Ullswater is the second-largest lake in the Lake District National Park. It’s 7.5 miles long and 0.6 across. The hike around it comes to a nice round 20 miles. Perfect for a two-day overnighter.
That’s the stats out of the way, the real reason you should hike the Ullswater way is that its stunning beauty has been inspiring travellers for centuries. As well as artists and writers it’s a haven for hikers, bikers and water enthusiasts. Oh, and red squirrels.
The trail is gentle and flips between quiet roads, shoreline paths and woodland trails to high on the hillside offering you tremendous views over Ullswater Valley below. It’s never remotely dull. So what are you waiting for, let’s go mess about on the water.
Hey reader, I’m going to chat about boring but necessary logistics first but if you just want to read about the hike itself then scroll down to the My Ullswater Way Experience section below.
This being the Lake District National Park there’s almost no end of trails and paths you can explore. Although to keep this simple you can do Ullswater Way either clockwise or anticlockwise.
There is no right or wrong. We were undecided right up until the last minute about which way to go but opted for anticlockwise to avoid having to double back on ourselves to get to our accommodation after picking up food for the evening from Pooley Bridge.
Common start points are typically starting in Glenridding walking clockwise/anticlockwise and stopping near Pooley Bridge for the evening. Or starting in Pooley Bridge walking clockwise/anticlockwise and stopping in Glenridding for the evening.
Both are charming little villages. So you really can’t go too wrong either way.
Our personal route was:
Glenridding > Pooley Bridge
Pooley Bridge > Glenridding
According to the Lake District National Park site, the official route is 20 miles. Our hike clocked in at 21.74 miles, this included some slight detours to food stops at Howtown, our accommodation and a short walk around Aira Force Waterfalls.
The easiest way is via private car. We drove to Glenridding Car Park and I paid for 24hrs on the RingGo App which I then extended the next day on the App. I’m sure there are cheaper parking options but this car park is right at the start. There are public toilets here.
Penrith has a train station. So you could train there and then catch the 508 bus to Glenridding or Pooley Bridge to begin. Penrith is close, the ride will take you in the region of 30 mins. You can find the timetable here.
This is the Lake District after all, you could spend the night in Penrith as we did and walk the brand new Eamont Way (opened in April 2023), which follows the beautiful River Eamont Valley from the Penrith train station to the shores of Ullswater Lake.
Ullswater is not short on places to stay. Most accommodation however will likely be close to the popular lakeside villages of Pooley Bridge or Glenridding.
it kinda makes sense to stay near one of these as they split the distance of the 20-mile walking route nicely down the middle.
We personally stayed at The Duke of Portland which is on the northwest shore of the lake itself, a pleasant 10 mins stroll anticlockwise from Pooley Bridge.
It’s high-end but absolutely worth it. It was probably one of the best accommodation experiences we’ve ever had. And no before you ask this isn’t a sponsored post.
To be honest, finding accommodation to suit any budget isn’t the issue, there are all sorts on offer from yurts and glamping pods to quaint inns. But booking ahead in the high season is recommended.
This is the Lake District National Park after all.
There’s a good selection of tearooms dotted around the lake although quite a few seemed to be closed as we wandered past. Not entirely sure why. If they aren’t open in June then I’m presuming they may be closed for issues other than the season.
Anyway, be sure to take a good selection of snacks to keep you fueled.
We grabbed a quick breakfast in Penrith before driving to the trailhead at Glenridding. Next to Glenridding Car Park, there’s the Helvellyn Country Kitchen but they only opened at 10 am and we wanted to get started a little earlier.
For lunch on Day 1 we grabbed food at Howtown Tea Room which was about 6.5 miles into the hike counterclockwise from Glenridding. It was just a 5min detour off the main route.
In the evening we shopped for supplies at the Chestnut House/The Big Shop (closes at 7 pm). We stocked up for dinner and breakfast the following day.
We breakfasted on the supplies from the night before. However, if you are nearby then check out Granny Dowbekins Tea Rooms, it looks to be very highly rated.
For lunch, we stopped off at Aira Force tea rooms.
We finished the hike at around 4 pm so we waited until we got back to base in Penrith before gorging ourselves on a great big pile of victory fish and chips. We deserved it.
I’d been reminded the hard way during my recent Snowdonia hiking routes that trusting the UK Summer to be consistently Summer-y is a fool’s game. So I was taking no chances.
Below is my packing list for the hike:
Overall I felt well-kitted out well without being overloaded.
Today it’s Ullswater Way hiking day! This is a trip I’d been looking forward to for some time now.
Firstly because I love hiking so I love the Lake District National Park. Secondly, because this was going to be the first long-distance multi-day hike with my GF Sara.
