Orrest Head - Wainwright’s Introduction To The Lake District

18 January 2022

Alfred Wainwright, author of the seven volumes which are the standard reference to the fells of the Lake District, first climbed Orrest Head in 1930, and he claims it was the hike that changed his life.

At the time he was living in Blackburn, Lancashire, and upon visiting the Lake District, he left the train station, and made his way up to the top of Orrest Head where he marvelled at the viewpoint.

It was so remarkable; it was the hike that led him to his career as a guidebook author and shaped the rest of his life. In his autobiography, he talked about that momentous occasion when he reached the top of Orrest Head:

‘...quite suddenly, we emerged from the shadow of the trees and were on a bare headland, and, as though a curtain had dramatically been torn aside, beheld a truly magnificent view…’

With an accolade like that, why wouldn’t you want to follow in his footsteps if you’re in the south Lake District?

Experience it for yourself

The walk starts on the A591 on Church Street. It’s close to Windermere train station, and there’s a large sign pointing the way, so it’s easy to find the starting point.

You’ll probably want to park in Windermere itself, or even Bowness, and then walk down to the starting point.

As you start the hike, the incline is steady. Be sure to take plenty of water for when the trail gradually gets steeper and a tad more challenging. On that note, it’s wise to do the walk in hiking boots or trainers.

Although there’s a wide pathway that takes you all the way to the summit, take care and watch out for rocks and tree roots that appear from time to time.

Your walk to the top takes you through Elleray Wood, which dates back to the 19th-century and is full of stunning wildlife and bluebells that blossom in the spring.

The lane winds uphill through these woods and a farm. But although the views are mostly hidden at this point, you do get glimpses through the trees of what’s to come.

Up for the climb?

As the path splits, this is where you could take a steeper route to the top if you’re up for a challenge.

If you’ve brought the kids along, you might want to take the right-hand path which leads you past an unusual metal gate and past a large wooden Gruffalo sculpture!

Once past the sculpture, you’ll pass through a kissing gate and then begin the short climb to the summit.

You made it!

Words don’t really do the view justice once you climb up those rocks and make it to the top – it’s truly breathtaking.

It’s a full 360 view showing all of Windermere, and there’s an Orrest Head sign showing the various fells and landmarks of the skyline.

You’ll see Scafell Pike, Crinkle Crags, Red Screes, and many more and the view is an amazing all-rounder. It’s a very popular walk and the top is almost always busy.

There are a few metal benches dotted around for you to have a breather and enjoy the view.

We’d recommend taking maybe a small picnic or a flask of something warm and planning in time to sit and enjoy the amazing scenery around you.

On your way back down

From here you can either follow your footsteps and walk back down to Windermere the way you came or if you want a circular walk, you’ll leave the summit on the opposite side that you came up.

This will take you through Common Wood, another spectacular spot full of precious wildlife and impressive oak trees.

It’s a tranquil walk down, leading you back toward Windermere where you can stop at one of the many cafés for a slice of cake as a reward for all your hard work!

The walk will take you a good two hours in total and is one not to be missed if you’re in Windermere.

But be sure, above anything else, you pack your camera, as the views are something you’ll want to look back on for a long time to come!