Articles - Canoeing in The Lake District

Photo: Canoes by the water
Photo: Canoes by the water
Canoe and Kayak UK - Posted on 16 Mar 2009

Hills, Thrills and Paddle Strokes - A Lakeland Adventure

Just like all good paddling trips this one started with a discussion over a pint or two down the local. As usual there just didn’t seem to be enough weekends to go round. What was it to be, a weekend of Canadian canoeing or two days walking in the Lake District? But hang on a mo’, maybe it was possible to combine the two. Boats and boots in perfect symbiosis and one thing was for sure… It would certainly be a blast to find out.

Avoiding the tourist launch on Derwent Water

The Lake District certainly has its share of good canoeing venues. As well as sporting some fine rivers the beautiful lakes, from which it takes its name, are perfect for a spot of open boat fun. And with the areas equally stunning hills and mountains we knew that we could find what we were looking for, but we wanted a route that would actually let us combine a day on the water and the hill without the need for cars and complicated shuttles.
    A bit of research and map pawing revealed their Keswick site, situated in the north lakes nestled between some of Lakeland’s most impressive mountains and the shores of Derwent Water. The town of Keswick is a magnet for outdoor enthusiasts of all types and has a great selection of pubs, cafés and restaurants, oh and more outdoor shops than you can shake a walking pole at. And with the town within easy walking distance for provisions, shopping and of course the obligatory après paddle pint it looked like a perfect base for our trip. A quick call to Ruth at the Caravan and Camping Club revealed that they welcomed paddlers with open arms and it was no problem to launch from their site and we could even camp within spitting distance of the shoreline.
Ready to roll - Canoes on the roof and fells in the distance    With the location sorted we decided that it would be way more fun with a couple of canoeing companions, so we recruited friends and work colleges Kate and Chris, from Climber Magazine to join our mini-expedition. I was pretty sure that I’d have enough spare paddling gear knocking around in my garage to kit everybody out with a buoyancy aid and paddle top, but we were going to need some canoes! I’d done a bit of canoe touring in the past, but everyone else on the trip was pretty new to paddling, however we wanted to cover some miles and there was always the possibility of chop, so we wanted something that would look after us, but also had some performance too. Enter Huw and Mark from White Water Consultancy and their kind loan of a pair of Mad River Explorers. They proved to great boats and the perfect tools for the job. With the date set for the end of September the only thing left to worry about was just how was I going to get two Canadian canoes on to the roof of my hatchback? Then like a message from above the office phone rang and a voice said that it was from Mitsubishi and that they had a new version of their L200 Warrior truck out and they figured it was just the ticket for adventurous canoeists… And would we like to take one for a spin! Well I tell you, I had to think about that one for at least a nano-second. A quick chat about roof racks and boat dimensions and we were set. Canoes, campsite and a great big shiny truck… sorted!
    The Warrior arrived the day before the trip and with the double cab and utility top on the back there was ample space to stuff with gear. A quick modification, with roof rack straps and two planks of timber, to widen the rack (only had standard bars fitted) and we were ready to hit the road top Carmarthen to collect the canoes from the WWC boys. With the canoes collected and safely strapped down it really was an eye-catching ride.
    The following morning dawned and we were up with the proverbial larks to hit the road to the Lakes. Faye and I had opted to take the Friday off to get the drop on the weekend traffic, but Kate and Chris had to work, so were heading up that evening to rendezvous with our ‘advanced party’ in Keswick. As we rumbled up the A1 the rain was coming thick and fast from the dark grey sky. Not what we’d been hoping for. Whatever the time of year the weather in the Lakes can be changeable, but we’d been scanning the forecasts for the last week and we were hopeful of a crisp but sunny weekend. Oh well, there was no going back now. As we ate up the miles the rain finally stopped and as we cruised along the A66 sandwiched between the Pennines and the Yorkshire Dales the sun did the decent thing and popped it’s head out. Just under an hour later and we we’re rolling in to Keswick under a bright blue sky and a blazing sun.
    On arrival at the site we checked in with Tracey, the site manager and were shown to a cracking pitch right by the water. We wasted no time and got the tents up in no time at all then took a moment to enjoy the stunning views that the campsite offers. Sitting on our camp chairs enjoying a welcome brew we could see Skiddaw, Little Man and Blencathra behind us. Looking out across Derwent Water towards Borrowdale we could see Grisedale Pike, Hopegill Head, the Derwent Fells, Cat Bells and Maiden Moor off to the west. And to the east Castlerigg Fell, Bleaberry Fell, grange Fell and High Seat. It was a really breathtaking sight, and one that got even better as we took to the water for an afternoon warm up paddle. It was Faye’s first time in an open boat, but after a bit of gentle coaching she was soon paddling like a seasoned paddler. We decided to explore a little up the Western side of Derwent with the idea of scoping out possible landing spots that would give us access to the hills. There were a few sailing boats out, taking advantage of the breeze and the late afternoon sun and the odd tourist ferry livened things up with their large bow waves! We paddled out past the Lingholm Islands, which are just really large rocks with the odd tree and vegetation, and along the wooded bank towards Copperheap Bay. We then turned around and retraced our paddle strokes to the campsite shore feeling the hunger pangs that signalled that it was time for diner. Chris and Kate arrived a few hours later after a long slog in the Friday rush to the hills traffic and we enjoyed a couple of jars and another map pawing session to finalise our multi-sporting route.         