And thirdly, this was our last training event before we took on the National 3 Peaks Challenge in under a week.
I adore multi-day hikes, it’s such a nice way to get to know your companion. There’s something about being outdoors that inspires random deep conversations. For previous HikerHero multi-day adventures check out Sandstone Trail and Limestone Way.
Obviously, with Sara being my GF we already know each other pretty well, this hike was an opportunity to create some glorious memories we can look back on when wrinkly and old.
After a short commute from home we pulled into Glenridding car park. While Sara was sorting her things out I dived into the Information Centre run by the National Park Authority. Why? I hear you ask. Well, because I heard a rumour you could pick up a badge saying you completed the hike.
The internet was true to its word as they were there. I bagged a couple of badges. Stashing them away before Sara had a chance to see them. I know this was tempting fate but I was quietly confident of our success.
We said goodbye to the car, buckled up our backpacks like the little hiking nerds we are and headed off counterclockwise out of the village.
As we were crossing the Griesdale Bridge we passed a horde of school children coming from the opposite direction. Each was loaded up with a backpack at least the same size as them. Presumably on a camping trip. Good clean character-building activities I thought.
The bridge over Goldrill Beck, that’s Place Fell hidden in the clouds.
Just after the church in Patterdale, we turned left off the main A592 road and into the countryside. We didn’t see any signs telling us where to turn so unless we missed them I’d say it’s important to have a map or something like AllTrails to follow.
However, after the initial lack of signage, it’s pretty straightforward after that with signs galore. Plus you’re circumnavigating a lake so it’s hard to go too far wrong. Just keep the water on your left and all is well.
We crossed the bridge at Goldrill Beck and then swung left again at Side Farm Tea Room. It looked like a nice spot but was closed as we went past.
This was to become a running theme during our Ullswater Way experience. Nice looking tea rooms, closed.
I wasn’t sure if this was a permanent thing or if it was just a weekday problem. Although as we’d been walking for less than 20 minutes at this point the lack of a pitstop wasn’t much of an issue.
When you can look this good covered in rain clouds you must be good.
What a nice idea, a seat dedicated to the artists who have been inspired by the landscape of Ullswater Lake. A place where everyone can sit and admire the view and wait for inspiration to hit.
We ate some NikNaks. No inspiration came. So we carried on.
This is a hike people hold in a lot of affection. We encountered numerous monuments as part of the heritage trail over the next two days, often with QR codes for further reading.
The views were misty but incredibly beautiful. Lake Ullswater is truly a beautiful landscape and it is very easy to see why it’s a painter’s favourite.
Another for the Osprey Spring Catalogue.
The stunning lakeside hiking didn’t inspire us to pop an easel out and start painting but we did remember to take a few snaps.
In the one above, I went for the textbook arms-open approach. Also, check out my new socks. If you see the vid I made you can view those bad boys up close! You’re tempted to click, aren’t you?!
A classic over-the-shoulder number here at Ullswater Valley.
Sara went for an over-the-shoulder thumbs-up approach in this snap which is also a well-known fan favourite.
As you can see the path is gentle. There’s no scrambling, unlike Moel Siabod walk we’ve been on recently. It was more just a relaxing meander around a lake.
As we rounded the corner from Birkfell Earth toward Sandwick Beck a gang of friendly mountain bikers overtook us. They told us to watch out for three more who would be passing shortly.
We carried on keeping on but the mystery three never arrived. We caught up to the initial bikers who were now dismounted and they reported one of their compatriots had suffered a bike fail.
Turns out the hike is easy for hikers but eats bikes for breakfast. Foot power 1 vs wheel power 0!
We carried on until we reached the Lowther Barn Tea Rooms, with the taste of warm scones and cream already in our mouths we were heartbroken to discover this too was “temporarily closed”.
Fortunately, we had a good selection of snacks on board already.
As we walked we passed many people coming the other way. Everyone was friendly and I can imagine the trail getting busy during the summer months on a sunny day.
Onward to find a tearoom.
We were in good shape and loving the views but after six miles with fairly constant drizzle, we were definitely in need of a warm cup of coffee if we were going to make the Pooley Bridge distance.
Thankfully we rounded a bend and saw Howtown Pier. There in a stunning location to the right was Howtown Tea Rooms. And better yet, it was open and serving light lunches.
The tearooms are nestled in a little valley facing the lake’s edge and ringed by the peaks of Hallin Fell, Steel Knots and Bonscale Pike.
The wall of warmth that hit us when we stepped into the tearooms was very welcomed. We ate two glorious bowls of tomato soup and drank a couple of steaming coffees.
