Kayaking the Ullswater Water Way

Tim Clarke (October 2021)

I am the lucky owner of a Dagger Kayak and a Canadian canoe. They’re housed at Glenridding Sailing club. For a long time COVID rules prevented me from making regular forays onto Ullswater – indeed I was advised NOT to go out to avoid others risking their lives trying to save me if I capsized.

Now however, relative freedom has returned. In the last few days I’ve spent several idyllic hours following Ullswater’s magnificent shoreline, tracking an imaginary Ullswater Water Way.  Instead of walking the Ullswater Way, I’ve been paddling the Ullswater Water Way. 

On the stretch from Glenridding to Glencoyne you can almost communicate directly with the walkers, as you can on the opposite side of the lake between Silver Point and Side farm. On several occasions I found people looking at me, even photographing me, as I looked at them. You can even see from the lake some of the Ullswater Way installations, such as treefold:north in Glencoyne Park.

The watery world is of course very different from the terrestrial world.  At the junction between the two, the shore, nature can be full of surprises. The gliding, almost silent movement of the kayak, across the lake surface can bring rich rewards to the watchful observer. I have yet to see otters, or water voles, but I’m sure it can only be a matter of time.

A walker on the Ullswater Way will not have the chance to float gently amongst large flocks of barnacle geese, to track the movements of graceful swans, to observe a grey heron standing sentinel-like on the reed beds, to watch cormorants hanging out their wings to dry, to marvel at grebes diving for small fish, and look in wonder at goosanders searching, head-lowered beneath the water surface, for their prey. 

On one occasion, heading up Goldrill beck, I saw a bird skimming rapidly across the water towards me. My heart missed a beat – could it be an elusive kingfisher?  But, as it got closer, I realised it was a dipper heading directly towards me, at the last minute sweeping past above my head – a special moment nonetheless.

From the lake, I often gaze in wonderment at the extraordinary ability of some trees on the shoreline to cling precariously to overhanging rocks. How can their roots take the weight? 

Others have branches stretched out across the water surface, snagging bits of vegetation as the water level rises after heavy rains.

At this time of the year, the colour of the leaves can be spellbinding. I unconsciously wonder why some leaves on the same branch have turned red, and others have not. 

Last week, whilst looking at a fallen tree trunk and its branches resting in the water, l suddenly saw a movement. I held the kayak stationary in the water, jammed between two rocks jutting above the lake surface. It was a red squirrel. It had come down to the water’s edge to drink. Its head was stretched out, tongue lapping up the water, just 2 metres away from me. I tried unobtrusively to get my phone out of the dry bag sandwiched between my legs in the kayak, to capture the moment. But I was too late. The squirrel didn’t want to hang about. Its thirst quenched, it scampered up a fallen tree trunk and disappeared into the bushes. I’d never seen a red squirrel on the lake shore before, and sadly I had no record to prove the sighting to Doubting Thomases.  

Although I was largely alone in my own silent world, heading intuitively for quiet, hidden havens of peace, every now and again my reveries were disturbed by other users of the Water Way. There’s been a boom in paddle boarding this year, with dogs often taken as passengers. The area around the southern end of Ullswater is a paradise for youth and school groups, with excited yellow-helmeted kids loving the adventure and excitement. The shore opposite Cherry Holme has wonderful rock outcrops for jumping off, and ropes have been hung from the overhanging boughs above to tempt those thinking they are agile and strong enough to swing above the water.

So far my Ullswater Water Way safaris have been limited to the southern tip of Ullswater. It’s time I think to explore the shoreline further afield. Only the fittest manage to do the entire circuit of the Ullswater Way in one go. Maybe I will wait until next year before trying to do the whole of the Water Way in one go. Until then, I’ll try it out in sections, eager to discover what each part of the lakeshore has to offer.

Launch of the Ullswater Heritage Knowledge Bank and Website, 29th September 2021

By Tim Clarke (Chair of Friends of the Ullswater Way)

‘Designed by our Community, created by our Community, managed by our Community, for our Community’

How fitting that the launch of FOUW’s pioneering living archive of the culture and natural heritage of Ullswater should take place on the lake itself, celebrated on Ullswater Steamers’ iconic MV Raven. She has been plying the length and breadth of Ullswater since her launch on Ullswater on 11th July 1889, an astonishing 132 years ago. She looks today as elegant and beautiful as the day she was launched all that time ago. 

She and her sister MV Lady of the Lake symbolise so much about Ullswater’s heritage, true custodians of the glory and beauty of Ullswater that still radiates today.

