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Guide to Grasmere – Lake District

By Joanna Roberts
More by Joanna

Grasmere: Gem of the Lakes

Draw a line diagonally through the Lake District, and Grasmere sits in the middle. Grasmere is easily accessible from the main road that links Kendal up to Keswick. There are breathtaking views of England’s largest national park at every turn. Admire jagged mountainous vistas softened by the sultry greens and reds of fellside shrub. A visit to picturesque Grasmere is always a delight.

Is Grasmere the Lake or the Village?

It’s both. This duplicate naming often causes confusion among visitors to the Lake District. Similar to Windermere, the word ‘mere’ means ‘body of water’. This Old English word has also become synonymous with the settlements developed around the lakes.

Context is the only way to distinguish the lake from the village. Whilst a walk around Grasmere would usually refer to a circular walk around the lake, a visit to Grasmere would most likely be a reference to exploring the village.

Grasmere – An Overview

At just one mile long, Grasmere – the body of water – is one of the smallest “big lakes” in this stunning UNESCO national park. Drawing visitors year round, there is plenty to see and do. Outdoor lovers might enjoy hiking around the lake. However, a visit to Grasmere isn’t complete without browsing the shops, learning about the famous Wordsworth family, and breathing in the resplendent beauty of the fells.

A striking feature of this part of the world is the old slate-roofed buildings which typify much of Lakeland. Other traditional sights are the iconic Herdwick sheep dotting the hills and bright blooms of autumnal heather.

Like anywhere in the beautiful Lake District, visitors to Grasmere should come prepared with appropriate clothing for all weather, whatever the season. If you should forget items, or wish to expand your outdoor clothing wardrobe, Grasmere has a fine selection of outlets to help. A guide favourite is the ever-reliable Cotswolds store.

Once suitably suited and booted, there are many fabulous places to hike within this area. Grasmere was much beloved by the Romantic poets, artists, and literati of the 19th century. When the outdoor fun is complete, the reward of a fine coffee shop or pub is never far away.

Natural or Nurtured?

Female hiker standing in a tunnel of rhododendron flowers

Resplendent with fells seemingly untouched over the centuries, the landscape we see throughout the Lake District is in a fact a subtly managed space.

From grazing sheep to dry stone walls, conservation efforts, and footpath repairs, this deservedly popular national park works hard to balance visitor enjoyment with protection for the land, waters, and wildlife.

There is no finer place than Grasmere to understand why so many people feel the pull to visit this incredible part of northern England. Surrounded by fells and summits, the skyline is a true array of iconic Lake District silhouettes.

William Wordsworth

This celebrated 19th century Romantic poet encouraged others to the importance of “taking time to appreciate the wonder and beauty of the natural world.”

A sentiment that has echoed through the ages, it is as relevant today as it was two hundred years ago. Visitors to Grasmere and the Lakes can reminisce on Wordsworth’s words, poems and philosophies.

Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy lived at Dove Cottage near Grasmere from 1799 to 1808. It was here that the famous poem “Daffodils” was written, following walks to nearby Ullswater. Learn more about the lake in our guide here.

Dove Cottage

William and Dorothy’s life is beautifully recorded and available to all through a visit to Dove Cottage, which today encompasses a quaint museum and pretty gardens.

Dove Cottage and Wordsworth Grasmere are a must-visit for all Wordsworth fans, or anyone interested in the poetry and literature inspired by the romantic beauty of Grasmere and the Lake District.

Enjoy an inclusive visit to Wordsworth’s home whilst on the epic England Coast to Coast hiking trip – a chance to traverse the width of England by foot.

 

Rydal Mount

Just 2.5 miles from Dove Cottage is Rydal Mount, home of the Wordsworths later in the great poet’s life. Another site well worth a visit if you’re interested in Wordsworth, learn more about Rydal Mount and gardens here.

Each home offers an atmospheric sense of family life and that of their numerous visiting poet friends and writers, including another famed Romantic poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and the writer and essayist, Thomas De Quincy.

Dove Cottage Lake District Wordsworth

What is Romanticism?

Today we might think of poetry, art and writing as a way to tap into the emotional heart of what we want to express. It hasn’t always been that way.

In their time, William and Dorothy Wordsworth were part of a broader shift. These talented poets challenged the status quo, and instead used their poetry to look at the world through emotional connection and imagination. In addition, William had a real passion for showing others that poetry and feelings could be expressed by the everyday man (or woman), and wasn’t just something for the well-to-do or wealthy.

Curious about other writers inspired by the romantic and devastatingly beautiful landscapes of England? Read more here.

When is the Best Time to Visit Grasmere?

For those not tied to school holidays, spring and autumn are wonderful seasons to visit Grasmere and northern England.

In spring, black Herdwick lambs frolic beside their grey-fleeced mothers, and mixed deciduous woodland teems with bird calls and new life. In early autumn, the landscape deepens in colour as a riot of burnt-orange leaves, pink heathers, and still-green ferns soak up the rain showers, a common occurrence in the Lakes.

When autumn turns to winter and leaves fall to the ground, there is still much beauty to behold. As the dark evenings draw in, there is a real sense of rest and renewal which can’t fail to seep into the soul.

Activities Near Grasmere

It may be relatively small, but Grasmere has plenty to offer. The lake, popular with open water swimmers, is well situated for a family picnic and stroll along the southern shore.

Rowing boats can be hired from the Faeryland waterside tea rooms. Kayaks, canoes and paddleboats do not need a permit. However, lakeside parking and launching are very limited, so the Faeryland tearooms offer a paid park and launch option for a small number of self-sufficient paddlers. Of course, there are also walks and hikes galore.

For those curious about wild or open water swimming, this is a great place to start learning more about where and how to enjoy a safe and enjoyable wild swim.

