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The Lake District is one of the most beautiful areas of wilderness in England, and has some of the most challenging terrain in the country too.
Including the highest peak in England, Scafell Pike, the Lake District has some pretty challenging walks – albeit not quite as challenging as Munro bagging in Scotland or even some of the walks in Snowdonia.
The shorter, easier walks in the Lake District suffer overuse by virtue of their popularity.
In this 10 Best article we will look at some of the harder routes to be found, that you will hopefully find a bit of peace and quiet on as you ascend to some of the best views to be had in the area.
To that extent we chose the best walks of over nine miles – no gentle pottering around the circumference of a lake here!
In reward you should get some peace and quiet as you ascend to see some of the best views to be had in the area, dealing with some of the more challenging sections without needing climbing gear as you go.
Some words you need to know first:
- A Wainwright is one of the 214 highest fells in the Lake District (people bag them as they do Munros).
- A fell is a high hill or small mountain.
- A tarn is a mountain lake, usually where a glacier was born.
With these new words in your head let’s get rambling around the best long walks in the Lake District!
The Fairfield Horseshoe
On this walk you’ll climb steep ridges, encounter bogland, rocky steps and tarns, and wander plateaus as you go.
At the top of the first climb you should be able to see across the Helvellyn ridge, as well as much of the area in all its glory.
On this walk you stick to the ridge the whole way up the first climb up Fairfield, and once up there you need to get a map fix to see where the actual peak is as it is a flat plateau.
The St Sunday Ridge forks off from the horseshoe at the top, and this could mean you get lost.
Take care to keep Rydal Beck in sight, and to follow the horseshoe around it.
You hit bogland on both sides of a wall further along the ridge as you head back toward Ambleside, and then there is a choice of rock scrambling or following the footpath on down.
As a whole the walk is not the hardest we cover here but is rewarding for its views.
Your legs will be thankful for a rest by the fireside at the end of the day but you’ll be fit enough for another decent walk the next day.
Helvellyn Ridge, End to End
Though Helvellyn itself is quite busy much of this walk will be quiet as this isn’t just about summiting!
Helvellyn itself is the third highest mountain in England but from the ridgeway they say you can see Wales to the south and Scotland to the north.
This is why we refer to the ridgeway as the ‘spine of the Lake District’.
Much of the climbing is in the first two miles then it levels off to an undulation for much of the rest of the way.
The first four miles includes the summits of Raise, Whiteside, Helvellyn Lower Man and Helvellyn with its stunning views and steep sides – and crowds of other walkers!
From the busy bit you can follow the ridge path that avoids the next summits of Nethermost, High Crag and Dollywaggon Pike – or climb those before rejoining the path further along.
The walk can be extended by taking in the Fairfield summit if you wish but tired legs/a weather change may force you to foreshorten your walk.
This walk is one of the classics in the Lake District, and you will hit the walking mob for some of it but otherwise it is a quiet ramble with some fantastic views in reward.
Scafell Pike Hardcore Route
Most people climb the highest mountain in England using the easier routes from Wasdale or Seathwaite.
You will find yourself climbing harder, steeper slopes on this route for longer than the traditional ways, and end up ascending further.
If the crowds bother you and you consider yourself fit then this is a way of dodging the easy-going ramblers!
It is not a well marked path so you will need to navigate well and to know how to cross scree slopes.
From New Dungeon Ghyll you will follow a road to a campsite on a T junction and from there follow a footpath up the fells.
You follow the footpath up The Band and Earing Crag and on up to the top of Bow Fell. At this stage you leave the path.
You follow the river valley down, and only if the river is quiet, cross it and find a small track up towards a col between Scafell Pike and Broad Crag.
Up there you may see people again – it is a major footpath – and summit the Pike.
Returning, this route takes you over Broad Pike again to Great End before following another path back to Langdale Valley.
One of the maddening things about the Lake District is its popularity.
This route takes you away from the babbling masses but it can be dangerous, particularly at the river crossing we touch on, though you will see a lot of things that might not be quickly identified by your favourite social media photo app!
The Buttermere High Stile Route
Your choice – a hard climb up a scree slope at the start? Go anticlockwise.
A ramble along the Buttermere lake to warm your legs up before a steep scree slope? Go clockwise!
Either way you will be treated to some of the most picturesque views that the Lake District has on offer.
You will climb up the High Stile – Red Pike ridge and after a sweat will come to understand why so many rate this view as one of the best on offer hereabouts.
On the route you will see the Scale Force waterfall (said to be the highest in the Lake District) and the Hay Stacks peak.
You will also summit High Stile, High Crag and Seat as part of the walk.
If you’re reading this blog end to end you will see that you actually climb 60 metres higher than you would the Scafell Pike Hardcore Route – and travel another mile.
