“Dream that heaven is very like this land, Mountains and lakes and rivers undecaying, And simple woodlands and wild cherry flowers. For though this land is but the shadow of heaven, It yet is heaven's shadow...”
Edmund Casson certainly presented a romantic view of Borrowdale in his poem, “The Wise Kings of Borrowdale”, and the dale continues to be a favourite with visitors in the present day.
Borrowdale, walled in part by high, sharp-edged crags, is located in Cumbria's volcanic central mountains. Stretching from the head of Derwent Water south to Seathwaite, it is the main access to the central part of the Lake District. Sty Head Pass connects Wasdale with Borrowdale. Honister Pass connects the beauty of the Borrowdale and Buttermere valleys.
Borrowdale abounds in valley and fell walks. The Cumbria Way passes through. The 58-mile long Allendale Ramble runs from Borrowdale to Silloth. Borrowdale was a popular route in Neolithic times as well. It provided an axe trade route to the east of Bassenthwaite.
Borrowdale's fells include Seathwaite where graphite was discovered in 1555. Formed by extreme pressure and heat, it was used, during Queen Elizabeth I's reign, to make moulds for cannon balls (later its value as pencil lead was exploited). From that time an industrial economy was imposed on Borrowdale's farming fabric. Copper was added to the mining mix.
Grange, at the beginning of the valley, is known for its double-arched bridge of 1675 that crosses the Derwent River. The river, when in full flow, rushes past and can flood the area. At the so-called ‘Jaws of Borrowdale’, near Grange, the river runs under steep cliffs through a gorge. A riverside path provides a pleasant walk. Thomas Gray, an 18th century romantic poet, described the Jaws as a menacing ravine whose rocks might, at any time, fall and crush a traveller.
In the past much of this section of the valley was covered by the Fawcet Forest. There still remain areas of broadleafed and conifer woodlands, most belonging to the National Trust. The oak woods are of particular note.
Shepherd's Crag is a favourite rock climbing spot. Another stopping point along the way is Lodore Falls, created where Watendlath Beck drops 120 feet. It's a mere trickle of water except during times of heavy rainfall.
Balanced precariously on its small base below the slopes of King's How, the Bowder Stone (approximately 1900 tons in weight) is a glacial landmark. It was popular with the Victorians, and one bored a hole through the stone. There are now steps to the top.
The remains of a supposed Romano-British fort lie on the summit of Castle Crag, a well-known viewpoint at the southern end of the gorge. Wainwright recommended it as a climb to “take back an enduring memory of the beauty and atmosphere of the district.”
Rosthwaite, in a wide spot at the southern end of Borrowdale, is a popular village for walkers. Rosthwaite Farm had an ancient yew tree, fallen to the ground, but it still impressed Wordsworth, who proclaimed its diameter was large enough to be a cave entrance.
Just past Longthwaite, Borrowdale's road branches. One section leads southeast to the Stonethwaite valley, its village, and the Borrowdale Fells. Southwestward the road goes to Seatoller at the head of the valley and the settlement of Seathwaite, a starting point for climbing Scafell Pike. The village is one of the wettest place in England with more than 130 inches of rain per year.
Green farmland and sheep characterize this southern section of Borrowdale. Beatrix Potter owned two farms in the valley.
Seathwaite farm's small grove of yew trees were immortalized by Wordsworth who wrote in Fraternal four of Borrowdale:
“...But worthier still of note Are those fraternal Four of Borrowdale Joined in one solemn and capacious grove Huge trunks! and each particular trunk a growth Of intertwisted fibres serpentine...”
Borrowdale stages a Shepherds' Meet and Show each year. Fell racing, sheepdog trials, hound trailing, and craft displays are part of the action. In August a 17 mile fell race is held.
Borrowdale, an isolated valley until a road was built in 1842, was a Wainwright favourite. He called it the ‘fairest valley of the Lake District.’ Another quote from Edmund Casson's The Wise Kings of Borrowdale sums up the beauty of the dale:
“...O most fair Glory of Cumberland, I worship thee. Thou art what God hath shewn us of heaven's light. With me rejoice, O Cumbrians, and praise God For the shadow of His beauty.”
Borrowdale is located on the B5289 south from Keswick.
Youth Hostel Association
Borrowdale Youth Hostel
Tel: 01768 777257
Youth Hostels Association
Tel: 01768 777246
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