Great Langdale Walks-the three tarns at Bowfell

Great Langdale Walks in the Lake District: Hiking Bowfell

To begin my training for Nepal this September I headed to the Lake District to my favourite place, the Langdale Valley (or Great Langdale). It must be the most picturesque area in the Lakes, with iconic hills, plenty of walks and not to mention a nice pub or three! Bowfell, at the very end of the valley, is one of my favourite Great Langdale walks – at 902 metres it is the highest hill in this area, which makes for a challenging but rewarding hike that can be completed either as a linear or circular route.

With a long, steady ascent, followed by a small amount of scrambling towards the summit, it’s a great option for a challenging (but not technical) hike, with wonderful views. The guide below is for a circular hike ascending Bowfell and returning down via Angle Tarn. As always, I’ve included an OS map reference too which can be downloaded and used on your navigation app. 

Bowfell Hike via Angle Tarn Circular Route Downloadable Map

Download file for GPS

Essential information: 

Start point & parking: You can start and finish the hike from the car parks either at Sticklebarn (the National Trust owned pub & cafe) or next to the Old Dungeon Ghyll (the traditional pub further down the valley). Both are National Trust car parks and are free to members, otherwise it is pay and display. There is also a car park opposite Sticklebarn if there are no spaces. It’s worth arriving early as the car parks do fill up – especially on the weekend. Beginning the walk at Old Dungeon Ghyll, you’re closer to Bowfell so the walk is shortened by about half a mile.

Getting there by bus: You can travel much of the Lake District by bus. For this walk, the Stagecoach 516 bus line runs from Kendal, via Ambleside all the way to Dungeon Ghyll where you would get off to begin the hike. You can download the full bus timetable here.

Distance: 10.56 miles

Time required: This will of course vary depending on your personal speed, the number of breaks required and, of course, the weather. For me, the walk took 6 hours including breaks. It’s definitely a full day hike and I would recommend leaving early to allow enough time.

Total Ascent: 954m

Total Descent: 954m

Camping nearby: Opposite Sticklebarn is the National Trust’s Great Langdale Campsite, and the hike can be started from there too. Further north towards Chapel Stile is Baysbrown Campsite (no booking required here) which requires a short drive to the start point. 

Pubs: As mentioned above, there are two great pubs at the end of this hike, right next to the two car parks. The Old Dungeon Ghyll pub has a traditional walkers’ bar which with its roaring fire is great in winter, while Sticklebarn has a spacious beer garden overlooking the Langdale Valley. Both are great spots for that much needed post-walk refreshment!

Bowfell Hiking Route:

Stool End Farm


From either car park (depending on where you start), turn right onto the main road and walk until you reach the entrance to Stool End Farm with the red post box (located as the road turns sharply left towards Blea Tarn). Head straight through the gate here,and continue through the valley towards Stool End Farm.

The public footpath takes you through the valley towards the farm. This footpath continues through the farm and out the other side, after which the path begins to incline. At this point, look out for the path turning right towards Bowfell via Earing Crag (a map is required to spot it). For the majority of the ascent you will then stay on this path all the way up to the three tarns, a noticeable feature before Bowfell’s summit. The ascent is steady but also steep and continuous and I do always find this walk a challenge. But the views always make it worthwhile. 

The path up to Bowfell, Lake District
The path up to the top of Bowfell

When reaching the top of this path, there is a crossroads and you will notice the three small tarns in front of you. Head right up towards Bowfell. The path becomes less obvious here and some light scrambling is required up the more rocky terrain, but in good conditions it shouldn’t be too tricky. On the other hand, in poor visibility navigation skills are required as the path is not always obvious. On a clear summer day there are likely to be other hikers also heading up to the summit. 

At the top, we enjoyed beautiful views, but within minutes it all disappeared under incoming cloud (classic Lake District..!) and again navigation was required to find the path for our descent – which in this case is the small black dotted line on the OS map. This route takes you down to Angle Tarn – a perfect Lake District Wild camp spot, by the way – where we noticed a few tents pitched already. I love keeping lookout for wild camp spots ready for next time! We decided to descend via the Cumbria Way, which is less steep than Rossett Gill. This well marked path follows a small waterfall back down into the valley. The views from this stretch alone are worth the toil of the previous hours’ walking!

Descent via Angle Tarn
Descent via Angle Tarn
Descent from Bowfell
Joining the Cumbria Way back down into the valley

This footpath, part of the Cumbria Way, takes you along the last few kilometres and back to the start point. This makes for a really nice valley walk of its own and we even found a wild swimming spot in Mickleden Beck along the way. The usual array of Herdwick sheep, alongside the towering hills around, complete this photogenic section of the route. On returning to the car park, we stopped off at the Sticklebarn pub for a drink overlooking a lovely view before heading back to our campsite.  Although there are many hikes in this area, this remains my favourite of the Great Langdale walks I have completed so far. It was my second time on this hike, and definitely won’t be my last!

Wild Swimming Lake District

Navigation and safety: When navigating I used the OS map app premium subscription which allows me to follow the route on my phone and it shows me my location so that I know that I am on the right path. I have personally always found this very reliable but carry a paper map with me as well just in case. There are many other hiking / map apps available but a paper map and compass is always a great option. On this walk, signposts alone will not be sufficient in being able to complete the walk.

Please note this is my experience of the walk on this day. Always check the weather forecast including the wind speed to ensure it is safe. I always recommend wearing hiking shoes / boots and not trainers on all of my walks.

The weather can change very quickly. Always carry a waterproof, spare layers, plenty of food and water. After all isn’t a selection of snacks the best part of the walk?

Places to explore nearby:

  • Drive up to Blea Tarn to enjoy the view over the Langdale Pikes
  • Visit Ambleside, a small town with plenty of independent shops and cafes to enjoy
  •  Have a walk around the small village of Chapel Stile only a ten minute drive from start point of the walk.

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