The Lake District Guide

Ullswater - a view from the Lake

A great deal of the land around Ullswater is now National Trust property, the most notable being the Gowbarrow Fell Estate and Glencoyne Wood. The Cumbria Trust For Nature Conservation reserve at Goldrill Beck is not open to the public but can be seen from the steamer and is a good example of alder carr and reed beds.

Ullswater has three reaches. At Pooley Bridge the shores are pastoral, intermixed with woods coming down to the lakeside. Up the lake from Pooley Bridge, rounded limestone land gives way to banks of Skiddaw Slate, while past Skelly Nab the craggy heights of Borrowdale Volcanics can be seen with Helvellyn and Catstycam on the high skyline with nearby Place Fell crowding the eastern shore. After leaving Howtown, at the far end is Helvellyn with St. Sunday Crag on the left. On the immediate right is Glencoyne and the well wooded Stybarrow Crag descending into the lake. Opposite on the left is Place Fell which descends almost to the water's edge. Kirkstone Pass is at the head of the valley. In the middle reach the scenery becomes bolder and the fells rise sheer out of the lake, whilst at Patterdale it is a picture of mountain scenery.

Many miles of Ullswater's shore can be enjoyed by car, but those wishing to explore the south eastern side of the lake from Howtown to Patterdale must take to their feet. The steamers "Raven" and "Lady of the Lake" sail regularly in summer between Glenridding and Pooley Bridge calling at Howtown. The pleasures of sailing and walking can be combined by boarding the steamer at Glenridding, disembarking at Howtown and making the return journey on foot.

Oddly enough, Ullswater has trout but no char: one theory about the loss of char is that the lower levels where char live were polluted by lead from the mine spoils.

A Nature Panorama on Ullswater

Here is a description of the beauty of the scenery and wildlife you will encounter as you journey on Ullswater and as you walk in the area. This has been prepared by a small group of members of the Cumbria Trust for Nature Conservation. The Cumbria Wildlife Trust is a registered charity which exists to conserve all forms of wildlife, both plant and animal, in Cumbria. Like other county conservation trusts, it is a member of the Royal Society for Nature Conservation.

To maintain the wide variety of plant and animal life, which is an important part of Cumbria's attraction, the Trust is engaged in many types of work. It establishes and manages nature reserves, advises local authorities, public services, industry and agriculture on conservation matters, carries out wildlife surveys, and promotes interest in the countryside by nature trails, exhibitions, lectures and publications.

The bulk of the Trust's income comes from members' subscriptions and from donations. More is required if the Trust is to do the work necessary to protect the wildlife and countryside of Cumbria. If you would like to help conserve and develop the wildlife you have enjoyed in Cumbria, we'd welcome your help in any form. You can get details here: Wildlife Trust For Cumbria

The Ullswater Navigation & Transit Company Limited was formed in 1855 to provide a steamer service on Ullswater and the steamers Lady of the Lake and Raven were launched in 1877 and 1889. In those days the service provided a connection from Glenridding to Pooley Bridge and carried the Royal Mail. Nowadays the same steamers provide an opportunity to cruise the most beautiful of the English Lakes. The walker and naturalist can take a single ticket from Glenridding to Howtown and return on foot along the lake shore.

Ullswater is considered by many to be the most beautiful of the English lakes.

It is 7.5 miles long in three reaches. At its head are the high fells with the Helvellyn massif on one side and High Street on the other, and its foot in the pastoral vale of the river Eamont which is its outflow.

Patterdale (St. Patrick's Dale) is the village at the head of the lake and close by is Glenridding with its pier from which the steamers Raven and Lady of the Lake ply to and from Pooley Bridge at the lake's foot, calling at Howtown on the eastern shore. From Glenridding there are several routes up on to Helvellyn.

A mile and a half west of Glenridding, on the way up on to Helvellyn, is the old Greenside Mine which finally closed after the last war. Galena was the chief ore, yielding about 80% lead and a little silver. The chalice in the church is made from Glenridding silver.

