WALKING in the Lakes in winter is a mixed blessing. It is free from the ‘madding crowds’ but the downside is that there are fewer hours of daylight. Over this coming winter I am going to enjoy a few strolls to discover some of our lovely tarns. Some of these walks are quite short. To get there, take the A591 from Ambleside and ascend Dunmail Raise. At the end of Thirlmere reservoir turn left to reach Dob Gill car park.

Map: OS OL5

Grid reference: 314 143

Length: Just less than two miles, but at the beginning there is a steep climb which can be slippery. At this time of the year good footwear is vital.


1 I was careful to choose a fine early morning because I was keen to get the best views of Thirlmere. This has been ‘settled’ for so long that it looks natural even though it is a man-made reservoir. This is in contrast to Harrop Tarn which has been there since the end of the last Ice Age. The old Norse folk had a word for tarn - tear drop, which is just what it looks like on a map. Look for a set of steps at the end of the car park and follow a twisting footpath which leads into a stand of conifers and the route at this point can be steep and slippery.

When Thirlmere was build in the 1890s and especially when the Forestry Commission was set up in 1919 there was a massive planting of conifers. It is easy to see why because at the end of World War One Britain was so short of timber that fast growing trees had to be planted. Over the years people have written in to newspapers, including The Westmorland Gazette, complaining of the need to plant native broadleaved trees instead of ‘foreign conifers.’ Nobody knows better than the Forestry Commission and they are now felling conifers and replacing them with native hardwoods. This will take time and those who still complain should now have more patience.

2 This track leads to Dob Gill and in my view this is one of Cumbria’s most attractive lake waterfalls. Although I chose a fine day it followed yet another period of heavy rain which has so blighted 2012. The water which pours over Dob Gill flows out of Harrop Tarn. Follow the line of Dob Gill Beck and approach the tarn through trees. The tarn is seen to left and it was this point that I was given a rare treat. I met an otter almost face to face but it was soon in full flight towards the tarn. The animal ran over a muddy area and I was able to see a clear imprint of its paws. Like most naturalists I carry a camera and a small ruler. I could see five claw prints and the paws measured nearly three inches wide. So far this year I have seen an otter seven times. Otters, after years of persecution, are now increasing in numbers - and very welcome they are. From the tarn bear sharp right and the footpath sweeps right as it leaves the area of the tarn.

3 Work on clearing some of the conifers has led to the area approaching Swithin Crag becoming an excellent viewing platform and carthe most attractive sights is that of the Helvellyn range. The planting programme has clearly shown that United Utilities (formerly North West Water) have been able to work closely with the Forestry Commission and are developing an excellent deciduous woodland but very carefully managed.

4 Continue along a track and look out for a path to the right which leads to a road. Cross this and turn sharp right to reach the car park at the start and finish of walk.

NB: Restrictions on space mean that this article provides a general summary of the route. It is advisable for anyone who plans to follow the walk to take a copy of the relevant Ordnance Survey map.