Just getting to the remote shores of Ennerdale Lake is something of an adventure. Navigating the winding, narrow roads requires some skill. Then, as you approach the lake, the road gives way to rubble tracks, which lead to rough-surfaced
car parks. The lake shore can only be reached on foot. The result is that solitude and tranquility are more readily found in Ennerdale than in any other Cumbrian valley.
Footpaths completely circle the lake, and are accessible from either of the two car parks, Broadmoor Wood to the west and Bowness Knott, above the midpoint of the north shore. From the former, the track leads to the weir over which flows the River Ehen, and from there along the southern shore.
Choice of tracks
If you’re feeling energetic, follow the diagonal track (yellow route) across the steep hillside to the top of Angler’s Crag. From there, you can behold a superb view of the upper reaches of Ennerdale. If you crave even more adventure and spectacle, you can scramble up the steep, boulder-blocked gully to the right of the heather-clad crags above the lake (red route), then either continue up more gentle, grassy slopes to Crag Fell summit, or contour across to the finger-like pinnacles. From there, you can descend on to Angler’s Crag, beyond which is the shore path.
The lakeside footpath continues to the alluvial flats beyond the lake’s eastern end. The path passes through a dry stone wall that rises directly up the slope to the very rim of the valley, before threading its way for nine miles over the summits of Iron Crag, Caw Fell, Little Gowder Crag, Haycock and Scoat Fell, before turning away towards Wasdale.
After passing through the fields beyond the lake, the footpath crosses a ford over the River Liza, known as Irish Bridge, and joins a broad forest roadway. Eastward, this runs for four miles to the edge of the conifer forest. After half-a-mile, it passes the Youth Hostel at Gillerthwaite. Shortly after this, it comes to a break in the forest, which leads to the summit of Red Pike. The view over the Buttermere Valley toward Borrowdale is perhaps the finest in Cumbria. Indeed, the five lakes visible from this summit are the highest number you can see from any point in the Lake District.
There’s also the precipitous southern slopes, which rise almost claustrophobically to the spiky top of Steeple, and the broad amphitheatre of Pillar Mountain, the eighth highest peak in the Lake District. Atop the mountain, the enormous Pillar Rock projects like a thumb, justifying Wordsworth’s comparison of it to “a vast building, made of many crags.”
Beyond the forest is the stunningly situated Black Sail Youth Hostel, nestled among the drumlins of the valley head, backed by Great Gable, where English rock climbing was born in 1886.
After a mile-and-a-half’s walk west of Irish Bridge, along the water’s edge, you reach Bowness Knott, and the second car park. Progress up the valley by car is forbidden from this point, though cycling is permitted. A footpath continues around the northern and western shore for around two miles, bringing you back to the weir and Broadmoor Wood.
How to get there
Follow the A5086 from Cockermouth, or the B5295 from Whitehaven, to their junction at Wath Brow, then the minor road through Ennerdale Bridge to Broadmoor Wood, where a sign directs you towards Ennerdale Lake.
Find out more
Fox and Hounds Inn
Ennerdale Bridge, Cleator CA23 3AR
Cosy pub overlooking a stream on a secluded side road.
Shepherds Arms Hotel
Ennerdale Bridge, Cleator CA23 3AR
Originally an 18th-century coaching inn, this hotel is now a popular resting place for Coast-to-Coast walkers. They make packed lunches on request.
This historic port has elegant Georgian houses and connections to the mining industry, rum trade and American War of Independence.