Two miles north of Ambleside is Rydal. The lake, Rydal Water, is one of the smallest of the lakes, being just less than a mile long, but with its little, wooded islands, it is one of the prettiest. The village is similarly proportioned but famous for being the home of the poet William Wordsworth for 37 years.
There are good paths around both sides of Rydal Water. The south side of the lake has a choice of paths; the lower path gives access to the lake shore at its eastern end, and to woodland at its western end. A higher path leads up across the hillside to the gaping entrance of Rydal Cave. As with most caves in The Lakes, this is not a natural cave but the result of quarrying for slate, and can be entered with care. Continuing west from the cave, this path leads on to Loughrigg Terrace, which has one of the finest views of the next lake, Grasmere.
Crossing the hillside to the north of Rydal Water is the Coffin Path. This rather ghoulish name comes from the days before there was a church at Rydal, and coffins often had to be carried to Grasmere for burial, a distance of about two miles. Today however, the path gives lovely views over the lake and is an excellent route to Grasmere. At its western end, the Coffin Path gives access to White Moss Common, a little rocky spur which separates Rydal Water from Grasmere; this was a favourite spot for Wordsworth and his family, and has lovely views of both lakes.
Although it has no lake of its own, the Troutbeck valley east of Ambleside is worth a visit. Many visitors will pass through Troutbeck on the lower road, the A592, on their way from Windermere to Ullswater. But far more interesting is the higher road which hugs the eastern side of Wansfell. This route connects a series of old farmsteads, many of which are wonderful examples of Lakeland’s rural architecture, giving the valley an ancient, timeless feeling. Happily, one of these farmhouses, Town End, has been preserved by the National Trust and is open to the public.
To the west of Ambleside is Loughrigg Fell. This low, sprawling hill sits in a wonderful position between four lakes: Windermere, Rydal Water, Grasmere and Elterwater, as well as having its own little lake, Loughrigg Tarn. But rather than visiting the summit (335m), a circuit of the hill has the most beautiful views; one of the best of these is from Todd Crag (212m) which is just over a mile from the town centre and has a famous view of Windermere.
Rising up out of Ambleside town centre is ‘The Struggle', a single lane hill pass that links to the A592 and Kirkstone Pass, the highest road in the Lake District. The Struggle is the steepest route up to Kirkstone and is a popular challenge for hardy cyclists. Kirkstone 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.