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Wordsworth country at its very best
Whatever the time of year, Grasmere is busy, but I always want to stroll in this area during late summer, early autumn. A few years ago, I was given a book which included a walk leading up to Alcock Tarn and which was described as one-and-a-half mile long and easy going. This was an error - it was four-and-a-half miles long and difficult for a stroller, if not for a walker! It was, however, worth the effort because this is Wordsworth country at its very best. It was a wonderful walk.
How to get there:
Follow the A591 from Ambleside towards Keswick. Drive through Rydal. Do not turn left into Grasmere, but continue along the A591 to reach a car park on the right. Beyond this, the walk begins from The Swan Inn on the right.
Map: OS Explorer OL7, grid reference 340084.
Length: 4.5 miles.
Warning: you do need to wear boots during this walk, as the route is steep and rocky.
1 From the Swan Inn, turn left along a very minor road. Look out for a footpath to the right, indicating Alcock Tarn. Follow the course of Greenhead Gill, which is a pretty stream with many tiny waterfalls which are the haunt of dipper and grey wagtail.
2 Approach two private houses. Pass these on the right to reach Greenhead Gill. This is a lovely place to stop and rest for a while. Go over a wooden footbridge. Walk to the left and prepare for a long, steep climb.
3 Look out for a bend on the rough track and follow the line of an ancient pack horse trail. Here, the winding track gets even steeper, finally reaching a huge mass of rocks with views of the Greenhead Gill valley down below.
4 The path leads alongside a stone wall and twists onwards and upwards over rocks and grass and a boggy area. Look out for a wooden stile over a stone wall.
5 Cross over a stile leading to Alcock Tarn. This is full of reeds and always of interest to naturalists. William and Dorothy Wordsworth loved this tarn and the poet wrote: 'Here we did stop; and here looked around, Whilst each to himself descends.' Before I began to descend from the 1,500-feet high area, I had my late summer picnic. My 2011 walks have been interesting from a bird-watching point of view, and on this day I saw three osprey flying over the tarn. The descent is steep and rocky and so care is needed.
6 Approach a metal gate, which bears a National Trust sign. Pass through this and continue over the well-named Bracken Fell. Here there are a number of little streams leading down to Rydal Beck, and lots of well-placed wooden seats from which to admire the spectacular view. Descend through a woodland area and close to a little pond, to meet a minor road. Turn right and then right again alongside a tarn.
7 Look carefully to the right and find the coffin stone. This was on the old corpse road. It dates back to the days when the dead were carried from their upland farms by bearers. Coffin stones were placed along the route to the church and were flat and the coffin could be placed on them.
8 Pass Dove Cottage on the right. Take time to enjoy the National Trust complex, which is a haven for all who enjoy a dose of the Wordsworths. This was the poet's family home. William, his wife and children, along with his sister Dorothy, lived at Dove Cottage between 1799 and 1808. Wordsworth's poetry is famous, but if you get the chance to read Dorothy Wordsworth's journal, do not miss it. She writes the most wonderful prose.
From Dove Cottage, turn right onto the A591 and walk along the wide verge. Continue past the National Trust regional office on the right. Ignore two footpaths down into Grasmere on the left. Walk on to reach the starting point.
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.