Walk 144: Grasmere & Rydal Waters & the ‘Coffin Route’ Circular walk

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 6.81 miles (10.96 km)

Time to walk: It was throwing it down with rain & strong winds when we did this walk, so we took our time & it took just over 2.5 hours

Difficulty: Mainly off road. There are a few steep uneven sections, but no stiles. It can also get muddy in extreme weather as it follows lakes & rivers. Today, in January 2020, it was particularly bad, so apologies for some of the poor quality photos, but the camera did get water in it, so we had to resort to using the mobile phone. Local weather reports were telling people to keep away from the high fells & any ridges

Parking: Any of the public car parks in Grasmere

Public toilets: Public ones (30p in Grasmere car park) & the Glen Rothay Hotel near Rydal Water approximately halfway round

Map of the route:

This walk was done as part of a weekend gathering to celebrate the life of Jane Ridnell, who we lost just before Xmas. Friends gathered to visit places etc that meant a lot to Jane &, whilst they all went en mass to various places, we did this one alone – hope we’ve done it justice on our blog

We love the Lake District, but it must be at least 15 years since we last visited. We’ve also done this classic walk many times, & it deserves to be on our blog. We start in Grasmere & then exit the town around the lake passing into Rydal Water, before visiting one of Wordsworth’s homes & returning via the ‘Coffin Route’ to his other one

There’s several car parks, but we found the cheapest one is over the bridge near the cafe…

The village takes its name from the adjacent lake & has associations with the “Lake Poets”, one of whom, William Wordsworth lived in Grasmere for 14 years & called it “the loveliest spot that man hath ever found.”

No-one’s quite sure where the name comes from, but one possibility is it’s from a translation of the phrase”the lake flanked by grass.”

Shall we go?

Let’s Walk!

1. Our walk today starts in beautiful Grasmere, home of the Wordsworths & we’ll see their graves later, but if you want to “Wander lonely as a Cloud” then this walk may be for you, although you may have to wait until April to see the famous daffodils

Even getting out of the car into waterproofs, we were already drenched to the skin & it would have been easy to have abandoned the walk before we’d even started it, but we’re made of sterner stuff!

2. Come out of the car park & turn left to walk away from the village on the road up the hill…

You can see from the water in the above photo why we were struggling to get a decent picture. Pass the hotel on the left & continue along the road. We thought that the red squirrel population was only around Ullswater, but it appears to be heading south which is great news…

3. The road continues to climb & everyone knows that this is a walk that takes in the Grasmere Water shoreline, but it’s about another half mile until you’ll reach that point…

It’s around this spot though, that you’ll hopefully get your first view of the lake. Even though you can’t see it in all its glory, the colours bracken etc are still spectacular..

If you could have seen it this is what it would have looked like…

4. Anyway…carry on keeping left as the road forks to eventually arrive at a break in the fence with a signpost indicating the path down to the lake…

5. The path now follows the shoreline of Grasmere Lake which is one of the smaller lakes in the Lake District at 1680 yards long & 700 yards wide. It has a maximum depth of 70 ft & is both fed & drained by the River Rothay, which flows through the village before entering the lake, & then exits downstream, as we’ll see shortly, into nearby Rydal Water. Beyond that it continues into Windermere

The waters of the lake are leased by the Lowther Estate to the National Trust & private boats & rowing boats are allowed, but powered boats are prohibited.

The lake contains a single island, known as “The Island’ which was bequeathed to the National Trust in 2017. This gift has particular significance to the National Trust, as the organisation was founded in response to the sale of the same island to a private bidder in 1893. Canon Hardwick Rawnsley felt that such a location should instead be in public ownership, & soon afterwards started the National Trust with Octavia Hill & Robert Hunter

Have a seat…the island’s straight ahead of you!

6. Continue along the excellent path into Deerbolts Woods, again owned by the National Trust…

The one fell that can be seen if Loughrigg, which can also be climbed on a detour heading towards the Langdale Valley

7. The path descends from Deerbolts Woods down to the lakeside once more. Keep straight ahead to the footbridge which crosses the aforementioned River Rothay…

You can continue this walk on either side of the river, but we’re not crossing the bridge, following the right bank, passing the small waterfall, which was flowing well following all the rain

8. Be careful walking over the stones beside the river as they could well be slippery in wet weather. This really is beautiful walking…

The path goes through a gate & then enters White Moss Wood where it follows the valley, climbing above it & then descending back down once more…

9. Eventually you’ll arrive at another bridge & there’s the opportunity of a loo break should you need one. If you do cross the bridge & follow the path to White Moss Wood car park where there’s public toilets

To continue the walk, carry on the same side of the river from where you’ve just come, straight ahead as the sign below shows…

10. This is the first slightly steep hill you’ll have come across, but it’s only a short walk to the summit & the view through the gap in the wall is one of those that says “Come on let’s walk”

