The quest for a king’s crown

Mathilde walks

A series of walks that give you the chance to stop for coffee, cake, lunch or brunch at Mathilde’s at the Heaton Cooper Studio, the Lake District’s centre for mountain art. All the walks are free to everyone, connecting visitors with the natural surroundings of our unique landscape in this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Today we go in search of a legend, to find the resting place of a mythical king’s crown, and to see the slopes where an acclaimed Lakeland sculptor learned to ski. We are walking to Grisedale Tarn.

There are several Grisedales (or Grizedale) in the Lakes, meaning valley of the wild boar, but none so majestic as the tarn at the head of this valley, a tarn which lies at almost 2000ft up in the mountains, and is one of Lakeland’s deepest.

Grisedale Tarn by W Heaton Cooper

Our walk is from Grasmere, where you might have had breakfast at Mathildes; a strong recommendation, for while this walk doesn’t reach any mountain summits, it is nevertheless a substantial mountain climb. The start is about half a mile north of the village, just beyond the Travellers’ Rest inn on the main road to Keswick, and there’s a big parking area on the left just before the inn is reached.

Head north around the bend from the inn, then take the path on the right signposted to Patterdale. This climbs between stone walls to a wooden gate, and then the path itself becomes more stony until a second gate is reached. Here cross the beck, by stepping stones or footbridge, and walk straight on ahead; don’t turn right to cross the second wooden bridge.

Tongue Ghyll will be down on your right, with the massif arm of the Fairfield horseshoe, Great Rigg, rising above it. The bulky fell on your left is Seat Sandal. It’s a stiff climb at first, but pleasant and grassy underfoot. Eventually you reach rockier territory, and a few ups and downs before you get to Hause Moss.

You might want to call this the Valley of False Hope. Expectation is that the tarn will be here in this depression but no, it’s a flat reedy plateau, probably the dry bed of an old tarn. There’s some more climbing to do yet before you pass through a gap in a low stone wall and suddenly there is the magnificent and kingly Grisedale Tarn.

There’s nothing pretty about this view. It has a savage beauty, with mountain slopes dropping directly into its deep waters. And here you have options. You can continue on the pass and head down Grisedale itself into Patterdale. You could climb the zig-zag path to the north onto the deliciously-named Dollywaggon Pike and the Helvellyn ridge. You could head north east onto St Sunday Crag, east up Fairfield, or west onto Seat Sandal.

Or you could search for the crown of King Dunmail. It’s why we called this tarn majestic, for legend tells us that when Dunmail, the King of Cumbria, was killed in battle (a cairn on Dunmail Raise is said to mark the spot) his soldiers carried his crown up here into the hills and threw it into the tarn.

William Heaton Cooper, the second generation of the artistic dynasty, loved this place. He said that “being half Norwegian and half English, I find that many semi conscious ties of heredity bind me…to Grisedale, one of the most lovely of Lakeland valleys to walk down”.

In The Tarns of Lakeland he wrote: “The tarn is one of the windiest of them all, for it has wide open windows to the south, the west and the north east. A strong north-easter will sometimes blow the powdered snow from the area of the tarn right over the col into the head of Tongue Gill, providing the skier with magnificent runs off Fairfield.”

And here, it seems, is where his wife, the sculptor Ophelia Gordon Bell, “gained her first experiences of ski-running on a pair of skis we had made the night before from two ash planks.”

William also recalled that he swam in Grisedale Tarn in summer after walking over Fairfield and Helvellyn. If you’re inspired to do likewise, take the greatest care.

The walk back to Grasmere follows the other side of Tongue Ghyll, taking the left path at the bifurcation (a good word beloved by the guidebook writer Wainwright). It’s been improved in recent years with steps to ease the erosion, and brings you eventually to the bridge at the sheepfold and little reservoir building.

This route is only about 4.5 miles round trip from the main road, but the climb alone will take a strong walker an hour and a half, so allow three hours in all. And maybe take a spare bag in case you find that crown and want to carry it back!

Then it’s down to Mathilde’s where you have most certainly earned lunch or afternoon tea. Or even both.

The magic mountain

Mathilde walks

A series of walks that give you the chance to stop for coffee, cake, lunch or brunch at Mathilde’s at the Heaton Cooper Studio, the Lake District’s centre for mountain art. All the walks are free to everyone, connecting visitors with the natural surroundings of our unique landscape in this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Most of the Mathilde walks so far have been low level, but we want to take you up a mountain, a rather special mountain that looks much grander than its modest height, and whose ascent will give you a real sense of achievement.

The outline of Helm Crag may well be the best known of all the Lakeland fells, from one angle, a lion and lamb, from another a Wurlitzer organ being played by a woman.

