Alcock Tarn

Alcock tarn was published in Lakeland Walker
Alcock tarn was published in Lakeland Walker

Simon Whaley investigates Wainwright’s ‘dreary’ tarn.

What can you do with a little under two hours remaining on a Grasmere car parking ticket, and spring showers reducing the cloud level? Don’t let Wainwright’s comments of “A dreary sheet of water named Alcock Tarn,” put you off this short circular route. It offers a bit of humour, some pleasant views, an opportunity to get the heart pumping and evidence of 19th century engineering.


1. Start Head through the village, along Broadgate, then Swan Lane to reach the A591, opposite The Swan Hotel. Cross over, taking the lane to right of hotel, and later fork left at junction. Take the signed (Alcock Tarn) tarmac path, on right, which soon has Greenhead Gill running along on the right, to reach the open lower flanks of Heron Pike.

2. 1 mile / 1.5km

Bear right, crossing over Greenhead Gill. Look out for the mini-cairns piled on top of some of the stream’s rocks (is this the National Park’s Cairn Breeding Centre?). Climb steeply,  and pause at a wooden bench to see a stone bridge crossing the stream on the left. It’s actually the pipeline carrying water from Thirlemere Reservoir (3 ¼ miles north from here), to Manchester, over 90 miles to the south. Luckily, it’s downhill, so no pumps are needed. Look behind for good views of Helm Crag from here, too. The path continues climbing, drawing closer to the stone wall, then turns right, around the wall corner, before zigzagging upwards, passing close to another wall. Continue through a rocky area, where the ground levels. Pause again, to turn around and view the upper reaches of Greenhead Gill, which is a Scheduled Ancient Monument. Remains of a 16th century lead mine have been found here. Continue along the path, and then pass through the gate to reach Wainwright’s ‘dreary’ Alcock Tarn.

3. 1.5 miles / 2.5km

This was originally known as Butter Crags Tarn, until is was dammed and enlarged for keeping trout by Mr Alcock. Would Wainwright have been charmed by the smaller Butter Crags Tarn? Take the path along the tarn’s right-hand edge, through another gate, and climb onto Grey Crag. This offers good views towards Windermere, over Grasmere, and glimpses of Coniston Water. Descend steadily, passing through stone walls, zigzagging to a track. Turn left, through Brackenfell, passing through a metal gate and dropping to a lane with a metal bench on the corner.


4.  2.7 miles / 4.3km

Turn right onto the lane, then right again at a junction. Look out for the resting stone on the right, used by coffin bearers travelling from Rydal to St Oswald’s in Grasmere.  Continue descending into Grasmere, passing Dove Cottage, and then cross over the A591 to return to the town centre.



Grade: Stroll.

Terrain: Tarmac lanes and paths, and clear paths on fell sides, although can be muddy in places.

Distance: 3.5 miles / 5.5km

Time: 1.5 – 2 hours

Climb: 1030ft/314m

Start/Finish: Red Bank car park, Grasmere. (Grid ref: NY335073)

Maps: Harvey Maps’ 1:25,000 Superwalker Lakeland Central, or OS 1:25,000 Explorer OL7, or OS 1:50000 Landranger 90

Transport: Service 555 runs through Grasmere Centre. ( or Tel: Windermere Tourist Information Centre 015394 46499)

Accommodation: B&Bs, hotels, self-catering and camp sites in Grasmere.

Refreshments: numerous places in Grasmere including Tweedie’s Bar at Dale Lodge Hotel, the Potting Shed Cafe in Grasmere Garden Village.

© Simon Whaley