I did take one of my world-famous influencer-style shots of the food but it was so shocking I can’t include it. Just imagine a bowl of orange stuff and you’ve pretty much got the gist of it.
Thanks, Howtown Tearooms.
Two quids for a Large Stone. Absolute Bargain!
Leaving the warmth of the tearooms behind we walked back to the lake and rejoined the trail, stopping to skim some stones by the lake shore for a while.
From here we pushed on. Hiking through picturesque fields. At one point we found an honesty box where you could “adopt” some animal pebbles.
This was adorable and after our melted hearts had reformed we hunted for some coins. Sadly the tearooms had cleaned us out. We didn’t have any cash on us otherwise we would have adopted the butterfly one.
Shortly after missing out on the pebble we wandered through a field of alpacas. What a world we live in!
Follow the daffodils and you can’t go wrong.
Things started to get busier as we neared Pooley Bridge and wandered through the Waterside House Campsite. The weather was a little sad but the people weren’t.
The water was awash with paddle boarders and kayakers. People were playing music and we saw multiple BBQs on the go. It was nice to see people choosing to embrace the weather rather than let it get them down.
The campsite looked pretty cool. There was wake surfing on offer from Wake & Surf. We saw some yurts and glamping pods set up. If we didn’t have accommodation already booked then this would have been a great option.
Best. Shop. Ever.
At Pooley Bridge, we took the chance to stock up at the mighty Chestnut House/The Big Shop which is probably the best off-license/corner shop I’ve ever been to.
It closes at 7 pm so you have plenty of time to get there before closing. It’s set up on two levels and has everything you could ever want. Including hundreds of different exotic types of booze! Including their own gin.
Yep, it’s a corner shop that has its own gin! How cool is that!?
We stocked up on some evening food and of course some exotic booze and made our way to the accommodation for the night which was about 15 mins walk away.
On our short walk, we skirted the edge of Dunmallard Hill which is topped by the remains of a hillfort. We didn’t go up and luckily so, as we happened across some frolicking red squirrels.
This must be a lucky omen considering there are only about 12 left in the country.
Look at the cheesy grin on Sara’s face. She’s a happy hiker.
As you’d imagine from the name, The Duke of Portland Boathouse digs are an old boathouse that’s been converted into swanky accommodation. It comes with a balcony directly on the lake, as well as complimentary champagne and even a copper bath!
This place is impressive. I’ve stayed in well over 100 Airbnbs now and this place is fighting for first place. If you’re doing this hike with a significant other, maybe for an anniversary or special occasion then this place is where you want to be.
Before enjoying a dip in the bath we stripped off and went for a dip in the lake!
After we settled in, the sun decided to come out for the evening. So we whiled away the long evening on the balcony in our dressing gowns, drinking champagne, eating snacks and discussing the many and varied mysteries of the universe.
Talk about a room with a view.
We awoke after our sleep to mild champagne-induced hangovers. Nothing a few hours of hiking wouldn’t fix.
We ate breakfast on the balcony and packed up. The danger of staying in such a nice spot is that you won’t want to leave to continue with the hike!
And that’s exactly what happened to us until all hell broke loose. I slung on my trusty jumper and suddenly felt I wasn’t alone in there, something was crawling on my back! Freaking out I ran around until Sara smartly told me to take off my jumper. I did. She unleashed a shriek, which made me shriek some more.
Turned out it was a giant hairy moth. It was easily as big as a pigeon.
With that drama out of the way, we straightened ourselves up, regained our composure and took to the trail like the brave heroes we really are.
Me looking happy with life post-moth attack.
After spending the night on the lake’s edge much of the second day is hiking in the hills overlooking the lake. From the Duke of Portland after just a 2min backtrack you’re back on the trail. Traveling through the Waterfoot Caravan Park we spotted some more red squirrels.
Two days in a row, two red squirrel sightings. I’m starting to think these chaps aren’t quite as rare as people make out.
Ullswater Lake has got more red squirrels than you can shake a feather duster at. Note, don’t shake a feather duster at squirrels, it confuses them. They communicate with elaborate tail movements.
A Red Squirrel spotted next to a rather handsome daffodil.
After Waterfoot Caravan Park we climbed up into the hills and for a while the shimmering waters of Ullswater disappeared from view. Fear not, it will be back and when you next see it the views will be worth the wait.
As we were climbing we came across another nice honesty box shop outside a farm. The Ullswater Way Tuckshop. It had a great selection of snacks but we were still without coins. So we just longingly looked at the snacks for a minute or two before powering on.
The route winds between the Birk Crag, Great Meldrum and Gowbarrow Fell. The route climbs until you cross the little brook of Kirkstyle Gill.
There’s a route up to right here you can take up to the top of Gowbarrow Fell or you can follow the lower path downward as we did around Green Hill and toward Aira Force.
