Wonderful panoramas to the surrounding fells, a jewelled lake and sylvan splendour are the delights of this walk.
Distance 5.2 miles (8.4km)
Minimum time 3hrs
Ascent/gradient 1,083ft (330m)
Level of difficulty Hard
Paths Good paths and tracks, steep ascent and descent, 3 stiles
Landscape Woods, open fell and lakeside
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer OL 4 The English Lakes (NW)
Start/finish NY 265229
Dog friendliness Fields and open fell grazed by sheep, open lakeside, suitable for dogs under control
Parking Derwent Head car park
Public toilets At Derwent Head, above lake
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1 Proceed down the road to Derwent Bay. Go left opposite the landing stages, past the toilets, to take the track through Cockshot Wood. Walk through the wood and exit on to a fenced lane which leads across the field to the Borrowdale road. Cross the road and climb the stone steps to enter Castlehead Wood. Take the path which trends left to ascend the shoulder. In a little way a steeper path climbs up to the right, to the rocky summit of Castle Head and a fine viewpoint.
2 Descend by the same route to reach the shoulder, then follow the path right to find a kissing gate. Exit the wood and enter a lane through the field. Continue to Springs Road and go right. Ascend to cross a bridge by Springs Farm. Take the track up through Springs Wood. Bear right at the junction then follow up the edge of the wood to pass the TV mast. Ascend until a footbridge crosses left to Castlerigg Road. Bear right and continue, to find a footbridge below Rakefoot.
3 Cross the footbridge over the stream. Turn left and follow the path, ascending by the stone wall. Cross a stile, and walk out on to the open shoulder of the fell, ascending the steep grassy nose. The going levels until a stile on the right, through the fence line, leads to a path which follows the edge of the crag. Caution, there is a steep unfenced drop. Those wishing to stay away from the cliff edge can take a higher stile. Follow the path which crosses the head of a gully, Lady's Rake, to climb on to the polished rock cap of Walla Crag where the views are superb.
4 Return to the boundary and follow the wall down, taking the lower stile. The path descends steeply above Cat Gill. Descend to a track by a bridge and bear right into Great Wood. Follow the track then descend left into the car park. Continue straight across, to find a path which descends to a gap in the wall by the Borrowdale Road. Take the gap in the wall opposite and follow the path to the lake shore.
5 Bear right, following around Calfclose Bay, by Stable Hills, around Ings Wood and Strandshag Bay to the Scots pine on Friar's Crag. Continue easily back to Derwent Bay and take the footpath along the road side to the car park.
At the foot of Borrowdale, often referred to as the most beautiful valley in England, the northern head of Derwent Water opens to Keswick and the northern fells with dramatic effect. Whilst experiencing the considerable charm of the woods and lakeside, the highlight of this walk is undeniably the staggering view from the heights of Walla Crag. West across Derwent Water, beyond Cat Bells, Maiden Moor and the secretive Newland Valley, stand the striking north western fells of Causey Pike, Sail, Crag Hill and Grisedale Pike. To the south west rise Glaramara and Great Gable. To the north Skiddaw and Blencathra. Undeniably one of the most evocative viewpoints within the whole of the Lake District National Park.
This walk touches the lake shore before traversing the oak woods of Cockshot and Castlehead, to rise to the craggy top of Castle Head. A fine viewpoint in its own right, guarded on three sides by steep crags, it is reputedly the site of an Iron-Age hill fort. Springs Wood follows before ascent can be made to the steep open shoulder leading to Walla Crag. The metal strips seen in the track once provided grip for the caterpillar tracks of tanks on training manoeuvres here during the Second World War. Before the latest metric surveys by the Ordnance Survey the height of Walla Crag was easy to remember - it was 1,234ft above sea level! Descent through Great Wood follows and a delectable stroll home along the shore of this beautiful lake.
The lake is 3 miles (4.8km) long and 72ft (22m) deep and is fed by the River Derwent. A speed limit ensures that motor powered boats do not ply its waters. Seasonal salmon, brown trout, Arctic char, perch and the predatory pike swim beneath the surface.
There are four islands on the lake, all owned by the National Trust. The largest and most northerly of the four is Derwent Isle. Once owned by Fountains Abbey it was bought by German miners from the Company of Mines Royal in 1569. The island and part of its grand 18th-century house are open to visitors on a handful of days during the year. St Herbert's Island was reputedly home to the Christian missionary of that name in the 10th century and monks remained in residence after his departure. A ruinous summer house is all that stands there today.
By the path, just above Derwent Bay, is an inscribed slate plaque in honour of Canon H D Rawnsley who did much to keep the lake as it remains today. He was vicar of Crosthwaite, the parish church of Keswick, from 1883 to 1917, and was one of Lakeland's greatest conservationists. In 1895 he became a co-founder of the National Trust. He was a campaigner against rude postcards and also encouraged Beatrix Potter to publish her first book The Tale of Peter Rabbit in 1900.
The rocky knoll of Friar's Crag, with its stand of Scots pine, is one of the most famous lakeside viewpoints. It is said to take its name from the friars who once lived on St Herbert's Island. At the foot of the crag, attached to the rocks which are often submerged when the lake level is high, memorial plaques detail all the former mayors of Keswick.
In Keswick you'll find the George Hotel, the town's oldest inn, which serves Jennings real ales and has both restaurant and bar meal facilities. There is also a café overlooking Derwent Bay.
The Derwentwater Motor Launch Company runs regular sailings both clockwise and anticlockwise around the lake. Landing stages en route include Ashness Gate, Lodore, High Brandlehow, Low Brandlehow, Hawes End and Nichol End. It makes for a good walk to take the boat out and return by foot to Keswick. Family tickets offer good value.