Brotherswater is often considered to be a tarn rather than a lake and is less than an hours drive from my home in Cumbria, in the United Kingdom. It’s set in the Lake District National Park and it’s one of those glorious jewels tourists drive by every day.... And occasionally miss.
The lake used to be called Broad Water but ‘Lakeland’ rumour has it that in 1783 two brothers drowned there whilst ice-skating and it was renamed Brotherswater. It is the smallest of our English Lakes measuring half a mile long and a quarter of a mile wide. Its depth is about 68 feet and it sits in the basin of the valley of Hartsop, close to a hamlet of the same name. Hartsop means ‘Valley of the Deer’, and the term captures the wild rugged landscape of the area.
Since its formation during the ice-age, Brotherswater has been modified only by time, the forces of nature, and the Fellside sheep farmers with their dry stone walls. The dry stone walls that criss-cross the Lakeland valleys of Cumbria are part of an ancient story that is being deciphered by Cumbrians and the Intelligentsia alike. So far, examination of the walls date them back to the 10th or 11th centuries when Norsemen are believed to have occupied the area. But many walls were built in medieval times to enclose small fields or to divide up the land within between various farms and prevent woods being destroyed by grazing.
The lake, that might be a tarn, lies between Pooley Bridge and Ambleside at the northern end of Kirkstone Pass. On the approach to Brotherswater, travel south from Pooley Bridge until you reach Glenridding and Patterdale. Looking right, you will see Helvellyn stretching into the sky. To the left, on the other side of Ullswater, close to the bend of the Lake, you will see Hallin Fell and the route to a dozen or more fells that I have walked, ran, camped upon, and gloried in, and even dragged canoes up when I was a younger man with no sense between my ears. But only a mile or so from Patterdale Youth Hostel you’ll find a small car park on the offside of the road. This is called Cow Bridge Car Park and it’s where we always park the car before we go walking in the area.
Most postcards and photographs of Brotherswater, show images from various parts of Kirkstone Pass and reveal a thin blue splash of water rising from the valley green. Well, the lake is not amongst the most popular of the National Park, being shallow and full of reeds, and not at all inhabited by man. But Water lilies bloom there, usually from July onwards providing a display of unique colour that has to be seen to be appreciated in all its glories. And the best images of Brotherswater are found on the pathways surrounding the lake, not the highways man built.
Indeed, if you are ever in the area I recommend you park at this car park and walk along the pathway towards the lake. You’ll cross over the narrow Cow Bridge and when you do you will have followed the footsteps of Dorothy Wordsworth - Yes, the wife of the English Poet Laureate, William. It’s a matter of ‘Lakeland’ record that she wrote quite a few anecdotes and poems whilst sitting on the dry stone wall bridge looking out across Brotherswater surrounded by the High Fells of Hartsop and all their glory.
Well, I’ve walked over the bridge many times hoping for a spray of water from the stream below to splash me with a piece of Wordsworth’s brilliance.
Alas, that’s not so far proven the case - but I’m still hoping with fingers crossed and dreams still to sleep. What I can say is that this area of the Lake District is a very isolated and quite beautiful in so many ways. It is often overlooked probably because it’s just a little off the beaten track in comparison with other sights. Wordsworth? He’s there somewhere but the Lakes belong to the people and not one individual.
There to be enjoyed. And a poem is always on the cards....
What’s on the next page, I wonder.
Once you’ve crossed the bridge, nip through the gate and walk along the path next to Goldrill Beck. You can’t miss it roaring at you from below. If you walk along this path you will reach the point where the beck leaves Brotherswater. Here, by the waters edge, you will see only the lake in all its rugged isolation... And nothing else.
But if you walk further along the path you’ll find Hartsop Hall, the Water Lillies and the winding pathways that narrow and crumble as the mountain streams trickle and tumble, and take you into the High Lakeland Fells.
This is my walk, this is my garden, this is my land.