Today Little Langdale is so peaceful and secluded you could be forgiven for thinking it has always been this way. However, take a walk around the valley and you soon come across evidence of a bustling industrial past. The valley and its surrounds have been heavily quarried for slate over hundreds of years and the impressive remnants of this once booming industry are still there for all to see. This circuit of about five miles mainly follows old packhorse tracks leftover from the days when slate was transported from the valley to the surrounding area. The going is generally on very good tracks and roads, although there is a slightly rougher section through the woods near Tilberthwaite. The slate mines themselves are often slippery and rough underfoot, especially after wet weather.
From the Three Shires Inn to Cathedral Quarry
With the Three Shires Inn behind you, turn right and head up the road for a short distance. Turn left at the wooden finger post and black and white road sign and go downhill (signposted towards Tilberthwaite).
Follow the tarmac down the hill until you reach a set of steps up to a kissing gate on your right. Go through the gate and follow a path uphill through a field to another gate. Here a path leads gently downhill towards Slater Bridge. This ancient hump-backed bridge is so weathered and crooked that it almost seems like a natural feature itself, but in years gone by was an important conduit joining Little Langdale with the slate mines in the Tilberthwaite area.
Cross over the bridge and head through a field to a track below walls of slate slag. From here you can turn left and walk down to a gate and another track which leads up to the abandoned Cathedral Quarry. The quarry gets its name from its huge central cavern and vast aperture opening out to the trees and sky. There are numerous tunnels and holes to explore here and - if you’re so inclined - there are also plenty of hard and thought-provoking rock climbs guaranteed to get the heart beating.
As with all the disused slate quarries, Cathedral Quarry (also known as Black Hole) has been mostly reclaimed by nature and even on warm days the air is dank and cool beneath the canopy of trees.
Cathedral Quarry to Tilberthwaite
From the quarry head back down to the main track and walk back in the direction of Slater Bridge. Pass beneath the wall of slag and stay on the gravel track, passing through a little collection of buildings (there are often cakes for sale here if you’re feeling peckish). Follow the track uphill to emerge onto a hillside overlooking Little Langdale tarn. Keep going until you meet another track heading up the hillside (signposted to Tilberthwaite). Follow this track quite steeply uphill to where it levels off. The mounds of slate slag high to your right mark the location of Runestone quarry, another good spot for rock climbing.
The track continues over a little plateau with great views back towards Blea Tarn and the Langdale Pikes before dropping downhill to a farm. Go through the gate onto a tarmac road, which you can follow all the way down to a bridge over the river (there is another cake cabin beside the road!). From the car park at the bridge a path leads up into Tilberthwaite Quarry, which is worth an explore.
Tilberthwaite to Hodge Close
The bridge crosses over a beck next to the parking area at Tilberthwaite. Follow the bank of the beck (on the left bank with the parking behind you) to a gate through a wall into woods. Follow a narrow path (quite rough and slippery) through the woods which then drops down to a more substantial gravel track. Follow the track until it emerges onto a road. Turn left on the road and follow it uphill - passing through woods and passing cottages - until you reach Hodge Close.
Hodge Close is perhaps the most imposing of the quarries on this route; a vast hole in the ground filled with water with truly dizzying drops on all sides. Not only is Hodge Close popular with rock climbers, but also divers who can explore a network of submerged tunnels and caverns. The sheer slate sides of the quarry drop 150 feet down to the lake where two openings (like the eyes of a skull!) lead through to the neighbouring Parrock Quarry. Metal remains from the period when the quarry was active - from the 19th century to the 1960s - can be seen all around, including the base of a crane near one of the openings. A number of divers have lost their lives exploring the tunnel, chambers and interconnecting passages beneath the water.
Hodge Close to the Three Shires Inn
From Hodge Close it is simply a matter of following the obvious gravel track which leads through a little collection of buildings and then woodland. The track passes through a number of gates and then comes to a collection of buildings at Stang End. From Stang End follow a wooden signpost to Little Langdale and drop down a lane between two dry stone walls, over a footbridge and then up through a field by a white house to the main road before heading left to the Three Shires Inn.