Aira Force and Gowbarrow walk
near Watermillock, Penrith, Cumbria, CA11Route details and mapDownload as a print friendly PDF
Don’t let the close of summer keep you indoors. Experience Aira Force at its best this autumn as you head towards the thunderous roar of the waterfalls. Pass through woodland with lush green ferns and evergreen specimen conifers that tower over a golden autumnal backdrop. Then, emerge from the confines of the gorge to enjoy expansive views over Ullswater from the summit of Gowbarrow.
- Bus stop
Start: Aira Force National Trust car park, grid ref: NY400200
Take the waterfall path out of the top end of the car park, through the picnic field. Follow the path and head through a gateway in the wall into a grassy area known as the Glade.
Take the left hand path through the arboretum and follow the path up to a little wooden gate on your left (which has superb views out over Ullswater to the left). Don't go through the gate but follow the path to the right, drop down a long steep flight of steps to the viewing platform at the base of the waterfall. Continue over the bridge and climb the steep steps on the left.
At the top of the steps, bear left to the upper bridge for a view down Aira Force. Rejoin the main path and walk upstream keeping the river on your left as you go. Keep going till the path takes you through a gap in the wall and then through a gate onto open farmland.
Autumn is the best time of year to see the falls in full force, as rainwater runs from the fells into Aira Beck and thunders in one 65ft leap over the falls. Look out for the rainbow that appears when the conditions are just right on a crisp autumn day.
Before you get to the next gate in the wall ahead turn right up the field and take the permissive path to the fell gate. Keeping the wall on your left continue up the fellside on a good stone pitched path maintained by the Fix The Fells project, a good opportunity for a breather as you take in the views.
Once the path flattens out and bears away from the wall follow the path up to the trig point on the summit of Gowbarrow, from here you have fine views all round. Look south to Place Fell and Red Screes over to Kirkstone, with the bulk of Helvellyn beyond. Blencathra, Bannerdale and Carrock Fell can be seen to the north-west, with the Pennines to the north-east. Martindale and High Street are to the south-east.
Impressive views all around can be enjoyed from the trig point at the summit of Gowbarrow Fell. It was on the west side of the fell in 1802 that Dorothy Wordsworth noticed wild daffodils growing. Her observations later inspired her brother William to write his famous poem, Daffodils.
On leaving the summit, continue along the path keeping parallel with the wall on your left. Follow the path down, bearing right until you reach the ruin of an old shooting lodge. Keeping right, continue up and around the eastern flank of Gowbarrow.
From here you will see a full array of autumn colours as bracken turns the fell side golden brown. Gowbarrow Park was once home to a large herd of deer, and evidence of old shooting boxes and stalkers huts can still be seen today. The deer have since been replaced by low numbers of hardy, traditional sheep such as Herdwick, to assist us in restoring heather and tree cover to the fell.
A good path takes you to the brow and down to an obvious cairn. Go over a fence stile to the superb vantage point up the head of the lake from the point marked on the map as Memorial Seat. Go back over the stile and bear left staying on the path down towards the woodlands.
At the bottom of the slope you will see across the field a building known as Lyulph's Tower (private). It was built as a hunting lodge by the Howard family in the 18th century. It was designed to look like a grand castle from the lake - from the land it appears a little more modest. Just before the woodland take the left hand fork then through a gate to rejoin the footpath bearing left back to the Glade and car park.
Aira Force arboretum was created by the Howard family. The specimen trees were planted in 1846 and now include some of the tallest and stoutest trees in Cumbria. In autumn, the vibrant greens of the specimen conifers really stand out against the golden backdrop of the broad-leafed trees.
End: Aira Force National Trust car park, grid ref: NY400200
- Trail: Walking
- Grade: Moderate
- Distance: 4.5 miles (7km)
- Time: 1 hour 30 minutes to 3 hours
- OS Map: Landranger 90, Explorer OL5
The walk is on well-surfaced paths but beyond the Glade the path becomes narrower with steep drops and several flights of steps to negotiate. Once out onto the open fell, the path is clear but can be muddy in places and partially obscured by bracken. Dogs are welcome but on leads as area is grazed, please take your dog waste home.
- How to get here:
By bike: National Cycle Network Route 71 passes within 2 miles (3.2km). The A592 is undulating, narrow and can be busy during the summer months
By bus: 108 Penrith to Patterdale bus (reduced winter service). 208 seasonal service from Keswick
By train: Penrith station 10 miles (16km) away with a direct bus service
By car: From the M6 to the A66, then A592 Ullswater. Just before the junction with the A5091 is the car park. From Kewsick the A66 towards Penrith then the A5091 at Troutbeck and follow this to A592, turn left at bottom and car park is approx 218 yards (200m) on the left
- Telephone: 017684 82067
- Email: email@example.com
- Website: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/aira-force-and-ullswater/