Discovering Lakeland's finest balcony in a peaceful and little-trodden corner of the north western Fells.
Distance 5 miles (8km)
Minimum time 3hrs
Ascent/gradient 650ft (200m)
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Well-defined paths and tracks, all stiles have adjacent gates
Landscape Hillside, farm pastures, forest and lakes
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer OL 4 The English Lakes (NW)
Start/finish NY 134210
Dog friendliness On lead, except for Holme Wood
Parking Maggie's Bridge pay car park, Loweswater (get there early)
Public toilets None on route
© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153
1 Just opposite the car park entrance go through the gate marked to High Nook Farm and follow the track through the fields. After passing through the farmyard continue along a stony track that climbs into the comb of Highnook Beck and beneath the craggy sides of Carling Knott.
2 Take the right fork each time the path divides. This will bring you down to the footbridge across the beck. Across the bridge the route continues as a fine grassy track that doubles back right, raking across the hillside to the top of the Holme Wood plantations. The track follows the top edge of the woods before traversing the breast of Burnbank Fell.
3 The track swings left and climbs to a ladder stile and a gate to the north of the fell. Here it divides. Ignore the left fork, which doubles back to an old mine. Instead go over the stile and descend gradually north west across high pastureland.
4 A couple of hundred paces short of the road at Fangs Brow, turn right over a ladder stile and continue along a rutted track past Iredale Place farm. Just beyond the house the track joins a tarmac lane.
5 On reaching Jenkinson Place (a farm) the tarmac lane ends. Turn left here, over a stile and follow a well-defined grass track across the fields towards Hudson Place and the lake. A signpost diverts the way left, around the farm complex. The path meets a lane from Waterend farm. Turn right and follow the lane, which nears the shores of Loweswater before entering Holme Wood.
6 A wide track now heads through the woods, but by taking a path to the left, you can get nearer the shoreline. This second path rejoins the original track just beyond a stone built outhouse. At Watergate Farm, turn left to follow a wide gravel road back to the car park at Maggie's Bridge.
Loweswater is one of Lakeland's finest yet least talked about Lakes; perhaps because it's a bit remote from the more popular parts of Lakeland. I had just visited and couldn't wait to talk to my friends about it. 'Where's Loweswater then?' was the general reaction. Well, it's that lake beyond Buttermere and Crummock Water; the one you never quite got around to visiting. The fellwalker judges Lakeland by the height of the fells, and the fells here are low - one's even called Low Fell. But somehow, standing on the lakeshore, it doesn't matter.
Loweswater's a bit of a thief: it steals the best views of Crummock Water's fells - Grasmoor and Whiteside never looked more fair than they do from Carling Knott's balcony path, and little Mellbreak bursts into the sky like a volcano - steep, serious and rocky.
Loweswater village is little more than the Kirkstile Inn, the church and the village hall, with a scattering of whitewashed farm buildings in the lush green fields and alongside the narrow country lanes. The walk starts on the outskirts of the village, by Maggie's Bridge. It uses an old corpse road to get to the fellsides. The corpses? They would have been parishioners from Loweswater, for the church didn't have its own burial ground. They would be strapped on to horses' backs before being carried all the way to St Bees on the coast. After the climb up the high sides of Carling Knott, the mourners might not have appreciated that this is one of the most splendid balcony paths in Cumbria - green, flat and true - and with wonderful views across the lake to Darling Fell.
The old track descends to farm pastures. The names of the farmhouses, Iredale Place, Jenkinson Place and Hudson Place, are all derived from the original owners' names. Beyond the last-mentioned, the route comes down to the lake. Loweswater is celebrated among anglers for its trout and it's perch. Both fish are hunted down by the predatory pike, a huge streamlined fish present here in large numbers.
The path continues into the National Trust's Holme Wood. Oak predominates near the lake, although the trees at the top of the wood largely consist of pine, larch and Sitka spruce. The wood is one of the last strongholds of the red squirrel. You're very likely to see pied and spotted flycatchers here, and maybe, if you're lucky, a green woodpecker.
The path, leaves the lake behind, comes out of the woods and crosses the fields of Watergate, back to Maggie's Bridge. Mellbreak still towers above the trees, tauntingly, tantalisingly showing off its scree paths to the summit. Another day perhaps, for this has been a day for quiet contemplation.
There's been a place of worship at Loweswater since 1158 when Ranulph de Lyndesay gave a chapel and some land to the Abbey of St Bees. In 1827 that building was demolished to make way for the present much larger church, for lead mining had increased the local population to over 500 at this time. At the same time a school for 80 children was built - it's now the village hall.
The Kirkstile Inn at Loweswater is one of the best in the Lakes. Good value, high quality food - a succulent steak with a green peppercorn and mustard sauce is complemented by an extensive, but reasonably-priced wine list. Dogs are welcomed in the bar but not in the restaurant. Oak beamed ceilings and an open fire make this an inviting place after a day on the hills.
One thing you may notice about Loweswater is that it outflows not to the lowlands, but towards the high fells - the only lake in Cumbria to do this. You'll see the stream at Maggie's Bridge, from where it flows beneath Mellbreak into Crummock Water. In the last ice age the great glaciers of the Irish Sea and the high fells collided, leaving deep deposits of glacial debris that blocked Loweswater's north western shores.