High above Patterdale and to the east is Angle Tarn in a wild upland setting. About a mile north of the tarn and at the top of the steep climb from Patterdale, tracks lead down Boardale and nearby Bannerdale and also along the ridge of Beda Fell into Martindale and Howtown for the steamer back to Glenridding.

Howtown gives access to Martindale with its parish church of St. Peter on the hawse at the top of the hairpin bends, and half a mile further on, in the Howegrain valley, the older (thirteenth century) church of St. Martin and its 500 year old yew tree. Facing St. Peter's church is Hallin Fell, well worth the climb for the splendid views of lake and fells from the summit. Martindale is the home of the last herd of wild red deer in England. Sightings are most likely in the area of the Nab in the Howegrain and Bannerdale valleys and towards High Street.

A footpath goes along the eastern shore from Howtown to Patterdale via Kailpot Crag, Hallinhag Wood (one of the few remaining woodlands of the kind which once clothed all but the highest tops), Sandwick, Scalehow Beck, Silver Point and Side Farm. Roughly half way between Kailpot Crag and Silver Point is the deepest part of the lake - 205 ft. You can take the steamer from Glenridding to Howtown and walk back to Patterdale along this lovely path by the lake through ancient woodland, meadows and juniper-covered hillside.

South of Patterdale the road goes by Hartsop village and Brotherswater and over the Kirkstone Pass to Windermere and Ambleside.

Following the northwest side of the lake towards its foot at Pooley Bridge, the road winds through woodland by Stybarrow Crag and on to Glencoyne Manor Farm with its typical cylindrical seventeenth century Lakeland-style chimneys. The farm is a National Trust property of some 4,500 acres of fell land for sheep and hill cattle, and in summer open days are held for visitors to learn something of the working of a Lakeland sheep farm.

On now to Aira Force, a spectacular waterfall 65ft. high on the lower part of Aira Beck which drains some of the Helvellyn range. This is also a National Trust property. Nearby are Lyulph's Tower mentioned by Coleridge, and the lakeside where Wordsworth saw his host of golden daffodils or "Lenten lilies" as the wild daffodils are sometimes called.

Geologically, the Ullswater region comprises two main formations: the Skiddaw Slates and the Borrowdale Volcanic series. These frequently intermingle and result in the mixture of crags and open plateaux which contrast with the gentler slopes running down to the edge of the lake.

Ullswater is fed by many waters, some from Kirkstone to the south through Brotherswater are joined by water from Dovedale, Deepdale, Grisedale, Caudale and Hayeswater. Helvellyn sends its quota of fast flowing waters. The water from Aira Beck, failing down the crag face at Aira Force, joins the middle reaches, and the waters from Boardale, Bannerdale and Fusedale flow in from the southern remoteness of Martindale. It is little wonder that at times Ullswater floods its banks. In 1961 Manchester Corporation Waterworks Department promoted a Parliamentary Bill to turn Ullswater into a reservoir, but the bill was defeated by the eloquence of Lord Birkett in the House of Lords in February 1962. Lord Birkett died soon afterwards, but in gratitude for his efforts, a fell was named after him. This is on the western side of the take above Glencoyne Head. There is also a plaque to his memory on Kailpot Crag, but this is only visible from a boat. Later, the Water Authority was allowed to abstract limited quantities of water.

A walk along Ullswater by lake and shore

Howtown - Patterdale


The small headland on which the Howtown steamer pier stands is formed by debris (stones, gravel, sand and silt) washed down by the waters of Fusedale Beck. This material is deposited at the outflow of the beck to form a delta which is colonised first by water loving plants such as sedges and mosses which stabilise the land and thus pave the way for dry land species to move in. Fusedale Beck is crossed by a wooden footbridge overhung by alders. In spring lesser celandines, primroses and the green-flowered dog's mercury grow here, followed by wood anemones, marsh marigolds and later still common valerian. In early summer the meadow near the shore has a rich and varied flora including yellow rattle, betony, wood cranesbill and lady's bedstraw.

Hallin Fell

In spring the grassy slopes and rocky outcrops on Hallin Fell provide nesting sites for meadow pipit and wheatear and the grass is starred with the small yellow of tormentil. In summer the fell becomes a sea of waist high bracken relieved by patches of bright pink foxgloves. From here there is a fine view down the lake to Dunmallet Hill.

