Ambleside - Keswick - Ullswater drive

A drive along the main Lake District artery from Ambleside to Keswick which then returns via Ullswater and Kirkstone Pass. Several lakes are visited and there is a Wordsworth theme including a number of locations associated with the famous poet.

Castlerigg Stone Circle
Central Lakes Drives Home

Route Map

Summary of main attractions on route (click on name for detail)
Distance Attraction Car Park Coordinates
0 miles Ambleside N 54.43406, W 2.96411
1.3 miles Rydal Mount N 54.44873, W 2.98172
2.5 miles White Moss Common N 54.44993, W 3.00340
3.7 miles Dove Cottage N 54.45370, W 3.01670
4.0 miles Grasmere Village N 54.45608, W 3.02015
8.3 miles Wythburn Church N 54.51208, W 3.04471
10.8 miles Station Coppice viewpoint N 54.54360, W 3.05935
12.6 miles Legburthwaite picnic site N 54.56584, W 3.05555
14.0 miles Thirlmere Dam N 54.56096, W 3.06968
20.0 miles Keswick N 54.59936, W 3.13758
22.1 miles Castlerigg Stone Circle N 54.60376, W 3.09811
34.6 miles Aira Force N 54.57142, W 2.92862
35.9 miles Glencoyne, Ullswater N 54.56140, W 2.94969
37.2 miles Glenridding N 54.54397, W 2.94965
40.4 miles Brothers Water N 54.51243, W 2.92396
44.1 miles Kirkstone Pass N 54.46445, W 2.92542
47.1 miles Ambleside N 54.43406, W 2.96411

The Drive

Distance: 0 miles         Location: Ambleside, Rydal Road car park          Coordinates: N 54.43406, W 2.96411

Bridge House, Ambleside
Ambleside is a popular Lakeland town with plenty of tourist attractions. Perhaps the most famous sight is Bridge House, a National Trust property spanning Stock Ghyll adjacent to the car park. If you follow Stock Ghyll upstream for approx half a mile you reach Stock Ghyll Force which is an impressive waterfall in a woodland setting on the slopes of Wansfell. Downstream from Bridge House, Rothay Park provides some nice open space next to the River Rothay. The Armitt Museum, near the car park, is small but has some interesting local history. The town has plenty of tourist shops, outdoor specialists, cafes, restaurants, pubs and the popular Hayes Garden World. Approx 1km south from the town centre is the Waterhead area on Lake Windermere where you can have a boat trip or enjoy Borrans Park or the adjacent Roman Fort. The car park is pay and display with toilet facilities.


Turn left out of Rydal Road car park on the A591 towards Keswick. Ambleside is soon left behind and open country beckons. The first open fields to the right are Rydal Park where Ambleside Sports event is held every year on the last Thursday in July. The fells above Rydal Park form part of the Fairfield Horseshoe, an epic mountain walk, and across the valley to the left is the popular Loughrigg Fell. Shortly, follow the River Rothay on the left and enter Rydal village. Take the minor right turn to Rydal Mount car park which is at the top of the hill on the left.

Distance: 1.3 miles         Location: Rydal Mount and Gardens          Coordinates: N 54.44873, W 2.98172

Rydal Mount
Rydal Mount is where William Wordsworth lived from 1813 to his death in 1850 and where he wrote many of his poems. You can visit the impressive house and gardens which are in a lovely setting with some far reaching views. Open daily from March to October and by arrangement at other times (closed January). Admission fee applies, tea rooms, toilets and parking also available.

Across the lane from the house is the historic Rydal Hall which is now a Christian conference centre. You are free to wonder around the lovely gardens (donation box included) and there is a cafe, open daily all year. Further down the lane is St Mary's Church which has a pleasant churchyard and behind that is Dora's field which was owned by the Wordsworth's and is a mass of daffodils and then bluebells in the spring.


Return to the A591 and turn right to continue through Rydal, passing the Glen Rothay Hotel and Badger Bar on the right. The winding road now follows the picturesque shores of Rydal Water on the left. Just after Rydal Water on the left is White Moss Common car park.

Distance: 2.5 miles         Location: White Moss Common car park          Coordinates: N 54.44993, W 3.00340

White Moss Common
White Moss Common is generally the wooded area surrounding the River Rothay, between Grasmere lake and Rydal Water. It also contains an open grassy area with a couple of benches adjacent to the pretty river which provides an ideal setting for a picnic, only a couple of minutes gentle stroll from the car park. For the more adventurous, further good paths lead to the attractive shores of both lakes through the woods. The car park is 'pay on exit' with nearby toilet facilities.


Turn left out of the car park and continue along the A591 which meanders through a short wooded section, then along the shore of Grasmere lake before reaching the outskirts of Grasmere village. Dove Cottage car park is then a short distance on the right, opposite the imposing Daffodil Hotel.

