At the south end of Derwent Water the Borrowdale valley begins. The first village here is Grange, with its distinctive double-arched bridge crossing the River Derwent. South of Grange the valley suddenly narrows into a wooded gorge with cliffs and crags rising steeply on both sides. The gorge is popularly known as ‘The Jaws of Borrowdale’, and is an excellent place to appreciate the crystal clear waters of the river. It is also the location of one of Lakeland’s geological curiosities; perched just above the road is the Bowder Stone. From some angles this huge boulder appears to be precariously balanced on one corner, and for the early visitors it was a source of much speculation about its origin. For many years it was thought that the boulder was deposited by a glacier moving down through the valley, but the accepted theory now is that it simply fell from the crags above.
South of the Bowder Stone the valley widens again, with mountains rising steeply on all sides. The main village in Borrowdale is Rosthwaite, which is an excellent starting-point for many walks. One of the best little walks from Rosthwaite heads east and crosses over Puddingstone Bank to the delightful little valley of Watendlath. This is a Lakeland valley in miniature, tucked away in the hills with its own tarn, fields and cottages. This walk is about 2 miles each way, and has excellent views over Borrowdale on the way up.
Arguably the most popular walk in Borrowdale is to Castle Crag (height 290m). This craggy little hill stands on the western side of The Jaws of Borrowdale, giving it excellent views south over Borrowdale and north to Derwent Water. The small summit has been identified as the site of an Iron Age hillfort, although much of this has been lost because of the slate quarrying that once happened here. Castle Crag can be climbed from Rosthwaite, Seatoller or Grange, and although this is one of the lowest of Lakelands hills, the last section of the route is steep and rough.
At the head of Borrowdale is the tiny hamlet of Seathwaite, which is a popular starting point for walkers heading to Scafell Pike. This is one of the longer routes to England’s highest mountain, being about 4½ miles each way, much of it over very rough paths. In earlier times the fells around Seathwaite were busy for different reasons, as it was here that graphite was mined, much of it destined for the pencil factories at Keswick. Seathwaite also has the unfortunate distinction of being the wettest inhabited place in England, receiving about 140 inches of rain each year.
The north-western corner of the Lake District is home to a group of three of its most beautiful lakes; Buttermere, Crummock Water and Loweswater, with Buttermere being the most famous. This small lake sits at the head of the valley, deep within a headwall of dramatic mountains, most distinctive of which are the pyramid-shaped Fleetwith Pike (648m) and the craggier Haystacks (597m). The walk around the lake is one of the best in the National Park, and one of the best-loved. A unique feature of the route is the short tunnel through the crags on the north-eastern side of the lake, carved out in Victorian times to keep the path close to the shoreline. The distance is about 4 miles, with the little village of Buttermere offering an excellent choice of refreshments and parking.
At the head of the Buttermere valley, the road past the lake (the B5289) continues east, and climbs the Honister Pass on its way over to Borrowdale. At the top of the pass is the Honister Slate Mine, one of the few active mines in the Lake District. There are several areas around the pass which were mined, but most of the slate has come from Honister Crag which towers over the road on the Buttermere side. The slate itself is much admired for its distinctive grey-green colouring, and is used in many ways, from building works to kitchen worktops and decorative objects. The mines are open to visitors by guided tours, and for the more adventurous there is the Via Ferrata, a wire-metal walk-way across the side of Honister Crag, not for the faint-hearted!
Just ¾ mile away from Buttermere, across a strip of fields is Crummock Water. This lake is more than twice the size of Buttermere, but rather overlooked in comparison with its more popular neighbour; this is a pity as the scenery is still very impressive here. With Buttermere village being sandwiched between the two lakes, it is also a good starting point to explore the quieter southern side of Crummock Water. This side of the lake is home to the highest waterfall in the Lake District, Scale Force, which is about 2 miles west of the village. Although the falls are often little more than a slender trickle, the gloomy little gorge is very atmospheric and there are good views on the way.
On the opposite shore of Crummock Water, near the rocky headland of Hause Point is the side valley of Rannerdale. In recent years this has become a favourite place to see bluebells in spring. There is almost no woodland here, so unusually, the bluebells are all out in the open, covering the floor of the valley and even spreading up the sides of the hills to a surprising height.
The last and smallest of the three lakes is Loweswater. Sitting almost on the edge of the National Park, and accessed by a narrow lane, this is one of the quietest of the Lakes. However, this is a delightful spot with lovely views, particularly from the south shore looking east to the mountains above Crummock Water.