It seems an age since we last visited the Lake District – I think 5 years, but now that we live just 2 hours from Ullswater we jumped at the chance to meet up with friends for a brief couple of days away. The Patterdale and Glenridding area is an excellent base for walking, so we knew we were in for a good couple of days.

Walk from Patterdale

This walk from Patterdale can be done in a half day but packs a punch in terms of views and a good climb, it certainly is enough to raise the heartbeat. Setting off from the sports field at Patterdale, walk upstream on the road until a signpost sends you up the hill to the left. Follow this path upwards and make sure you take plenty of breathers and turn round to enjoy the view over Ullswater. I think Ullswater is my favourite Lake District lake, with the mountains plunging down into the water and trees lining the bank it is truly picturesque.

At a gate, keep on going up – we had intended going up Birks, but we missed the route up left and followed the most obvious path skirting Birks. Keeping the crags ahead, just keep on heading towards the rocky outcrops. Whilst the path was obvious, there were a number of false summits and we had to scramble over quite a bit of rock before reaching the final grassy slope to reach the top of St Sunday Crag at 821 metres. This final part of the walk takes you along the top of the crag and gives excellent views across Ullswater and also towards Helvellyn and Striding Edge. Ahead of you, across a short ridge is Fairfield and heading south west from that summit is a fine looking ridge taking in Hartsop above How, which looks like one for another day.

Grizedale Tarn

Because a) we didn’t set off until midday and b) there was snow in the air, we had already decided to descend down towards Grizedale Tarn, so we continued towards the ridge at Fairfield descending on another obvious path towards the tarn a long way below. We had chatted to a number of walkers going anti-clockwise on the route who had reported that it was hard work coming up from the tarn and that they wouldn’t fancy going down. So we approached the descent with some trepidation. Whilst there were some rocks to navigate on the path and it was quite steep, it certainly was not as technical as we had been led to believe. Once beyond the short rocky descent we were able to enjoy watching the wheatears – my first of the year.

Once we reached Grizedale Tarn we picked up the path by the stream which was a relatively easy, if long, walk back down the valley to Patterdale. It is a good thing that the Lake District has its views, because there is often nothing else on the high fells. Over the years I have frequently been disappointed by the complete lack of flora and fauna. At one point I stopped and could hear nothing: not even those normal upland staples of skylarks and meadow pipits. There were no flowers braving it out either, so really a bit of a desert nature-wise. Whether from disturbance (St Sunday’s Crag is on the popular Coast to Coast route) or from over-grazing I just feel it is very sad that the nation’s flagship National Park should be so denuded in wildlife.

Once we were a bit more sheltered in the valley we stop for a bite to eat and a brew-up. By sitting still we DID manage to have some good views of the wheatears and it was good to see both males and females present. At various points on the walk there were both meadow pipits and skylarks, but alas no cuckoo. We also caught a glimpse of a merlin, flying low over the fell.

Glacial Valley

If you like your geology, this walk will provide you with plenty of interest. You can see a classic arete at Striding Edge and Grizedale Tarn itself is a fine example of a corrie lake. As you follow the valley you can pick out drumlins and erratics, all evidence of the glaciation that formed the landscape.

It is good to see that in the valley there has been plenty of tree planting in conjunction with some de-straightening of the river, with the aim of both increasing biodiversity and reducing the flood risk to Patterdale. The National Park are encouraging people to take photos at certain points of the route to track the changes to the area, a good way to involve visitors in the project.

A couple of final points of interest as the walk came to a close – firstly four fighter planes using the valley as training practice gave a spectacular fly-by and secondly look out for a very attractive stone bridge. No longer in use but certainly something to look out for on the walk.

If you are looking for an interesting medium-distance walk from Patterdale, I can highly recommend this route. It has to be said though that we struggled to find food in the evenings as many were not serving and the beer could be eye-wateringly expensive.  No wonder people go self-catering!

View from St Sunday Crag
View of Ullswater from St Sunday Crag. Photo credit: Sonja Tomlinson
Meadow pipit in Patterdale
Meadow Pipit in Patterdale. Photo credit: Peter Lyth
Lamb in the Lake District
Look out for lambs. Photo Credit: Peter Lyth
Walking group in Patterdale
Steve, Peter and Sam in Patterdale. Photo credit: Sonja Tomlinson
Old bridge in Patterdale
An Interesting old bridge. Photo credit: Sonja Tomlinson

Distance: 12 km

Elevation: 600 metres

Difficulty: Hard

Date Walked: 26th April





  • Wheatears
  • Meadow pipits
  • Skylark
  • Wood anemones
  • Lambs