Distance: 3.7 miles         Location: Dove Cottage and Wordsworth Museum          Coordinates: N 54.45370, W 3.01670

Dove Cottage
Dove Cottage is where William Wordsworth lived from 1799 until 1808 and you can visit the pretty cottage and gardens. The adjacent museum and library houses a fantastic collection of Romantic art and literature. Open daily throughout the year except January. Admission fee applies, includes guided tour of Dove Cottage plus access to the garden and museum but not parking which is pay and display. There are also tea rooms/restaurant and toilet facilities.
**2019 – redevelopment work affecting opening, check website for detail**


Turn right out of Dove Cottage car park (A591) and after approx 150m, turn left at the mini-roundabout towards Grasmere village centre. Stock Lane car park is 200m on the right.

Distance: 4.0 miles         Location: Grasmere Village, Stock Lane car park          Coordinates: N 54.45608, W 3.02015

Grasmere Village
Grasmere is a picturesque and very popular tourist village surrounded by high mountains near Grasmere lake. It was originally made famous by Wordsworth who lived at a number of properties in the area and is buried at St Oswald’s Church in the village. You can visit his family's grave and wonder through the adjacent Wordsworth garden by the river. Adjacent to the church is the renowned Grasmere Gingerbread shop, housed in the attractive old village school which dates from 1630. The various other shops within the village are mostly tourist orientated and there are numerous cafes, restaurants and pubs.

Grasmere Sports event is held annually in late August and is a good place to see various traditional sports events. There are some nice walks along the river and to the lake where rowing boats can be hired. Slightly outside the village, overlooking the lake is Allan Bank, another former home of William Wordsworth, now open to the public. The pay and display car park also has seasonal toilet facilities.


Turn right out of the car park to travel through the village of Grasmere. Beyond the village, meet a T junction and turn left on the A591 towards Keswick. Ahead to the left is Helm Crag and from this point you can see why the peak is often called 'The Lion and the Lamb' due to the appearance of the rocks at the southern end of the top. Soon pass The Traveller’s Rest Inn on the right and beyond this the ascent up Dunmail Raise begins, a steady climb on a good wide road. The summit of the road is at 238m and if you want a reduced walk up Fairfield or Helvellyn mountains this is a good place to start from. Once over the road summit, Thirlmere Reservoir can soon be seen in the distance. As the road levels out at the bottom of the descent, pass a left turn which is the minor western shore road and continue approx 0.3 miles to take a minor turn for Wythburn car park on the right.

Distance: 8.3 miles         Location: Wythburn Church          Coordinates: N 54.51208, W 3.04471

Wythburn Church
Wythburn Church is an historic Lakeland church built in 1640, rebuilt 1740 and extended in 1872. It is the only remaining building from the old settlement of Wythburn which was flooded when Thirlmere dam was constructed. The church and garden are pretty and peaceful despite the nearby main road. A footpath up Helvellyn also starts from here. The car park is pay and display but no facilities.


Leave the car park and turn right on the main A591 which continues along the picturesque shore of Thirlmere Reservoir. This road was devastated by Storm Desmond in December 2015, much of the road and surrounding drainage had to be rebuilt and the road was closed for several months. After almost 1 mile a small castle-like building with tower battlements can be seen on the lakeshore and this is where the water is abstracted to be sent on its way towards Manchester for water supply. Much of the area is owned by the water company including the surrounding forests. The slopes to the right are very steep all the way to the top of Helvellyn. The road continues along the lake for another 1.5 miles before Station Coppice car park is reached on the left.

Distance: 10.8 miles         Location: Station Coppice car park and viewpoint          Coordinates: N 54.54360, W 3.05935

Station Coppice Viewpoint
The car park provides pleasant views across Thirlmere and, in the opposite direction, steeply up towards the summit of Helvellyn. There is a short footpath to a better viewpoint above the car park and another down to the lake shore. The car park is pay and display. Across the road is Swirls pay and display car park which gives access to a footpath up Helvellyn and also has seasonal toilet facilities.


Continue along the A591 towards Keswick and there are some lovely views down the valley of St John's in the Vale and of Blencathra mountain in the distance. Soon pass The Kings Head Hotel on the right and shortly after this take the right turn which is the B5322, St John's in the Vale road. After approx 0.4 miles, Legburthwaite car park is on the left.

Distance: 12.6 miles         Location: Legburthwaite picnic site          Coordinates: N 54.56584, W 3.05555

Legburthwaite picnic site
Legburthwaite is a picturesque and relatively peaceful picnic area adjacent to St John's Beck with a few picnic tables on the grass in-between trees. Across the St John's road, a footpath takes you on the relatively short but steep climb up the distinctive Castle Rock for great views of the valley. The car park is pay and display with seasonal toilet facilities.


