The high Lakeland fells are, to many, at their most majestic in the
late winter; as bright low sun glistens against snow-capped peaks and
the frozen streams glitter and sparkle. But there’s danger in this
beautiful landscape, and it should be remembered that winter
mountaineering is not to be undertaken by the inexperienced or
ill-prepared. Proper technical equipment, along with knowledge of how to
use it, is essential for those venturing onto the tops at this time of
So in this blog article, we’re featuring a delightful
day’s hike of just over six miles, which stimulates the senses with the
best that winter has to offer, all from the safety and security of a low
level route around Elterwater and the charming Little Langdale Valley.
We suggest starting and finishing on the Common at Elterwater. It’s a
popular spot but there are plenty of places to park around the Common,
and you’ll soon be far from the crowds on even the busiest of weekends.
Park up and get organised, and make your way to the
bridge over the River Brathay. Just before the bridge, the wide, level
track heads downstream along the north bank of the river, making for a
charming and tranquil start to the day – just the ticket for loosening
up those legs as you stroll through meadows and woodland accompanied by
the gently flowing river as it briefly becomes the ‘lake’ of Elterwater
Our top tip for this stretch of the walk is to keep turning round and
looking back up the Great Langdale Valley. The scenery is picture
postcard perfect, with the majestic Langdale Pikes providing one of the
finest views in the Lakes as its backdrop.
As the wide meadows narrow you’ll arrive at a kissing gate,
immediately after which you’ll see the strikingly artistic wrought metal
footbridge which takes you over the river just above the thundering
waterfall of Skelwith Force. The bridge was designed and built by local
metalworker Chris Brammall, and stands as a triumphant testament to the
occasional ability of planning departments to allow a little creativity
in the landscape. Clamber down the rocks on either side for a closer
look at the waterfall, but do be careful – wet rocks are slippery!
Once on the south side of the river, keep following the path
downstream through the woods, before turning uphill and due south
alongside the road until you emerge through another kissing gate into
fields again, with the great bulk of the Coniston Fells directly ahead
and open views of the Langdale Pikes to the right.
Pass through a farmyard and past some delightful old cottages, then
across another field and over the stile into woodland where steep steps
lead the path downwards towards the river. You’ll now turn right along
the road for just a few yards before taking the path on the left back
into the woods and along to the impressive and surprisingly
little-visited sight of Colwith Force. You’ll hear it before you see it,
as the Brathay crashes forty feet down the rocks into a deep plunge
pool – a fine spot to sit a while and get that flask opened!
From the waterfall, climb onwards up through the woods until you
emerge at High Park Farm and join the narrow lane heading west. You’re
in the heart of Little Langdale now, with breath-taking views of the
high mountains all around and a noticeable lack of sedentary tourists.
As you stroll along the lane, the Three Shires Inn soon comes into view
on the opposite side of the valley, and you can almost taste the
well-earned local ale and hearty lunch which awaits.
For the ravenous, cut straight across the fields and the footbridge
from Stang End Farm; but we strongly recommend taking an extra few
minutes to follow the lane until you meet the ford across the river.
Don’t cross yet, but carry on another 500 yards or so on the south side
of the river and cross by the charming Slater Bridge, an ancient
footbridge connecting the small community of Little Langdale with the
vast Tilberthwaite slate quarries which lie between here and the
Coniston Fells. We guarantee your camera’s going to be put to good use!
From Slater Bridge, it’s just a short stroll over the field and up
the lane to the Three Shires Inn where you can enjoy our fine
hospitality and make lunch as leisurely as you like – for you’ve already
done the lion’s share of the walk.
Leaving the Three Shires, follow the lane south just a few yards and
turn left to follow the bridleway back towards Elterwater. It’s a
pleasant path climbing through fields to begin with, soon joining the
wide bridleway which leads downhill directly back to Elterwater; joining
the road just before the bridge where you first headed downstream
alongside the river.
One final, but important note: although this description is accurate,
it should not be used as your only guide to following the route. A
proper Ordnance Survey map is always an essential companion.