Aira Force and Gowbarrow Fell

On most of the Wainwright hikes we’ve done, the main attraction has been the view from the summit. Yes, there have been lovely views on the way up or down, but the trig point is your reward and where you can pat yourself on the back for another peak bagged. It’s usually the focal point of the walk, with the route planned for the sole purpose of reaching the highest point on the fell. Not so with our trek up Gowbarrow Fell: any walker with an interest in cracking views and spectacles of nature should combine a climb up Gowbarrow Fell with a visit to the waterfall Aira Force.

Like many of my favourite walks, we found this route in our Pocket Mountains guide. A 6.5km circular route, the walk takes you through the manicured grounds of Gowbarrow Park, before climbing through light woodland to make the final ascent of Gowbarrow Fell. The route isn’t particularly strenuous but you need a head for heights: the return leg offers outstanding views of Ullswater, but the price to pay is a steep drop away from the path on one side. A similar route is available on the National Trust’s Website.

This is a walk where having a National Trust membership pays off. There is a large car park at Aira Force (busy on weekends and holidays) where parking is £5 for two hours, £7 for four hours, £9 all day or free for members. I’ve definitely got my money back this year in parking alone.

The walk took us just over two and a half hours with plenty of stopping for photos. The views on this walk were incredible, and it definitely ranks as one of my favourite Wainwrights so far (I think it’s a toss up between Gowbarrow and Dodd for the most enjoyable day out).

The icing on the cake for me was dropping back down to Gowbarrow Park and spotting a red squirrel helping itself to nuts from a feeder – it completely took me by surprise, as I hadn’t expected to ever see one in a place as relatively busy as the area around Aira Force (although that being said a few weeks ago I saw one in the centre of Kirkby Stephen, so perhaps they’re less reclusive than I thought).

Gowbarrow Fell should be manageable even for novice walkers. The paths are generally clear and well defined, there aren’t any horrendously steep climbs, and the views are enough to give anyone the Wainwrights bug.

As an added bonus, the start point has plenty of facilities, including mercifully clean toilets and a tea room (eating cake is a compulsory part of any National Trust visit for me). It is busy around this area: Aira Force is incredibly popular, being an easy walk from the car park and with viewing platforms installed to help visitors get the best view of the waterfall (although one of these was closed when we visited due to tree fall). We actually had to queue for a few minutes to get to the edge of the platform to see the view – so be prepared for more people than you’d normally find on a countryside stroll!

Dog friendly rating – 3/5. There are signs up in Gowbarrow Park asking for dogs to be kept on leads, so these should be respected, but there’s plenty of other things to like about this walk as a dog owner. There are no stiles, no road walking, and there’s a ‘canine corner’ in the car park where there’s a water bowl so dogs can have a drink (although if you’re going for a longer walk on a hot day you’ll need to take extra with you).

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