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Ullswater is one of the many water bodies that give the Lake District National Park its name. Situated in the region dubbed by Wainright the Far Eastern Fells, it is a lake of incredible grandeur and beauty, and one which I have been lucky enough to know since I was four years old. I have paddled in it, sailed on it, rowed on it, walked beside, fallen into it and photographed it: and now I hope to persuade you to do the same.
(I apologise in advance for the length of this review - I was doing my best not to miss anything out! I've included headings so that anyone seeking particular information should be able to find it more easily.)
General feel of the Lake
As the second biggest lake in Lakeland, and one of the deepest, it is inevitable that Ullswater should be an impressive example of mountain scenery. What takes the new visitor by surprise is that it is many ways a being of two halves: the head nestled deep into some of England's highest mountains, and the long silver tail tapering away towards the more rolling countryside between the Lakes and the Pennines. The surrounding landscape varies from shattered scree to sticky marshland to scrubby upland forest to thick cloaks of heavy scented pines. It is this eclectic nature that makes Ullswater one of the most scenically variable lakes in the region.
There are three settlements of note around the shores of Ullswater, Pooley Bridge, Patterdale and Glenridding. Pooley Bridge lies at the northern end, and is the town you will pass through should you be visiting the eastern shore. It is very much a honeypot village, with limited parking, several decent pubs and a handful of tearooms. For walkers, it is a useful stopping point on your journey in as the Tourist Information Centre contains an up to date weather forecast and information about conditions on the higher levels. Patterdale and Glenridding lie within walking distance of each other on the western shore near to the southern end of the lake. They are also home to decent eateries, and have good parking facilities to accommodate visitors. One of the most useful aspects of Glenridding is a collection of small shops, including a gift shop, basics food shop and a camping shop selling important supplies such as meths and insect repellent (we tried without the latter - it ended badly!). There is also a small and quite expensive petrol station near Patterdale.
Tourist Attractions - on the lake- including the Ullswater Steamers
For those who enjoy 'messing about in boats' there are plenty of opportunities on Ullswater. The main attraction on the water are the famous Ullswater Steamers, a collection of four beautiful steam boats that traverse the lake between Glenridding to the South, Pooley Bridge to the North and the hamlet of Howtown halfway up the Eastern shore. The trips on these boats last half an hour to an hour depending on whether you want a single trip with a walk back or a round trip to fully appreciate the beautiful scenery. The most expensive ticket, which gives 'Freedom of the Lake', costs £7.50 for singles and £12.00 for returns. Prices are around half this for children, and a family ticket costs £24.00. A few words of warning - mountain weather is unpredictable, and steamer timetables vary seasonally. Definitely go, because it's wonderful: but check in advance that there will be a steamer when you get there!
The majority of private boat hire operates from near the steamer jetty in Glenridding - prices change season on season, but in the past there have been rowing boats, canoes, sailing boats and small power boats for public hire. There are several small islands in the middle of the lake, so it is well worth hiring a boat and going exploring.
Tourist Attractions - off the lake
Part of Ullswater's beauty is that it is one of the less built up lakes, but the side effect of this is that it is lacking in the tourist attractions that grace lakes such as Windermere. National Trust members would be well rewarded by a trip to the waterfall Aira Force, although this is expensive for non-members, and for the historically interested there is the rainy day attraction of Dalemain house on the road between Pooley Bridge and Penrith. Further afield, should the weather really clamp in or you need a rest day off the hills (heaven forbid!), there is Rheged Discovery Centre near to Penrith, which champions sustainable living and has an Imax cinema showing brilliant documentaries. If you get the chance to see the HImalaya film, then do not miss it!
Those not interested in walking should probably skip this section, as it is my main hobby and I have a bad habit of rambling (if you'll excuse the choice of words). Ullswater is surrounded by many beautiful fells. Those on the Western Shore are probably more famous, with such names as Helvellyn (third highest mountain in England at 3117 feet), Dollywagon Pike (2815 feet) and St Sunday Crag (2,759 feet). That is not to say that these fells are necessarily more beautiful. Barring the popular summit of Hallin Fell (1,271 feet), the majority of ground on this side is quieter and more isolated, due to a collection of no through road valleys. The long ridge of High Street is the highest in the immediate region, but smaller fells such as Beda Fell and Steel Knotts provide beautiful walking.
