When Suzannna Cruickshank first came to the Lake District as a novice hillwalker, there was a wealth of information on where to go and what to climb but when her attention turned to swimming, she struggled to find the same level of detail, so she set out to do her own research. Swimming Wild in the Lake District is a guide to fifteen lakes covering the best fifty swimming spots in the Lake District National Park. The book includes seasonal advice, ecological information and tips on where to go and where to avoid. Read on for Suzanna's guide to swimming in Grasmere.
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With its central location and inextricable link to William Wordsworth, Grasmere is probably the busiest village in the Lake District. It is a key stop on many a tour itinerary of the Lake District, drawing visitors by the coach load for the cultural history as well as the views. The surroundings might lack the stature and grandeur Buttermere or Ullswater but Grasmere more than makes up for that with pretty paths through dreamy broadleaf woodlands all beneath miniature craggy hills. The picturesque setting is effortlessly beautiful, complimented by a perfect chocolate box village. Though busy, you can still find a quiet corner to yourself if you know where to look.
Grasmere and its smaller neighbour Rydal Water are two of the shallowest lakes in the Lake District. The water here tends to be among the first to warm up and stays relatively mild well into autumn. Fed predominantly by the River Rothay and Wray Gill the water is soft and tea-coloured in the depths. The best swimmable water lies south of the island.
My favourite time to swim in Grasmere is when the chill of autumn is descending. I love the first view of the lake as I approach from the north over the top of Dunmail Raise. It is nestled in a hollow of low fells and often holds early morning mist on top of the water making for a wonderfully atmospheric dip. You might see fishermen lining the shore near the road, or Martin from Banerigg Guest House striking out for his daily swim from his private jetty.
The watershed above Grasmere is made up of much older volcanic rocky peaks than the softer, lower sedimentary rock directly around the lake and village. The taller peaks don’t hold much sway here though. They are rather distant, and the character of the lake is defined by ancient woodlands that cloak the low fells and surround much of the lake. It makes Grasmere feel quite private. Here the trees take centre stage ahead of the hills and in autumn they steal the show completely.
With the exception of the private land around the north basin (not to mention the swans and weeds – more on these later) there are plenty of easy opportunities for a swim around Grasmere. It always strikes me as a very convivial place to enjoy a dip, whether you fancy an attention-seeking splash from the busy main beach or a surreptitious dip in a wooded bay. The distance out to the island from Loughrigg Terrace Beach is just under 800 metres, giving an opportunity to clock up a reasonable distance or simply enjoy a paddle in the shallows. There is a place for everyone on this little lake.
Where the A591 runs alongside the lake there are a couple of small lay-bys; there is one shortly after leaving Grasmere village, the other one is beyond a sharp bend just past Banerigg Guest House. Park up and cross the road to the tarmac footpath along the wall above the lake. In some places you can easily hop over the wall to small beaches and get straight into the water. It's possible to hop over the wall and into the water here in a couple of places but in the main there is not much to be gained from fighting through the undergrowth. This section of the lake is also popular with fishermen, especially early in the day, so choose your swim spot carefully to avoid getting tangled in their lines!
Close to Banerigg Guest House is a viewpoint with two wrought iron benches overlooking the lake. Back in the 1800s there were plans for several houses along this stretch of road, each with its own private jetty or lake frontage. Work commenced on a semicircular terrace viewpoint over the lake but eventually the only house that was built was Banerigg Guest House, saving the ancient bluebell wood from being cut down. The viewpoint is still there, with a slender gap in the low wall and a wooden bar across the gap. Climb over the bar to negotiate the slate steps down to the water – there is no beach here and the last step hovers precipitously above the water. It is a unique and committing place for a swim but with a with a superb view of Helm Crag.
Penny Rock Wood and Loughrigg Terrace Beach
The path from the car park south of the A591 at White Moss is a Miles Without Stiles route. The initial path along the River Rothay and through a meadow is suitable for all. The continuation into Penny Rock Wood has a steeper incline and stone steps down to the bridge crossing the river to the lake shore.