Lake that inspired artists and poets

Mathilde walks

A series of walks that give you the chance to stop for coffee, cake, lunch or brunch at Mathilde’s at the Heaton Cooper Studio, the Lake District’s centre for mountain art. All the walks are free to everyone, connecting visitors with the natural surroundings of our unique landscape in this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In the autumn, when the crowds are thinning out, and the trees are too, the Lake District is at its most magnificent. And we are so lucky to have on our doorstep two of the loveliest lakes, Grasmere and Rydal.

This walk takes you along both of them, but we want to concentrate this time on delightful Rydal Water, which inspired our family of artists over several generations, but also provided inspiration for William Wordsworth.

The poet lived here in Grasmere at two houses which are now tourist attractions – Dove Cottage and Allan Bank – but he spent most of his life at Rydal Mount, a bright and airy home in beautiful gardens which lies beyond the south end of the lake. He could see the water from his sitting room window; you can visit there, too.

But today you’re heading out for a brisk walk. It’s around six miles, and while the scenery is stunning and the landscape typical of the very best of the Lake District, there are no serious hills to climb, and no chance of getting lost in the autumn mist. And your destination is something spectacular and rather magical: a huge cave in a mountainside.

Follow the road out of Grasmere for almost a mile and take the second footpath sign on the left, which will take you into Deerbolts wood. Keep to the upper path which will bring you onto Loughrigg terrace, named after the fell that rises on your right. You might be tempted or distracted to go higher and climb to its summit; please go ahead! But staying on the route is a beautiful path which offers easy walking underfoot with views down to Rydal Water.

Rydal Water is one of the smallest lakes at 3/4 mile long, 1/4 mile wide and with a depth of 55 feet, and because of those gentle statistics and a quiet air, it’s loved by open water swimmers. The see it as a little gem because there are no boats, the water quality is excellent, and though you’re surrounded by trees, Cumbrian stone walls and moorland, swimmers never feel too exposed.

Rydal, as seen by William Heaton Cooper and, below, by Alfred Heaton Cooper

As you head towards the foot of the lake, the path takes you to the entrance of Rydal cave, a huge cavern which was once a slate quarry. It’s safe to go inside, following the stepping stones. In fact, Wainwright claims that “there is shelter enough here for the whole population of Ambleside, although admittedly many people would be standing in water”.

There’s a tradition now, each winter, to sing carols inside the cave, and last year’s event saw a huge crowd – not QUITE the whole of Ambleside – gathered inside with candles and torches, singing around a camp fire.

You will probably have the place to yourself – and several hundred tiny fish – at this time of year, so please, sing your heart out!

The return journey takes a path dropping down to the lake shore, which you follow to the river joining Rydal to Grasmere, and then along the side of Grasmere via Penny Rock Wood to the short climb back up to the road. Turn right down the hill and start to dream of tea and scones, or coffee and cake, back here at Mathildes.

Rydal cave
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