That just goes to show that biggest isn’t always best when it comes to walking in the Lake District!
The Mosedale Horseshoe
A circular walk with a nice stroll along the northern edge of Wast Water at the end to cool those aching legs, this is a horseshoe walk with a pub at the beginning and end – what more could you want?!
The first two miles are fairly gentle before climbing around (but not summiting) Kirk Fell and on up (if you’re in the mood to test your legs, take an extension to the top).
Follow the circuit in an anticlockwise direction to the summit of Pillar Rock, a spire that has to be seen for yourself to appreciate its rugged beauty.
From there you climb and descend the similar height summit of Red Pike and then generally downhill view Yewbarrow to Wast Water.
One of the highest total ascents in this blog, and spending nine hours on the hill, you will enjoy the thirst after righteousness at the pub at the end of a challenging yet rewarding walk.
The Coledale Round
Best walked anticlockwise so you can handle the steep slope of Grisedale Pike with fresh legs and a fresh head, you don’t actually reach the highest point until you get to Grassmoor nearly halfway round.
There is a rocky descent after Crag Hill (around 7 miles in to the walk) that requires a bit of focus – make sure you have a good sip of coffee at the summit so you can focus as you descend!
A slight diversion takes you to Causey Pike where in early evening this has quite stunning views in the rich sunlight.
Horseshoe walks are a great way of enjoying a slowly changing view of the world beneath.
This is one of those, with the added advantage of decent parking and refuelling at Braithwaite at the end.
We covered a walk along Buttermere earlier in this article – a stunning lake that you get to see before any real climbing.
You also get to see Hay Stacks and the other summits down that valley after the first real climb up Robinsons, descending south eastwards Dale Head and then north up a ridgeway that overlooks one of the most famous of the Lake District’s lakes, Derwent Water.
Though you will be on your feet for the best part of the lit day you won’t be seriously challenged by this walk.
You will however get to appreciate two of the most stunning lakes in the area from on high and afar.
If you are planning on doing a few of these walks we detail over a week this could be a good Day 1 walk to undo the knots in your legs and expel some of that city air before stretching lungs and legs alike on one of our bigger beasts above.
The views will be well worth it!
Old Man of Coniston Circuit
Most people will head up from the same car park to the Old Man of Coniston and back down.
You’ll follow the straight ascenders/descender’s route up to the summit.
This delivers sights of the old copper mining industry that used to be the way the land earned its keep before the Picturesque Movement ultimately led to folk like you and I thinking these barren yet dramatic lands ‘beautiful’.
At this stage while the ‘straight up, straight down mob’ are heading back down you can smile to yourself and head roughly north towards Swirl How.
On the correct descent from Swirl How you will find yourself scrambling down the saddle to Levers Water – not good in wet or icy conditions.
Levers Water is a much larger tarn than Low water directly beneath the Old Man and isn’t too popular among the short, sharp climb crowd so you may enjoy some space to yourself in reward for the tricky descent.
With its tricky bits deterring many a rambler you will find this a quiet walk that delivers that rare enough event on the Lake District – solitude and occasional silence!
Roman High Street Circuit
Well, we had to have a walk involving Lake Windermere didn’t we?
This walk combines the views across that vast lake with the smaller yet no less pretty Angle Tarn on the right.
You climb the somewhat challenging Thornthwaite Crag and then join the remnants of a road built by the Romans along a ridgeway east toward the aptly named Roman High Street summit.
Close to the end of the walk you can take a foray to see Angle Tarn close up.
Not the most challenging of routes we cover here in terms of ascents, though technically tricky at times, this walk has some great views – that some may call ‘classic Lake District’.
Bowfell and Crinkle Crags via the Climbers Traverse
Bowfell has an angular, pointed summit so you will be on one of the true peaks of the Lake District with sharp falls in most directions.
To add to this you will find yourself on a route that isn’t very popular thanks to the scarily named ‘Climber’s Traverse’ that is a misnomer – you won’t need ropes or any special climbing skills to manage this.
What scares others away will leave you alone with the mountain so their fear is to your advantage!
The downside to this walk is the (same) first and last two miles – a generally flat, boring slog before you loop right and up at the beginning and right and onto the flat at the end.
Hill climbing legs often play up on the flat so you have been warned!
Overall this is an enjoyable walk with great reward, both from the technical bits that need a bit of focus and the summit itself.
Our 10 Best Walks
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
While some of the most rugged lands in England, they won’t challenge someone who gets their fix marching up Alpine or Pyrenean peaks.
England’s wilderness however is one of the places that the Picturesque Movement came to understand that Nature in its untamed glory is something to behold in its own right – and not subdued and shaped in our own vision.
To that extent for the walker who wants to see just what triggered the emotions of those early romantics, the Lake District is somewhere you should pay a visit to for a day or three.