If you think this view’s good, wait until you walk through the gap, turn left & follow the path down to Rydal Water…

11. Rydal Water is 1,290 yards long & varies in width up to a maximum of 380 yards. It has a maximum depth of 65 ft. Navigation is prohibited, except for residents of Rydal Hall

The scenery once again, is seriously stunning so take your time along this part of the walk & enjoy the views…

12. The path’s extremely easy to follow & you’ll see several waterfalls coming down off the fells & crossing your way. Stepping stones are always great fun though…

There’s also plenty of the local Herdwick sheep to keep you company

13. Eventually the path splits. If you wish to visit Rydal Cave then take the right fork up the hill. The cave is man-made & huge, but we were soaked to the skin at this point & had only limited light to finish the walk

To continue this walk take the lower, left path through the iron kissing gate & into the woods once more…

Walk through the woods, keeping close to the water’s edge & have one last look back along this beautiful lake before you leave it behind. Even on a wet, misty day it’s still stunning

14. To exit the lakeside, cross the bridge over the River Rothay once again & walk up to the road…

On reaching the road there’s an opportunity for refreshments, or a loo break at the Glen Rothay Hotel & its famous Badger Bar. The hotel is over 400 years old & badgers have lived in the grounds for many years

15. Rydal itself is only a small village, but famous for being where Wordsworth lived in the only house he actually bought. We’ll see it shortly. In the meantime cross the busy road & walk right towards the properties, passing a National Trust sign for ‘Dora’s Field’…

The field was once owned by Wordsworth &, in spring, is full of bluebells &, of course, daffodils. Dora’s Field was originally called ‘The Rashfield’ because of the damp nature of the ground which would have originally supported mainly rushes

The field was bought by Wordsworth from the Backhouse family in 1826 as a defence strategy. The Wordsworths were tenants of Lady Anne le Flemming at Rydal Mount, just behind Dora’s Field, but in 1825 Lady Flemming announced her intention of giving the tenancy of Rydal Mount to a relative

Under threat of eviction, & desperate not to be forced away from the idyllic Rydal, Wordsworth bought the field & made it clear to Lady le Fleming his intention of building on the field in whatever way he wished (this would have been right in the view from Rydal Mount). George Webster, a famous Kendal architect, was even paid to draw up a design

Eventually this contingency plan wasn’t needed as the threat was withdrawn. The Wordsworth family gave the field to his daughter. When Dora tragically died Wordsworth, his wife & their gardener planted hundreds of daffodil bulbs in her memory

16. Ready for a climb? Turn left up the lane at the Rydal Mount sign, passing the church on the left…

St Mary’s Church was built by Lady le Fleming of Rydal Hall, at a cost of £1,500. The foundation stone was laid in 1823 with the chapel opened in 1824, & consecrated in 1825. William Wordsworth helped to choose the site, which was originally an orchard

17. Continue up the hill, passing the entrance to Rydal Hall on the right…

The house was built as the country seat of the Le Fleming family, & was sold with its gardens to the Diocese of Carlisle in 1970. The estate remained in the ownership of the Le Fleming family as of 1997. The house plays host to retreats, conferences & courses, & has holiday accommodation. There’s also the Old School Room Tea Shop

The gardens are open to the public & were restored between 2005-2007. There’s also a community vegetable garden

18. On the left’s ‘Rydal Mount’ which was purchased by William Wordsworth in 1813 to accommodate his growing family. He’d originally lived at Dove Cottage in Grasmere, which we’ll see later in this walk

William Wordsworth (7 April 1770 – 23 April 1850) was a Romantic poet who, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, helped to launch the Romantic Age in English Literature with their joint publication ‘Lyrical Ballads in 1798. He was Britain’s poet laureate from 1843 until his death from pleurisy on 23 April 1850

Wordsworth was born in Cockermouth in 1770, & knew the Lake District well from his childhood. He moved away to study at Cambridge University in 1787, & then travelled in Britain & continental Europe for 12 years

The Wordsworths continued to rent this property for 46 years, following William’s death in 1850, to the death of his wife, Mary, in 1859. Rydal Mount was acquired in 1969 by Mary Henderson (née Wordsworth), William’s great great granddaughter. It remains in the ownership of the Wordsworth family, & has been opened to the public since 1970

His most famous poem is “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” (also known as the “Daffodil” poem), the inspiration for which Wordsworth took whilst walking with his sister Dorothy around Glencoyne Bay, Ullswater

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
and twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not be but gay,
in such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
what wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

19. The route back to Grasmere is one of the most famous paths in the Lake District called the ‘Coffin Route’. Coffins passed this way, for burial in consecrated ground at St Oswald’s Church in Grasmere. That’s why the corpse roads existed, to give graveless places a route to holy burial. The start of it is well signposted behind Rydal Mount…

Centuries of superstition cling to what are today just old routes with dark names in remote country. In medieval times the dead were feared, & so were their corpse roads. Pathside stones, some of which remain here, served as rests for coffins, lifted from the path to prevent cursing the ground. The path rises & falls, hugging the hillside, narrow & damp & most certainly spooky if you want to walk the route at night!!

