This walk from Grasmere begins close to Allan Bank – one of the many houses once lived in by William Wordsworth – before meandering past the bottom edge of Lancrigg Woods through fields of Herdwick sheep and alongside a ghyll up to Easedale Tarn, a wonderful spot for a picnic.
Arrive here at the right time, when the sun is just above and there’ll be an opportunity to munch lunch in contemplation of the hills across the tarn. Their reflection in the still mirror of the tarn on a windless day conjures up a butterfly, a snake, the face of a prophet in the water.
Indulge in a spot of yoga as you breathe in the sunshine and the clean mountain air and you may well glimpse the universe.
I walked this walk on one of the hottest days on record for February, an unfathomable 16 degrees Celsius. I peeled off layer after layer as I climbed the slopes, scrambling on wet rock face in places, past Belle’s Knot and up and over Sergeant Man (736m), eager for that first glimpse of Harrison Stickle (736m) from the top.
As a new Kendalian, accustomed to looking at the famed Langdale Pikes in the distance, I felt naughty somehow, mischievous, to tap the Stickle on its back and catch it unawares. From up here, mere metres instead of miles away, the Stickle is framed less by the sky above than the scree and wetland of Thunocar Knott – the path meandering through a rocky terrain laced through with verdant green moss and yellow rushes.
Harrison Stickle and the smaller but more elegant Pike of Stickle, known locally as the Langdale Pikes, were once the heartland of the Great Langdale axe industry. This was a centre for stone tool manufacturing during the Neolithic period (beginning about 4000 BC) in Britain, in the days when stone suitable for making polished stone axes could be quarried, or more probably just collected, from the Langdale valley’s scree slopes. Axes from here have been found distributed across England, Scotland and Wales.
From the top, it’s a breathtaking descent to a choice of pubs at the bottom of the Great Langdale valley, enjoying bewitching glimpses of Stickle Tarn to the left and Blea Tarn, Windermere and Elterwater in the distance. It’s prudent to keep at least one eye off the view and on your feet here: although surefooted sheep skittle with impunity over the seemingly sheer edge of the darkly named Dungeon Ghyll, you wouldn’t want to follow them down there.
I could feel my legs start to give after more than a mile of the descent, dropping down into the Langdale valley just as the February sun started to set.
My pub of choice for this walk is the glorious Sticklebarn, a pub with an illustrious landlord – the National Trust. Having served generations of the folk who’ve farmed and shaped the landscape, the Sticklebarn prides itself on its sustainability – sourcing its water from the fells, wood fuel from the land and electricity generated by the torrents coming down the ghyll.
With five local ales on hand-pull, the beer’s great, and the pub offers lots of personal touches that are welcome after a long day on the fells, from warming fires on cooler days and towels to dry off soggy dogs to a clothes dryer over the fireplace where soggy humans can hang wet coats up to dry.
Best of all, the Sticklebarn makes sure that every penny guests spent there is invested back into the magnificent landscape that’s its home. This makes it easy to feel virtuous as well as smug when downing a glass of local ale at the end of this walk: with a bus pulling up just outside the pub to get you home, anyone who wants a beer can have one.
Leaving the Sticklebarn is a wrench, but the bus-ride back to Windermere through the gorgeous Langdale valley, past Elterwater and down into the town of Ambleside is every bit as good as the morning bus-ride from Windermere to Grasmere – asking nothing more of its passengers than to admire the view.
And the view. And the view. What better way is there to travel, really?