Orrest Head and a view of the Lakeland peaks
Escape from the buzz of the tourist traffic to a nook that impressed generations of visitors to the fells
It is difficult to imagine, as you stand amid the ever-present traffic on the A591, that before 1847 there were only fields and a few grand houses here. Among those was Elleray, to the north of the Windermere Hotel, and through whose original estate some of this walk passes. Elleray’s role in Lakeland’s tale is interesting – it was bought in 1807 by John Wilson (1785–1854), heir to a very wealthy Paisley gauze manufacturer. It was fashionable at this time to have a Lakeland retreat, and the young Wilson built himself a mansion. Wilson had been to Oxford and was of a literary mind, but it wasn’t until his fortune disappeared in the speculative hands of a dishonest uncle, that he found he must now work to support his lifestyle. Moving back to Scotland he developed the Blackwoods magazine, writing under the pseudonym of Christopher North. Its influence was far reaching; contemporary contributors included Percy Shelley, Coleridge and Wordsworth, and later the Brontës, Dickens and Poe.
Wilson spent his time going backwards and forwards between Edinburgh and Elleray. In 1825 he was present at a grand dinner party to celebrate Sir Walter Scott’s 54th birthday, held at Storrs Hall, on the far side of Bowness. Storrs was the home of John Bolton, bought with the vast profits this Ulverston man had made through the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Wilson was married to Jane Penny, daughter of the Liverpool merchant James Penny, who was also a prominent slaver. The poets William Wordsworth and Robert Southey were at the party and so was George Canning, Foreign Secretary and soon to be Prime Minister. By way of entertaining these esteemed guests, Wilson organised a regatta the next day, centred around the Ferry Inn. The event was so successful that it was held as a sports day every year until 1861, before it decamped to Grasmere, where it has survived ever since.
The Arrival of the Railway
Returning to the Windermere town of 1847, however, we find that Elleray’s tranquillity has been exploded by the arrival of the Kendal and Windermere Railway. Much to Wordsworth’s disgust, a new chapter in Lakeland’s tourist history was now opening. The Windermere Hotel opened the same year, built by the entrepreneurial Rigg family, who ran stagecoaches throughout south Lakeland. They knew there was good money to be made in the onward carriage of passengers to the further tourist gems – Hawkshead, Ambleside and Keswick. As you ascend toward Orrest Head, you’ll catch a glimpse of their formers stables at the back of the hotel. The rest of Windermere town came soon after, and Orrest Head itself was given to the public in 1902 by Elleray’s then owner Arthur Henry Heywood.
Walk down the pavement towards The Windermere Hotel, and on the far side locate the large sign to the left with a big finger pointing towards Orrest Head. Walk up the driveway, ignoring a footpath sign off to the left. Instead, stay with the lane, rising up by the hotel and onwards into the woods. The lane snakes its way up the hill, passing a house on the left and becoming a rougher track.
Beyond a cottage owned by a wrought iron maker, spot a turning up to the right, parallel with a wall. Follow this up through trees to the far corner, and turn right along an enclosed track past several benches to a memorial gate on the left. Go through this and climb the stepped path up to the airy summit of Orrest Head, with its benches and topograph.
With your back to Windermere, walk over the summit past a large stone bench and locate a narrow descending path through the bracken on the far side, heading roughly due east. Duck below a yew tree as you descend towards woodland and soon reach a wall with a stile. Turn immediately right on a permissive path through a kissing gate into the woods. Follow the trail marked with white arrows through a gap in a wall to a path junction.
Go ahead here, signed towards the A591 and Windermere. Soon, a gate leads out into a field. Ignore the unhelpful and alarmist notice about cattle and walk along the right-hand side of the field. It begins to descend, eventually marshalling you between stone walls, rounding a corner to a gate. Continue on the downward track to the bottom, where another gate leads you out onto the pavement of the A591. Turn left or right to return to the lay-bys, or right to return to Windermere town.
Road, grassy paths and tracks, 1 stile
Woods, fields and fell top
Good up to the last 0.5 mile (800m) when they should be on lead to cross the field
AA Walker's Map 2 Central Lake District
Free on-street parking in lay-bys on A591 near start (note max time limit), otherwise plenty of pay-and-display parking in town
In Booths supermarket
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.