

It holds a special place in our family heritage, loved by both Alfred and William Heaton Cooper. Alfred would take all four children with him when he went painting there, and William recalled: “I remember going to Elterwater Common because my father sat there for hours and hours and we knew that we were free to just enjoy ourselves, and we footled round exploring the little streams and pools, and finding creatures, water beetles and things….We were never allowed to interrupt father to show him the things we had found. He would forget all about us – absolutely right of course!”*

Our walk today starts at the village and is a circular tour with a stop for brunch, lunch or afternoon tea at Mathilde’s in Grasmere at the halfway stage. Elterwater is a delight, a picture postcard village dominated by the famous Britannia Inn, but also the home of our favourite independent hostel, if you and your family are looking for great budget accommodation.

You can park free in a small quarry by turning north at the crossroads, and from here, walk a little way up the steep and winding road, past the Wayside Pulpit, before cutting up to your left on a well trodden path that leads past the High Close electricity switch station….it looks like a sheepfold from a distance.

The path is quite steep, and when we last went up here, it was a mini-stream after the torrential rainfall of Storm Callum. Otherwise, just a couple of days later, all was calm and bright; the Lake District is a very forgiving landscape.

Head towards a gate in a wall from where you will have a wonderful view of Stone Arthur, Great Rigg and Seat Sandal, the fells across the valley. Don’t go through the gate but follow the path that hugs the wall, to a kissing gate; go through that and follow the path that contours downwards to a gate in a barbed wire fence.

Almost immediately, there’s a sharp left turn down a grassy path which brings you to the road at the 25% gradient sign. But don’t use the road; take a very sharp turn left on a signed footpath which leads into Red Bank wood.

Red Bank Wood

The path meanders through beautiful woodland, past a small wooden bench with a gorgeous view across the lake below you. Eventually you go through a metal gate and bear right downhill, first on a stony track which becomes a tarmac lane at a house called Hunting Stile. This meets the main road down which you will walk to the village centre in time for coffee, cake or lunch at Mathilde’s.

The return starts back up this same hill, Red Bank Road, and it’s possible just to retrace your steps. But a lovely alternative goes via the arboretum at High Close; even so, take the footpath back through Red Bank wood rather than walking all the way on the road.

You’ll return to the road at the gradient warning sign. Shortly after, the road forks, and immediately beyond the lower fork is a footpath on your right into the arboretum grounds. This is a stunning 11 acre estate full of trees and shrubs imported from all over the world.

Originally planted in 1866 by Edward Wheatley-Balme, a Yorkshire merchant and philanthropist, High Close was designed in the fashion of the day using many of the recently discovered ‘exotic’ conifers and evergreen shrubs coming into Britain from America.

The exposed location of the garden meant that some of the larger trees were lost in winter storms of 1973 and 1983, but there are still many fine specimens including Douglas firs, sitka spruce and redwoods.

A number of paths lead through the trees; a lower path will take you through Low Wood, a higher one close to the YHA hostel at High Close. All bring you back on the winding road back down to Elterwater.


*Jane Renouf: Alfred Heaton Cooper, Painter of Landscape

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