Lake District Walks - Brothers Water

Keith Carter shares a favourite walk around a lake virtually untouched by the tourism industry

I was under the mistaken impression that the brothers in the name Brothers Water were William and John Wordsworth, one more of the numerous Wordsworth links throughout the Lake District, but it is not so. It seems that the earlier name was Broad Water until two brothers were drowned in an accident, after which it acquired the newer name.

The Wordsworth brothers are in fact commemorated in the name Brothers' Parting, a rock on the pass below Dollywagon Pike at Grizedale Hause where William said farewell to his brother for what was to be the last time. John Wordsworth was master of the Abergavenny, a ship that foundered in Liverpool Bay in a famous wreck in which he drowned.

Brothers Water is the smallest lake in Lakeland and the most unassuming, having no leisure activities of its own apart, I imagine, from fishing. There are no boats, no pier and no shops selling ice cream and certainly no tea shops. There is a car park but it only takes about 20 cars and gets jammed solid most days during the summer. This is at Cow Bridge, a brilliant place to start a walk.

The best thing about Brothers Water is the view and the tranquil setting, close to the main road from Kirkstone Pass to Patterdale yet quiet and unspoilt; the sun seems to twinkle and shimmer off the rippled surface of the lake on days when a breeze blows across it. On rare occasions it is dead calm and the surrounding fells are reflected in it with a perfect symmetry. Whatever the season, Brothers Water is a Lakeland jewel and a personal favourite.

Park at Cow Bridge Car Park, the starting point for a wide choice of routes although I suspect that Dove and Hart Crags will be the destination of choice for many fell walkers, two fells that dominate the green valley of Dovedale like a wall.  

From this direction the sheer cliff face of Dove Crag seems impregnable but as so often in the Lake District, there is a path to the summit. My walk does not take this path, choosing rather to veer away from the direct assault and wander over a range of curious knobbly hillocks called The Strangs.

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Cross Cow Bridge and go left through a gate to take the track that skirts the western shore of Brothers Water. This stretch through the woods to Hartsop Hall is level and a delightful stroll for anyone wanting no more than exercise for the dog. For us it is the warm up for more strenuous work ahead.

On reaching the 16th century farmstead of Hartsop Hall, now in the care of the National Trust, stay on the track and keep  ahead, leaving the stone barns on the left.

Keep to the valley floor and don't be tempted by one or two paths striking up to the right. On reaching a point where the stream widens and flows right across our track, turn right without fording it and follow a tributary stream past a tempting-looking footbridge which we ignore on our left. Our path begins to climb and tends slightly right, joining another beck that tumbles down on our right hand.

This is Dovedale Beck, famous for its waterfalls that are a fine spectacle after heavy rain. Our path leaves the scattered woodland as we gain height and we emerge from the trees onto open fell.

On reaching a wall we go through a hand gate and after a short climb find ourselves at a junction between wall and fence, the fence long neglected and in places broken down. Turn right and follow the fence, not veering from it at all until it comes up to a stream, the terrain rough but quite level along here. Remain on the left of the stream and head up a depression, the path trending principally left.

Looking ahead, the huge wall of Dove Crag buttress looms over us. When the path reaches a place where the stream could be crossed to join a path coming up at high level from Dovedale, don't cross the stream but keep ahead on a faint path that moves left over grass through The Strangs. This is an area of grassy hillocks that suggest old spoil tips but I think they are glacial in origin.

The boundary fence that we left at the stream comes in again from the right and we come up to it and stay with it all the way to Scandale Pass. It leads us across the top of a deep gully called Hoggett Gill which some intrepid types use as a way up from the valley.

Mark Richards in one of his Lakeland Fellranger books says you should only enter its 'embowered ravine' if you have an aptitude for scrambling. Wainwright's archaic style has evidently rubbed off on his successors!

The beck can be crossed by dropping down a few paces to find an easy way across and we return to the fence line and climb up quite a steep hillside to the skyline. On reaching it we find ourselves on a plateau where the fence makes a junction with another coming in from the right.

Turn sharp left here then dog-leg right, descending to a col then rising again to a rocky outcrop. This is followed by a wide grassy area where a view of Windermere opens up to the right.

We descend along a stone wall to the broad open crossroads of Scandale Pass on the route taken for centuries between Ambleside and Patterdale and so on to Penrith. At the pass we leave the wall and start our descent to the left, heading down the shallow valley made by Caiston Beck.

Caiston sounds similar to Kirkstone, the earlier form of which was Keystone and my bet is that they all derive from the same name.

Our descent continues, the path rocky and in places quite wet, keeping pace with the beck all the way down. A wall comes down the fell on the right (Middle Dodd) and turns to join us as we make our way down Caiston Glen to the valley floor.

Lower down we find ourselves in an area of mixed ash and hawthorn scattered on the side of the fell, finally reaching an area of erratics, boulders left behind by the melting ice like beached whales.

At an enclosure and field barn we follow a sign pointing the way to Patterdale and the camp site and cut diagonally across a field cropped close by sheep over the centuries.

A hand gate in the wall leads us on to the track on which we came out earlier in the day and turning right we find ourselves back at Hartsop Hall.

All that remains is the short walk back along the lake side to Cow Bridge and the contemplation of an excellent walk in peerless surroundings


Area of walk: Dovedale from Cow Bridge, Brothers Water.

Distance: 8 � miles

Time to allow: 4-4� hours

Map: OS Explorer OL5 The English Lakes, North eastern area

Refreshments: The Brotherswater Inn is about � mile off route, accessedthrough Sykeside Camp site from Hartsop Hall. There are toilets and a shop at the camp site.

Useful book: Lakeland Fellranger, Near Eastern Fells by Mark Richards.