‘It seems to me that it must be one of the most beautiful and varied of the long-distance trails.’
These were the words Sir Chris Bonington chose to describe the Lake to Lake Walk, a sublime 166-mile (267 km) trek between Windermere in the Lake District and Kielder Water, the centrepiece of Kielder Forest. Any hike that gains such praise from one of Britain’s mountaineering greats must be good.
This beauty and variety comes from the contrasting landscapes of England’s far northern reaches. The famously staggering scenery of the Lake District National Park; the gentle pastures of the Eden Valley; the wild, windswept moorland of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB); Hadrian’s Wall and the rugged Northumberland National Park; and the vast quiet of Kielder Forest.
The Lake to Lake Walk was the brainchild of Alistair Wallace, a veteran of long-distance trails who had long dreamed of curating his own. In 1999, this dream came to fruition and the Walk was launched.
The idea was to meander from England’s largest natural lake to its largest artificial lake, taking you from the spectacular Lake District to the impressive Kielder Forest via the superb scenery, rich historical interest, varied wildlife and invigorating trails of Cumbria, County Durham and Northumberland.
Highlights in Cumbria and Durham include: Windermere and Ullswater, the two largest natural lakes in England and famously beautiful; Appleby-in-Westmorland, a gorgeous town nestled at the foot of the North Pennines; Balderdale and Lunedale, stupendous valleys boasting spectacular moorland and shimmering reservoirs; and Stanhope, a picturesque market town with a fascinating industrial history in the heart of the Durham Dales.
In Northumbria, you discover: Hexham, a historic town and home to the magnificent Hexham Abbey; Chesters Roman Fort, once the Hadrian’s Wall stronghold of Cilurnum; the pretty village of Bellingham on the North Tyne River; and finally the sprawling Kielder Forest and its centrepiece, Kielder Water.
As the Walk winds its way across the North on footpaths, former railway track beds, bridleways, moorland trails and minor roads, you discover some magnificent natural sights and wondrous wildlife. From Lakeland’s craggy fells, blue lakes and grinning Herdwicks and the Pennines’ purple heather, shimmering reservoirs and Swaledale herds to Kielder’s soaring ospreys, towering conifers and sensational dark skies; it’s a trek that evolves splendidly as you eat up the miles.
I have split the Walk into 14 stages, varying from 7 to 15 miles (11.3 to 24.1 km) in length. Each stage ends where there are accommodation options and somewhere to eat. Where the options are limited, I name specifics in the stage descriptions. It’s worth looking ahead and planning what provisions to carry for each day, as there are not always places to find lunch en route.
You could feasibly combine some of the stages and complete the route in fewer days. There is also no reason why you couldn’t do the whole thing in reverse, starting at Kielder Water and finishing at Windermere.
This is a trek that crosses long sections of open moorland and fells that are exposed to the elements. Paths are quieter and not as easy to follow as many long-distance trails in England, whilst there are four stages with over 1,500 feet (460 m) of elevation gain. With this in mind, some experience of hillwalking is recommended, and you will need to be reasonably fit.
The Walk crosses some of England’s wettest regions, so it goes without saying that waterproofs and sturdy boots are essential. You also need warm layers, even in summer, as the higher sections are liable to be colder and windier than in the valleys. Of course, in the warmer months you need to be prepared for the other extreme with sunglasses and sun cream.
The Walk is doable all year round, but the challenges are much greater in winter. The Pennines readily hold onto snow and, whilst the terrain is never technical, winter mountaineering skills and equipment may be required during cold spells. Many of the pubs and cafes en route may also be operating with reduced hours or closed altogether, so it is vital to carefully plan ahead and make enquiries if attempting a winter adventure.
The start point of Bowness-on-Windermere is a short walk from Windermere train station, which you can get to from Kendal station or by changing at Oxenholme Lake District station, which is on the West Coast Mainline. The town is half an hour’s drive from the M6.
The nearest settlement to the end point at Kielder Water is the village of Falstone, which has a few accommodation options. From the south, it is a 45-minute drive from the A69 at Hexham, whilst from the north it is just less than an hour from Jedburgh on the A68. Falstone is not easily accessed by public transport. There is the 694 community bus service from Hexham. However, it only runs a few times a week. For more information, enquire at visitkielder.com/contact.
