A 6.5km (4-mile) walk to the summit of Castle Crag, one of the Lake District’s most striking hills.
Alfred Wainwright describing Borrowdale as “the loveliest square mile in the district” is quite something. He was a lover of all the Lake District, but he was never over-emphatic in his depictions. His opinion is one you’d struggle to disagree with from atop the bulbous summit of Castle Crag, with its awesome views over Derwentwater and the shadows of clouds streaming across the fells.
At a humble height of 290m (951ft), Castle Crag is a bit of a mini-mountain in comparison with other peaks in the Lakes, but its sylvan charms are what lured Wainwright to its slopes, and prompted him to include it in book six of his Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells. He describes it as being “so magnificently independent, so ruggedly individual, so aggressively unashamed of its lack of inches.” It is a little corker of a crag.
Low Hows Woods, beneath Castle Crag in the Lake District ©Jake Graham
1. Cave dweller
The 1½-mile walk to its summit from the pretty village of Grange is ideal for an early morning start, to get the appetite going for a roast lunch at a pub back at base. The track follows the River Derwent through woodland, and then takes you onto an old quarry road, passing derelict quarry men’s huts, before a steep ascent up a scree path, zigzagging its way to the summit cairn and war memorial.
Descend from the summit downs the screen. Turn left at the quarry road then, 200m on, turn left again. A footpath drops through rough fields back to the River Derwent.
3. River return
Turn left and follow the Cumbria Way through enchanting woodland back to Grange.
Broadslack Gill leading up to Castle Crag, Lake District ©Jake Graham
Along the walk you’ll hopefully see cuddly herds of Herdwick sheep – although I’d advise you not to try and cuddle one – and caves dotted about on the eastern flank. Professor of Adventure Millican Dalton made one of these caves his summer dwelling in the 1920s, after he quit his life as an insurance clerk in London to be a teetotal, vegetarian hermit.
He made his own clothes, baked his own bread, grew potatoes outside the entrance to his cave and foraged hazelnuts from the surrounding woodland. He was also a popular guide for lady walkers – what a shame he lived and died before my time.
Herdwick sheep are native to the Lake District, Cumbria ©Getty Getty
Mining finished here in the 1960s, leaving a scarred but still beautiful crag for climbers and walkers to enjoy. The old quarry along the walk is an eerie place – large fragments of rock jut up from the broken ground like weatherworn tombstones – a poignant reminder of a once thriving stone walling industry. The fragments of slate are cleared away regularly, but a mystery person keeps returning to reassemble them in ornamental piles. I wonder if it’s Millican Dalton’s ghost?
Borrowdale is one of the wettest valleys in England, receiving around 140in of rainfall per year. A sign on one of the houses in a nearby village reads ‘In Loving Memory of a Sunny Day in Borrowdale’.
So, be prepared for the weather to change if it was pleasant when you left Grange. You may encounter horizontal rain and a windchill at the top of Castle Crag.
Or you may cheat the clouds, like I did, and have a clear vista of Cumbrian landscape. It all makes the huffing and puffing up the scree worthwhile. I couldn’t stay up there admiring the view for too long. I sped down the slopes again before I froze.
Low Hows Wood, beside the River Derwent in the Lake District ©Jake Graham
As I said before, hot chocolate is my belly-warmer of choice after a winter walk, which is what I had in a tearoom back in Grange.
The village sits in the Jaws of Borrowdale, where the valley squeezes between Grange Fell and Castle Crag. The land was once owned by Furness Abbey which laid claim to being one of the richest monasteries in England. It’s now a sandstone ruin, still worth seeing. Grange itself is a gorgeous village of slate cottages, with an old packhorse bridge crossing the river.
I haven’t seen the village in snow, but I can imagine it now, frosted window panes, smoke tumbling out of the slate chimneys, roofs groaning under the weight of a fresh snowfall – it’s enough to numb my toes and warm my heart.
Click on the map below for an interactive version of the map
How to get there
There are only two routes in and out of Borrowdale, on the B5289. The 77/77a circular bus route serves Grange and Buttermere.
Find out more
Grange Bridge cottage
Grange, Borrowdale CA12 5UQ
After a walk on the fells, this cosy tearoom is a sight for sore eyes.
The Langstrath Country Inn
An old miners cottage with a roaring open fire and an excellent menu of Lakeland dishes.
Grange, Borrowdale CA12 5UQ
This welcoming farm offers
self-catering in a cottage, B&B in the farmhouse and camping.