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Lake District walk: Monk Coniston to Tarn Hows

The sun doesn't always shine on Tarn Hows, but it is constantly beautiful. Photo: Getty Images
The sun doesn't always shine on Tarn Hows, but it is constantly beautiful. Photo: Getty Images

Walking regularly in the Lake District means you get used to the weather and realise that when it rains, it really rains. But it is at these times that it can often be at its most beautiful. I planned this walk in the long, baking hot days of June when all sorts of temperature records were being broken. Walking in sweltering, breathless heat can be a struggle, but that wasn’t a problem here – it was a few degrees cooler and absolutely throwing it down.

Days like this are the reason I wear the best possible waterproofs in order to enjoy wet Lake District walking in relative comfort. However, after getting all our wet gear on after half a mile, the rain stopped, the temperature rose and the humidity left us sweating inside our supposedly breathable clothes. Sometimes, you simply can’t win.

Tarn Hows is possibly the most picture-perfect place in the Lake District to visit with a camera on a beautiful day and in spite of the changeable weather, this walk didn’t disappoint. It’s a great route to explore in the summer, but would be equally spectacular at any time of year – just remember to dress appropriately and take at least one change of clothes.

Great British Life: Rain lashes down over Tarn Hows. Photo: John LenehanRain lashes down over Tarn Hows. Photo: John Lenehan

1. Leave the car park and go straight across the road towards a wooden gate, then turn left and follow the path running parallel with the road. At the road junction, cross the road going right then join a path and turn right and follow this until it joins the road just before the entrance to Boon Crag Farm.

Cross the farm entrance then turn left onto a path then right and follow the path running parallel with the road on the right. The path enters the woods and becomes wider and climbs steeply uphill.

2. Reach a signpost saying ‘Tarn Hows ¾ mile walking’ straight on and ‘Tarn Hows ½ mile cycling and walking’ going left. Follow the sign to the left and carry on up the track, passing the Tarn Hows National Trust car park on the left to reach and cross the tarmac road. When you reach a track, turn right and follow it all the way around Tarn Hows.

Note: Tarn Hows used to consist of three small tarns – Low Tarn, Middle Tarn, and High Tarn. The present tarn was created in 1862 when John Marshall built a dam at Low Tarn and flooded all three. In 1930 the Marshall family sold their estate of Monk Coniston, including Tarn Hows, to Beatrix Potter who in turn bequeathed it to the National Trust in her will.

Great British Life: Tom Gill waterfall. Photo: John LenehanTom Gill waterfall. Photo: John Lenehan

3. Reach the end of the track and just before the footbridge take a narrow path leading right with a sign saying ‘Tom Gill Falls and Glen Mary car park’. Follow the steeply downhill, with the stream on the left, passing the picturesque Tom Gill waterfalls.

Keep on the path until it reaches a wooden gate leading to the main road then turn left and follow the road over Glen Mary Bridge, then turn left into Glen Mary car park. Go through the car park and reach a path junction and turn left and climb uphill to reach and follow a rough track that eventually joins the tarmac road leading up to Tarn Hows.

Note: The name Glen Mary was given to the waterfall glen and the bridge by John Ruskin the writer to romanticise the more mundane name Tom Gill.

4. Join the road and turn right then immediately turn right on to a track to Tarn Hows Cottage and cross a stile by a gate and follow the track until it bends sharp right towards the cottage. At this point there is a stile facing going into the woods and a wooden gate to the left with a footpath arrow, go through the gate and follow the path as it winds down hill through a series of gates to eventually reach a track.

Join the track and turn left then follow the track through the yard of Boon Crag Farm to reach the main road. Turn right then right to join the path that reverses the route in section one back to Monk Coniston car park.

Great British Life: Tarn Hows walk route. (c) OS MapsTarn Hows walk route. (c) OS Maps


START AND FINISH: Monk Coniston Car Park Coniston.

DISTANCE: 5.4 miles/8.7 km

TIME: Three hours

TERRAIN: Good wide tracks up to and around Tarn Hows. The footpath down Tom Gill is very steep in places and can be a bit slippery in wet weather. The track from Glen Mary car park to Tarn Hows Cottage is rough underfoot but from there to the finish is on open grassland and easy walking. Boots needed and walking poles if not sure on steep ground.

MAP: OS Explorer OL7 The English Lakes South-Eastern area.

FACILITIES: Public toilets on Monks Coniston car park.


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