The Bowder Stone

The Bowder Stone

We've re-vamped the quirkiest tourist attraction in the Lake District, with an exciting design for a new ladder which recreates the thrill that tourists from the past sought out at this unique and special place.

Bowder Stone ladder opened July 2019

We're delighted to announce that the new ladder for the Bowder Stone opened on 1st July 2019

Our curator has worked on the design for the new ladder with the World Heritage Site partnership and metalwork designer Chris Brammall, who has worked on Claife Viewing Station. 

The design brief was to re-create the 'airy' feel of the original ladders that were leant up against the stone for the first tourists 200 years ago, while conforming to modern safety standards.

Chris has echoed the crystalline structure of fractures and splits in the rock into the handrails, a very appropriate tribute to the site which is designated a geological site of special scientific interest.

We've also incorporated feedback from the climbers who love bouldering at the Bowder Stone, by giving each step a curved profile on its back edge, enabling them to warm up their muscles by climbing the ladder hand-over-hand.

The new ladder has been specially designed to feel airy and exciting
a metal ladder stretches steeply downwards with handrails on both sides
The new ladder has been specially designed to feel airy and exciting

So what is the Bowder Stone, exactly?

The Bowder Stone is a big rock. A really big rock. Six times the height of a person, the reason it beguiles travellers to the Lakes is the fact that it is balanced improbably on one edge.

As you walk up to touch it, you feel the enormous bulk of it looming over your head, giving a taste of that ‘pleasurable terror’ which was so popular with Georgian tourists who enjoyed wild, romantic scenery and the frisson of experiencing danger from a safe distance.

Visiting the Bowder Stone

The Bowder Stone is an easy 15 minute walk along wide undulating paths from our car park at Bowder Stone (SatNav CA12 5XA). There’s also a bus stop by the start of the path if you’re travelling by public transport.

The stone sits right in the ‘Jaws of Borrowdale’ - the narrowest point in the valley - so although you can make the Bowder Stone part of a longer walk up to King’s How (click here for directions), the ascent is pretty steep.

The Bowder Stone is about one mile from the cafés (and toilets) at Grange and another mile from those at Rosthwaite, so it makes a great stop for a leg-stretch if you are driving up or down Borrowdale.

The Bowder Stone’s ‘discovery’

The Bowder Stone was established as a tourist attraction by the eccentric wealthy off-comer Joseph Pocklington in 1798. He’d already built a house on Derwent Island, diverted Barrow Cascade to make it more impressive, and created a tradition of armed invasions of his island as part of the Derwent Water Regatta.

His approach to the Bowder Stone was characteristically unsubtle. He set up ‘a crazy ladder’ for tourists to stand on the summit, built a mock hermitage nearby and erected a ‘druicial’ standing stone. He also built a cottage where he installed an old woman whose duty was to ‘lend the place quaint atmosphere’. This tradition continued throughout the Nineteenth century.

1859 advert for the Bowder Stone
1859 advert for the Bowder Stone
1859 advert for the Bowder Stone

Rock Fall or Glacial Erratic?

That is the question: is the Bowder Stone an enormous glacial erratic set down by melting glaciers, or did this immense fragment fall from the crag above, rolling and crashing down the slope before coming to rest in this unlikely position?

Alan Smith, in his little book about the stone, presents a very convincing case for it coming down in a gigantic rockfall from Bowder Crag, 200m above the stone. He uses analysis of the debris field, the matching cleavage structures on the stone and the Hells Wall section of the crag, as well as the absence of any evidence of glacial abrasions or scratching on the stone, among other evidence.