Bassenthwaite is one of my favourite lakes. It doesn’t have the deathly darkness of Wastwater; it doesn’t have the choppy deepness of Ullswater; and it doesn’t have the pollution of people that Windermere has. It’s not too deep, but still counts as one of the largest of the Lake District lakes – and is, of course, the only one which is officially a lake (as opposed to a mere, water, tarn, etc.).
I have a long-held ambition to do the Bassenthwaite triathlon but as I’m not back into triathlon training yet – and it will be a few years before I am, before I can leave all three children without parental supervision of any form in order to train at all three disciplines regularly – running around Bassenthwaite was something I was looking forward to. I had no idea whether there were trails or whether we’d have to run alongside the wiggly and potentially dangerous A591 and the dual carriageway of the A66 but Penny assured me that she’d checked the map and it looked as if we’d be able to run off-road nearly all the way round.
As it turned out she was right, and in fact not only did we find trails where she had expected them but also some which weren’t marked on the map (there was one which we got on to and we weren’t quite sure whether it was private land or not, but there were no signs saying ‘keep out’/’private’/’trespassers will be prosecuted’ etc. so we hoped that it was at least open enough that a couple of runners weren’t going to be a problem).
We decided we’d do the trickiest bit first – the bit at the bottom of the lake, where there was a possibility that the path would be diverted due to the pipeline work (Thirlmere to Ennerdale pipeline) and where we would then possibly have to head steeply uphill to avoid the A591. We parked at Braithwaite, crossed over the A66 and set out towards the lake.
Almost immediately it wasn’t clear where the path went but a kindly local asked what we were looking for and told us we needed to head through the field – the path led straight through the plants! It then meandered through some fields and over little bridges, all quite clear to follow.
When we got to the A591 there was only a short way to run on the road before we started climbing a forest track up towards the Osprey viewpoint. We weren’t quite sure if we could have turned off before this, but thought doing so would take us through Calvert Trust land and that we might not be too popular. It was worth the climb anyway – the view from the Osprey viewpoint was superb, and was followed by a brilliant descent down through Dodd Woods to the Saw Mill tea room (we didn’t stop for tea but it was useful to be able to use the loo and adjust clothing – Penny was wearing a pair of shorts under her leggings and getting far too hot!).
We then crossed back over the road to run around Mire House and along to St Bega’s church. Having taken off some layers of clothing, it then got windy, rainy and chilly and we needed to put them back on again! It was to end up being like that all day.
I hadn’t been to St Bega’s before, although I’ve driven past it loads of times. It’s a really sweet little church with stunning views across the lake – and when we got to the other side we were able to look back and see it again.
This side of the lake the run route is really varied – from St. Bega’s we ran across fields of cows, through woods and came out by the lake at Bowness Bay. As I have friends who live near Bowness on Windermere I wondered where the name came from – this is what Wikipedia tells us: ‘Bowness’ (originally ‘Bulnes’) means ” ‘the headland where the bull grazes’, from OE ‘bula’, ‘bull’ and OE ‘næss’ ‘headland’, perhaps referring to the keeping of the parish bull.
There were a lot of stiles and gates but it was a lovely place to run, and then just before an activity centre where people were enjoying themselves in dinghys and on paddleboards, the path turned to a boardwalk through the trees.
There were then signs saying ‘Armathwaite Hall 1.5 miles’ so we knew we were getting towards the top of the lake. At one point the path wasn’t clear, but purely because a stile was hidden by a tree! Again we ran past cows and some sheep, and then through a wood. We could hear the road ahead and knew we were basically at the top of the lake (is that the head, or is where the river enters the head?).
This was where we found a path alongside the lake through more trees, which wasn’t marked on our maps. It was a gravelled path and clearly quite well-maintained, and a relief rather than running on the quite narrow B5291. We crossed over the bridge where the river Derwent leaves the lake on its journey towards Cockermouth and Workington, pausing to watch the ducks. The sun had come out again and it was yet another of those ‘good to be alive’ moments which happen so frequently being out and about in this gorgeous countryside.
The track down the western side of the lake is then not the most exciting, except when it dips in and out of nature reserves (more unexpected but welcome paths which we hadn’t seen marked on maps), but it’s great that it’s there and it’s a good, level track which means you can get some steady running in (something I need to do more of – I’m getting into stop-start habits which is fine for social runs but not much good in a race). The track runs parallel to the A66 and is an awful lot nicer than being on a pavement alongside the dual carriageway – thank you Cumbria County Council for building it! But boo-hoo to all the contractors who left rubbish behind – there were road cones, disused vehicle batteries and empty cement buckets in the woods next to the road!
The path takes you through a tunnel under the road and you then come out in Powter How. I’ve only just realised that (according to the map on the computer) this is the home of Bedrock Gin! If only I’d known… except that we would never have made it back. We knew by this point that we only had a couple of miles to go, but they were all on road – also despite being just about at the bottom of the lake, we had had to run quite a bit further south just because the paths don’t exist to cross all the rivers and streams which go into the lake at its southern point. So the last bit was a bit of a slog, but eventually we saw the car (hooray!). I even managed to speed up a bit to get to the car, and was pleased to see from MapMyRun that we had run 14.5 miles.
A short trip to Threlkeld where the brilliant community coffee shop was still open (and served us soup even though officially they had stopped serving food) and then back home.
I think this was possibly my favourite of all the lakes so far: it was as beautiful as the others (in places it was very similar to Thirlmere) and it was trail nearly all the way round. Derwentwater was another stunning one, but there was less variation in the trail; Haweswater would have been the very best of all if the track on the eastern side was runnable.
I think there are now just 5 to go: Coniston, Ullswater, Windermere, Esthwaite Water and Ennerdale Water. Even though I know Ullswater and Windermere are going to be really long I’m looking forward to them.