Things to see and do in Borrowdale
Discover the top things to see and do during your visit to Borrowdale, including scenic walks, ancient woodlands, far-reaching views and famous Lake District landmarks such as the Bowder Stone. There’s also a ‘scenic drive for the brave’ up the steep, narrow road that leads from the lakeshore past Ashness Bridge and Surprise View to the hanging valley of Watendlath.
Ashness Bridge is perhaps the most photographed packhorse bridge in the Lake District due to its location and stunning views. This extremely popular viewpoint looks out over Derwent Water with spectacular views over Bassenthwaite Lake and the River Derwent.
Walk up to Ashness Bridge from Walla Crag or park in the Ashness Bridge car park which is just a stone's throw away. If you want a clear shot without other visitors, you'll need to turn up early or late in the day.
The viewpoint at Surprise View is just a few metres from the car park and 220m (720 feet) above sea level. Surprise View is the point where the hanging valley of Watendlath was cut off by the main glacier carving out Borrowdale in the last ice age. The result is a sheer drop with expansive views across Derwent Water and north over Keswick and the Skiddaw massif.
Looking south you can see the swathes of Atlantic oak woodlands, designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
For the more adventurous, continue from Surprise View along the single-track road to the hamlet of Watendlath, taking in the ancient ash pollards along the way.
If travelling by car, once at the car park you will be rewarded as the valley opens up before you with its rocky outcrops, woodlands, and medieval farmed landscape.
Watendlath nestles high up (263m) beside a tranquil tarn with a farmhouse café, public toilets, a National Trust bothy and far-reaching views of the fell. Please note it's best to call ahead to check the opening hours of Caffle House tea-room (not National Trust).
Take a peek at some of the highlights waiting to be discovered on your visit
The Bowder Stone
The Bowder Stone is a large andesite lava boulder that fell 200 metres from the Bowder Crag on Kings How between 13,500 and 10,000 years ago.
The Bowder Stone
The Bowder Stone is an easy 15-minute walk from the car park along wide undulating paths and is the Lake District National Park’s Miles Without Stiles route number 35. It’s right in the 'Jaws of Borrowdale' – the narrow point where the road winds beneath overhanging crags.
This house-sized boulder has come to rest improbably on one edge and has been a natural tourist attraction in the lakes since Georgian times as you can climb up its ladder.
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.
The Jaws of Borrowdale
Above Grange Bridge, Borrowdale is constricted between the steep slopes of Kings How and Castle Crag. Carved by ice, and eroded through thousands of years, this narrowing is popularly known as ‘the Jaws of Borrowdale’.
The dramatic name was coined by early visitors to the valley, who found cliffs towering above the road, and the river rushing just beneath, an exhilarating thrill.
The road and river twist and turn around the crags at this point, vying with each other for the minimal flat ground at the valley bottom. The native Atlantic oakwood adds to the intimate, 'enclosed' atmosphere.
Castle Crag: the teeth in the Jaws of Borrowdale
Castle Crag, one of the pointed jagged 'teeth' in the jaws offers a few choices for exploring the area which Wainwright called 'the loveliest square mile in Lakeland'.
The 5-mile (8km) walk from the car park at Seatoller is less demanding than it first appears and its summit at 290m (950 feet) gives unparalleled views both over Derwent Water to Skiddaw to the north, or to upper Borrowdale and Great End to the south with Glaramara and Great End rising towards the high central fells of the Scafell Massif.
Taste along with Wainwright podcast
In this podcast, we follow Wainwright's route up Castle Crag, with a few extra surprises along the way. In our first 'taste along' episode, Ranger Kate Martin and her mystery guest experience a Lake District walk in an intriguing new way. Give it a go and listen here.
Rosthwaite, Seatoller, Seathwaite and Scafell Pike
After the jaws of Borrowdale, the valley opens up again revealing the pattern of valley-bottom farm fields and drystone walls that surround the farming villages and hamlets.
Rosthwaite, the ‘capital’ of Borrowdale, has a small car park which is a good starting place for walking the wide pack-horse bridleways up to Castle Crag, or up to Watendlath. The pack-horse route from Watendlath used to be the main road into the valley before the Borrowdale road was built in the early 20th century.
A low-level alternative is the path that meanders gently beside the River Derwent from Rosthwaite to Grange and back.
The hamlet of Seatoller perches right at the foot of the Honister Pass. The car park there is a good starting point for walking to Castle Crag, doing circular walks across the valley-bottom fields of Thorneythwaite or heading up Combe Gill towards the summit of Glaramara.
Seathwaite and Scafell Pike
A fork in the road leads to Seathwaite, where the road stops. This tiny hamlet is the wettest inhabited place in England. Here the footpaths start to Sty Head Tarn, Scafell Pike and Great Gable.
Perched at the top of Honister Pass, the car park (350m or 1,150 feet above sea level) is a great place to pause as you drive the steep and narrow road up from Seatoller. Watch the scenery change as you leave the wooded valley of Borrowdale behind you and take in the wild fell views as you head over the top of this mountain pass and down into Buttermere.
On a sunny day you can see the top of Glaramara but even when the cloud comes down it can be a dramatic and eerie spot as the fell tops disappear and re-emerge. Remember to check road conditions before heading up during cold weather.
The pattern of farming hamlets surrounded by valley-bottom fields and drystone walls is part of the cultural heritage of the Lake District World Heritage Site. The thicker the walls, the older they are.
The hardy Herdwick sheep are also part of the cultural heritage of the Lake District – the farmers who breed them take pride in raising livestock that embody the knowledge and experience passed down from generation to generation. We’re working with National Trust tenant farmers to help them adapt to the pressures of climate change while keeping their heritage alive.
Discover the internationally significant ‘Atlantic oakwoods’ and Derwent Water which support a variety of rare species of plants and animals, including the red squirrel and vendace.
There are nine National Trust car parks in Borrowdale and Derwent Water to choose from. Find out how to find them and how much parking costs.
Take to the water for a spot of canoeing, paddleboarding or paddling. The islands of Derwent Water are waiting to be discovered
Take in the views from Friar’s Crag and visit historic sculptures on a lakeside walk around Derwent Water or set off from Keswick to explore the surrounding woodlands and fells.
Plan a visit to one of the special countryside places in our care and discover the benefits of being in the great outdoors. Pack your walking boots and get ready to explore woodlands, valleys and rivers.
Explore the Lake District's majestic mountains – among them Scafell Pike, the tallest in England – ancient woodland, hidden waterfalls, rugged coastline and, of course, its many lakes. You might even spot a red squirrel, roe deer or bird of prey.