Leave the car park and turn right to retrace your steps on the B5322. At the T junction with the main A591, turn right towards Keswick. After approx 0.4 miles, turn left on the minor road and in another 0.4 miles the road starts along the top of Thirlmere dam.

Distance: 14.0 miles         Location: Thirlmere Dam          Coordinates: N 54.56096, W 3.06968

Thirlmere from the dam
This impressive dam was built between 1890-1894 to create a drinking water supply for the North West of England. The road along the top provides some lovely views up the lake. A magnificent plaque half way along the dam gives names of those involved in the project. There is no room to park on the dam road but there is a small pay and display car park just beyond the dam at the road junction. No facilities.


Turn right at the road junction beyond the dam and continue to the A591 T junction where you turn left towards Keswick. After a short drive, the road climbs and over the top there are good views ahead towards Skiddaw mountain and Bassenthwaite Lake. The road then descends towards Keswick. Follow the main road which becomes the A5271 and runs alongside the River Greta towards the town centre. After a couple of sharp bends there is a mini-roundabout where you turn left on the B5289. Follow this for approx 0.3 miles until you reach Keswick Central car park on the left.

Distance: 20.0 miles         Location: Keswick, Central car park          Coordinates: N 54.59936, W 3.13758

Keswick town centre
Keswick lakeside
Keswick is a popular and pretty tourist town nestled between Derwent Water and Skiddaw mountain. There are plenty of attractions for visitors including the Pencil Museum, Keswick Museum and The Puzzling Place. The town has some lovely public park areas which provide peace and quiet away from the often bustling town centre. The main feature of the pedestrianised town centre is the old Moot Hall which now houses the Tourist Information Centre. There are abundant shops, outdoor specialists, cafes, pubs and restaurants.

A little way out of the town centre, the lakeside area on Derwent Water is always popular and you can explore the lake either by boat or the footpath which runs right around the lake. The Keswick launch is the best way to take in the lake and its surroundings. There are regular boats (less in winter) which stop here and at several beauty spots around the lake. It is definitely worth walking the short distance to Friar’s Crag which offers beautiful views down the lake. Crow Park, opposite Lakeside car park, has a lovely open setting next to the lake where you can watch the boats come and go, again with great views. Between Crow Park and the town centre is Hope Park which has attractive landscaped grounds and miniature golf. There is a cafe, toilet facilities and the popular Theatre by the Lake which has its own facilities. Central and Lakeside car parks are pay and display.


Turn right out of the car park on the B5289, then right at the mini-roundabout to retrace the route back out of Keswick on the A5271 alongside the River Greta. Soon after the road leaves the river and begins to climb, take the left turn which is the main A591 towards the A66. After only 50m, turn right towards Castlerigg Stone Circle which is a further 0.7 miles uphill on the right.

Distance: 22.1 miles         Location: Castlerigg Stone Circle          Coordinates: N 54.60376, W 3.09811

Castlerigg Stone Circle
Castlerigg stone circle is one of the oldest, most famous and most impressive prehistoric stone circles in the country. It is thought to date from around 3000BC and remains in good condition. The high open setting certainly enhances the experience, with fantastic 360 degree panoramic views including the Thirlmere valley and many notable mountains such as Helvellyn, Skiddaw and Blencathra. Free parking on the roadside and free entry. No other facilities.


From the stone circle, continue eastwards along the minor road, passing Keswick Climbing Wall. After approx 0.6 miles there is a T junction where you turn right and after a further 0.3 miles is another T junction where you turn right again. There are some good views ahead towards Blencathra mountain and right towards St John’s in the Vale valley. In just over 1 mile the minor road joins the busy A66 and you turn right towards Penrith. The road soon passes the village of Threlkeld and beneath the lofty heights of Blencathra mountain to the left.

After approx 5 miles, turn right on the A5091 towards Ullswater. Immediately pass the Troutbeck Inn on the left and continue along the very pleasant upland road for another 4 miles to Dockray village and The Royal Hotel on the right. Beyond Dockray the road soon starts to descend towards Ullswater and you pass Park Brow National Trust car park on the left which actually provides the shortest walk to Aira Force waterfall. For the main Aira Force car park, continue to descend with some fabulous views up Ullswater before reaching a T junction with the A592 Ullswater shore road. Turn left and Aira Force car park is almost immediately on the left.

Distance: 34.6 miles         Location: Aira Force waterfall          Coordinates: N 54.57142, W 2.92862

Aira Force waterfall
Aira Force is probably the most famous waterfall in the Lake District and at 65ft high, one of the tallest. From the car park there are various paths leading up to the waterfall viewing areas and beyond. The views from the bridges at the top and bottom of the waterfall are impressive. It is only a short walk but the paths are steep and uneven in places. There is also a tea room and toilet facilities. A new pier nearby is served by Ullswater steamers and you can sail around the lake from here. The car park is National Trust pay and display. Free entry to waterfalls.


