Speeding along the motorway with a blanket of blue above us I felt my shoulders finally drop. Packing everything up the night before hadn’t gone to plan and as usual, we’d spent the morning rushing around snapping at each other while getting no-where fast. I still hadn’t decided which walk I wanted to do and my birthday tradition of walking in the Lakes wasn’t off to the greatest of starts, but as I finally allowed myself to sink into the passenger seat I realised it didn’t matter. We were heading up to the Lake District and that’s all I cared about.
With so many walks to choose from, England’s largest National Park can occasionally feel a little overwhelming, and while there’s always a new trail waiting to be hiked, sometimes, only the familiar will do.
Stock Ghyll Force
Stock Ghyll Force or the waterfall walk, was the very first Lake District trail Ian and I did together. At 3 miles, it’s not a particularly long or taxing walk, but 15 years ago it was a huge adventure and we had fun getting confused by the directions in our little walking book. Nowadays, we don’t need directions and during our visit at the end of May, it was nice to just meander through the lush woodland foliage. We reminisced about when we first visited, laughed about the time my favourite hat fell into the waterfall and also acknowledged how much the walk had changed.
Normally, we approach the waterfalls from the left hand-side, but this time, distracted by talking we ended up approaching from the right. The difference? The left-hand-side gives you access to a dead end track providing a wonderful close-up view which is great for photo opportunities. It means you have to detour off the trail a little but it’s worth it to get so near. Already having ample waterfall photos I wasn’t too worried, so we continued on our way up towards the footbridge. Overlooking the water, we took in the damp earthy smell of the woodland while listening to the soothing sound of the falls, and after a couple of minutes, we retraced our steps back down past the picnic tables and then out onto a tarmac road.
At one time, it was a muddy slope that descended past the tables. But these days, the muddy slope has been replaced with clearly defined steps, just like the exit out of the woods, which is now a clearly defined pathway. This time, we also noticed a few locks attached to the railings, possibly trying to replicate something similar to the ‘love locks’ of Paris, which unfortunately had to be taken down due to the sheer weight of the metal. Whether this new fad will take hold or not, I’m not sure, but it’s a nice idea.
Once out of the woods we were greeted by clear blue sky and lush green fells. With amazing views of the Langdale Pikes and Red Screes, the mid-morning sun exaggerated the greens of the hillside, making them vibrant and over saturated with colour. We continued along the road towards Roundhill Farm, remembering a time when the fields were filled with bulls and I was terrified of walking past them. In fact, passing any kind of farm animal used to fill me with terror. But over the years I’ve come to realise they’re used to passers-by. If you respect them, they respect you.
After passing through the farm, we walked along a rocky track where I couldn’t resist the allure of the opposite fells. Vibrant and green, I got my camera out and started clicking away until I felt satisfied I’d captured some of the beauty. The track eventually led us out onto Kirkstone Road where we were met by a group of cyclists. Beaten by the steep incline, they’d dismounted their bikes and were wearily pushing them uphill. One lone rider a couple of minutes behind breathed heavily, as with each rotation of the pedals a look of pain spread across his face. We laughed at this scenario. A few years ago when we were mountain biking in Grizedale Forest, Ian pushed his bike uphill red-faced and sweating while my thighs of steel and calves of iron helped me to carry on pedalling. It was a different story on the decline. While Ian went racing past me, I found myself letting out a few girly screams as I became consumed by fear.
Walking downhill, we eventually bagged a right at the footpath sign for Ellerigg and joined another rocky track. After climbing a couple of styles and passing by a few more sheep, we found ourselves back in Ambleside and technically, at the end of the walk. But with multiple walks available from our favourite Cumbrian town, it’s easy to tag a couple together, which is exactly what we did.
High Sweden Bridge
A number of years have passed since we last did this walk, but as we headed up High Sweden Bridge Lane and followed the path towards a rocky track, every step came flooding back. Just like Stock Ghyll Force, it was an easy walk to remember and with a clearly defined route, getting lost would have been virtually impossible. Enclosed within stone walls, the trackway led us upwards while giving us plentiful views of rolling hills and vibrant greenery. I grabbed my camera and began snapping away again. Eventually, the walls disappeared, the trackway opened up and we found ourselves with thick green woodland on either side.
Going walking is our therapy, and like always, we found ourselves discussing our life plans for the next 6 months. With the house about to go up for sale, we discussed the last few things still left to do and a rough timeframe in which to complete them by. It’s amazing what a walk in nature can do for clarity.
Passing a variety of other walkers, some with children and some with dogs, High Sweden Bridge eventually came into sight and we remembered why it was such a popular walk. With people scattered around the hillside – sunbathing, eating sandwiches and paddling in the stream – we found a spot and made ourselves comfortable. We pulled out our jamwiches, grabbed our flask of coffee and basked underneath the brilliant blue sky. Disappointed I was unable to capture a shot of the bridge due to the sheer volume of people, we packed up our bag and continued on our way.
Surrounded by fencing and construction roads, High Sweden Bridge has also undergone many changes over the past few years. With proposed plans for a hydroelectric scheme, the beauty of the countryside is not quite the eye candy it once was. I’m not sure what the plans are, but it was a shame to see such changes to a landscape that was once so beautiful.
As we continued on our way, we opted to take the original route – a scramble on all fours up the side of the fell – rather than taking the dirt track like many walkers now choose. When we reached the top, we climbed onto the style, and with a birds-eye view, looked down on the world below.
After a few minutes of reflection, we made our descent back down the hillside, past one of my favourite random photo opportunities and towards Nook End Farm. Once through the yard, we followed Nook Lane all the way back down into Ambleside and headed back to the car.
Coffee and Carbohydrates
After a quick change back at the car, we decided to have an afternoon meander around Ambleside. But first, we headed to The Apple Pie shop for a much-needed carbohydrate boost and a soya milk coffee. I love this place, they do the most amazing custard filled, toffee covered doughnuts. Unfortunately, on our journey to vegan – they’re something we can no longer eat. But due to the carbs we were craving, their twice-cooked chips were the most appealing item on the menu anyway and with a sweet chilli dip on the side, they certainly hit the spot. Having always been happy with the service in the past, we were both a little disappointed with how long everything took. We waited over half an hour for our chips and I had to ask two members of staff to clean our table before someone actually did. Considering it wasn’t even full, I was shocked by the change in service since we last visited. I’m hoping we just caught them on an off day and that next time we visit normal service will have resumed. Refuelled and refreshed, we had a short meander around Ambleside, heading into a few shops and then generally doing a bit of window shopping before returning to the car.
On reflection, I feel our recent trip was more about remembering why we fell in love with the Lakes to begin with rather than trying to discover more. Over the years, we’ve hiked some of the Lake District’s finest including Helvellyn, the Fairfield Horseshoe and Red Screes, but this time around it was nice to take things a bit easier. High Sweden Bridge and Stock Ghyll Force are the first two walks Ian and I did together so it was nice to reflect on such happy memories. And as usual, I couldn’t think of a better place to spend my birthday.
Do you enjoy walking in the Lake District? What’s your favourite walk?