The family favourite

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.

Grasmere boathouse and Loughrigg by William Heaton Cooper

It’s a family favourite, it’s OUR family favourite, and William Heaton Cooper loved Loughrigg. In The Hills of Lakeland he wrote:

“It is typical of the low hills that children adopt as their favourite playground. On it are innumerable hills and valleys and shallow tarns which appear and disappear and freeze earlier than the big sheets of water….For many years my father had a small hut just below the summit where we would go and camp for days on end, living like savages, cooking on a trench oven, swimming in the tarns and falling off rocks – the very best holiday education for youngsters. We would sleep out on the dry turf in the heat of summer and wake up with dew on our faces.”

It’s still a wonderful playground for all ages. But the guidebook writer Wainwright, even back in 1958, warned about tackling this route on a Sunday. So it’s clear that our latest walk, the ascent of Loughrigg, has always been popular.

Celebrating on the summit

It’s a gem of a mountain though, even if it’s a very small mountain, and Loughrigg is big enough in other respects to cope with all the visitors. You must not miss this one, even if it has to be on a Sunday.

Loughrigg is a sprawling fell, two-mile long bulk filling all the ground that lies between Ambleside, Skelwith, Rydal and Grasmere, between the valleys of the Brathay and the Rothay. So even though it’s height is a modest 1101ft, you can spend a whole day wandering over Loughrigg’s rocky outcrops, meandering paths and little tarns (which range from tiny tadpole-hangouts, to the heavenly Lily Tarn and the grander eponymous Loughrigg Tarn).

You can also see five lakes from it’s summit, though the nearest, Rydal Water, isn’t one of them. What are they? You’ll have to do this climb to find out.

We’re taking you from Grasmere where you might already have had brunch or a scone in Mathildes. You will have earned second helpings by the time you get back from this walk; late lunch or afternoon tea, perhaps.

Take the road out of the village that heads past the head of the lake and up towards Red Bank, and cut off onto the footpath at the first opening on your left. This will take you above the lake shore and then through the delightfully-named Deerbolts Wood.

Bluebells on the lower slopes of Loughrigg above Grasmere’s beach

You’ll emerge from the wood through a wooden gate, and if you bear left, you’ll go immediately through a metal kissing gate. A few paces further takes you on a big stone slab across a tiny beck, and then your climb begins, unmissably, on your right.

It begins with newly built stone steps, which continue intermittently for part of the way on this steep and rocky ascent. They are the work of the Fix the Fells team which is tackling erosion on paths all over the Lake District.

The climb begins

Wainwright said that this walk was “a succession of delights, the scenery and views being unsurpassed” and we couldn’t put it any better. Behind, when you stop for a breather, is the perfect picture of Grasmere, its island and its village. As you climb higher, you can see that Helm Crag, looking so solitary and prominent from the valley, is in fact just the end of a long ridge.

The summit is unmistakable, and not just because there’s usually somebody already there. The highest point is marked by an Ordnance Survey triangulation column, or trig point, and from here you will realise just how significant is Loughrigg in spite of its modest height. To the east you can see the entire route of the Fairfield Horseshoe, and then Froswick and Harter Fell and Yoke. To the west, the serrated ridge of the Crinkle Crags lead to Bowfell and then the Langdale Pikes. Further south west are the Coniston fells. And those five lakes, of course.

There are many ways back down and all of the paths are easy to follow, but for Grasmere AND variety, head north east on the path that will take you down to Rydal Cave, and back along the terrace to Deerbolts wood, and your final descent to that well earned refreshment here at Mathildes.

Distance: 5 miles, or 6 if you return via Rydal Cave and the Terrace.