Ringed by mountains and crags, criss-crossed by footpaths and bridleways, and cut through by the sparkling River Derwent, Borrowdale has long attracted outdoor enthusiasts.
Walkers, climbers, canoeists, anglers and outdoor adventurers have all taken advantage of the valley’s physical attractions from Millican Dalton’s ‘mountain rapid shooting’ to Chris Bonington’s ascent of High Crag and Billy Bland’s herculean fellrunning feats of the 1980s.
Borrowdale can boast the oldest fish farm in the country, the first ‘iron way’ in England and an early example of a climbing school. The traditional Lakeland pursuit of houndtrailing is well and truly alive in Borrowdale, while the famous Borrowdale Fell Race is an event not to be missed in early August.
- Long-established packhorse routes (bridleways) snake their way over the mountain passes into neighbouring Buttermere, Wasdale, Great Langdale, Vale of Grasmere, Thirlmere and Newlands Valley, while a good network of public footpaths provides scope for exploring the valley on foot.
- Some of these rights of way form sections of long-distance walking routes. Wainwright’s Coast to Coast route crosses Borrowdale from west to east through Rosthwaite, while the Cumbria Way and Allerdale Ramble wind their way northwards through the heart of the valley.
- Borrowdale is synonymous with climbing. Here are some of Lakeland’s classic climbing routes – Troutdale Pinnacle (Black Crag), Gillercombe Buttress and ‘Little Chamonix’ (Shepherd’s Crag). Stanley Watson (1906–1986) took up rock climbing as a hobby and went on to found the British Mountain Guides Organisation. He also established one of the earliest climbing schools in the country at Newton Place (opposite Borrowdale Hotel).
- Old images show ice skaters on a frozen Derwentwater in the 1930s (not recommended nowadays).
- Hound trailing is a test of speed, agility and stamina. The dogs follow a scented trail (mix of aniseed and paraffin) over varying terrain and obstacles. For Victor Brownlee, one-time breeder of champion hounds in Stonethwaite, ‘Borrowdale allus was a strong spot for trail hounds’. His daughter, Christine, continues the family tradition and runs her hounds 2 or 3 times every week.
- Salmon and trout fishing has always been a popular pastime. The oldest fish farm in the country was at aptly-named Troutdale near Grange where Atlantic salmon fry were successfully hatched from 1868 onwards to restock rivers and lakes all over the country.
An early pioneer of outdoor sports was Joseph Pocklington (1736–1817) of Barrow House – a wealthy eccentric. He bought Derwent Isle in 1778 as a base to stage sailing regattas, rowing races and mock naval battles, discharging cannons and muskets to create reverberating echoes over the lake, much to the delight of onlookers. He also promoted the Bowder Stone as a tourist attraction, installing a ladder to the top and building a cottage ‘for an old woman to live in who is to shew the rock’.
Barrow House was later bought by Bob Graham, the famous fell runner who traversed the summits of 42 Lakeland peaks in less than 24 hours in 1932 – a record that stood for 28 years. Today the Bob Graham Round is probably the most physically demanding test of outdoor fitness in the UK.
Borrowdale is the home of one of the country’s most outstanding fell runners – Billy Bland, whose record for the Bob Graham Round (13 hrs 53 mins) stood from 1982 until it was beaten by Kilian Jornet in 2018. Billy still holds the record for the Borrowdale Fell Race (2 hrs 34 mins in 1981). In 1991, he helped set up the highly successful Borrowdale Fell Runners. Billy was born into a farming family in Rosthwaite and has lived in the valley all his life.
The famous Borrowdale Fell Race takes place on the 1st Saturday of August and is run over 17 miles (27 km) and 6500 ft (1980 m) of ascent. Over 400 runners take part in this gruelling event, which starts and ends at Rosthwaite.
Inevitably the occasional accident occurs as a result of outdoor adventure. To respond rapidly to emergencies, the Keswick Mountain Rescue Team came into being in 1947 (started in Borrowdale) and is one of the oldest MRTs in the country. They cover a wide area and work jointly with RAF Sea-King and Air Ambulance helicopters to access those in need of help as quickly as possible. Year on year, the number of call-outs has generally increased, with 2010 being their busiest year ever. Yet the team still rely on volunteers and donations to keep going, so please support this invaluable service wherever you see a collection box, or donate online.
For the latest weather reports in the valley, see www.keswickweather.co.uk.
GLARAMARA OUTDOOR CENTRE Seatoller, Borrowdale, CA12 5XQ Tel: 017687 77222 www.glaramara.co.uk
HONISTER’s VIA FERRATA Honister Pass, Borrowdale, CA12 5XN www.honister.com
KESWICK MOUNTAIN RESCUE TEAM www.keswickmrt.org.uk
PLATTY+ Lodore Boat Landing, CA12 5UX Tel: 017687 77282 or 017687 76572 www.plattyplus.co.uk
WATENDLATH TROUT FISHERY Watendlath, Borrowdale, CA12 5UY Tel: 017687 77362
Original text by Anna Gray.