Lake District National Park
The circular Gowbarrow Fell walk leads you to Aira Force waterfall, the picturesque and most celebrated falls in the Lake District and then onwards to the summit of Gowbarrow from where you will enjoy sweeping picture postcard views along the length of Ullswater
Gowbarrow Fell and Aira Force Walk
Two days after our epic climb to the summit of Helvellyn via Striding Edge and Swirral Edge, we had suitably recovered to don the hiking boots once more. However, this time the plan was to undertake a hike that was slightly more sedate.
We therefore headed off to Aira Force, a short distance to the north of Glenridding on the shores of Ullswater, to experience the national park’s most famous waterfall, as part of the circular Gowbarrow Fell walk.
Where to Park for Aira Force and the Gowbarrow Fell Walk?
The best place to park is the main National Trust Aira Force car park which is located 2.4 miles (3.86 km) north of Glenridding. It is situated just off the A592, a short distance north east of its junction with the A5091.
Grid Reference: NY400200
Aira Force Address & Postcode: near Watermillock, Penrith, Cumbria, CA11 0JS
How Much is the Aira Force Car Park?
When we visited in June 2021, the car park prices were as follows: Main Aira Force Car Park, £5 for 2 hours, £7 for 4 hours, £9 all day. Glencoyne Bay, Park Brow & High Cascades Car Parks: £4.50 for 2 hours, £6.50 for 4 hours, £7.50 all day. (National Trust Members park for free).
Clearly prices and information are subject to change, so be sure to visit the National Trust’s Aira Force and Ullswater page prior to visiting.
Gowbarrow Fell Walk via Aira Force Waterfall – Step by Step
Head to the right of the National Trust visitor welcome centre, taking time to view the useful information boards and Aira Force map, before taking the path through the picnic area.
Shortly, the trail passes through a gap in a stone wall and takes you into a grassy, wooded area, known as the Glade.
As the path forks, head left into the arboretum. This is a great place to take a short break to appreciate the wide variety of tree species and the deafening bird song that reverberates beneath the canopy. What’s more, keep your eyes peeled as you may even catch sight of a red squirrel. We did!
Did you know? The Aira Force Arboretum was created by the Howard family of Greystoke Castle in 1846. They planted hundreds of thousands of specimen trees on the land below Aira Force waterfall as part of their own sporting estate
Aira Force Waterfall
Continue through the Arboretum following the path until it reaches a metal fence and gate, directly in front of you.
It is from here that you can grab your first views across fields towards Ullswater and the surrounding fells, off to your left (south).
Don’t pass through the gate but instead take the trail to the right and shortly you will find yourself at the top of a steep flight of steps on your right. Now, take these down to the Aira Force waterfall viewing platform.
It is at this point that Aira Beck (stream), running down the valley from the north, makes the 20 metre (66 ft) drop into a rocky, steep-sided ravine creating Aira Force falls.
A small, quaint, stone bridge spans the falls at the point at which the cascade starts, helping add a little extra charm to this idyllic vista.
Unfortunately, when we visited in June 2021, we were unable to proceed to the base of the falls as the National Trust was improving the walkways at Aira Force.
What’s more, the Aira Force & Gowbarrow Fell walk described on the National Trust’s website, had been altered as a result of this project. In addition, a one way system had also been implemented owing to Covid restrictions but this was well signposted.
Once you have taken the obligatory photograph or ten, return to the top of the steps. Then, turn right and a short distance further along, head right onto the stone bridge that you had seen from the viewing platform minutes before.
Now you have the perfect opportunity to look down upon the cascade as it spills into the ravine below.
Check out the Cat Bells Walk – The little fell with the big views!
Again, return to the trail, turn right and continue upstream with Aira Beck on your right hand side. Now follow the trail until you reach the second wooden footbridge across the stream.
This location is known as ‘High Cascades’ and is a great place to stop and witness the variety of small waterfalls as they tumble over the undulating and rocky river bed.
Cross over the footbridge and turn left through the woods and soon you will pass through a gap alongside a traditional stone wall.
You will then climb a well laid section of stone pitched path and within minutes you will reach a wooden gate.
Head through the gate, out of the woods and on to open farmland. Follow the trail directly across the field and just before you reach the stone wall and wooden gate on the other side, you will see a wooden sign pointing right to ‘Gowbarrow Summit’.
Head up the hill a short distance and pass through the wooden fell gate exiting the farmland. Keeping the wall on your left, take the mainly stone pitched path as it ascends steeply up the fell side.
