At more than 7 miles in length, Ullswater is the second largest of the lakes, and arguably the most picturesque; in his guidebook Wordsworth called it ‘… the happiest combination of beauty and grandeur…’. This is perhaps because the lake twists and turns more than any of the other lakes, having three almost distinct sections. The grandest of these is at the head of the lake where the village of Glenridding nestles under the foothills of Helvellyn, England’s third highest mountain (height 951m). This is the main starting-point for the walk up Helvellyn, via its famous ridge, Striding Edge; anyone needing advice or directions for this route should call in at the National Park Information Centre which can easily be found on the main carpark. For anyone who prefers a flatter walk, one of the classic lakeshore routes also starts from here. This begins by catching one of the cruisers down the lake to Howtown on Ullswater’s quiet south-eastern shore, then walking back to Glenridding. The distance for this is almost 7 miles.
At the head of Ullswater is the village of Patterdale, an excellent place to begin several walks on the mountains. The main valley here stretches south for over 5 miles, climbing up to the Kirkstone Pass, the highest road in the Lake District. The pass takes its name from the distinctive boulder on the west side of the road, which from some angles resembles a church tower. There is also a pub at the top of the pass, the Kirkstone Pass Inn, which is of course the highest pub in The Lakes.
Patterdale has its own little lake, Brothers Water, and tucked away in a side-valley nearby is the hamlet of Hartsop. This is a convenient starting-point for High Street (828m), the highest mountain east of Patterdale. The mountain’s rather urban-sounding name was taken from the Roman road which crosses its summit, running from Windermere to the fort at Penrith. The mountains here tend to form long ridges with wide, flat tops and steep sides; it seems that the Romans preferred this terrain over routes through the valleys where they might be more easily ambushed.
Perhaps the most popular walk on this eastern side of the valley is from Patterdale to Place Fell (height 657m). Place Fell rises steeply on the corner of the upper and middle reaches of Ullswater, an excellent position giving it panoramic views across this whole area. Almost as popular is the walk to Angle Tarn, which sits in a little hollow on the ridge 2 miles south of Place Fell. There are fine views over Patterdale from the walk, and then views of Helvellyn from the tarn.
The landscape around the foot of Ullswater tends to be gentler and more open, with fields running down to the shores of the lake. At the foot of the lake is the lovely little village of Pooley Bridge: this a popular boarding-point for Ullswater Steamers, and perhaps the best place to start the cruise, as the views ahead are steadily revealed by the twists of the lake on the way to Glenridding.
The area around Pooley Bridge is rich in ancient remains. Immediately north of the village is the steep, little hill of Dunmallet, and hiding amongst the trees on its summit is an Iron Age hill fort. South of the village a track leads up into the hills to Moor Divock where there are several ancient burial cairns, a standing stone and a small stone circle. The High Street Roman road also passed this way, heading towards the Roman fort near Penrith, although there is almost nothing to be seen of it here now. Nearby is Heughscar Hill (375m) which has an excellent view of Ullswater snaking away towards the mountains of the Helvellyn range.
South west of Pooley Bridge a lane leads down the quiet side of Ullswater, to the little cluster of buildings at Howtown. The road then climbs steeply up a mountain pass simply known as The Hause; from here there is suddenly a view of two deep valleys surrounded by mountains. Beyond The Hause the lane narrows and descends into Martindale, it divides several times, but all routes are dead-ends as there is no way through on this side of Ullswater (except by foot of course). For anyone who has ventured this far, the best thing to do is to park at The Hause and climb the little hill immediately to the north. This is Hallin Fell (388m), one of Lakeland’s best-loved little mountains, which has excellent views of Martindale and Ullswater.