Derwentwater may be the Queen of the Lakes, Windermere the longest and Wastwater the deepest, but no lake provides as many ‘wow!’ moments as Ullswater. There’s something very special about the way this serpentine body of water draws you in, from the easy-going slopes and farmland around Pooley Bridge to the village of Glenridding, where the mountains suddenly crowd in, their crags tumbling right down to the water’s edge at times.
The best way to experience the lake? Some might say, take a boat ride on the Ullswater ‘Steamers’, which shuttle backwards and forwards between Pooley Bridge, Howtown, Glenridding and Aira Force all year round. Others might suggest you slow the pace by walking the fully signposted Ullswater Way, which completes a 20-mile circuit of the lake. Highlights along the way include the waterfall and arboretum at Aira, and the Cockpit Stone Circle, located on moorland that’s dotted with prehistoric remains.
Some of the area’s most challenging fell walks start from the villages of Glenridding and Patterdale, most notably the hike up Helvellyn. The knife-edge arêtes of Striding Edge and Swirral Edge provide the most exciting (and nerve-wracking) ascents, the domain solely of experienced mountaineers come the snow, but there are less rocky routes to the popular summit.
Further east are the quieter valleys of Martindale, Swindale, Mardale, Wet Sleddale, Longsleddale and the ‘other’ Borrowdale (not the famous one near Keswick). These might be missing the drama of the Lake District’s central valleys, but what they lack in spectacle, they more than make up for in solitude and serenity. It’s not that long ago that England’s last remaining golden eagle could be spotted here, high above Haweswater, the county’s largest reservoir. Sadly, he disappeared in 2016. But large herds of native red deer still roam these remote fells, their haunting calls filling the air come the autumn rut.
There are several interesting sights along this eastern edge of the Lake District. The shell of the nineteenth-century Lowther Castle forms the centrepiece of one of the most popular visitor attractions, and includes extensive gardens and an adventure playground built to mirror the castle but in miniature. Stepping further back in time, the ruins of the 12th-century Shap Abbey are hidden away in a secluded hollow beside the River Lowther.