#317 – Gowbarrow and Aira Force in the English Lake District

On Gowbarrow Fell with Ullswater in the distance

For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in to a new window, then exit that window to go back – go on, it really does work!

The north-eastern Lake District, with Ullswater in the centre

It was mid-February 2022, and we were looking at changing our campervan for something more up-to-date.  Soon, the deed was done and we needed a couple of ‘shake-down’ trips before launching off on our annual May trip to the Scottish Highlands.  Where better to start than the Lake District.

Ullswater and the surrounding area

A couple of days in Langdale at the beginning of March was a good start to the shake-down process, followed a week later by four days at Threlkeld near Keswick.  The next trip was to be a fortnight in Northumbria and the Scottish Borders, but we just couldn’t keep away from Lakeland – Ullswater and Aira Force are just a short hop from the M6 Motorway, so a couple more days there seemed like a good move.

The route – anticlockwise starting near Aira Force (bottom left)

I lived at Patterdale at the south end of Ullswater in the 1980s, and I know the area well.  In fact, I got to know the mountains surrounding the lake very well but spent little time exploring some of the lower hills in the area.   So, the plan for this trip was to put that to rights by taking a circular route from Aira Force around and over Gowbarrow.

Setting out on the circular route around Gowbarrow Fell

When it comes to ‘lower hills’, Gowbarrow is definitely on the shortlist at a mere 481 metres (1578 ft) height.  It’s thought that the name comes from Old Norse and probably means ‘Windy Hill’ – the area has other Old Norse names dating back to the 9th Century onwards, when the Vikings first started to settle, so you will come across beck (bekr) for stream, Force (foss) for waterfall, Tarn (tjorn) for a small lake and Fell (fjall) for mountain.

Looking back to Ullswater
A popular lake for boating
The gradually rising narrow path above Ullswater ….
…. winding its way around the hillside
Looking east to Hallin Fell and the High Street mountains ….
…. and looking to the west, with Aira Point just left of centre

Our route took us east from Aira Force (more of which later) on a gradually rising narrow path.  Gowbarrow isn’t going to get you into a sweat, either through exertion or excitement, but like many lowly hills, it’s a great place to view the surrounding country, and the views of Ullswater and the surrounding fells compare well with the views from Hallin Fell, just a couple of kilometres away on the opposite side of the lake.

The path continues ….
…. with the views opening up to the southwest
Not exactly crowded
The summit of Gowbarrow Fell, and the view towards Glenridding to the southwest ….
…. and looking northeast towards Pooley Bridge
The view north with Blencathra (left) and Carrock Fell (further away right)
Closer zoom view of the southern side of Blencathra, 12 kms away ….
…. and the distant Carrock Fell, 14 km

The narrow path continues for a while before taking a turn to the north, followed by a second turn, this time to the west, to the small summit of Gowbarrow with its stone cairn – the views of the Ullswater area included much of the lake, and further away to the northwest, the northern hills of Blencathra and Carrock Fell were also visible.  I had taken two cameras (Olympus) on this hike, one with an equivalent 35mm lens and the other with an equivalent 200-600mm lens – the longer lens was included in the hope of getting some red squirrel images but ended up being used for long landscape shots due to a ‘no show’ by the squirrels.

Round the far side of Carrock Fell, with Ullswater coming back into view
The descent towards Dockray, with a badly eroded path to deal with ….
…. but path repairs are in hand (Dockray to the right, at the very top of the image)
‘The Royal’ at Dockray – it would have been rude not to visit!

Our next port of call was a short diversion to the hamlet of Dockray, but before that, we had to negotiate a badly eroded section of path.  Our route had been deserted, but this was March and I guess that hundreds of boots must pound along here in summer – a bit lower down we found helicopter drop bags full of stones to repair the path.  Once past the worn section, we were soon at ‘The Royal’ at Dockray for a cool cider – well, it would have been rude not to!

A distant view of Aira Force, with the bridge at the top of the waterfall just visible
Next to the bridge ….
…. and looking back to the bridge

Our route back to the van went via the 20 metre (65 ft) waterfall of Aira Force, one of the best-known waterfalls in the Lake District, if only for its connection with Romantic poet William Wordsworth. It’s a favourite on the tourist circuit, but the best views are out of reach at the moment, due to damage caused by fallen trees – I did the best I could to get a decent photograph from the accessible viewpoints before heading back to the van to top up my cider levels.

Closer view of Aira Force

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

p.s. It was T-shirt weather for the Gowbarrow hike, but three days later we nearly found ourselves marooned up near Simonside in Northumbria – it snowed overnight, then froze in the early hours, making the steep road out like a skating rink.  I’d decided that there was no way I was launching a 3-tonne camper van down a steep icy slope, but by the time we had taken Border Collie ‘Mist’ for her morning walk, the road was thawing out – one consolation would have been that getting cold cider would not have been a problem!

About Paul Shorrock

I've been mucking about in the mountains for longer than I care to mention. I started out by walking my local hills, then went on to rock climbing, mountaineering and skiing. Still doing it, and still getting a buzz. I'm now sharing the fun, through my guided walking business (Hillcraft Guided Walking) and by writing routes for other publishers, mainly Walking World and Discovery Walking Guides. Just to make sure I keep really busy, I am also currently a member of my local mountain rescue team.
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3 Responses to #317 – Gowbarrow and Aira Force in the English Lake District

  1. I was thinking of a camping van but with the price of fuel now I’ve cancelled the idea… I don’t even get to fells further away than about 20 miles now as I really can’t afford to fuel my cars apart from for work.

    I’m surprised you use metric measurements with you being my age – I refuse to use them at all. It was bad enough we had to convert our money.

    Some really beautiful photos of Ullswater and its surrounds there. I like Gowbarrow but we usually walk from the church the other side as, unless you’re in the National Trust, the parking is too expensive at Aira.


  2. I’ve used metric in the hills for years. I can’t remember when it struck me, but I realised that the OS grid squares were great for estimating distance on the map – of course that meant that I had to work in metres. On top of that, the OS changed their heights from ft to metres, so the only sensible way to use Naismith’s formula was to make that metric as well. I would change to metric on the roads, but the car speedo reads easier in miles and the signposts are in miles as well. Ours is the generation still buying beer in pints but milk in litres!!


  3. Pingback: #318 – Housesteads Fort and Hadrian’s Wall | Paul Shorrock – One Man's Mountains AKA One Pillock's Hillocks

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