It’s not often I take my own advice, but I “top-tipped” the Rannerdale Valley for bluebells in May when blogging about a winter walk around Crummock Water in mid-February, so it only seemed fair to head that way myself on my last day off. This late spring walk started – as my walks so often do – with a bus ride, or rather two of them: Stagecoach Cumbria’s #555 from Kendal to Keswick, a leisurely sweep through the central lakes, followed by a short hop on the #77, until a request stop at Rannerdale Farm, just short of Buttermere.
First up, the famed bluebells themselves – delicate, slow growing and protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 – in the much loved, heavily Instagrammed Rannerdale valley. Wainwright records Rannerdale’s (spelt Rannadale on the signs along the path but Rannerdale on the map) tumultuous past, pitching the valley as stage for a fierce battle in which the English routed Norman invaders in the years after the conquest. Today, though the Lake District’s worst-kept secret valley is best known for a magic carpet of bluebells that remembers an ancient woodland, not bloodshed, rendered picturesque in late spring by gambolling Herdwick lambs, hawthorns in full flower, and a gentle ascent along Squat Beck, running through the valley. It really doesn’t get much better than this.
Only it does – heading upwards and onwards along the path to Whiteless Pike, offering views of a Wainright studded cast of fells that includes Rannerdale Knotts, Mellbreak, Starling Dodd, Red Pike, High Stile, High Crag, Haystacks, Fleetwith Pike and Robinson. For anyone for whom there’s no fun in “rock without water/water with no rock” (T.S. Eliot), there’s also the glittering cascade at Moss Force to enjoy, and not one but three glorious lakes framed by the high fells: Buttermere, Crummock Water and Loweswater. All this makes for a picture perfect place for a picnic and a breather, before heading out along Wandope, a flat plateau, with broody Grasmoor on one side, jealous guardian of a bewitching view of Loweswater and the wind turbines glimmering on the Solway Firth in the far distance, and Crag Hill on the other.
Next, the descent from Coledale Hause into the hanging valley of Coledale, passing Force Crag Mine – one of the last working mines to close in the Lake District – with views north to Sand Hill, Hopegill Head and Grisedale Pike. The stream that flows out near the higher mine workings is deliciously named Pudding Beck, becoming Coledale Beck after falling down Low Force, and it dances past spoil heaps and mine water remediation ponds to the left and oak, aspen, hazel, hawthorn, birch and willow saplings to the right – these young native trees part of ongoing reforestation attempts to “slow the flow” and protect villages below Coledale from flooding exacerbated by centuries of mining, tree-felling and sheep grazing. Here, the Lake District’s past, present and future have come together to create a remarkable snapshot of the cultural landscape that brought UNESCO World Heritage Site status to the National Park in 2017.
A thought-provoking as well as inspiring walk, then – finished off beautifully with a pint of Keswick Brewery ale in the sunny beer garden at the Coledale Inn in Braithwaite, before boarding the #X5 from Workington into Keswick, and a bracing, open-topped bus ride on the #555 back into Kendal.