There and back again

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.

There are many wonderful circular and horseshoe walks in the Lake District, but no disgrace in going out and back the same way. The route covered might be the same, but turning around is to head into an entirely new world, with views that are completely different.

And nowhere in the Lakes illustrates this better than on the charming and atmospheric climb to Easedale Tarn. This dramatic sheet of water lies in a glacial corrie, overshadowed by higher fells but well worth a pilgrimage of its own.

The way up is dominated by the striking white gash of Sour Milk Gill cutting through the hillside; the return offers a panorama of exquisite loveliness, the valley dropping below Helm Crag to the vale and village of Grasmere.

It was a particular favourite of William Heaton Cooper who wrote that “the tarn and its combe look best on days of hazy sunshine, when the atmosphere can give a feeling of distance to the surrounding crags that, on a clear day, seem to enclose and almost overpower this mountain corrie.”

 

The tarn itself is shaped rather like a figure 8, and William describes it in detail: ““Besides the numerous bogs that drain into it, the tarn has four inlet streams, the main one coming down from below the great bands of rock that form the south wall of High Raise…this is the stream in the foreground of my painting.”

It’s now favoured by adventure swimmers who are sometimes seen heading up the valley for a sunrise dip, but in William’s time there were many fish in the tarn: “The standing rock at the end of a promontory is a distinctive feature, where sometimes a cormorant will settle between its meals of trout, perch or eels.

“How did the fish get there….? As a boy I remember seeing Fred Gould, the postmaster at Waterhead, going along on his tall green bicycle that carried, in its frame, a canvas bag in which were canisters full of baby trout.”*

To get to this fabled tarn, walk up the narrow road at the side of the Heaton Cooper Studio, past the youth hostels until you reach a signpost (just before the Lancrigg Hotel). Cross two stone bridges and then take the meticulously engineered path, through a gate and over another, wide, stone bridge, then take the left fork. The beck, and eventually the waterfall, will be on your right.

The route climbs gently at first, with only a few steeper sections, and a sense of mounting anticipation as several plateaus prove to be dry, before finally reaching the tarn itself. Those with a thirst for further adventure can climb on, to Tarn Crag or Sergeant Man. Otherwise, it’s time to turn round and see that other world of the return journey.

There IS another path on the opposite side of the waterfall, reached by some stepping stones at the end of the tarn, and it does lead back to the valley eventually, but it can be very muddy and boggy in places. Go ahead, if you don’t mind wet feet, or just turn round and retrace your steps, enjoying the outline of the high fells and, in particular, an unusual view of the “lion and lamb” rocks on the summit of Helm Crag.

The walk is about 9k from the centre of Grasmere, and will take between two and three hours, depending on how many times you stop to take photos. A perfect morning followed by lunch at Mathildes, of course.

* William Heaton Cooper, The Tarns of Lakeland

Easedale Tarn by William Heaton Cooper

 

 

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