With every step you take on this section of the Gowbarrow walk, the southerly views over Ullswater get better all the time.
As the Gowbarrow Fell trail begins to level out at the top of the climb, it deviates to the right, away from the wall up to the trig point at the summit of Gowbarrow Fell.
From here you have a magnificent panorama in every direction. Gaze to the south at the peaks of Place Fell and Red Screes; to the north-west sit Blencathra, Bannerdale and Carrock Fell; the Pennines to the north-east and Martindale and High Street to the south-east.
I almost forget to mention the sweeping views that you also experience across Ullswater.
Did you know? In 1802, Dorothy Wordsworth was walking with her brother, William, near Gowbarrow Park and noticed the beautiful daffodils. These observations were written in her journal and later inspired William to write the famous poem, Daffodils.
Gowbarrow Fell Walk – Circling the Fell
As you head off the summit, take the Gowbarrow Fell path that heads to the right. This section of the trail gently descends as you make your way across the fell’s northern flank.
In a few hundred metres, the Gowbarrow trail swings to the right as the path meanders its way along the fell’s eastern edge. You now begin to receive tempting glimpses of Ullswater up ahead, as if to entice you along.
Eventually you will reach a wooden signpost, indicating 1.5 miles to Aira Force. At this point, the path heads right (westerly) as the Gowbarrow Fell walk leads you homebound. You will also spot the remnants of an old shooting lodge just off to your right at this point.
Did you know? A large herd of deer used to call Gowbarrow Park home but they have since been replaced by a breed of Lake District sheep, known as Herdwick, in an attempt to restore heather and tree cover to Gowbarrow Fell.
Now for the Views!
As you progress westward, the views across Ullswater become more and more magical. In fact, the lake views are far more impressive now than they were from the summit of Gowbarrow Fell!
As well as the dazzling views off to your left, it’s hard not to be mesmerised by the myriad of colourful wild flowers that almost seem to dance among the green ferns that carpet the fellside.
There are a number of great places to stop for a break and soak in the views but the best vantage point is from the rocky outcrop called Memorial Seat.
It is literally just off to the left of the trail, through a small wooden gate and is marked by a stone cairn.
From this location the views along Ullswater and across the rugged fell peaks are simply breathtaking!
Return to Aira Force
Return to the trail, heading west once more as the path now descends gently towards the valley.
As you approach the woodland at the bottom, the path forks. Bear left, pass through the wooden gate and keep left once more.
You will now pass an interesting array of trees before taking the wooden footbridge across Aira Beck and back into the Glade, where you passed through earlier in the walk. In a few minutes time you will be back at the car park and the Gowbarrow Fell walk will be complete!
Gowbarrow Fell Walk via Aira Force Waterfall – Our Thoughts
The Gowbarrow Fell hike offers a little bit of everything to satisfy hikers’ desires. You have the woods, the waterfall, the stream, the sprawling fell and views to die for!
Now this may not find its way on to most lists of the “best walks in the Lake District” but that is because there are just so many incredible ones to choose from.
We loved every moment of this hike but without doubt the pinnacle of the experience was the incredible views across Ullswater and the surrounding fells, from the trail along Gowbarrow’s southern flank.
Make sure you arrive early! This will not only guarantee you a space in the car park but also give you a far better chance of seeing a red squirrel or two.
Aira Force is incredibly popular, attracting approximately 300,000 visitors each year. During the peak times, such as school holidays and weekends, the car parks typically fill up by 10:00.
When we arrived at 08:00, there were already around 6 cars in the car park. Having completed the walk, there was not a parking space in sight!
Gowbarrow Fell Walk via Aira Force Waterfall – Q & As
How long does the walk take?
We took rather a lazy 4.5 hours to complete the circular walk but we stopped to appreciate every single aspect of the trail as we made our way around.
How far is the walk?
4.5 miles (7.2 km)
How difficult is the walk?
We would class this as a moderately difficult hike. The only slightly challenging section was climbing Gowbarrow Fell. Apart from that, there should be nothing to trouble any reasonably fit individual.
How High is Gowbarrow Fell?
Gowbarrow Fell height is 481 metres (1578 feet)
Is Gowbarrow Fell a Wainwright?
Yes. It is the 181st highest of the 214 Lake District fells (Wainwrights) described in Alfred Wainwright’s seven-volume Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells (1955–66).
Have you visited Aira Force waterfall and/or completed the Gowbarrow Fell walk?
If you have, please share your experience with us and our readers. If you have any questions that we have not answered here, please let us know and we will get back to you just as quickly as we can.
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