The Lake District can be a busy place during the summertime. However, there are still places to explore where you can feel as though you are all by yourself.
The valley which runs south west from Thirlmere through the Wythburn Fells is just such a place. This route follows Wyth Burn, before looping back over Ullscarf - another lesser visited spot - and dropping down to the beautiful Harrop Tarn.
Be warned, part of the reason that area above Wyth Burn - known, fittingly, as The Bog - is less popular with walkers is because it can be extremely wet underfoot. In the winter (and during a wet summer) it will be very sludgy indeed. It is definitely best to visit following a dry spell and, even then, go prepared with good footwear and a sense of humour.
Steel End car park to Greenup Edge
Despite the beauty of the fells which overlook Thirlmere - including the ever-popular peak of Helvellyn - the story of the valley is inextricably tied to a city that was a far cry from bucolic splendour.
As the industrial revolution gathered pace in England, the growing city of Manchester demanded more and more water. In response, the Manchester Corporation turned their eyes to the Lake District, damming Thirlmere in the late 19th century and constructing the Thirlmere Aqueduct, which carries water to the city to this day.
At the southern end of Thirlmere is the hamlet of Steel End and a car park of the same name where our walk begins. Across the road from the car park, a wooden finger post points the way along a path running alongside Wyth Burn.
Go through a gate in the wall and walk beside the river until it can be crossed via a wooden footbridge. The path now runs along the opposite side of Wyth Burn, climbing up the valley and overlooking a series of lovely waterfalls and pools. This really is a pretty valley, with lovely views back towards Thirlmere and a refreshing lack of traffic.
After a final set of little waterfalls the valley flattens out as the path passes tarns at the head of Wyth Burn. The way now becomes distinctly boggy, with the path often narrow and sometimes hard to spot. Keeping a dry foot is basically impossible, but at least this is refreshing in hot weather. The reward for the slightly arduous nature of the path is a sense of real seclusion and peace.
The path follows the southern edge of the valley, avoiding the worst of the bog, and eventually crosses the river to run along its northern side. From here it climbs gradually, and indistinctly, to intersect the much more obvious path at Greenup Edge.
In contrast to what has come before, this is probably one of the most well-travelled paths in the Lake District as it is the route of the Coast to Coast walk. As such it is fully equipped with stone paving and steps.
Greenup Edge to Ullscarf
Follow the Coast to Coast route for a very short distance until you spy a line of rusted old metal fence posts. At this point, you will also be treated to a wonderful view westwards across the national park, taking in a whole vista of delightful mountain scenery, all the way to Irish Sea and the Solway Firth.
The fence posts are a handy navigational tool and can be followed (initially north east) all the way along the gently undulating shoulders of Ullscarf, eventually emerging onto its summit at 726m. Ullscarf is not a famous mountain and it’s not really on the way to or from anywhere particularly well known. However, it offers a sublime outlook across the fells in every direction and you will often have it to yourself. Its summit cairn is a great place to enjoy a sandwich, look at the view and listen to the skylarks.
Ullscarf to Harrop Tarn
The line of metal fence posts continues to provide a handy guide from the summit. Follow these until you come to a wire fence. Follow the fenceline to the north east and then turn north to drop quite steeply downhill between the rocky bluffs of Standing Crag.
Go through a gate below the crag and then pick up an indistinct path heading east and downhill towards woodland. The path continues through the woods until it meets a wide forestry track. Follow the track towards Harrop Tarn, a truly wonderful place for a swim.
Harrop Tarn to Steel End car park
From Harrop Tarn follow the track around the lakeshore and cross the beck via a wooden footbridge. After the bridge follow a path downhill beside the beck. This path winds its way steeply downhill via some rocky lumps to eventually meet the road. It is then simply a matter of following the road south back to Steel End car park.