A few walking ideas
One of the main benefits of the eastern shore is that the steamer jetty at Howtown means walkers can park in Glenridding and walk around the lake. There is a brilliant low level foot path winding around the lake shore (good for novice walkers, or for the beginning of a week's walking), or those looking for a more challenging route can walk out of Howtown and back over the high fells to Glenridding via Beda Fell and Boredale Hawes. A star point of this second route is the secret mountain lake of Angletarn - a truly beautiful and lonely spot.
On the far side lie some rather more challenging walks, such as Helvellyn by the Edges (walking out of Patterdale up over the famous Striding Edge and down the rather milder Swirrel Edge), Dollywagon and St Sunday Crag. There is also a rather fun walk from the car park between Patterdale and the Kirkstone Pass, where walkers heading up towards the summit of Hart Crag can seek out a cave in the mountain side that once acted as a Priest's Hole.
Finally, a mountain that needs visiting while in the area is Hallin Fell. Wainright named this as one of the best views in the Lake District, situated as it is at the centre of Ullswater's shore and despite its small size giving views right out to the lofty heights of Helvellyn and Blencathra. I've climbed this hill on each one of fifteen visits to Ullswater, and have been rewarded with fifteen different, incredible views.
Please bear in mind!
Photos of the fells may make them seem benign, and a day may start with glorious sunshine, but it would be irresponsible of me not to give this reminder. Mountain conditions can change in seconds: make sure you are prepared to respond to the changes. Always carry waterproofs, do not wear jeans (they collect water like a very heavy sponge), walk in good boots and take plenty of food and water. It's also a good idea to carry a map of the area and to have a knowledge of navigation, even on the easiest of walks. Heaven knows, I'm not trying to scare anyone off walking - it's one of the best things in the world! Just remember to be safe and sensible while on the hills.
Speaking as a birdwatcher...
Interesting local wildlife includes Red Deer (Knab is access land but no real paths), Wild Horses, Ravens, plenty of smaller passerines, birds of prey, species of water birds such as Oystercatcher and even a merganser on the last visit! Also, for people who are going into the dead end valleys of the Eastern flanks, might be a treat of Red Squirrels in one of their last English strongholds.
A brief word on a few interesting bits of wildlife, for those interested. Living in the vicinity of Ullswater are large mammals such as Red Deer (The Knab, a local mountain, is a Red Deer reserve) and fell ponies, along with smaller mammals such as stoats. Birdlife is varied, anything from kestrels and buzzards to chaffinches and warblers, and the lake itself has wildfowl including oystercatchers, barnacle and greylag geese, swans, ducks and on our last visit the exciting site of a Red Breasted Merganser (one funky duck!). A special treat for those on the lake walk is the occasional sighting of red squirrels in one of their last English strongholds.
Accomodation - several campsites, can be found on UK campsite as I haven't stayed at them all! Hotel accommodation in Sharrow Bay (very expensive), Howtown Hotel and several bed and breakfasts along western shore, also multiple holiday cottages available to rent.
I'm afraid I cannot help in terms of how to get there - best to consult any of the many travel guides etc.
There are plenty of options for accommodation, with several campsites (type Ullswater campsites into google and UK campsites brings up a very good list) and hotels in Sharrow Bay (for those who like luxury!), Howtown, Patterdale and in a couple of other places along the shoreline. There are also countless holiday cottages scattered around the area. This being the Lake District, generally if you look for accomodation, you will find it.
As a non-driver I'm afraid I can't be that helpful in terms of how to get there, but if you were to type your required place name into a routefinder then it will generally be recognised. Within the area itself, the road on the Patterdale side is a very easy drive, but on the eastern side is much thinner and the steep zig zag up to Hallin Fell should probably be avoided by timid drivers.
Anyone who has been patient enough to read this whole review - or even if you have just skimmed - will know exactly what my recommendation will be. I absolutely, passionately LOVE this lake. I owe it some of the happiest memories of my childhood, and would say that there is nobody who would not be the richer in experience for the visit. Whether you just drive past for the day, or spend three weeks taking advantage of all the area has to offer, I swear that this is a destination that will not disappoint. Just try not to fall in as many times as I have!
One of my favourite places to visit is the Lake District in Cumbria. I live an hour and a half away by car, so it is fairly easy for me to visit often.
