Compact, picture-perfect Elter Water is nestled in the Great Langdale Valley, at the heart of one of the Lake District’s most recognisable landscapes.

Such relative bucolic tranquillity is recent; Elterwater village was once home to an explosives factory, while quarrying of the area’s famous green slate still continues, albeit at a reduced scale.

Neighbouring Little Langdale, altogether more secluded and secret, was also busy with quarrying and copper mining; its alluring location at the head of the Coniston Fells is the setting for myriad sparkling waterfalls.

Old tracks and paths lattice the area, making exploration of the watercourses, heritage and landscapes a delectable dawdle.
Heading upstream from Elterwater beside Great Langdale Beck on the waymarked Cumbria Way, the sprawling Langdale Estate leisure hotel complex opposite was once the gunpowder works.

Its serenity is in sharp contrast to the noisome production of the black powder here between the Napoleonic Wars and its closure in 1929. Most of it was exported as blasting powder to Africa.

Advance to the solitary farmhouse of Oak Howe, huddled in the very jaws of Langdale. Ahead, the spectacular knuckle-like peaks of the Langdale Pikes loom over the magnificent glaciated trough-of-a-valley, laced by stone walls enclosing resurgent haymeadows watered by the beck, which flows from its nearby (unseen) sources, cocooned by mighty Bowfell
and Crinkle Crags.

Leaving these giants for another day, swing back across the foot of Lingmoor, at 469m (1,538ft) the most modest of the fells that garland Great Langdale.

The woodlands here, once harvested for charcoal used in gunpowder, are now home to a small population of red squirrels, once common in this area.

Wild and wonderful

Look out, too, for red kites and peregrine falcons. There are distant views past lumpy Loughrigg Fell to Wansfell and the Kentmere Horseshoe. In Sawrey’s Wood, follow a bridleway over a low rise into the delightful Little Langdale.

Wrynose Pass is one of England’s steepest roads. It starts its climb just beyond the glistening waters of Little Langdale Tarn. Eschewing such climbs, our way drops to Slater’s Bridge, a slender, picturesque crossing of the River Brathay.

Rejoin the Cumbria Way, passing 12m (40ft) waterfall Colwith Force, soon arriving by one of the pools forming Elter Water.

Useful Information


The Langdale valleys are four miles west of Ambleside. Park in Elterwater, Great Langdale, along the B5343 from Skelwith Bridge (on the A593 Ambleside to Coniston road). The Langdale Rambler 516 bus runs infrequently, daily, from Ambleside (Kelsick Road) to Dungeon Ghyll via Elterwater.

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