A ride through the forest beyond Ennerdale Water.
Minimum time 2h00
Distance 12 miles (19.3km)
Suggested map OS Explorer OL 4 The English Lakes (NW)
Start/finish Bowness Knott car park; grid ref: NY 109153
Trails/tracks good forest roads, occasionally bumpy
Landscape lake, forest, wild valley ringed by high fells
Public toilets none on route
Tourist information Egremont, tel 01946 820693
Bike hire Ainfield Cycle Centre, Cleator, tel 01946 812427; Mark Taylor Cycles, Whitehaven, tel 01946 692252
Recommended pub Shepherds Arms Hotel, Ennerdale Bridge, near the route
Notes children 10+. Younger children will enjoy a shorter version
© Automobile Association 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153
The car park is half way along the north shore of Ennerdale Water, at a dead-end. Access is via minor roads east from Ennerdale Bridge or south from Lamplugh.
1 Turn left from the car park, rolling down to the shores of Ennerdale Water. The track runs beside the lake for about 1 mile (1.6km), then continues through the forest above the river, here called Char Dub. Dub is a common dialect word for a pool, and the char is a species of fish. Continue past Low Gillerthwaite Field Centre and then the youth hostel at High Gillerthwaite.
2 Just past the youth hostel the track forks. Keep right (really straight ahead). The track goes up and down more than you might expect. Take care on fast downhill bends where the surface is loose. Above all don't grab at the brakes. At the next fork 1 mile (1.6km) further on, a sign to the right points to Pillar. Save the Pillar road for the return and keep straight on - in fact, this track straight ahead gives the best views of the Pillar Rock. The way climbs gradually to a more level stretch with open views across the valley to Pillar directly opposite. Pillar Rock is the centrepiece of a mass of crags strewn across the north face of the mountain. This is a worthy objective in itself and makes a reasonable turnaround point for those who feel they've gone far enough.
3 As Pillar falls behind, the valley head opens up. There's a space where you may find some vehicles and then the main track curves down right.
4 Straight ahead through a gate is a much rougher track leading 400yds (366m) to Black Sail Hut Youth Hostel - many people may prefer to walk for some or all of it. You can make yourselves tea or coffee in the members' kitchen, but don't forget to leave a suitable donation. Return to the gate. The bridleway going up right climbs to Scarth Gap Pass and then descends to Buttermere. Ignore it, and go back through the gate and down left to the River Liza.
5 Splash through the concrete ford and swing round right. Now keep straight along the track, mostly downhill, ignoring branches up and left until it swings down to the river.
6 Cross the bridge and go up to the 'Pillar' signpost. Rejoin the main track of the outward route to return to the car park.
Pillar Rock, south east of the lake end, stands proud of the mountainside in a way that few other crags do, and has a distinct summit of its own. This was first reached in 1826 by a local shepherd, John Atkinson. If conditions are good there may well be climbers on the Rock - binoculars will help you spot them. Today the easiest routes to the top are considered as hard scrambling rather than rock-climbing, but over the years climbers have added many routes on the various faces, some of them very challenging.
Some forty years ago the legendary fellwalker Alfred Wainwright wrote, 'Afforestation in Ennerdale has cloaked the lower slopes...in a dark and funereal shroud of foreign trees'. But things are changing. The Forestry Commission now plants a wider diversity of trees in many of its forests, and in the upper reaches of Ennerdale things have gone much further. The Wild Ennerdale project is slowly restoring much more natural woodland. It's worth reflecting that the bare slopes of rough grass are not entirely 'natural' either, but the result of centuries of farming, most notably overgrazing by sheep.
Although relatively gentle in itself, this route joins the world of the mountaineer, the fell-runner and the long-distance walker, entering the heart of the high fells. At the head of the valley, lonely Black Sail Hut Youth Hostel makes a perfect place to stop. You can make yourself a cup of tea there and even stay the night - but make sure that you book in advance (tel 0411 108450, not open all year).