Leave Aira Force car park and turn right on the A592 lakeshore road towards Glenridding. Continue along the beautiful road for approx 1 mile to Glencoyne car park on the right.

Distance: 35.9 miles         Location: Glencoyne, Ullswater          Coordinates: N 54.56140, W 2.94969

Daffodils at Glencoyne
Glencoyne provides a scenic lakeshore area with narrow shingle beaches next to the road and wonderful views across the lake. A new footpath follows the road back towards Aira Force and a 5 minute walk from the car park leads to a picturesque wooded area between the road and the lake which is more peaceful. This area is well known for its daffodils which were the inspiration for the famous Wordsworth poem ‘Daffodils’. The car park is National Trust pay and display. There are no facilities on site.


Leave Glencoyne car park and turn right on the A592. It can be difficult to negotiate the narrow lakeshore road given the fabulous views but there are a few places where you can stop and admire the scenery. After approx 1 mile, enter Glenridding village. Pass 'The Inn on the Lake' on the left and take the first right turn just beyond. The village car park is straight ahead.

Distance: 37.2 miles         Location: Glenridding Village car park          Coordinates: N 54.54397, W 2.94965

Glenridding village
Glenridding lakeside
Glenridding is a small village in a fabulous setting between the lake and the high hills behind. It was originally famous for lead mining but has now been taken over by tourists. There are a few small gift shops, tea rooms and bars. The Inn on the Lake hotel and bar provides refreshments with great views. The car park is 'pay on exit' with toilets and an Information centre.

A short walk from the village leads to the shores of Ullswater lake. A car park is also available at Glenridding pier. This is a picturesque parkland area with a large expanse of open grass next to the lake. The impressive scenery makes this a wonderful setting and it is well worth taking a boat trip on the lake to fully appreciate the beauty of the area. Ullswater steamers operate from the adjacent pier (reduced service out of season) and they call at Aira Force, Howtown and Pooley Bridge down the lake. The pier car park is pay and display with a small cafe and toilet facilities in the steamer building. Across the grass from the pier, adjacent to the lake and the main road, is St Patrick's boat landing where you can hire boats and bikes and there is a small snack bar.


Turn right on the A592 which soon leaves the village, passes the end of the lake and enters the adjacent village of Patterdale. The Patterdale Hotel has a good looking beer garden on the right, the White Lion pub is just beyond on the left with the village shop just beyond that on the right. Continue on the very scenic road surrounded by mountains for approx 2 miles until you reach a small car park on the right adjacent to Cow Bridge.

Distance: 40.4 miles         Location: Cow Bridge car park and Brothers Water         Coordinates: N 54.51243, W 2.92396

Brothers Water
Brothers Water is a small but picturesque lake surrounded by high mountains at the foot of Kirkstone Pass. It is only a short easy walk from the car park to the lake and the path continues along the valley floor if you want to keep going. Despite the proximity of the main road, the lake remains relatively peaceful and there is good access to the western shore from the path. The car park is free but has no facilities.


Turn right out of the car park to continue along the A592 which soon follows the eastern shore of Brothers Water and gives some magnificent views of the surrounding hills. Shortly after the lake on the right is the Brotherswater Inn. Beyond this you soon begin to see the full extent of the climb up Kirkstone Pass ahead. Although quite steep and twisty it is a relatively good and wide road, quite easy in a car. As you approach the summit there are a couple of layby's from where you can admire the view back towards Brothers Water. Kirkstone Pass car park is just beyond the summit on the right.

Distance: 44.1 miles         Location: Kirkstone Pass          Coordinates: N 54.46445, W 2.92542

Kirkstone Pass towards Brothers Water
At an altitude of 454m, Kirkstone Pass summit is the highest point you can take a car to in the Lake District. There is a large free car park from where you can admire the views of the surrounding mountains and towards Windermere. There are good walks from here up nearby mountains, made easier by the high starting point. The adjacent Kirkstone Pass Inn is the highest pub in Cumbria and the beer garden certainly makes the most of the views. Apart from the pub there are no other facilities at the summit.


In a straight line, Ambleside is not far away but requires a lot of descent. The shortest route leaves the A592 just beyond the summit car park on the right. However, as its name 'The Struggle' suggests, this minor road can be a bit challenging as it is narrow, winding and steep in places. If you don’t fancy that, there is an easier alternative to carry on the A592 all the way to the mini-roundabout at Troutbeck and return to Ambleside along the A591 Windermere shore road. If you take 'The Struggle' road it continues for almost 3 miles and eventually arrives in Ambleside at the mini-roundabout adjacent to Rydal Road car park.

Distance: 47.1 miles         Location: Ambleside, Rydal Road car park          Coordinates: N 54.43406, W 2.96411

Kirkstone Pass summit
Return to start point.