We were having a pleasant rest here when two chaps wandered up. They asked if we knew where the waterfall was. We did. Two miles further on. They looked a little concerned at this bombshell. They were supposed to be meeting someone there at 12.
They had 3 minutes to make it 2 miles. I’m not even sure Usain Bolt could do that.
They may have got their timings a little off!
As we walked, soaking in the views we came across another of Ullswater Way Heritage Trail’s little treasures, the Herdwick Stones. A series of three little sculptures dedicated to the shepherds, and sheep, of the area.
Herdwicks are the native sheep breed of the Lake District. Beatrix Potter was a big fan. They are a very hardy breed with rough wool but tasty meat.
This is what I love about hiking. You go out expecting to see some nice trees, maybe a bird or two but you come home with a head full of knowledge about the world around you.
As you come around the front of Green Hill you are treated with one of the most special vistas of the entire hike. Soak it up as you’re entering the final stretch of the hike.
It was great fun looking across the lake and knowing about 24 hours previous we’d been standing on the other shore skimming stones.
This has been my first circular long-distance hike, the others have all been linear. There was a particular satisfaction in looking over the entire route and thinking, “Wow, I really did all of that”.
It makes me think of the adage, “Most people overestimate what they can do in a day, and underestimate what they can do in a month.”
If you just keep going you’ll get to wherever you want to be no matter how far it seems at the time. All you gotta do is take that first step. This is true for life but literally true in hiking. Just keep going.
We kept going and left Swinburn’s Park and entered Gowbarrow Park.
Aira Force is technically off trail but only by a few hundred metres and well worth a visit. People have been travelling across the country to enjoy Aira Force for 300 years. So it’d be rude not to.
The good people at the National Trust describe Aira Force as “a showcase for the power and beauty of nature; it’s a place to escape the ordinary.”
It sounds a bit dramatic but is kinda true. If you’re a HikerHero reader you will know I’ve hiked to some badass waterfalls in my time, such as Erawan Falls in Thailand and Sungai Pisang in Malaysia. More recently Lightspout Falls in Shropshire and Aber Falls in Snowdonia.
You get the idea. I like waterfalls.
What’s stunning about Aira Force is not just the falling water. But it’s how the addition of the stone bridge hasn’t ruined the view. It enhances it. The fact the bridge looks organic, growing out of the surrounding cliffs must be the reason.
This is a rare example of us humans not messing up nature’s design.
Oh, and you’ll likely see some more red squirrels like we did. This hike has been a squirrel fest. Unless of course, it’s just been one gang of squirrels following us, then it’s slightly terrifying.
What’s even better is that Aira Force has tea rooms, imaginatively called the Aira Force tea rooms and they were open!
Apart from the tuckshop earlier this was the only place on Day 2 I could find en route for snacks and coffee so you’ll want to be stopping here.
We didn’t make it but there’s a new pier here, built by the guys at Ullswater Steamers, the ferry company.
Despite the name. Ullswater Steamers, the boats are now much less steamy than in the early years. The fleet includes the Lady of the Lake, launched on 26 June 1877 and thought to be one of the oldest passenger ferries still in operation anywhere in the world.
Saying one last goodbye to the Ullswater Way, thanks for all the fun.
The day was spectacular. There was none of the persistent drizzle of yesterday. The sky was blue, the lake was blue and we were a little blue as we knew our hike was soon to come to an end.
The final 3 miles of the hike followed the lake’s edge and it could not have been more pleasant. We took it steady and pounced on every opportunity to sit and relax. We dipped our feet in the cool water, skimmed stones and watched kayakers and boaters floating by.
We could have stayed here all afternoon as the champagne from the night before was starting to catch up on us. But we had some badges to earn. So we put our shoes and socks back on for a final time and completed the final stretch to Glenridding.
We reached the car park with a quiet high-five. We’d completed the whole of the trail and it was truly an awesome experience.
Packed up, sat in the car and ready to go, I ceremoniously presented Sara her victory badge.
She burst into tears and called her entire family with the happy news. That’s a lie. She was happy with it though.
It’s easy to see why Ullswater has been an inspiration for artists for hundreds of years. It’s beautiful.
The Ullswater Way 20-mile walking route as we did it, was gentle for sure but never dull.
The hike, the company, the accommodation, everything worked out perfectly.
Thank you Ullswater for an amazing two days.
To all you Hiker Heros out there.
This reflects the estimated time the majority of users will take on this trail. If you are slower, add time to the top-end figure. If you are fast, then you may complete this route faster than this time range.
This reflects the Hike Hero difficulty rating for each route. We aim to keep ratings consistent across regions.