Haverthwaite Heights and Low Wood

THE five-mile stretch of the River Leven between Newby Bridge and Greenodd is steeped in industrial history, writes JOHN EDMONDSON. This short walk, which is mainly along woodland paths, catches glimpses of the past and offers impressive views over the river valley and across the estuary.

Take the X6 bus to Haverthwaite Rail Station or park along Old Barrow Road near the Anglers Arms, grid reference SD 348 840, postcode LA12 8AJ.


Distance: 4.5 miles with 1,000 feet of ascent.

Time: 2.5 hours

Terrain: good paths and short stretches of road.

Map: OS Explorer OL7


1 From the Anglers Arms walk along Old Barrow Road past St Anne’s Church entrance then through a gateway, following the old road to its end just after a former railway bridge. Follow the footpath signed Haverthwaite Village, around the outside of a wall and left of woodland. Turn right onto the B5278 and cross the A590 at the traffic island. Enter the road signed Grizedale but turn immediately right. At the Y junction go straight ahead onto the footpath signed Backbarrow. The uphill woodland path goes through a gate and passes two reconstructed remains of bark peelers huts. During the mid 19th Century, most towns had at least one tannery for converting hides into leather using tannin from oak bark. The stripped oak was used to make baskets, gunpowder, charcoal and fencing. The huts had low stone walls, a fireplace and a roof of branches and turf. Turn left at the junction signed White Waymarkers and follow the marked path, branching right to visit Massicks viewpoint. Peer over the top of gorse for a splendid view of Morecambe Bay and the Leven Viaduct.

2 Descend following waymarkers, turn right on the main path signed Backbarrow and sharp left at a waymarker post. Pass under a railway bridge and turn left onto the road. Cross the River Leven and pass the Whitewater Hotel. This is the site of works that made the pigment ultramarine, or “dolly blue” until 1981. Details are displayed in the hotel bar and in the Lakeland Motor Museum (which is 500 yards to the left). Turn right after the hotel car park up a No Through Road (Foxwood Hill). Cross the A590 at the central reservation then walk up Brow Edge for half a mile. Turn right onto the footpath signed Low Wood and Trundle Brow. The site of Backbarrow Ironworks can be seen below. In 1711, this was one of the first blast furnaces, replacing bloomeries to make wrought iron. During its 250 years of operation production increased to reach 2,240 tons per week in 1963. The Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway, which opened in 1869, runs above and behind the site.

3 Descend through woodland to near the River Leven. This was the site of Low Wood Gunpowder Works that operated from 1798 until 1935. Charcoal was sourced from local coppices. Other raw materials - sulphur and saltpetre - were imported by ships. Before the Leven viaduct was built, the river was navigable nearly as far as Low Wood Bridge. Pass the disused boiler house that was used to raise steam for drying the gunpowder. At the road turn right and pass the clock tower, built in 1849 as the gunpowder works offices. Turn right on the B5278, cross Low Wood bridge then turn immediately right onto the riverside footpath. Turn right onto the road and return to the Anglers Arms. The final 100 yards of road can be bypassed by walking through the pleasant cemetery on the right.

Next week: Barbon and Calf Top

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.