Gowbarrow Fell and Aira Force

ONE Wainwright walk: Gowbarrow Fell 

Walk Rating:⭐ (although Aira Force itself merits a higher rating!)

Time: 2 - 3 hours (depending on the time taken at the waterfalls)

Parking: Either at the High Cascades Car Park (Grid Ref: NY 397211) or on the roadside at Ulcat Row (free but very limited space). Alternatively, why not arrive at the bottom of the falls by bus or Ullswater Steamer?

Gowbarrow Fell from High Row

Gowbarrow Fell is not a particularly memorable fell. Its peak only gives an obscured view of Ullswater and, while further exploration on the fell would find a better viewpoint at Green Hill, when the weather is fine, time might be better spent elsewhere. However, the fell is situated above the beautiful valley of the Aira Beck and its spectacular waterfalls. So, unusually for a 'Wainwright walk', I would advise spending less time on the fell and more in the valley below! 

The walk could be started at the National Trust's High Cascades Car Park, although, in high season, you will be competing for spaces with many other visitors to Aira Force. Alternatively, a far less frequented start to the walk can be made from the few houses of Ulcat Row, on the minor road tucked under the north slopes of Gowbarrow Fell.

Strava estimates a walk of around 9km in total from Ulcat Row, including the full length of the valley

1. From whatever direction you start from, the feature to look for in the landscape around you is a long wall heading vertically up the western flank of Gowbarrow Fell. The path climbing to the summit goes up the fell to the right of this wall.

The route up the fell is to the side of a long wall

2a. If you are starting from Ulcat Row, take the path that follows a wall around the bottom of Gowbarrow Fell, starting from the bend in the road below a building that was once an old chapel. After about a mile, you will be joined by a path coming up from Dockray. Continuing round the fell, you will soon reach the ascending wall. Turn left, through the gate onto the open fell, and carry on upwards.

The route from Ulcat Row contours around the fell above a wall

2b. If you are starting from the old quarry at High Cascades Car Park, go across the road, through the gate, and walk down towards the Aira Beck. Cross the beck over the High Cascades Bridge and then turn left to walk along the far bank. Go through a gap in a wall and another gate, heading away from the trees. When you approach the long ascending wall, turn right, through the gate onto the open fell, and carry on upwards.

The gate from the High Cascades Car Park

3. A path, well repaired in places by 'Fix the Fells', takes you up the hillside to the right of the wall. There are views across to Ullswater to your right and, at the right time of year, the colours of heather and bilberries.

Ascending Gowbarrow Fell

4. At the top of the fell, the path heads right away from the wall to reach the Ordnance Survey column at the summit  (1579').

The triangulation column at the top of the fell

5. If you have time for a longer exploration of the fell, head south along the ridge towards the viewpoint of Green Hill, and descend to Aira Force from there. Otherwise, descend back down along the wall to the valley of the Aira Beck.

Descending on the path alongside the wall

6. Once you have descended the hill, take the path left to the wooded area of the valley below. There you can visit both the high cascades, higher up the valley, and, below, the main waterfall of Aira Force, where the water tumbles over 20 metres down a rocky cleft before returning to your starting point.

The High Cascades

7. The 'Waterfall Bridge' allows you to look down Aira Force from above and a new viewing platform is being constructed (see 'Worth Knowing") to see it from below.

Aira Force under the 'Waterfall Bridge'

Worth knowing: You can download a detailed map of the valley trails, showing the waterfalls and other points of interest, such as the pinetum, from the National Trust website. At the very bottom of the site you can find both a toilet block and a Tea Room, and have the luxury of a coffee and cake in the middle of your walk!

It's worth checking the National Trust website for the latest updates on the site, particularly on the ongoing works to improve the walkways and the construction of a new viewing platform at the bottom of Aira Force. The old viewing platform has had to be closed owing to erosion of the footpath and bank down to the Aira Beck.

The old viewing platform is being replaced

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