Walking The Rothay Circuit was first published in August 2014, and updated in May 2020.
The Rothay Circuit is one of my favourite walks in the Lake District, and as it’s National Walking Month, I wanted to give it a shout out. An 8-mile route, starting and ending in either Ambleside or Grasmere (we always start in Ambleside), it’s a walk we’ve done so many times I’ve lost count. If we head to the lakes for a short break, the Rothay Circuit is the walk we do either the day we arrive, or the day we leave.
The Lake District was the first place Ian and I went on holiday together. We stayed in a small log cabin in Ulverston, so it wasn’t technically the Lake District but it was all we could afford at the time. By night, we snuggled up under a blanket in front of the TV to keep warm and by day we drove up to Ambleside to go walking. I think the very first walk we did was Stock Ghyll Force (or, the waterfall walk) and we didn’t have a clue, about anything. Walking gear, backpacks, food, water…..nada. We bought the cheapest rucksack we could find then walked into the tourist information centre where we bought a small book: ‘Walks around Ambleside. 10 Walks Each Under 6 Miles’. It did what it said on the tin and helped us on our way to exploring the great outdoors. This book is now dog eared and torn, it’s also been sellotaped back together too many times to mention.
18- years later and many walks under our belt, including some of the Lake District’s finest, such as Helvellyn, The Fairfield Horseshoe, Red Screes and Derwent Water, each time we return to the Lakes it feels more and more like coming home. Rain or shine, it’s a place that fills my heart with joy and gives me a smile big enough to rival the Cheshire cat from Alice in Wonderland. Upon arrival, a great sense of relief washes over me and I’m pretty sure my shoulders drop by about an inch.
The Lake District is our sanctuary. It’s the place where we go to breathe, refocus and talk about the future. We slow down, watch the world go by and spend quality time together in nature. When we leave, I do so with a heavy heart. But at least I leave filled with inspiration and a clear head, which is something I never arrive with.
After all these years, the Rothay Circuit is still one of my favourite walks. Starting and ending in Ambleside the walk takes in some historic sites like Rydal Mount and Dove Cottage, both of which were once home to the English poet William Wordsworth. That being said, we’ve never visited either of them. We always become too absorbed in our surroundings and pass them by, making a mental note that we should ‘make an effort to visit them, next time’.
The village of Grasmere acts as the half-way point of the walk and we always use this opportunity to head to the village green and eat our sandwiches, or depending on the time of year, drink hot soup from a flask. The first cafe we discovered in Grasmere, was Heidi’s Grasmere Lodge and inside, it turned out to be a treasure trove of many pretty things. We’ve kept up the tradition, and all these years later, this is where we head for a soya vanilla latte, or a cup of green tea.
On the way up to Rydal Cave, we always stop along the shores of Grasmere and Rydal water to admire the view. If we’re lucky and have some tea or coffee left, it’s at this point we crack open the flask and have a final brew before starting the ascent to the cave. Looking out over the water is peaceful and calm, although as a popular place for sunbathing, swimming and eating picnics, the shores can get pretty crowded – especially on a sunny day.
Rydal cave is a disused quarry, and for a number of years it became unsafe, due to falling rocks. A fence was put up to discourage people from going in, but a few years ago, the fence was taken down and people could explore the cave freely and safely once again. (photograph taken many moons ago pre-fence)
From Rydal Cave there is a descent that acts as what I call ‘the home straight’, because from here, the return to Ambleside isn’t too far. It’s along the home straight where we start winding up whatever plans we’ve been talking about and make our way to the Apple Pie shop. We always find that a green tea and a cup of coffee, along with some twice cooked chips is the perfect way to end our walk.
Filled with inspiration and bursting with motivation, I try to hold onto these feelings as long as possible, for I know in a few days’ time my relief will be a distant memory and my heart will feel like lead as I wave goodbye to my sanctuary.