Helm Crag, painted by William Heaton Cooper: After sunset, Grasmere


In fact when you reach the summit you’ll see that there are two “lions”, each with a lamb, guarding each end of the summit ridge, as the guidebook writer Wainwright says “as though set there by architectural design”. The whole summit is a weird and fantastical place to visit, especially in mist.


It’s a small fell, just 1299 ft, but its sides are steep and craggy, and it looks like a majestic solo mountain from below. Once up there you realise it’s merely the end of a ridge enclosing Far Easedale

The path is clear all the way, but it’s steep and rocky, and we would never advise that anyone should go out onto the fells without a map and compass….if nothing else, the identification of the hills all around will only add to your enjoyment. Take extra layers too, especially waterproofs, ready for possible wind and rain.

No one summed up the appreciation of walking into the hills better than William Heaton Cooper. In the Introduction to his book,  The Hills of Lakeland he wrote:

“Man….lives on the lower ground where his food and shelter are easier to obtain, but his eyes stray often to the hills, till they become linked up in his mind with the thought of freedom and salvation from the difficult business of living in a world where other men and women live. Alone, on them, he can lose himself in astonishment at the purpose and reason behind the interplay of sky and water and rock, things which obey completely the laws that govern them. He has escaped from himself for a time and is refreshed with the comfort of being no longer a lonely child, but at one with his surroundings.”

From the village, take the road at the side of Mathilde’s, until you reach the entrance to the Lancrigg Hotel, through whose grounds lies a public path to the foot  of the mountain. The magic begins here, among the trees, the autumn berries, the tiny rocky outcrops with their inscriptions….including, in Latin, the Dorothy Wordsworth Memorial, which marks the spot where she would sit and write the words her brother was dictating to her while he walked nearby.

Look out for a tiny wooden door that some wizard has carved at the foot of a tree.

The path has been re-routed in recent years because of erosion to the original route. It winds rockily through trees, then stumps of trees, and then climbs above the trees to take you to a fascinating summit.

It’s a three-mile round trip from Grasmere, but allow 2 to 3 hours for the walk, longer if you decide to continue along the ridge to Gibson Knott and a descent via Far Easedale…for which you WILL need a map, and the advice of Wainwright in the Central Fells.

Far Easedale


Photos by Eve Duca


A walk from the shores of Swan Lake

Mathilde walks

A series of walks that give you the chance to stop for coffee, cake, lunch or brunch at Mathilde’s at the Heaton Cooper Studio, the Lake District’s centre for mountain art. All the walks are free to everyone, connecting visitors with the natural surroundings of our unique landscape in this UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Elterwater, and the Langdale Pikes, by William Heaton Cooper

A lovely village with a lovely small lake of the same name, and that name means Swan Lake. We’re talking about Elterwater, one of the prettiest places in the whole of the Lake District, even if you’re not likely to see any swans now.

It holds a special place in our family heritage, loved by both Alfred and William Heaton Cooper. Alfred would take all four children with him when he went painting there, and William recalled: “I remember going to Elterwater Common because my father sat there for hours and hours and we knew that we were free to just enjoy ourselves, and we footled round exploring the little streams and pools, and finding creatures, water beetles and things….We were never allowed to interrupt father to show him the things we had found. He would forget all about us – absolutely right of course!”*

Our walk today starts at the village and is a circular tour with a stop for brunch, lunch or afternoon tea at Mathilde’s in Grasmere at the halfway stage. Elterwater is a delight, a picture postcard village dominated by the famous Britannia Inn, but also the home of our favourite independent hostel, if you and your family are looking for great budget accommodation.

You can park free in a small quarry by turning north at the crossroads, and from here, walk a little way up the steep and winding road, past the Wayside Pulpit, before cutting up to your left on a well trodden path that leads past the High Close electricity switch station….it looks like a sheepfold from a distance.

The path is quite steep, and when we last went up here, it was a mini-stream after the torrential rainfall of Storm Callum. Otherwise, just a couple of days later, all was calm and bright; the Lake District is a very forgiving landscape.

Head towards a gate in a wall from where you will have a wonderful view of Stone Arthur, Great Rigg and Seat Sandal, the fells across the valley. Don’t go through the gate but follow the path that hugs the wall, to a kissing gate; go through that and follow the path that contours downwards to a gate in a barbed wire fence.

Almost immediately, there’s a sharp left turn down a grassy path which brings you to the road at the 25% gradient sign. But don’t use the road; take a very sharp turn left on a signed footpath which leads into Red Bank wood.