Sticking the Boots InCanoeing home in the evening sun

There was certainly scope to do a paddle and then a big day in the hills, but we wanted something that was going to split the day equally between the boots and boats. In the end we decided on a paddle up the west side of Derwent Water to Kitchen Bay. That would but us at the bottom of the route up Cat Bells, one of the most popular walks in the north lakes, and one that offered us the chance to ascend to the summit of Cat Bells then drop back down towards Grange, before doubling back and following the Allerdale Ramble along its eastern flank before arriving back at Kitchen Bay and our waiting canoes. We’d then paddle out to St Herbert’s Island, round it, and then turn our bows back towards Keswick and head for home.
    We were up early and the sun was once again doing us proud, but a stiff wind was whistling across the water and we could see that out beyond the shelter of the shoreline, groups of white horses were waiting to play with us. Kate and Chris were about to embark on their maiden canoe voyage, and it was looking like it was possibly going to be a baptism of fire! I shouldn’t have worried though, after packing the walking gear in to dry-bags, a safety briefing and kitting up in buoyancy aids and paddle tops it was time for a spot of stroke practice in the bay, before heading off on to the open water. Both being keen outdoor bods it didn’t take the guys long to get to grips with the basics and after trimming the boats accordingly we headed out in to the head wind with our sights set on Kitchen Bay. The rolling waves proved no problem and the Explorers looked after us in fine style and as we settled in to a steady rhythm the feeling of the sun on our faces, the wind in our hair ands the choppy water rushing under our hulls was invigorating to say the least. Being careful to avoid the ferries, which travel at quite a lick, we made good time and before we knew it we were pulling in to the calmer waters of Kitchen Bay. The water was crystal clear and as the morning sun sparkled of its surface it seemed a shame to be leaving the boats behind, if only for a while. But it was time for part two of our grand day out. Time to pull on the hike socks, pull up the laces and to head up the hill.
    We quickly found a good spot to leave the boats and stuck a lock-wire round them, just in case. The trail starts up from the water’s edge, up through some woodland and across a metal road for a very short way before starting the steep climb up the side of Cat Bells. After a night under canvas and our morning paddle the first steep section certainly stretched out the legs. But every step of the way this route offers cracking views of the water below and the surrounding fells. Up and up we walked, stopping occasionally to take it all in. Soon the sailing boats on the lake below looked like tiny toy boats on the deep blue water. A short bit of scrambling provided some excitement before heading across the saddle and up towards the summit. Things get a bit steeper and rockier as you approach, but before we knew it we were standing on the top posing for the obligatory group photo on the summit and grinning all over our faces. We’d made good time, so we dropped down the other side a short way and settled down on the grassy slope for a leisurely lunch in the sun. From our spot we could see across to Buttermere and Crummock Water and ruminated on other possible combination trips. We also had a fine view over the whole of Derwent Water and Kate pointed out Shepherds Crag, a favourite climbing spot, and noted that it would be possible to paddle the length of Derwent, hike up to the crag, climb a route and then paddle back to your tent. Yet another multi-sporting possibility!
Climbing up to Cat Bells     With lunch done it was time to head back down towards the water, and the town of Grange, before picking up The Allerdale Ramble, which proved a mellow hike just above the tree line until we finally ended up back at the woodland trail that led us to our canoes. By now it was late afternoon and it was heaven to take of our boots and dip our hard worked feet in to the cool water. The sun was lower in the sky now and bathing everything in that golden glow that you only get in the Autumn and the view of Skiddaw and its surrounding peaks was awesome as it grew larger and larger in the frame as we got closer to Keswick. The wind had dropped right off and the lake was a completely different beast as we slipped over its surface. Before long we could see our tents sitting perfectly in the last of the days sunshine. We pulled the boats up on to the shore, sat in our camp chairs and cracked open a bottle to celebrate or brilliant Lakeland adventure.

Island Hopping

The following day we headed out on to the water again to circumnavigate the lake and to check out some of it’s islands. These are mainly just covered in trees, but a couple to have the remains of buildings on. It was all very ‘swallows and amazons’ stuff and it would be great fun if you want a day out on the water with the kids. The weather was again good, but this time the water was mirror-flat and presented us with some amazing reflections of the surrounding hills. There are loads of bays and landing stations where you can access or egress the water, but we kept up a steady paddle until we reached the landing stage at the Mary Mount Hotel at the Borrowdale end, where the River Derwent flows in. It’s worth taking a few quid with you, as a drink at the hotel, or even a bite to eat, would be a very pleasant thing. We had to settle for water from our hydration pack before heading back out to work our way down towards Keswick again and the end of a most excellent weekend!All you can hear is the dip of the canoe paddle

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Camping and Caravan Club
Tracey and her team at Keswick were great and really looked after us. Call 0870 2433331 to check availability and make reservations.
The site can accommodate tents, caravans and motor homes and non-members are welcome.
As well as the great views and waterside location the site boasts two excellent shower/toilet blocks and a handy on-site shop for any essentials. A well earned tipple at the end of a great day in the canoes
    The Camping and Caravanning Club, at over 105 years is the oldest club for all campers, caravanners and motor caravanners, and they offer a warm welcome to members and non-members alike, however they choose to camp. They even have a dedicated section for paddlers, the Canoe Camping Group.
For more information on sites, services and membership visit


Ordenance Survey Explorer OL 4 (1:25 000) – The English Lakes, north-western area, Keswick, Cockermouth & Wigton


If you enjoyed this feature check out: A Guide to Canoe Camping

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