“Those few hours cast a spell that changed my life” – Wainwright.
For many visitors to the Lake District, Orrest Head is an introduction to both hill walking and the Lakeland landscape. The stunning panoramic view is just a short walk from Windermere Station. It kindled Alfred Wainwright's love with the Lake District and set him on the journey to writing his Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells; guidebooks which have inspired and influenced generations of walkers.
Unfortunately, not everyone could get to this special viewpoint. The path just below the summit had steep steps and is rocky near the top. Waterlogging on the summit itself is caused more problems. There is an unofficial, alternative route avoiding the steps, but this was also becoming eroded and the landscape was getting damaged.
This project aimed to help more people to enjoy and appreciate the view from Orrest Head by creating improved, sustainable access to the summit. It is a project about people - removing barriers, providing opportunity, increasing understanding and building relationships.
We worked with Windermere & Bowness Town Council to create an easy-access Miles without Stiles path to the summit which can be used by people with limited mobility, including people with powered-wheelchairs and families with pushchairs.
We worked to:
We are also exploring how to provide an all-terrain mobility scooter which will be available in Windermere for people to use.
Our project plans were informed by access audits undertaken by Lake District Mobility and disabled LDNPA volunteers, and a visitor survey which we carried out in 2019.
The surveys demonstrated that Orrest Head is a popular walk for families as well as people over 60 years old but 21% of the survey respondents said that they had some difficulties with the path. We know that there are lots of people currently unable to visit as we have received lots of letters of support from local people.
Over 60,000 people visit the viewpoint each year. Left unchecked, the erosion on and around the summit will have got worse and ground would have been washed away by heavy rain.
The project now makes the viewpoint accessible for more people all year round.
We worked with Windermere Town Council and South Lakeland District Council to continue the restoration of a Victorian carriage drive which takes people close to the summit. From there we have created an alternative, easy-gradient path to the viewpoint which will be suitable for people with pushchairs and mobility scooters.
The photo above shows a newly restored section of carriage drive. The stone used is locally sourced from Elterwater Quarry. It looks grey at first but over time will blend in with the landscape. The path section shown below was restored in 2017 and has weathered nicely.
The existing footpath through the gate and up the steps remains in place as some people prefer this challenge.
We have resurfaced sections of the carriage drive in Elleray Wood with Elterwater stone to make them suitable for pushchairs and powered wheelchairs. This means that people with limility mobilty do not have to use the tarmacked road, which is often busy with residents' vehicles, to reach the viewpoint.
In wet weather, the summit area turned into a quagmire. The bedrock acted like a bowl to contain the water and the remaining grassy sections became deep mud.
We have scrapied out the central earth section and have filled in the natural bowl with stone which will help the water naturally drain away and will provide a hard surface which will be easier for people to walk on. This will help contain the erosion as people will not need to walk around it to avoid the muddy bits.
Most of the benches which were on the summit were in very poor condition. These have been replaced with new bespoke seating designed by local artist blacksmith, Chris Brammall.
We have planted the eroded areas with native trees and reseed with grass.
The Orrest Head Compass, bespoke seating has been crafted for the summit by Chris Brammall of CB Arts Ltd.
Chris has also produced some new seating for the route up. This has a more organic design, inspired by the branches and roots of the trees in Elleray Wood.
Rather than rushing up to the viewpoint and back by the fastest route, we would like people to spend longer exploring the lovely Elleray Woods and landscape around Orrest Head. So we are working to improve the site information.
We have replaced the waymarker posts at path junctions to make it easier to navigate around the woods. New interpretation panels have been added at the start of the path and at Elleray Cottage (next to Gruffalo sculpture). These include a map of Orrest Head and the woods and some background information about the history of the site and the plants and wildlife which can be seen here.
We will also produce a leaflet and short film about the easy-access Miles Without Stiles route to help people plan and make the most of their visit.
August 2020 - planning permission secured
April 2021 - funding confirmed
July 2021 - completion of new pathworks, summit seating and site information and waymarking
Sept 2021 - project completed
We are continuing to raise funds to help cover the future maintenance costs for the footpath.
We would like to thank individuals and the following organisations who have donated their time or funding to the project: