Little Langdale is one of those lesser explored corners of the Lake District but there are treasures that lie in wait for those who roam through this quiet little hamlet. Sparkling tarns, views of classic Lakeland peaks, and a hidden away network of caves and tunnels make for a lovely Lakeland day out.
Little Langdale is full of charm and has no shortage of interesting features which make it a great choice for shorter days and lower-level walking in the Lake District.
It is handily placed for visitors, being only a short drive from Ambleside and if you are travelling in from that direction then Chesters by the River is a highly recommended stop off spot for pre- or post-walk sustenance or packed lunch items.
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There is some on road parking with enough space for a few cars near the houses just before you get to the Three Shires Inn.
A handy post walk pint option, the Three Shires Inn does not owe its name to anything Hobbit related but rather the old English county boundary lines where Lancashire, Cumberland, and Westmoreland came together in the spot where Cumbria now sits.
However, a better parking option for all is to head to the National Trust car park at Blea Tarn.
Little Langdale walking routes
There are many walking routes that can be put together around Little Langdale. You can pair sections of this route up with a stroll to picture-postcard-perfect Tarn Hows, or the Tilberthwaite Fells and Pike O’Blisco are on hand for those searching for a more challenging day out.
The route that we have mapped out below runs from Blea Tarn to Cathedral Quarry before heading up and over Lingmoor Fell and the fabulous views on offer from there. However, for those less fond of uphill, you can easily miss out the walk up Lingmoor and still complete the circular walk by heading back towards the carpark on the quiet road that runs below Lingmoor Fell.
As you head out of the car park, you will pass the edge of the tarn before turning and walking below the sharp slopes of Pike O’Blisco and through the valley Little Langdale. The hamlet is made up of few dwellings, working farms, and the pub, and the sparsity of human habitation makes it feel a little more sedate than nearby Great Langdale.
The footpath leads you onto the Wrynose Pass, which depending on whether you are a great driver or terrible passenger is one of the most exhilarating or terrifying roads in the Lake District. Wrynose and Hardknott Pass are narrow, steep, and snake-like strips of tarmac which join Langdale to Eskdale and the western fells.
The road is not for those who suffer from vertigo and it is certainly not passable when it is icy but in good weather the drive over these mountain passes is fabulous. It’s not quite the Grossglockner Pass but it’s as good as it gets in the Lakes.
Fortunately, our path does not wind uphill and instead heads east passed the volcanic nodule of Castle Howe, which is not a castle but may have been a lookout post in older times.
We pass Fell Foot farm and then onto secluded pathways heading in the direction of Cathedral caverns and enjoying the views across Little Langdale Tarn. Shortly before the quarry on the left hand side is Slaters Bridge, one of the oldest pedestrian bridges in the Lake District.
The 17th Century packhorse bridge is thought to have been used by miners working in the nearby quarries but nowadays acts only as a picturesque photo opportunity spot and to transport walkers over the River Brathay.
Cathedral Quarry is a former mining site and is now a series of linked tunnels and caves that are maintained by the National trust, They are free to be explored by inquisitive walkers or those looking for shelter on a wet day.
It is not the easiest place to find as the quarry is not signposted from the path, but not far from Slaters Bridge there is a gate with a stile and a path that leads uphill to the main entrance. It is not absolutely necessary if you only head into the main chamber from here, but a torch would be useful if you want to explore any of the tunnels further on.
After entering through a short tunnel, you come out into the 40ft high main chamber which is the spectacular Cathedral Cave. At its centre is a Gaudi-esque column that twists upwards to support the ceiling whilst the huge window above lights the chamber. Of course, if you are alone in there then you may want to test the acoustics by belting out a few ethereal sounds to echo off the walls. There is some roped off rockfall in this section, but the National Trust deem this to be a safe structure.
At the far end of this room is the way to the upper section which involves a short clamber up some rocks and into an open area where tall slate walls climb upwards and small tunnels head off in each direction.
You can head over to the large open window that looks down into Cathedral cave which looks even larger from this view point. Our route out is via one of the tunnels on the eastern wall where a metal chain to steady your walk to the tunnel tells you that you are heading in the right direction.
This is where your torch will come in handy as this section of tunnel is longer and without light intermediary light sources. The tunnel is tall enough to stand in and as you walk through there is a large but pitch black chamber to the right-hand side which you can peer into with your head torch.
However, remaining on the straighter route quickly takes you towards daylight and in no time, you have popped out into Moss Ring Wood where a trail leads you back towards the river and the path towards Lingmoor Fell
This area of the Lake District is home to my favourite and most distinctive looking mountains. The Langdale Pikes are the first thing I look for on the skyline when heading to the Lake District and once located then I am usually searching to the left for Crinkle Crags and Bowfell.
Lingmoor Fell may not be classic Lakeland ascent, but it is one of the very best locations for viewing this mountain skyline and valleys of Langdale and Mickleden.
The walk up is without complication and you can be on the summit cairn at Brown Howe within 40 minutes or so. If the weather is good, then this is a great spot to stop for some lunch and to soak up the magnificent scenery all around you. To the south is Wetherlam and the Coniston range.
To the east is the conical peak of Pike O’Blisco, the serrated Crinkle Crags, and the Band guides your eyes up the summit of Bowfell. The prominent peaks of the Langdale Pikes are the focus of attention to the north, whilst below the white dots of the Great Langdale valley buildings glisten in the afternoon sunlight.
In the distance is Helvellyn, Fairfield, Wansfell and the head of Windermere completes the 360-degree view. It really is a great vantage point and maybe helps the argument that sometimes it is better to be looking at the best mountains, as opposed to being on them.
The path across the top of Lingmoor is a little less well defined and obvious, but staying just to the north of the fence that runs along the top will take you to where you need to be and soon enough you will be heading downhill and then sweeping around to the tarn.
The clue is in the title with the Lake District which has no shortage of beautiful stretches of water (I’m not getting into the lakes, tarns, waters thing here!). Its vast lakes and twinkling tarns are a consequence of geology, glacial valleys, and a healthy supply of Cumbrian rain, and have been part of the reason why so many people visit.
Blea Tarn is one of the prettiest of those waters and it is a photographer’s dream. Its small size and sheltered situation mean that the lake is often still and therefore perfect for capturing reflections of the surrounding Lakeland features.
There are great views in all directions across the water. If you sit at the edge of the woods on the western banks then Lingmoor Fell and the tall fern trees near the car park reflect beautifully in the afternoon sun, particularly in autumn when Lingmoor is all hues of orange and brown.
However, the photography enthusiasts can usually be found on the south shore where the view is across the tarn to the Langdale Pikes, which are perfectly framed by Side Pike and Rakerigg. On a calm day, the reflections back into the tarn create mirror images that make it difficult to discern reality from reflection in the finished photo.
It is a magical spot, and you could linger for hours on sunny days watching the changing colours of the setting sun on the landscape being soaked up by the tarn. Alas, our time is up, and it is time to head back to the car and out of Little Langdale for our journey back home.
Distance 11 km
Time 3 1/2 hours
Parking: Postcode LA22 9PG
Blea Tarn National Trust car park