Grasmere Heritage

Grasmere Gingerbread

A trip to Grasmere is incomplete without a visit to try Sarah Nelson’s world-famous Grasmere Gingerbread. This lightly spiced cross between a biscuit and a cake is utterly delicious, a morish sweet treat with a soft yet satisfying crunch. Be warned, one piece is rarely enough!

Visit Grasmere Village

If time permits, a stroll around Grasmere’s churchyard and adjacent garden is a welcome snippet of calm amid the bustling village high street. Founded in 642 AD, St Oswald’s is the final resting place for William Wordsworth and many of his family, along with pioneering legend Sarah Nelson. The Daffodil Garden is particularly joyful in spring when the vibrant sunny yellows carpet the ground.

Low Level Gentle Walks

Whilst the Lake District has an increasing number of helpful signposts, none of these routes are specifically waymarked. Care should be taken when navigating the different sections.

The Coffin Route

2 km/1.2 mile | Linear Trail

The coffin route is hidden among the trees, running parallel to the road between Grasmere and Rydal.

Used in days gone by to transport the dead to the consecrated ground at St Oswald’s Church, this gently undulating terrain is now a great way to finish several circular routes. Look out for the large square stone at the side of the path, which was used to rest the coffins on along the way.

Circumnavigate Grasmere

4.5 km/2.7 mile | Circular Trail

From the village, a walk past Dove Cottage follows a roadside footpath to the lake. A short stroll through peaceful mixed woodland meanders to a small bridge over the River Rothay. The southern shore is easily accessible from here, as are the higher paths up to Loughrigg.

After stopping to admire the stunning mountainous backdrop, the path around the lake – through relaxing woodland and a quiet road – is easy to follow back to the village.

Grasmere to Rydal

8 km/5 mile | Circular Trail 

A pleasant woodland walk to the east of the lake follows the River Rothay towards Rydal Water, another predominant lake. After crossing the river, the tree-lined path soon reaches low level open fell and contours between the southern shore of Rydal Water and Loughrigg. A final wooded section reveals a second bridge and the main road near the little Hamlet of Rydal.

Extend the walk to Rydal Hall Gardens, free to explore and complete with its own waterfall and tea rooms. Combined with a gentle stroll back along the Coffin Route, this trail makes for a beautiful circular journey.

Higher Level – Challenging Hikes

Loughrigg and Rydal Cave

Loughrigg Fell, at only 1099 ft/335 m is relatively low by Lake District standards. However, this extensive hillside, linking Grasmere to Rydal and Ambleside, makes for quite an adventurous outing. With its craggy outcrops, grassy false summits and indistinct paths, this route is best done with a map, compass and pioneering spirit.

Alternatively, head along Loughrigg’s lower northern flank, just above Rydal Water, near Jobson Close, and seek out the famous Rydal Cave. This large, cavernous space, created through slate quarrying, is popular with locals and visitors alike. Rydal Cave has even played host to various choirs.

Look for the stepping stones at the entrance, and be prepared to turn your phone into a torch! Entry is very much at each person’s own risk, and occasionally the cave may be closed off for safety reasons.

Heron Pike

Heron Pike is a popular choice for those wanting a more challenging and adventurous hiking experience. Hike it as a linear walk from nearby Rydal. If time and energy permit, a hike up to Alcock Tarn from Grasmere gives access to the open fell.

From the tarn (a small fellside lake), a traversing path reaches a wide ridge at Lord Crag. Reach the summit up and back the same way before continuing down to Rydal and picking up the easy coffin route path back to Grasmere.

This hike works well with a visit to Wordsworth’s Rydal Mount or a gentle stroll around Rydal Hall’s gardens. Both offer café refreshments and a chance to rest before the walk back to Grasmere.

Coast To Coast and Easdale

Hiking west out of Grasmere into Easedale will pick up the classic Coast to Coast route that traverses England. Combine this section of the Coast to Coast with Gibson Knott and Helm Crag to build a circular route. Venturing into higher and more complicated terrain is best suited to experienced and well-equipped hikers.

Want to explore Northern England further? Join our Coast to Coast trip to be expertly guided east up to Grisedale Hause and over to neighbouring Ullswater.

How to Get to Grasmere

Personal car travel is a popular way of visiting the Lake District. However, visitors to Grasmere will be pleased to know that the 555 bus, linking Lancaster to Keswick, regularly stops at both Grasmere and Rydal.

If arriving by train, the best option is to take the branch line from Oxenholme to Bowness-on-Windermere. From here, pick up the 555 bus.

Where to Park Near Grasmere Read More

Whilst it is not possible to park at the lake itself, there is limited free parking in surrounding laybys and plentiful paid parking in Grasmere village. For visiting the town, the big car park to the east of the shops has plenty of space, or there is a central public car park behind the garden centre. Further out, there is a large layby north of the mini roundabout on the A591. Cross the road and walk through the gate for a lovely stroll to the village.

For walks to the southeast of Grasmere village, park at White Moss Carpark. This ample pay-and-display parking is placed conveniently between Grasmere and Rydal Water. It offers easy access to both the coffin route and the bridge over the river Rothay, up onto the Loughrigg fellside.

Read more writing by walking guide and writer Jo Roberts on her website www.writinginsideout.co.uk. 

Explore the Lake District

Meet the Author: Joanna Roberts

Settled now in Cumbria, England. The Lake District National Park is a place I love for work and play. Originally from Devon and brought up in Wiltshire I also spent time living in the Scottish Highlands, working for Outward Bound Loch Eil. So, Outdoor Education and personal development work is within my very core. Over my career I have worked with both adults and young people helping folks learn and grow in some amazing places; from Nepal and Peru to Norway and Poland. In recent years I have guided a lot in Northern England and love enabling guests to get the very most out of their holiday.

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