The Bowder Stone

Bowder stone without the ladder

We're re-vamping the quirkiest tourist attraction in the Lake District, with an exciting design for a new ladder. Unfortunately the old ladder has reached the end of its life span before the new ladder's arrived - so hold off until May 2019 if you'd like to climb it.

Bowder Stone ladder closed until May 2019

We're really sorry to announce that the old wooden ladder has come to the end of its lifespan, before our new ladder has arrived.

Our curator has been working 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. He's incorporating feedback from the local climbing community who like to warm up their muscles using the steps, to get a design that will echo far more the 'airy' ladders of previous centuries, while still feeling stable and secure.

Our plan is to install the new ladder during Sping 2019.

In the meantime, this winter is your chance to get a once-in-one-hundred-year experience to photograph the stone without a ladder.  Take a look at our Instagram page and post your own image

With, or without, a ladder the Bowder Stone has a story that’s as quirky and engaging as the people who promoted it.

The new ladder design

Artist's impression of the new ladder
artist's impression of the new ladder
Artist's impression of the new ladder

Chris has beautifully referenced the fractures and lines in the rock strata in his design for the ladder, ensuring that it echoes its natural surroundings.

The concept came from our curator Harvey Wilkinson who immediately spotted that the chunky wooden ladder – made 20 years ago from trees felled on site – looked like it was 'propping the stone up'. He challenged Chris to create a thin profile set of steps that would have an airy feel, more like the ladder that would have been there in the 18th and 19th centuries to restore some of the sense of drama that early tourists to the Lake District so enjoyed.

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.