Red Bank Wood

The path meanders through beautiful woodland, past a small wooden bench with a gorgeous view across the lake below you. Eventually you go through a metal gate and bear right downhill, first on a stony track which becomes a tarmac lane at a house called Hunting Stile. This meets the main road down which you will walk to the village centre in time for coffee, cake or lunch at Mathilde’s.

The return starts back up this same hill, Red Bank Road, and it’s possible just to retrace your steps. But a lovely alternative goes via the arboretum at High Close; even so, take the footpath back through Red Bank wood rather than walking all the way on the road.

You’ll return to the road at the gradient warning sign. Shortly after, the road forks, and immediately beyond the lower fork is a footpath on your right into the arboretum grounds. This is a stunning 11 acre estate full of trees and shrubs imported from all over the world.

Originally planted in 1866 by Edward Wheatley-Balme, a Yorkshire merchant and philanthropist, High Close was designed in the fashion of the day using many of the recently discovered ‘exotic’ conifers and evergreen shrubs coming into Britain from America.

The exposed location of the garden meant that some of the larger trees were lost in winter storms of 1973 and 1983, but there are still many fine specimens including Douglas firs, sitka spruce and redwoods.

A number of paths lead through the trees; a lower path will take you through Low Wood, a higher one close to the YHA hostel at High Close. All bring you back on the winding road back down to Elterwater.


*Jane Renouf: Alfred Heaton Cooper, Painter of Landscape

A walk to make everyone happy

 Mathilde Walks: The first in a series of walks that give you the chance to stop for coffee, cake, lunch or brunch at Mathilde’s at the Heaton Cooper Studio, the Lake District’s centre for mountain art. All the walks are free to everyone, connecting visitors with the natural surroundings of our unique landscape in this UNESCO World Heritage Site. And every walk connects to a painting by one of the Heaton Cooper artists. Today: Grasmere, by William Heaton Cooper

SOMETIMES you have to use a bit of persuasion when planning a walk. It’s not just reluctant children, but diffident adults too, who present the excuses: It’s too hot, it’s too far, it’s too cold, it’s too steep, I’m hungry.

So here’s a walk that deals with every possible excuse. If the weather is hot, there’s a lot of shade under the trees. It’s not far, but you get some of the best views in the whole of Lakeland. If it’s cold, this one presents no dangers even if there’s snow on the ground. Steep? There’s  just a couple of tiny uphills, and apart from a few manageable steps it’s good going for pushchairs.

Throw in a perfect beach where you can swim, paddle or skim stones and your team will be racing on ahead. And as for being hungry? Wait and see what’s in store along the way.

This walk starts at the White Moss car park on the A591 between Rydal and Grasmere, grid ref. NY 351065. Follow the path through the wood to the River Rothay but stay on the north side, rather than crossing the bridge, with its industrial-style accessible design built onto old stone foundations, functional rather than beautiful.

Walk along with the river on your left, passing through three gates, and a short, winding uphill stretch, (take the left fork at a bifurcation in the path) before crossing the new wooden footbridge. No one used the word bifurcation until Wainwright wrote his guidebooks, we think.

Once over the bridge, turn right to pass the weir that marks the boundary between Grasmere and Rydal, then follow the Grasmere lake shore through Penny Rock Wood and its delightful beach. Why Penny Rock? The story goes that when the road to Grasmere was first being built, workers had to blast out the rock on the corner by the lake, and the cost of this added a penny to everyone’s rates.

The trees, many of them splendid old specimens, fringe the lake shore and rise into Deerbolts Wood, though you’d have to make the walk very early in the morning  to see any deer or red squirrels. Concentrate instead on the view ahead, Helm Crag in the distance or, close by, a dilapidated old stone boathouse with a lichen-covered slate roof. There’s also a wonderful hollow tree where generations of children have played.

The path opens out, with sheep in a field on the left, then climbs briefly to meet the road from where it’s only a short walk down into Grasmere village. Spot the Victorian letterbox set into the wall of a cottage on your right. After passing the boat-landings, the road takes a sharp right turn, and then shortly you’ll turn left at Tweedies hotel to head for your coffee break.

Mathilde’s is at the Heaton Cooper Studio opposite the village green. The café, shop and gallery are open every day from 9am, and along with coffee, cakes, soup, salads and Scandinavian-style open sandwiches, you can find fine-art prints of the views you had along the way. In fact, if you do too much shopping (is there such a thing?) or too much eating, it’s possible to catch the bus back to White Moss, from the stop just across the road.

Otherwise there are two options: go back the way you came along the lake shore, or walk through the village and across the main road to take a quiet back road behind Dove Cottage. Even with this alternative, the total walk won’t be more than 10k (6 miles).