© Steven Barber

And what good fortune that the rain and storms that preceded the launch calmed down, allowing the skipper Billy to treat all 85 guests, to a wonderful, if bracing, autumnal cruise past Glencoyne and Gowbarrow. The sandwiches and canapés provided by the Inn on the Lake were eagerly consumed, accompanied by prosecco and sparkling elderflower cordial. Smiles all around.

For some it was their first trip on the steamer since the COVID pandemic broke out, an opportunity to re-connect with old friends and make new ones. For others, it was an opportunity to mingle, to share stories between communities from all shores of the lake, of all ages – the under 5s to the over 90s. 

Most of the guests had contributed articles or photos to the Knowledge Bank: memories of magic moments – a family bonfire on the frozen lake in 1963, or Wordsworth’s journeyings around the lake, or the life of farming and mining communities two hundred years, or indeed the origin of the Ullswater Valley itself some 500 million years ago and the impact of successive glaciations over the millenia.

The event started in the Ullswater Steamers’ pier house at Glenridding. Guests had time to browse the new FOUW Pop-Up exhibition describing the content of the Knowledge Bank. Each of the 6 roll-up panels, financed from a grant from the Lake District Foundation, tells a thematic story of what can be found in the Heritage Knowledge Bank’s treasure trove of stories.

© Steven Barber

Then, as the sun’s shadow bathed Place Fell on the opposite side of the lake, Peter Hensman, the CEO of Lake District Estates who own Ullswater Steamers, welcomed the guests on board, with skipper Billy at his side. After a brief photo op of some of the key individuals who created the bank, the guests were treated to some short presentations on the deck.

© Steven Barber

Anne Clarke, who has been the key figure in weaving the 200 plus articles from the communities around the lake into an attractive, user-friendly website, set out the vision behind the concept and the excitement of the last year in piecing the complex, multi-dimensional jigsaw together. She made a plea for more Ullswater Heritage ‘Ambassadors’ to spread the word about the website, www.ullswaterheritage.org, and come forward with their own contributions.  

She was followed by Danny Teasdale, the founder of  Ullswater Catchment Management CIC who champions sustainable farming, conservation and natural flood management in the valley. You can find a video of his work in the Knowledge Bank. 

Danny Teasdale © Steven Barber

And then, Andy Butcher, aka the ‘Ullswater Swan Man’, who has made a unique personal connection with a group of 13 mute swans from his paddleboard in Glencoyne bay, sharing their company for over 6 hours every morning seven days a week. His story and magnificent pictures are also in the Knowledge Bank.

© Steven Barber

Finally, to the inauguration itself. Lord Richard Inglewood, the Patron of FOUW, had fully intended to be there with his wife Lady Cressida as guests of honour to perform this role. But sadly, a day before the event, COVID struck, and he had to decline at the last minute. Although he was ultimately unable to attend in person he has been an ardent supporter of the project.  In words read by Tim Clarke, Chair of FOUW on his behalf he commented:

I am very sorry not to be able to be with you this evening, but Cressida, my wife, has just tested positive for COVID, and while I have tested negative Tim and I have agreed it is best to be careful. 

Had I been with you I would have been really pleased to have been the first person formally to access the Heritage Knowledge Bank, which is a worthy contemporary successor to the famous historic guides to the Lake District. As a direct descendant of the great John Murray, the celebrated Nineteenth Century publisher who amongst other things ‘invented’ the famous ‘Murray Guides’, I am very conscious of the role such things play in the enjoyment and appreciation of places like Ullswater. 

I know that a lot of hard work and effort has been put into this project which I am sure will be rewarded by the added pleasure and understanding of both locals and visitors will get from this wonderful lake. 

We certainly hope that local schools and young people will be important users – and contributors to – the knowledge bank. At the end of the day they are the people who will care for and mould the future landscape and communities in the Valley.  I solemnly declare the Ullswater Heritage Knowledge Bank and Website OPEN!

On cue, MV Raven’s siren burst into sound and glasses were raised. 

The Heritage bank had sprung to life! 

After a few words of thanks from Tim to all those that had contributed to the project, skipper Billy gently opened up the engines and MV Raven serenely left the pier for her one hour cruise, gliding effortlessly through Ullswater’s placid waters.

Conversation bubbled, distant friendships renewed, that famous cliched ‘community spirit’ was there for all to see.

After an hour MV Raven was moored to the pier again, and the guests wended their way home. One guest remarked: ’it will be a brilliant resource for years to come.’ And another: ‘it adds another dimension to an already great valley’.

An epic celebration, on an epic boat on an epic lake.