A walk to Alcock Tarn

The walk to Alcock Tarn provides a wonderful view over the village of Grasmere itself, but along the way other vistas open up. On a clear day almost the whole span of the Lake District can be seen, from Skiddaw in the north down to Windermere and Coniston to the south. If you look west, Scafell and the Langdale Pikes are clear against the horizon. Only the eastern view is blocked, by Heron Pike and the long ridge running down from Fairfield to Nab Scar and Rydal.

Alcock Tarn (1)


Alcock Tarn

Be warned - it is surprisingly steep in places, both up and down, and like most Lake District walks good footwear is advisable. Even when it is bright and warm in the valley below, it can be cold and windy up above, so it's better to be prepared for changes in the weather.

The track starts a short way along the Coffin Trail and at first is clearly signposted. From Lake View Country House turn right along road name, cross the A591 and turn in at the Jerwood Centre. Leave Dove Cottage on the left and continue up the hill, ignoring the old Ambleside road as it bears right. Not long after that, a metal bench offers a reward after this first climb, and a signpost confirms that Alcock Tarn is ahead. At this point you are off road.

In the woods (1) In the woods (2)
In the woods In the woods


The first part of the track is broad and easy, taking you through very attractive woodland. On a hot summer day you will be glad of the shade!

As the edge of the trees draws near, held on place by a boundary wall, there is perhaps the only difficult choice to be made. There are at least three ways to make the ascent to the tarn. One way turns briefly to stay within the woods for a little longer before emerging onto the fell and climbing Chapel Fell in a series of zigzags up to another bench. Around here you will find the best vantage point for looking down at Grasmere. When the track levels out you find you have come back again to the wall. This is probably the most pleasant route, though not the shortest.

The other two routes both start by leaving the woods low down. One way turns directly up the hill parallel to the wall, following what seems at times to be a stream bed. After something of a scramble you rejoin the first path. The final choice branches diagonally up the fell side, and appears easier at first. But the incline becomes steadily steeper as you climb, and you might regret your choice!

Scafell and the Langdales

Scafell and the Langdales

The last section of path to the tarn is comparatively easy, and it is well worth pausing periodically to check the view. The best views south will be from Alcock Tarn itself, but Skiddaw is at its finest rather before this. A good pair of binoculars will show you just how many people are climbing Scafell and the Langdales today.

Alcock Tarn (2)

The blue waters of Alcock Tarn

On bright days, Alcock Tarn is astonishingly blue. As you get to the lip, and the little channel which takes its contents down to the Rothay, it's also time to look south to Windermere and Coniston. The tarn itself is quite protected, but as and when you follow the path around its edge you may well meet a strong breeze coming down from Dunmail Raise and Thirlmere.

Hang Glider

Hang Glider seen from the Tarn

In the summer, you may see hang gliders drifting all around the ridge here, making good use of the thermal air currents rising up from the valley. They are a spectacular sight. And if you happen to be here for Grasmere's annual Lakeland Sports (http://grasmeresports.com/) you may find yourself being overtaken by fell runners racing from the sports field off Stock Lane up to the ridge above you. This show has been a regular annual event since 1868, and is one of the most popular traditional events in the English Lake District. As well as attractions in the show field itself (off Stock Lane and very close to Lake View Country House) there are sporting activities in the surrounding area, including cumberland wrestling, fell running and hound trails.

As and when you decide to move on from here, the main track drops down quite steeply. You are treated to great views of Fairfield and Stone Arthur. It is entirely possible to get up onto the ridge and continue north at high level up to Fairfield, or to branch off the downward path and ascend the rather lower summit of Stone Arthur, but for today we shall just go down the hill. The path is obvious, though care is needed if the grass is wet. Just before coming right off the fells onto a metalled road, you have to cross a stream. This normally has a convenient bridge provided, but as at early 2017 the bridge has been damaged and you have to pick your way across using stepping stones.

Helm Crag

Helm Crag

The path emerges, rather conveniently, beside the Swan Inn, of which Wordsworth wrote "Who does not know the famous swan?" (The Waggoner, 1805). From here you also get a fine view across at Helm Crag - and probably decide that that is a treat for another day. Whether you stop off at the Swan or not, the way back to Lake View Country House is through the village of Grasmere, after carefully crossing the A591.

 The route to Alcock Tarn

A map of the walk to Alcock Tarn from Lake View Country House

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