At the foot of the hills in Langdale
Starry sky over Langdale
The sun setting over the hills
Clear view over a tarn from the ascent to the peak

I decided to kick start my week with a visit to the Langdale Valley. Situated to the west of Ambleside, Langdale is split into two beautiful valleys: Great and Little Langdale. 

This small slice of the Lakes is a walker’s paradise full of numerous fells, mountain lakes (tarns) and narrow mountain streams (ghylls) all within a short and accessible walking distance.

My first stop was one of the most accessible and beautiful tarns in the Lake District, Blea Tarn. Situated in a hanging valley between Little and Great Langdale, Blea is a small but tranquil body of water surrounded by craggy fells.

This mountain lake is extremely popular with landscape photographers due to the mirror-like reflections it produces of the Langdale Pikes. It is also a great spot for stargazing and astrophotography due to its easy access and dark sky location.

cooling off in still waters at Blea Tarn

Braving a wild swim at Blea Tarn

A National Trust car park is situated opposite the tarn and is £3 for 2 hours or £5 for all day. From the car park, simply cross the road and descend the wheelchair-friendly path for 250m until you reach the shoreline.

A perfect spot for a family picnic, I'd recommend heading to Blea Tarn shortly after sunrise in order to enjoy its full beauty. I visited the lake on a windless morning and witnessed the surrounding fells captured within the lake’s mirror-like reflections; it was a morning like no other.  

If you are feeling bold, consider packing some bathers and heading for a dip; just make sure you do it after all the local photographers have packed up. 

For those seeking something more challenging, consider combining a visit to Blea Tarn with a circular loop of Lingmoor Fell or Side Pike. Both fells are accessible from the National Trust car park opposite the tarn and would make an excellent choice for sunrise.

I chose to head up Lingmoor Fell and was rewarded with a delightful sunrise overlooking the Greater Langdale Valley. The short (<1 mile) but steep (260m of ascent) hike to the summit should take 45 minutes. An outline of the circuit can be found below:

PM – Harrison Stickle via Stickle Ghyll

After grabbing some lunch, I decided to spend the afternoon hiking up to the iconic Langdale Pikes via Stickle Tarn. The hike has a little bit of everything including waterfalls, grand vistas and a mountain lake in which to swim. 

Starting from the National Trust car park next to the Sticklebarn pub (LA22 9JU), the route follows a well-built path on the east side of Stickle Ghyll (ghyll is a northern English term for a narrow mountain stream) for 1 mile up to Stickle Tarn. 

The path is not technical but does get steep in places, gaining 370m in elevation in just under a mile. The trade-off is that there are half a dozen wonderful waterfalls en route which provide a great excuse to stop for a breather. 

The reward for tackling this short but steep climb is another tranquil mountain lake. At an elevation of 500m, Stickle Tarn sits in a wide mountainous bowl beneath the peaks of Pavey Ark and Harrison Stickle and offers glorious views back down the Langdale Valley towards Lake Windermere. 

View of the tarn at Harrison Stickle

Stunning mirror reflections at Harrison Stickle

If you have a little more energy in the legs, I would recommend continuing the hike around Stickle Tarn up to Pavey Ark and Harrison Stickle to get magnificent 360-degree views. The 3km loop adds a further 250m of elevation gain and should take just over an hour.  

I ended up staying on the summit of Harrison Stickle for sunset and witnessed the sky set on fire which was incredibly special. To get back to the start point, simply follow Stickle Ghyll back down to the car park via the route you ascended. 

In total, the hike is 6km in length, involves 620m of elevation and should take around 3 hours to complete. Once again, pack some swimwear as there are plenty of spots for a wild swim and consider heading up later in the afternoon when the route will be much quieter. A full outline of the route can be found below:

What to do if it rains?

The good news is that Langdale has a wide range of low-level options if the weather is not as forgiving. 

If you are facing a little light drizzle or low cloud, I would recommend walking to Whorneyside Force. Under-appreciated and under-visited, this dramatic waterfall sits at the head of the Great Langdale Valley in a secluded and dramatic setting. The 12-metre-high waterfall drops into a deep bowl which is perfect for wild swimming (if you are feeling brave enough). 

Parking is available at the National Trust car park at Old Dungeon Ghyll. The out-and-back walk is 6km in total, involves 120m of elevation gain and follows a well-maintained path throughout. A 3D interactive map of the route can be found here:

If it is a complete washout, consider visiting the Cathedral Quarries above Little Langdale. 

Often known as Cathedral ‘Cave’, this subterranean world of wonder is a series of abandoned, interlinked slate quarries whose origins date back as far as the 16th century. The site is owned and managed by the National Trust which has preserved the tunnels and caverns so people can gain a first-hand glimpse of the local industrial heritage. The highlight is the 40ft main chamber which is lit by two natural windows. 

The caves are completely free and are suitable for young children. There is parking available at the Three Shires Inn. 

A view of lakes and trees near Coniston
Read Day 2: Tarn Hows and Coniston

Why not read Day 2 of my Lake District adventure and discover more about the beauty of Tarn Hows, the idyllic village of Coniston and the excitement of ghyll scrambling.