The joys of winter walking in the Lake District

Ben Lerwill

written by
Ben Lerwill

updated 17.12.2021

Discover winter walking in The Lake District. This World Heritage site offers some of the best hiking in England and it's blissfully quiet in the colder months of the year. Follow Ben Lerwill as he avoids the crowds and braves the elements for four days winter walking in the Lake District. The information in this article is taken from The Rough Guide to England. For practical and inspirational travel information for the Lake District in Cumbria, also check out the the travel guide Rough Guide Staycations: The Lake District.

They do a mighty fine goulash in the Dog & Gun, using a recipe that’s been bringing in hikers for five decades. And it’s the kind of sustenance the body craves after seven cold hours on the fells.

So we spill into the rosy warmth of the little Keswick pub, peeling off damp jackets and stamping the muck off our boots. The windows are fogged with condensation. Two pints are pulled, food ordered, a corner found. We settle. “Yep,” says Daniel, one long swig later. “Tired.”

The Lake District, Ben Lerwill

Winter sun breaking through clouds on a walk in the Lake District, Cumbria

Try winter walking in the Lake district for solitude and drama

We've travelled up to the Lake District for four days of winter walking. A trip here is always a meteorological lottery, but arriving at the start of the year getting chilly and soaked, is almost a given. Which takes some uncertainty out of the equation.

At the same time, this is also a season that heightens the solitude and bristling drama of the hills. We’re here to beat the summer rush. And when you’re alone on Maiden Moor in January and it’s blowing a gale, you know about it.

We’re starting in the northern fells with a long, looping yomp around the slopes above Derwent Water. The morning is shrouded in low cloud, rendering the islands in the middle of the lake as ethereal outlines.

At the river bridge, there’s a man lobbing a ball into the water for a soggy spaniel. The dog is half-delirious with joy. We veer south and clamber up past the falls of Greenup Sikes.

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66276102 - stocley bridge crossing the river derwent near seathwaite in the lake district national park in cumbria.

Expect perfect peace when winter walking in the Lake District - it is usually without the crowds

Mighty panoramas keep you company

My last time in the Lake District was a winter two years ago, when everything had been snow and ice. The temperatures are less fierce now, but the winter skies are still raw and blustery.

Beds of wilting bracken lie across the slopes, coating the hills in a coppery red. We pause to watch a sparrow hawk glide past us: it tilts its wings to gain speed, then disappears over the brow of the rock.

For the next few hours the massed grey clouds tease us, revealing deep views then closing them up again. At the pinnacle of Cat Bells, a sudden, mighty panorama opens up to the west. We debate: is that Grasmere? Or Grisedale? Ten minutes later it’s gone, and we hike on into the spitting wind, gossiping our way back to Keswick.

If you're up for following in Ben Lerwell's footsteps, think about taking a 10 Lake guided tour of the Lake District in winter. The Lodge in the Vale near Keswick is the perfect place to cosy up for the night afterwards.

If you are looking for more winter holiday ideas - read our guide about the most interesting ways to spend winter breaks in UK.

Boats on Derwent Water, Keswick

Boats by the water on a peaceful winter day sunset in the Lake District

Work up an appetite hiking Scafell Pike

The mountain forecast is poor for the next day. Bad visibility, mizzling rain, but little wind. There’s a chance of beating the cloud by rising above 750 metres, so we opt to trek up Scafell Pike – not a handsome mountain, but the tallest of them all.

The results are glorious. After a two-hour climb we find ourselves in the clear, striding above a thick bed of cloud, every underfoot sound made crisp. At the summit we gorge on sausage rolls and apples, the highest, hungriest men in England.

Neither of us are true, feral outdoorsmen – picnics yes, pick-axes no– so by the time we thread our way down the gully under Broad Crag and join the downhill trail, the distant lights of the Wasdale Head Inn have taken on the feel of a promised land.

It’s cold early evening when we arrive. The famous old climbers’ pub sits near-isolated in the valley. There’s a log-burner glowing in the bar, and Yates Bitter on the pumps. A blackboard reads: “No, we don’t have wi-fi. Talk to each other.” It’s a hard place to leave.

If you like the sound of walker-friendly Wasdale, stay at Scafell View Apartment.

Taking on the southern fells in winter

People obsess over the Lake District. Some dedicate – even lose – their lives to it. It has much to do, I suppose, with how consuming the place can feel.

Squeezed between the North Pennines and the Irish Sea, it always seems far bigger than its borders, folding and contorting itself so endlessly that even when you’re poring over an OS map, it seems impossible that the valleys, peaks and overhangs all find the space to fit together.

Wainwright famously described 214 fells, but each one is a world of its own.

The following morning we’re spoiled. It dawns a billowing, bracing January day, with wind rushing through the dales and a charged, purple atmosphere on the uplands. We’re now in the southern fells, and make the most of the conditions by snaking our way up to the Langdale Pikes.

The tops are gusty but the views are extraordinary: an ocean of ridges and clefts, Windermere glinting in the distance, sporadic sunbeams spearing through the clouds. In six hours of hiking, we pass one other walker.

Discover the reason for the Lake District obsession on a walking trip this winter. Then keep cosy in the evening at the friendly and welcoming Woolpack Inn in Eskdale.

Murky day in the Lake District

A foggy winter walk in the Lake District at the Old Man of Conniston

Last day, worst winter weather

The weather hurls its worst at us on the final day. Fuelled by flapjacks and a sense of duty, we troop up into the wet clag to reach the Old Man of Coniston, getting lashed with rain.

The view from the summit is non-existent: 360 degrees of murk. Only when we reach the surface of Goats Water on the way back down does the land re-emerge, unfurling a windblown spread of yawning basins and far-off tarns.

Even today, it feels good to be out. For the next hour we sing damp songs and hasten on to Coniston, where they say the Black Bull Inn’s just right for afternoons like these.

For practical and inspirational travel information for the Lake District in Cumbria, check out the the travel guide Rough Guide Staycations: The Lake District.

Ready to travel to England? Find out about the best time to go and the best places to see and things to do in England. For inspiration use the England itineraries from The Rough Guide to England and created by local travel agents in England. A bit more hands on, learn about getting there, getting around England and where to stay once you are there. And don't forget to buy travel insurance before you go.

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Ben Lerwill

written by
Ben Lerwill

updated 17.12.2021

Ben is a freelance travel writer and children's author based in the UK. His work has appeared in publications such as National Geographic Traveller, Wanderlust, BBC Countryfile, The Times, The Guardian, The Telegraph, BBC Travel, and many more. Follow him on Twitter @benlerwill

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