Hallinhag Wood

Hallinhag Wood is an example of natural woodland. The dominant tree is the oak but there are others including rowan, Scots pine and some fine beeches, though the latter were probably planted. Some trees are draped with honeysuckle and the woodland floor is carpeted with mosses and the rocks patched with lichens. There are many ferns, and wood sage and wood sorrel grow in the more open areas. The ancient trees provide abundant holes and crevices for woodland birds to nest. Greater spotted woodpecker, pied flycatchers, tree creepers, great tits and blue tits all breed here.

Kailpot Crag

The conspicuous outcrop of rock is Kailpot Crag. It takes its name from a pothole at its base formed by the swirling action of stones and water in a depression. This is difficult to see as the crag drops sheer to the lake and the pot can only be reached by scrambling round the shoreline.


A row of fine larches borders the path which leads to the bridge over Boardale Beck and the hamlet of Sandwick. Golden saxifrage, pink purslane, and marsh marigold grow by the beck.

The Sandwick area is of great interest to the geologist. Most of the walk is over rocks of the Borrowdale volcanic type giving the hills a rough craggy character. Between Hallinhag Wood and Scalehow Wood however the underlying rock is Skiddaw Slate and the hills are smoother and rounder. The waterfall on Scalehow Beck drops over the fault where the Skiddaw state and Borrowdale volcanic rocks meet. In wet flushes here the buttercup like flowers of lesser spearwort and the insectivorous plants of round leaved sundew and butterwort can be found.

Scalehow Wood

Scalehow Wood is surrounded by a wall but redstarts, spotted flycatchers and coal tits can often be seen flitting through the edge of the wood. In early summer a bird cherry just outside the wall is often infested with the communal webs of the small ermine moth caterpillar.

Long Crag

Bracken is the dominant vegetation above Scalehow Wood but at long Crag we are back on Borrowdale volcanic rock. Above the path are steep scree slopes and these continue below the path to the lake's edge. From here there are fine views across the lake to Gowbarrow, Aira Point and Lyulph's Tower, a hunting lodge built in the 19th century. The name Ullswater is said to be a corruption of Lyulph's Water. Aira Point is a delta formed from debris brought down by the Aira Beck.

Low Birk Fell

Parsley fern grows between the rocks on Low Birk Fell thus helping to stabilise the scree. Trees too, mainly birch, find a foothold amongst the rocks.

Birk Fell Earth

The slopes here are fairly well wooded mainly with birch and juniper but there are others including rowan and near to the water's edge alder and willow. Bracket fungus be seen on some of the birch trees. This fungus leads to the decay and eventual death of the trees. The elegant yellowish green ferns rather like enormous shuttlecocks are scaly male ferns. Violets flower here in the spring and the tiny flowers of milkwork, some almost pure white, some deepest blue. Here too are herb robert and lady's mantle.

Silver Point

A small stream flowing between banks of juniper from Silver Crag marks the change from woodland to more open fellside and Silver Point. This is a pleasant place to linger and enjoy the views back down the middle reach of the lake and across to Glencoyne and Stybarrow Crag. House Holm Island and the promontory of Devil's Chimney are popular resting places for cormorants. Some mature holly trees grow on the lower slopes of Silver Crag and holly blue butterflies are attracted to the flowers in May.

Silver Crag to Side Farm

In this section of the walk the path is mainly between walls but interest is maintained by the great variety of trees.

Side Farm to Patterdale

The way here is through pasture fields and over Goldrill Beck. Lapwings nest in the fields and pied and yellow wagtails frequent the beck.


The area is rich in bird life. As well as those already mentioned, yellowhammers, greenfinches, chaffinches, willow warblers and jays may be encountered. Great rafts of gulls roost on the lake and the bays are frequented by mallard, merganser, coot and herons.


An interesting fish found in the lake is the Schelly. A type of powan it is found in only two other lakes, Haweswater and Red Tarn. It is supposed that it was isolated in these lakes shortly after the ice age and has developed slight differences from its relatives in lakes in other parts of Britain. Trout and perch also inhabit the lake.

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