Follow the poet through Seathwaite and the exquisite Duddon Valley.
Distance 5 miles (8km)
Minimum time 3hrs
Ascent/gradient 850ft (260m)
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Paths, tracks, can be muddy below Seathwaite Tarn, 9 stiles
Landscape Craggy mountainside and wooded gorge
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer OL 6 The English Lakes (SW)
Start/finish SD 228960
Dog friendliness Can run free through woods at Wallowbarrow
Parking Roadside pull-off at grid reference SD 231975, limited roadside parking near pub and church
Public toilets None on route
Notes If River Duddon in spate, not advisable to cross at Fickle Steps Point e. Return to Seathwaite along road instead
© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153
1 From the Newfield Inn at Seathwaite in Dunnerdale follow the main valley road past the little church, then turn right on the tarmac lane towards Turner Hall Farm. Leave this and follow a track on the left through a gate marked 'High Moss'. Where the track ends, keep to the left-hand side of the farm, go through the top gate and follow the field path out to the Walna Scar Road.
2 Turn right along the road, then left on to the utility company's access road to Seathwaite Tarn. This pleasant green track climbs steadily up the fellsides to the reservoir dam.
3 Retrace your steps for a couple of hundred paces to a waymarking post highlighting a downhill path that weaves through rock and rough pasture. A mountain stream then leads the path down into the valley and Tarn Beck.
4 A ladder stile on the right-hand side gives access to the footbridge across the stream. On the far bank turn left and follow a footpath along the edge of a narrow wood. After passing behind two cottages the path turns uphill and across marshy fields to reach the Duddon Valley road.
5 Across the road follow the signed bridleway to the Fickle Steps, huge boulders, which allow you to cross the River Duddon. (Caution: if the river is in spate here and the steps are underwater, return by the road.)
6 To continue on the route, turn left, go over the footbridge across Grassguards Gill, then climb along a waymarked path above the tight wooded Wallowbarrow Gorge. The footpath descends again to cross boulder-strewn terrain on the bank of the River Duddon.
7 When you reach a tall one-arched footbridge, cross over to the other side of the river and turn right along the path, now tracing the eastern bank of the Duddon. Go over the footbridge spanning a tributary, Tarn Beck, before following a path out to the road. Turn left to walk back to your car in Seathwaite village.
On loitering Muse - the swift Stream chides us - on!
The walk begins in Seathwaite, a remote village with a rustic pub, a little church and a handful of farms, set beneath the crags of Wallowbarrow. A reservoir service road takes the route easily up into the Coniston fells to the dam of Seathwaite Tarn. The large reservoir is dwarfed by the rocks of Grey Friar and Buzzard Crag towering above. On some days it's an uninspiring place and needs a little help from evening light or, as on the occasion when I last visited, a dull windless day when the sulking crags were reflected to perfection in the hushed and gloomy waters.
Look the other way though and the landscape needs no help, especially if the bracken glows red to blend with the dusky heather, the crags and the odd lonely pine. The jagged cone of Harter Fell dominates the skyline high above the forests, streams and farmhouses. Our route descends through the heather and the bracken, and by a chattering beck to the Duddon. Over the road, it comes to the Fickle Steps across the river. Wordsworth remembers them in a fanciful sonnet:
Not so that Pair whose youthful spirits dance
With Prompt emotion urging them to pass;
A sweet confusion checks the Shepherd lass;
Blushing she eyes the dizzy flood askance;
Too ashamed - too timid to advance
There's a wire across the river to steady your progress these days. It's an exciting prelude to a wonderful walk through the Wallowbarrow Gorge. From a lofty path you look down on the river and it's bounding cataracts, then descend for a riverside stroll back into Seathwaite.
The Newfield Inn is a simply furnished but attractive pub, dating from the 17th century. There's an open fire in the bar and a wide range of real ales are available, including Theakston's and Jennings, and tasty bar meals. There's a good beer garden in the back for sunny days and dogs are welcome.
Take a look around Broughton-in-Furness, a pleasant village near the Duddon Estuary. Chestnut trees surround the village square, where there is an obelisk erected to commemorate the jubilee of George III, and a set of stocks. Broughton's oldest building is the Church of St Mary Magdalene, which has Saxon walls and a Norman archway.
You will see clumps of bog myrtle in the peat meadows of the Duddon Valley, especially near the end of the walk. It's a low aromatic shrub with woody stems and oval leaves and it thrives in this boggy terrain The branches have been used in past centuries, both for flavouring beer and for discouraging flies and midges, which apparently don't like its eucalyptus-like scent.