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Stanley Ghyll and the glorious waterfalls
Park at Forge Bridge over the River Esk, grid ref 149995, Eskdale. If approaching from the south-west (over Birker Moor or from the coast road) the fairly large parking area lies on the left of the road. Before starting the walk you might wish to take the steps through the wall to see the Esk hurrying under its bridge and on down the valley – the green sward beside it is a lovely place for a picnic.
Waterfalls are wonderful after heavy rain and Cumbria has had so much heavy rain. This walk starts alongside the Esk, visits Stanley Force and then goes on to pass high above Gill Force. An optional diversion is to climb the peat track to the top of Birker Force. The return is made over Doctor Bridge and back along the opposite bank of the Esk, passing St Catherine’s Church before returning through woodland to Forge Bridge.
Information Distance: 6 miles; add on 1 mile if you climb Birker Fell.
Time: 3 hours/4 hours
Terrain: Good tracks.
Steps can be slippery in Stanley Ghyll after rain. Good grassy tracks up Birker Fell – the first one to the gate is the steepest and the longest.
Map: OS Explorer OL 6 1
Do not cross Forge Bridge but take the well signed track leading into Milkingstead Wood, walking through the pleasing mature woodland (glorious in the autumn). To your left the Esk races along its bed. The track then leads out of the trees into an open pasture. Ignore the track right, leading to pretty Milkingstead and go on through a gate to pass the elegant Milkingstead footbridge. Carry on the good track as it cuts off a wide bend in the river to stroll through more fine woodland. Eventually you can glimpse the charming Dalegarth Hall over the wall on your left, with its fine round chimneys (no room for the devil to settle in). Go through the gate at the end of the track, wind right for a few steps and look on the left for a gate with a board signed ‘Waterfalls.’ 2 Walk ahead and then, slightly right, to start along the granite path with the raging beck to your left. The path then begins to climb through the ghyll, the roar of the water in spate blocking out all sounds. Cross the bridges as you come to them and after the last one you can just spot, through the trees, the peat-covered water from Birker Fell spouting over the cliff edge to fall over many jagged projecting surfaces into a pool far below. The path to view the Force is narrow, rocky and some times muddy. There is some scrambling over boulders required. But if your nerve is good and you have a head for heights you will find it very exciting to view the great fall.
3 Return to cross the footbridge, and in a few steps take a good path setting off, left, up the slope. Climb the railed steps into a pleasing wooded hollow and then bear sharp right along a good path to a gate. Beyond, walk ahead through the bracken to join a wider way, turn right and follow the track curving right to a gate into woodland. Descend the steep reinforced track to pass the signed gate to the waterfalls and go on for a very short way to a signposted gate on the right. Beyond, follow a good path across the pasture to a gate into woodland. Go ahead across a long narrow footbridge, high above Stanley Beck, and head on to a gate into a wild area of bracken. Here ignore the wide swathe ahead and bear right and follow a wide grassy way as it winds left. This continues as a lovely path to reach a gate into more woodland, high above the river. Carry on to look down left, to see Force Falls, white-topped cascades when the river is in spate.
4 Follow the good track out into the lovely valley to cross a footbridge over the foot of Low Birker Pool. Continue until you reach the division of the ways above the property, Low Birker. Here you may wish to bear right, climb steeply up through bracken and then juniper, to a stile onto the fell slope and then take the zig-zag peat track, right, to reach an old peat hut. When the track finally winds left at the highest point, leave it to go ahead over grass to see the top of Birker Force. Return by the same route to the valley and take the left path (now on your right) ignored earlier. Go past resplendent Low Birker and descend the good track to cross Doctor Bridge.
5 Walk left with the Esk to your left, remaining on the track until you reach St Catherine’s Church. Turn right before it and take the walled track, left, just beyond. At its end, cross left the lovely bridge over the Esk. Walk on with Dalegarth Hall to your right to reach the signed gate, right, passed through early on the walk. Return along the track (one and a half miles miles) to Forge Bridge and the parking area.
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.