Lake District Love Letters #9: Little Langdale and the Cathedral Cave

In the next of this (very) occasional series, I take you on a magical adventure to a hidden wonderland, riven out of slate by human hands.

About the Cathedral Cave

Despite its name, the Cathedral Cave is not, in fact, a natural cave formation. It is a man-made wonder, formed from quarrying operations in the 19th Century, when slate was blasted out from the solid rock of the Little Langdale fells using dynamite. The quarry’s main chamber is lit from a large aperture above, which creates its cathedral-like appearance. Beatrix Potter bought the quarry in 1929 and bequeathed it to the National Trust. Though quarrying activities have ceased, it remains open to visitors. Formerly a hidden treasure, the cave has become a tourist hotspot of late, but this adventure is not for the faint-hearted: there are steep, unprotected cliff faces and hidden caverns. If this sounds like your kind of adventure, read on…

Little Langdale and Cathedral Cave Walk

Not only is the Cathedral Cave itself fascinating, the Little Langdale valley itself is stunningly beautiful. This walk visits the spectacular waterfall of Colwith Force, as well as the idyllic Slater’s Bridge at Little Langdale Tarn:

Start/End point: Skelwith Bridge nr. Ambleside
Distance: 12 km (approx.)
Time: Aprox. 3 hours, longer with rest stops
Difficulty: moderate
Equipment: Sturdy walking boots (trainers/wellies not recommended!)

  • Park/get off the bus at Skelwith Bridge. Skelwith Force on the River Brathay is on the opposite side of the bridge from our walk’s starting point, but is worth the slight detour to visit. Cross the bridge, and take the signposted public footpath which rises above the river across open meadows to Low Park.
  • Enter woodland at Low Park and take care on the steep, uneven staircase. Soon you will emerge to cross the road and then re-enter the woodland at the signposted public footpath, turning right at the National Trust sign for Colwith Force.
  • Colwith Force is stunning, and makes for the perfect picnic spot. You can explore the upper reaches of the waterfall in woodland above, but the rocks are slippery and can be treacherous, so watch your footing and keep children under control!
  • Emerge from the woodland at High Park farm, where walkers’ teas are available. From here, follow the stony track to Stang End Farm as the views open upon the fells of Little Langdale (Lingmoor Fell dominates the skyline on the right) and Coniston (Wetherlam and Swirl How coming into view on the left).
  • The entrance to the quarry system is on the left just before Slater’s Bridge in Little Langdale. There is a sign warning of falling rocks and steep, unfenced drops. Enter the Cathedral Cave through the short tunnel with the National Trust information sign outside.
  • Once inside the cave, the light and sound changes. Take in the echoes, the shifting shadows and the shafts of sunlight should you be fortunate to visit on a sunny day. I even saw a smoking dog! Exit the cave at the far end via a steep rock scramble. Giggle at the tourists attempting the ascent in their best trainers!
  • Enjoy the dramatic views down into the Cathedral from above, then climb up the steep rock staircase to the upper level of the quarry, where there are more cave systems to explore…if you dare! Then follow the footpath to the right leading to Slater’s Bridge.
  • Slater’s Bridge (used, and no doubt built, by quarrymen in days of yore) is another perfect picnic spot. Here I found the first unpolluted water I have seen in England in a long time. I could say more about the water companies dumping raw sewage into our lakes and rivers, but I don’t want to ruin the walk.
  • Take the high path above the bridge for stunning views of Little Langdale Tarn and the Coniston Fells.
  • Stop for tea and cake at the delightful self-service wayside cafe at High Birk Howe farm: a true cottage industry.
  • Follow the footpath to the right signposted ‘Wilson Place 1/2 Mile’
  • At Wilson Place Farm, follow the road a few metres towards Elterwater, then take a right back to Stang End.
  • Retrace your steps as far as the woods, where Colwith force is located, but this time take the high path through Atkinson’s Coppice. Unfortunately, many trees have fallen here in anthropocene windstorms. Nevertheless, this path makes a great shortcut for tired legs.
  • Continue straight ahead at the signpost, taking the footpath, not the bridleway.
  • Follow signpost ‘Skelwith Bridge 1 mile’ to return to the start point.

I hope you enjoyed this walk! You can find more images and videos by following me on Instagram @experimentsinfiction.

27 thoughts on “Lake District Love Letters #9: Little Langdale and the Cathedral Cave

Add yours

  1. Breathtaking scenery…the beauty of nature and picturesque human history etched on the land! Thank you, Ingrid, for the stunning photos and the engaging story. A beautiful start to my day!

    Wishing you many more adventures and sunny days! <3

  2. I wish my transporter was working so I could pop over for a day of wandering with you! What a lovely part of the world you live in. And who can resist a loo with a view? 😂

  3. Not only fascinating full of history and wonderful pictures, the walk and history were so fabulously inviting Ingrid! Love your new picture on your profile here too! 💞

  4. What an amazing walk. I enjoyed reading the history and loved that you can get to destination by bus and have tea and scones on the way home – what a wonderful blend of English civility and wild nature.

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