Ready to get going? Create and customize your own version of this adventure using the full Tour below as a template.
Last updated: November 15, 2021
Plan your own version of this adventure in the multi-day planner based on the stages suggested in this Collection.
Starting in the bustling town of Bowness-on-Windermere and crossing the lake via a short ferry trip, the first stage explores the northern shores of Windermere and heads into the quintessential Lakeland town of Ambleside. From here, you ascend into the fells, making for Scandale Pass and descending to…
This is a beautiful stage that rambles along the eastern shore of Ullswater to Howtown, before ascending across Bonscale Pike and the flanks of Arthur’s Pike for some glorious views. The stage ends by descending to the pretty village of Pooley Bridge at Ullswater’s northern tip.
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During this stage, you bid a fond farewell to the Lakeland Fells, as you head east towards the Eden Valley. First you cross the broad, windswept Askham Fell, which is home to a couple of ancient stone circles, before descending into the Lowther Valley, following country lanes and crossing the M6. The…
This stage is a gently undulating journey to the Eden Valley and the lovely town of Appleby-in-Westmorland. Most of the day is spent on quiet, minor roads, with the occasional footpath. You cross a number of the Eden’s tributaries, as they make their way down from the Orton Fells, and you pass through…
This stage acquaints with the gentle beauty of the Eden Valley, on a journey bookended by two grand fortresses, Appleby Castle and Brough Castle. Both were restored in the 17th century by the great Lady Anne Clifford. In fact, this stage shares much of the same route as part of the Lady Anne’s Way, a…
After a few gently undulating stages, it is time to take to the hills once more, this time onto the vast, rugged Pennines. From here on out, footpaths become trickier to follow across wild moorlands. You will need your wits about you, as you cross from Cumbria to County Durham, explore the heads of Baldersdale…
This stage takes you from Teesdale to Weardale over the wild moorland at the heart of the Durham Dales. It is glorious hillwalking territory, without the number of people you get on the Lakeland Fells or in the Yorkshire Dales. As you ramble, it’s just you, the sound of the wind in the heather, the grazing…
This stage explores the Stanhope region’s mining heritage, as it takes to disused railway lines that venture across the moors, past interesting relics of industry.
From Stanhope, head up the High Street, past the Methodist church and take an enclosed footpath that climbs the hill and leads to two footbridges…
This is an atmospheric ramble across Northumberland’s southern Pennine moorland to the popular village of Allendale. After the initial ascent from Allenheads, the stage is mostly downhill and on the shorter side at 10.5 miles (16.9 km), giving you plenty of time to soak up Allendale’s delights.
The final taste of open Pennine moorland awaits on this stage, which takes you from Allendale to the largest town on the Walk: Hexham. You ascend onto Greenrigg Moor, enjoy the huge views, before a gradual descent brings you to historic Hexham with its beautiful abbey and grounds.
Leave Allendale via…
This stage explores a short section of Hadrian’s Wall country, passing the interesting remains of Cilurnum, now known as Chesters Roman Fort. With 7.6 miles (12.2 km) to cover, this is one of the shortest stages and gives you time to explore Hexham and its magnificent abbey and grounds, Chesters Fort…
This stage heads into beautifully serene countryside above the North Tyne Valley, visiting some perfectly picturesque villages en route. You have the choice of an optional detour to Ravensheugh Crags and a nearby Bronze Age stone circle. At just 11.2 miles (18 km) in length, there’s plenty of time to…
The penultimate stage is quite a short one at 7.1 miles (11.4 km). You join the Pennine Way on its journey to the delightful village of Bellingham with its pretty stone cottages and riverside pubs. It would be feasible to do stages 13 and 14 together, in one, big 18-mile push (29 km). However, it would…
The final stage takes you into the vast Kielder Forest, the largest human-made forest in England. After an undulating trek across moors, you enter the forest, keeping your eyes out for red squirrels in the trees and ospreys in the sky. After a quick visit to the village of Falstone, you end your journey…
Hiking Collection by Alex Foxfield
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