Walking the Lake District's Old Tourist Route

by Sue Talbot

The 19th century witnessed the emergence of a new phenomenon: tourism. Among the popular destinations during this time was a picturesque route, now known as the Old Tourist Route, which took travellers on horse-drawn carriages among some of the Lake District’s most spectacular scenery.

Beginning in the colourful market town of Keswick, the route winds through Borrowdale, along the Honister Pass to Buttermere, and returns to Keswick through one of the national park’s most beautiful areas, Newlands Valley.

Derwentwater: The Gateway to the Route

The historic journey begins at Derwentwater, a timeless beauty that encapsulates the essence of the Lake District. Situated just south of Keswick, Derwentwater’s crystal-clear waters mirror the surrounding fells and forests, creating a breathtaking backdrop and serving as the starting point for the old tourist route.

An old jetty sticks out into Derwentwater, as seen from the Lake District's Old Tourist Route.

Watendlath Tarn: Enthralling Serenity

Continuing through the beautiful landscapes of Borrowdale, travellers would make their way towards the enchanting Watendlath Tarn, hidden amidst the fells.

This secluded and untouched beauty, nestled in a hushed valley, captivated the hearts of many tourists who sought solace in nature during the 19th century. Warm hues of heather, lush greenery and the tranquil reflections on the water made Watendlath Tarn an idyllic spot for a brief respite from the bustling world.

The blue water of Watendlath Tarn stands almost perfectly still beneath Lake District Fells on the Old Tourist Route.

Scale Force at Crummock Water: Nature Unleashed

The journey along the Old Tourist Route then leads along the shores of Crummock Water to the majestic Scale Force.

As one of the highest waterfalls in England, Scale Force cascades with raw power, and its foaming waters rush down the dark, rugged rocks. Standing in awe of Scale Force, you’ll experience the true force of Mother Nature firsthand.

Honister Pass: A Challenging and Breathtaking Path

Undoubtedly, one of the highlights of the old tourist route was the crossing of Honister Pass. This mountain road, connecting Borrowdale with Buttermere, offers a challenging and thrilling journey for intrepid travellers.

Navigating hairpin bends and steep slopes, you’re rewarded with panoramic views of the surrounding fells, cliffs and crags. The rugged beauty of Honister Pass injects an additional dash of adventure to your journey, making it an unmissable part of the old tourist route.

Slate Mine Statues at Honister Pass on the Lake District's Old Tourist Route.

Newlands Valley: Imposing Views

As you begin your return to Keswick, soak up the uninterrupted views from the spellbinding Newlands Valley. This peaceful and charming valley with its quaint hamlets and meandering river offers respite and a sense of tranquility. With idyllic meadows and distant fells as a backdrop, take a moment to appreciate the Lake District’s untamed beauty.

A walker on the Old Tourist Route heads toward Newlands Valley on a narrow pathway between steep-sided fells.

The 19th-century Old Tourist Route from Keswick steers you on a remarkable journey through some of the most breathtaking landscapes in the Lake District. Exploring on foot is one of the best ways to really scratch beneath the surface of the national park and discover its wild beauty.

Try the Old Tourist Route for yourself on the North Lakes Short Break walking holiday.

Sue Talbot

Adventure Travel Blogger

Sue Talbot is an adventure travel blogger and iPhone photographer who’s often found hiking up the Lakeland fells or swimming in fairy pools. Her outdoor adventures and photographs can be found on her blog, Lifehop, and also her Lake District Lovers Facebook page.

Read more blogs by Sue Talbot

Originally published 14/09/23

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