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.

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