20. The views back across Rydal Water & Loughrigg are spectacular from this height & you can also make out the distinctive peaks of the Langdale Pikes…

At times the path rises & falls quite sharply & is quite rocky under foot so be careful in wet conditions. Look at the fantastic mosses that cover the old stone walls, many of which, if they could talk, would have many a story to tell you

21. The ‘Coffin Route’ runs for 3 miles &, although it can be very busy during the summer months, we didn’t see a sole in January (maybe because of the rain!). Eventually it begins to flatten out as remote properties come into view…

As the stream flows under the path, look up the hillside to the right to see a beautiful long waterfall making its way down the fell

22. Just pass the house in the above picture the track falls down the hill to join a hard-surfaced lane. Keep straight on, passing some swampy areas on the right. We remember nicknaming these “Mossie City” when we walked here on a hot summer’s day, but there’s no chance of getting bitten today!

Continue straight ahead when, after roughly half a mile, the rooftops of Grasmere come into sight once more. Just before the road drops down, there’s a bench with some great views to spend a few moments on..

23. The road bends right & then left down the hill to reach civilisation. If you do this walk during the summer months look out for the house on the left with all the wall baskets as these will be full of beautiful flowers…

Wordsworth’s other property, Dove Cottage is at the bottom of the hill on the right. When we last visited many years ago it was pretty much a stand alone building, but it’s now part of a modern Visitor Centre & was undergoing some extensive renovation work

Wordsworth & his sister, Dorothy, lived here from December 1799 to May 1808, where they spent over eight years of “plain living, but high thinking”. During this period, William wrote much of the poetry for which he is remembered today, together with parts of his autobiographical epic ‘The Prelude’

He married his wife Mary in 1802, & she & her sister joined the Wordsworths at Dove Cottage. The cottage was acquired by the Wordsworth Trust in 1890 & opened to the public as a writer’s home museum in 1891. Today it’s a Grade 1 listed building & remains largely unchanged from Wordsworth’s day, receiving approximately 70,000 visitors a year

24. We couldn’t finish this walk without having a look at Grasmere village itself so walk straight across the main road & past the car parks on the right…

If you fancy taking a different route through the village then follow the signs to the ‘Riverside Walk’. Some of the shops are definitely trying to cash in on the Wordsworth theme!

25. Cross the river on the old bridge to arrive at St Oswald’s Church, the graveyard of which is famous for containing the graves of the Wordsworth family. The first church in Grasmere was founded by Oswald, King of Northumbria in 642. The one before you today stands on or near the same site, & dates from the 14th century. It was doubled in size between 1490 & 1500

An interesting fact is the church participates in the annual ceremony of ‘Rushbearing’, an old English ecclesiastical festival in which rushes are collected & carried to be strewn on the floor of the church. The tradition dates back to the time when most buildings had earthen floors & rushes were used as a form of renewable floor covering for cleanliness & insulation. The festival was widespread in Britain from the Middle Ages & well established by the time of William Shakespeare, but had fallen into decline by the beginning of the 19th century, as church floors were flagged with stone. The custom was revived later in the 19th century & is kept alive today as an annual event in a number of towns & villages in the north of England

26. To see the family graves walk round to the right of the church, where you’ll find them surrounded by railings…

Despite being cold & soaked to the skin, we had been driven on by the thought of a traditional treat at the end of this walk & the sweet smells were already drawing us to another famous Grasmere institution. Exit the graveyard on the opposite side towards the small white & green building

27. Welcome to Sarah Nelson’s Grasmere Gingerbread shop

This fantastic little shop was built in 1630 as the village school, & is where Wordsworth occasionally taught. In 1854 it became the home of Sarah Nelson’s world famous original celebrated Grasmere Gingerbread, which is freshly baked everyday to a secret recipe & is only obtainable from this shop or through international mail order service. You simply have to buy some!

The inside of the shop is like stepping back 200 years…

28. After being relieved of your hard-earned cash (we bought 6 packets!), leave the shop & to return to the carpark turn left & then first right. However, you cannot leave without a visit to Baldry’s Traditional Tea Room which lies around the corner to the right

So that’s it, one of our favourite, short, low-level, yet stunning walks in the Lake District that’s great to do at anytime of the year although obviously best in dry weather with better visibility

The bonus of doing it on a wet January weekend was that we had the whole walk to ourselves which also had its advantages. It’s a cracker that we would happily walk every day

Jane, this one was for you & you’d have have probably looked at me soaked through every piece of clothing I had on & said “Silly Sod”

Go Walk!