Elterwater, Colwith Force and Skelwith Force

Cumbria, England

SummaryGetting there

One of Lakeland's prettiest lakes and villages, two impressive waterfalls - and Little Langdale.

Distance:4.6 Miles
Est. Time:2 hrs 20 mins
Difficulty: Moderate 
Total Ascent:797 ft 
Total Descent: 797 ft 

DescriptionMap View

The RouteSafetyNotes


  • Elterwater villagetwo impressive waterfalls
  • stunning views of the Langdale Pikes above Elterwater Lake
  • the pretty village of Elterwater
  • the scenic Brathay valley and the River Brathay

 This is a walk for fine views that will stay in your memory. The Brathay valley looking up towards the Langdales is one of the most attractive scenes in the Lakes. Nothing on this walk is 'biggest', 'widest' or 'highest' but all the elements combine to offer a day of visual pleasure.

The Route go to top

Cross the road from the car park and go over a stile to walk down a woodland path (signposted 'Langdale and Elterwater'). Cross a stile and follow the gravel path leading to the River Brathay. At the T junction turn right and follow the path beside the river to Elterwater Lake.

Go through a gate and continue through deciduous woodland. The path rejoins the river and continues alongside it. Cross a small bridge over a stream and continue along the path to Elterwater village (shops and refreshments available in the village). Go through a gate and turn left over a bridge on the road leading away from Elterwater and towards Coniston. Pass the Youth Hostel and turn right up the minor road opposite the grounds of the Elterwater House Hotel.

The road downgrades to a stony track as it climbs the hill. Pass a signpost to Little Langdale and follow the path up between a fence and a wall to a gate. Shortly after the gate the scene opens out to give views ahead of the Langdale Pikes. Turn left through a gate and head straight across a field. Follow the path down and left to a stone squeeze stile, then ahead to another stone stile. Walk along the right hand edge of a field (following yellow arrows). Go through a farmyard into Little Langdale and turn left onto a road.

After about 100 yards, turn right through a kissing gate into a footpath that leads down to the River Brathay. Cross the river over a narrow footbridge and turn half-right to follow the footpath to a gate. Go through and continue to another gate opposite a whitewashed farmhouse. Go past the house to another gate and turn left onto a small road signposted to Colwith and Skelwith. When the road turns right in front of farm buildings go left through a gate onto a public bridleway (blue arrow). Follow the way markers through the farmyard to a gate, then go through a field to another gate.

Follow the wall along the left hand side of a field to another gate. The path immediately branches and you need the left fork to follow the permissive path (white arrow) down through Colwith Wood back to the river and to Colwith Force. The best view of the falls is from a gravelled side path below the falls. Follow the path close to the river, down to a stile, where you turn right onto a road. After about 100 yards cross a bridge over a small stream and immediately turn left over a stile to pick up a footpath (signposted 'Skelwith Bridge 1 mile).

Cross another stile and head up a steep woodland path (with steps). Another stile brings you to some more glorious views of the Langdales. The path crosses a field to an iron kissing gate beside farm buildings. Cross the farm road to another gate and go along a path between stone walls to a stone squeeze stile.

Cross a stream and walk over a field to another stile and a gravel path that crosses a farm road and leads through a farmyard. You are now on a section of the Cumbria Way.

Go through a gate and follow a broad track down between stone walls. Go through a gate and over a small stream. Continue to an iron kissing gate, over a bridge to another one and along a road past some cottages. Go through a gate, across a field to another gate then left onto a road. Follow the road down to Skelwith Bridge. Cross the bridge and immediately turn left following a public footpath sign to Elterwater. The path goes through the entrance of the Kirkstone Slate Galleries then loops round to the right and behind the shops, and through their yard.

Follow the footpath beside the river to a viewing platform for Skelwith Force. Return to the path. [From here you can take a short walk along the road to the Car Park if you prefer.] Continue along the path, through a gate for a last enjoyable stroll over the meadow beside the River Brathay. By a bend in the river turn right onto the footpath you started with, go over a stile, up through the woods to another stile, then cross the road back to the Car Park.

Safety go to top

Apart from the need for obvious care around the falls, this is a safe walk. Mostly on the level, there are nevertheless two stiff climbs from Elterwater village towards Little Langdale and about 1 mile before Skelwith Bridge. Stony sections of the route would make smooth soles shoes a dangerous choice.

Notes go to top

Colwith Force (lower falls)

Colwith Force - The falls drop in several stages down a total height of about 40 feet. The river is the Brathay, which has been with us throughout this walk, and drains all the hills in the Langdale area.

Elterwater Lake and Langdale PikesElterwater - The lake shares its name with the village and the word 'Elter' comes from an old word for 'swan'. The lake is, in fact, a regular stopover point for Whooper Swans on their way south for the winter. The village is ranged around a traditional green and has several shops, pubs and hotels.

Kirkstone Slate Galleries - The slate worked here has a greenish tinge and makes attractive ornaments and decorative items. The shops sell other nick-nacks and luxury items. There is also a café/teashop on the site. (Skelwith Bridge).

SkelwithBridgeSkelwithForceSkelwith Bridge - a small village on the road from Ambleside to Coniston, Skelwith Bridge boasts an impressive stone river crossing that is worth a look. There is a spacious pedestrian viewing area beside the bridge and a road leads from there to the car park of the Kirkstone Slate Galleries shop and restaurant.

Skelwith Force - Lower down the same River Brathay, this fall is relatively low in height (about 17 feet) but makes up for it by thrusting all the water through a narrow gap, making an impressive curtain fall (especially after rain).

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