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Grasmere walk: A walk to the wild side

Leaving Grasmere heading for Dunmail Raise
Written by Stuart Wickes
Leaving Grasmere heading for Dunmail Raise

Leaving Grasmere heading into a wilder section of our winter walk across The Lake District

Grasmere walk: A walk to the wild side

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Day 5 of our winter walk across The Lake District and we find ourselves leaving behind the towns and villages to walk into a wilder place. A mile or so beyond Grasmere, we cross a fell gate and enter another Lake District. This place looks different, feels different and even has its own language. And we wonder if we’ve stumbled into the wild heart of Cumbria or just got lost in the mist?

Lost? We’re not lost

In a wild place Cumbria

Lost? No, we’ve got a map, compass, directions and we can see the bus. Well, at least when the cloud lifts.

“It says to turn right at the clump of rushes,” says Matthew pausing in a puddle.

I look around and say nothing. There are no rushes. There are wintery wisps of fern, sodden bogs of moss and lots of low hanging cloud. But no rushes.

“What are rushes?” asks Cameron.

I’m not sure if we’re on the right route but we’re not lost, although Kirstie doesn’t seem to understand the distinction.

“If there are no rushes and you don’t know where we are, we are lost,” she announces.

I’m not going to start an argument. The boys have done that already. But I understand the reaction; this is a visceral place and evokes strong reactions. Fear, anxiety, peace, inspiration, joy – they’re  all much closer here, away from the distractions of civilisation.

Welcome to a wild place

Our Stagepath leaflet did warn us this section of the walk, from Grasmere to Thirlmere, was a little trickier than the others. After leaving Grasmere it’s a wilder walk; there are no more towns, villages or pie shops until Keswick. And in places the path is less obvious too; like on this section heading up Steel fell.

The leaflet says we could walk up and over the fell if we so wanted, which would be a nice diversion if we could actually see where we were going. Still the weather adds to the atmosphere.

“We’re wandering lonely in the cloud.” I joke. No-one laughs.

Greenburn Dale Cumbria

Greenburn Dale Cumbria. We are wandering lonely in the clouds.

This way…

“I think it’s this way” says Matthew trampling downhill through bracken. “It says to follow a sheep path to an obvious pile of rocks and a marshy hollow.”

“There are rocks almost everywhere,” says Kirstie.

And she’s right. But downhill makes good sense; out of the cloud and towards the bus route, which is never too far from view. At least when the cloud lifts. Which is why I say we’re not really lost.

Not that navigation isn’t without challenge here. We’re seeing the wilder side of Cumbria now. Fellside, crag and ghyll are our companions. And a few sheep. And many sheep paths. Some are distinct but others seem to be more a case of the boys discerning a trace of crushed bracken. It’s not easy to know which bits of crushed bracken are actually ‘a path’ nor which one of the many possibilities is the one we’re supposed to follow.

But it doesn’t seem to matter too much. There’s a mysterious sense of confidence that comes from following any trail of lightly crushed bracken. Suddenly you know you’re heading the right way, and for a moment all the instructions make sense. Personally I’m more reassured by the sight of a bus in the distance, chugging up Dunmail Raise towards the bus stop and old AA phone box that our instructions say we need to reach.

Looking down towards Grasmere from Steel Fell

Looking down towards Grasmere from Steel Fell

Navigating in another language

It’s not all vague instructions though. Some are very specific although not in a language that’s very familiar. Gone are the mentions of guest house and youth hostel, gone are the street names and directions to turn left here or take a sharp right there. Instead we must cross the fell, find a marshy hollow, join a green tractor track, skirt a glacial moraine, cross a minor ford, follow a wet track. These are the waymarkers of the Cumbrian fells.

Fording a Stream near Dunmail Raise

Approaching Dunmail Raise we must ford a minor stream. Well, we’re wet anyway.

Wild at heart

When we left Grasmere and walked through the fell gate into Green Burn Dale we entered another Lake District. This is where you walk in Wainwright country. This is where you get lost in Constable’s landscape. This is the Lake District of artists and poets, of Ruskin and Coleridge and Wordsworth. This is where we wander lonely as a crowd. And even in the wet, I like it; it moves me.

Waiting for a bus Dunmail Raise

Even waiting for a bus at Dunmail Raise is lonely.

Lost or not, when you leave behind the towns, villages and tourists, you realise the real magic of this place. It is wild at heart and touches your soul.

AA phone box at Dunmail Raise

The day ends at the listed AA phone box at Dunmail Raise.

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Our thanks to Stagecoach Cumbria and North Lancashire for their help in bringing you this story. 

Check out our Day 1: What? No Car? A Lake District Family Walking Tour
Check out our Day 2: Really Seeing The Lake District
Check out our Day 3: Walking in the footsteps of Poets: Rydal Hall Walk
Check out our Day 4: A walk back in time through Lake District history
Check out our Talking Point: Are you a Muddy Boots Person?
Check out our Talking Point: Where does adventure begin? At the front door?
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About the author

Stuart Wickes

Stuart's the adventure addict half of the team, always trying to persuade the family to get out, do more, go further. As co-founder and co-director he handles the business, creative, design, technical and publishing aspects of the project. He is our chief photographer and videographer. With training as a professional learning and development consultant. an engineer and musician, his contribution is eclectic and unpredictable!


  • This is excellent. It evokes all the family emotion of finding ourselves not quite where we think we should be perfectly. Funny to read, cos we all experience it, but not so funny when the hills around Grasmere feel like the wild Himalayas! Yesterday we passed a family hurtling down a snowy hillside talking frantically to everyone en route about their terrifying experience and advising against ascent. We thanked them and carried on….it was a gorgeous day by the time we got to the place of their terror…things can change quickly out there.

    • So true about changing conditions, especially with the weather. Those judgment calls can be hard to make about turning back and whether or not to listen to other’s experiences. Thanks for commenting Helen. 🙂

  • Got to love all the words I learned in this post. And got to love Cameron and Matthew bickering about how to wear those floppy caps. What’s weird: as I read this, it’s raining the literal cats and dogs, I only just came in from cycling and hung my coat and trousers – so when I look at the landscape I imagine it to be a lot wetter than it actually is. And box 487 – you really expect the Doctor to pop out of it mumbling something about Chameleon Circuits going wild again…

    • We thought buying two floppy caps might stop the bickering but when you want to bicker you’ll find a way. Box 487 is very Doctor Who. The smallest listed building in the UK I think.

  • […] The chips are well deserved. In the space of a few days we’ve walked the length of a marathon; up and down the fells, through boggy fields, towns and villages, and in the footsteps of poets. We’ve passed meres, becks and gyhlls, slogged through farmyards, pushed through endless kissing gates and doggedly followed the instructions on a soggy leaflet even when we weren’t sure what they meant. […]

  • […] Family Adventure Project say to make hiking not about the hiking but about something bigger.  I think this is so true because when we give our kids a challenge that has nothing to do with getting to the end of the hike, it makes it so the kids don’t realize how far we are walking.  While they were looking for something, we made it another 1/4 of a mile without even noticing it! […]

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We're Kirstie & Stuart. We share an adventurous spirit, a passion for indie travel and 3 kids. The Family Adventure Project is our long term experiment in doing active, adventurous things together. Find out more...


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