My favourite spot is Ullswater, the second largest of the lakes.
I first visited Ullswater, when I was on a holiday with my school aged 11, and staying at Patterdale Hall at the southern tip of the lake. I had two school holidays there and had the opportunity to explore the lake and participate in many walks around the area.
I never returned until 20 years later, when I took my own children to Ullswater, and everything was just as I remembered it. That is the beauty of most of the Lake District, it is so unspoilt and nothing changes.
Ullswater is approx 8 miles long and three quarters of a mile wide, stretching from Pooley Bridge in the north to Glenridding in the south, which lies at the foot of Helvellyn.
Ullswater is 60m deep at its deepest part.
There is something very tranquil about Ullswater and there is some terrific scenery of the mountain backdrop leading up to Helvellyn.
There are parking bays along the lake and some car parks which can get very busy in the summer months. There is a large car park at Glenridding but again this can get busy.
Patterdale, where I stayed on holiday is next to Glenridding and there are some lovely walks and trails along the lake which begin here. You can take a walk up to Lanty's Tarn from Patterdale, or a walk up Glenridding Beck which leads to what was once Greenside Lead Mine. Both of these are not long walks, but if you are fit and adveturous you maybe would like to climb Helvellyn which is also accessed from Glenridding.
When I visit Ullswater I often stop off at Patterdale and Glenridding and walk up Glenridding Beck to Greenside. It brings back a lot of memories for me and is just as I remember it.
It is a simple flat walk for the first part, leading from the car park at Glenridding and past the campsite. It is clearly signposted, along with Helvellyn. It then goes uphill a little, but nothing too strenuous, and you follow the trail which brings you to the former Greenside Lead Mine. You can stop off at the beck and paddle in the crystal clear water, or have a picnic. It is always so peaceful and the scenery is amazing.
Greenside Lead Mine operated for over 140 years and large quantities of lead rich effluent used to wash down Glenridding Beck into Ullswater, which was poisoning the lake. It is hard to imagine that now, looking at the clear water.
Back down on the lake, a popular attraction is the Ullswater steamers. There are four steamers on the lake which operate all year round, weather permitting.
A favourite walk of mine is to take the steamer from Glenridding to Howtown which is around half-way down the lake, and then take the lakeside trail back to Glenridding. It is quite a long walk but the views of the lake and mountains are breathtaking, and there are many places to stop off on the way such as Silver Cove, and waterfalls. I must also mention the banks of daffodils in the spring which Wordsworth wrote about in his best known work.
Aira Force is a popular waterfall to visit but it can get very busy during peak times of year.
Prices for a trip on the steamer From either Glenridding or Pooley Bridge to Howtown are £5.50 single, £8.80 return for adults, and £2.75 single, £4.40 return for children.
A family ticket is priced at £24.00 for either 2 adults and 2 children, or 1 adult and 3 children.
It is also possible to purchase a Freedom of the Lake Pass which allows you to hop on and off the steamers all day. Family passes are also available priced at £29.75.
Special events for Halloween and Christmas, such as the 'Ghostly Galleon' are organised on the steamers on Oct 31st for Halloween, which is great fun for the kids, with goody bags and games, and involves stopping off on an island to look for a vampire's coffin and prizes for fancy dress.
Santa trips are organised in the run up to Christmas. More information on these special events and prices/times are available by visiting :-
The villages of Glenrdding and Patterdale, although small, do offer places to stay, cafe's and a couple of shops as well as outdoor and hiking supplies.
The Patterdale Hotel is a popular choice, but there are holiday cottages, B & B's, and a holiday lodge park in the area. Also the Patterdale Hall Estate has converted some of it's outbuildings into holiday cottages and also has lodges available. Patterdale Hall is where I stayed when on holiday years ago, and I am hoping to book a short break in one of the accomodations on the estate in the near future, as all my visits to Ullswater in recent years have been just for a day.
Ullswater is also an ideal base for touring the Lake District and visiting the other lakes and villages. Whilst Windermere remains the largest and most popular, it certainly does not have the peace and tranquility which Ullswater offers. Whatever the weather (and it can rain a lot!) it always looks beautiful, even when the moutains are part covered in mist. Having said that, I will also point out that I have spent some very warm days here also!
Ullswater is easily reached from the M6 . Leave at Junction 40 and follow the signposts.