Borrowdale Caves and Castle Crag

STARTING from Rosthwaite, this walk follows the lovely River Derwent, writes JOHN EDMONDSON. A short sharp climb to Castle Crag (the lowest of the Wainwright fells) adds a magnificent spectacle to an otherwise gentle stroll around the beautiful woodland valley of Borrowdale.

Begin from Rosthwaite National Trust car park (members free) or adjacent Borrowdale Institute car park (£3) or take the 78 bus from Keswick.

Map reference NY 258 148, postcode CA12 5XB.


Distance: 4 miles with 800 feet of ascent

Time: 2.5-3 hours

Terrain: Good footpaths

Map: OS Explorer OL4


1 Turn right out of the car park entrance and walk between Yew Tree Farm and the Flock-Inn Tea Room onto a walled track. The path bends right as it reaches the river then becomes cobbled and follows the riverside. Cross over New Bridge and turn right. Take the right hand gate following the riverside path. The path turns to the left away from the river. Before reaching woodland go over a ladder stile on the left and follow the uphill path through a gate into woodland. Climb the zigzag path up a slate pile to the top of the crag. Be careful on the loose slate especially when wet. The short steep climb to the 951-feet summit is well rewarded by views both south and north. Wainwright gave the diminutive Castle Crag a whole chapter in one of his guidebooks because it "is so magnificently independent, so ruggedly individual, so aggressively unashamed of its lack of inches, that less than justice would be done by relegating it to a paragraph in the High Spy chapter." Viking settlers named Borrowdale after their fort here: the name derives from Scandinavian Borg (fort) and Dalr (dale or valley). At the summit is a memorial stone to soldiers killed during the First World War.

2 Retrace your steps carefully down the slate pile to the main path. Where the path forks, keep right and right again, signed Grange. Follow the rocky path down alongside Broadslack Gill. Keep right and turn right onto the riverside bridleway to start heading back towards Rosthwaite. After passing through a wall gap the path enters a former quarry area. Climb a narrow path on the right to visit Millican Dalton’s cave. Go up to two inter-connected caves above a lower cave.

3 Millican Dalton, who called himself, Professor of Adventure, and was addressed as the Skipper, lived in these caves during summer months from the 1920s until near the end of his life in 1947. Millican was known locally for his eccentric outfits, Tyrolean hat and love of dark coffee and Woodbines cigarettes. He followed a healthy natural diet, baked his own bread, made his own clothes and manufactured lightweight camping gear with a sewing machine. He took parties of paid guests in 'mountain rapid shooting, rafting, hair’s-breadth escapes', rock climbing and mountaineering expeditions. Millican was a perfect gentleman; he offered camping excursions for young women long before that became socially acceptable; he taught women rock climbing, allowing them to lead when their climbing skills permitted. In 1941, aged 73, he used to lie awake at night enjoying sounds of the nights: the roar of the mountain stream, the barking of dogs and foxes and the cries of birds.

Return to the original path and continue beside the River Derwent to rejoin the path you walked on earlier. Cross New Bridge and retrace your steps to Rosthwaite.

Next week: Coniston Coppermines and the Old Man

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.