Through the enchanted wood to Alcock Tarn

 

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.

Small is beautiful, and while the Lake District boasts the longest and deepest waters in the country, there are some exquisitely beautiful tiny tarns hidden in the hills.

One that was a particular favourite of William Heaton Cooper is Alcock Tarn, reached by a short but steep climb out of Grasmere village on one of the most enchanting routes you will ever walk. It takes you to a small sheet of water, held onto a shelf by glacial debris, which was dammed at the end of the 19th century by a Mr Alcock, who stocked it with brown and rainbow trout.

Alcock Tarn by William Heaton Cooper

And WH Cooper enjoyed it for more than just the fish and the views. He wrote, in The Tarns of Lakeland: “After a few days of hard frost without wind this tarn, being shallow and above the thousand foot level, gives some of the earliest skating of the winter in a very pleasant setting.”

So how to get there? Leave the village along Stock Lane and cross the main road at the roundabout by Dove Cottage. Walk up the back road behind the cottage. Ignore the first footpath sign on the left, go 100 yards further to much more prominent junction and large signpost, with White Moss and Ambleside to the right, and Alcock Tarn up left. (No through road for motor vehicles after half a mile). After that you’ll find series of signposts; take the one pointing left to Alcock Tarn.

We advise: this is a long mile and a quarter! Allow a good hour for the ascent, if you want to take advantage of the views.

A lovely shingle path heads up through the woodland after going through the gate at Brackenfell. Early autumn sees wonderful colours, and you will be able to see more of the lake below as the leaves fall. Pass a small pond on right, then the path gets steeper and rougher; this is definitely not a pushchair friendly route. But anyone with reasonable fitness and stout shoes will manage happily.

A bench on the right commemorates the life of someone with the initials NAH, but the view is obscured by newer tall larches. But as you climb, you can see the shapely summit of Helm Crag, another favourite subject of the Heaton Cooper artists. A second bench above the trees gives a magnificent view down across the lake…and shows the sprawling extent of the village of Grasmere.

The last time we were there, we entered the mist before we reached the tarn, and so it came as a surprise, appearing suddenly, flanked by ghostly crags; the tarn is hidden behind Grey Crag until the last moment. A man from Manchester, reliving his childhood, had taken off his boots and was paddling in the shallows. “We used to swim in there 50 years ago,” his friend said.

On the way back you’ll notice the green swathe path dropping steeply down to the valley. It’s the route of the Butter Crags fell race at the annual Grasmere Sports. Don’t be tempted; it’s on private land. But there is an alternative path down once you reach the yellow and white arrow signs; take the white track on the permissive path which brings you out further north on the main road.

 

Take the road back into the village for well-deserved lunch or afternoon tea at Mathilde’s, 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.

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).