Standing at the head of Lake Windermere against a backdrop of towering Lakeland fells, Ambleside is the perfect place for a weekend of trail running. With stunning trails right on the doorstep, you can run endless routes straight from the town, while numerous outdoor shops, pubs and cafés provide easy options to treat yourself to the latest gear or stock up on provisions. And the best thing about this Lakeland mecca? Alongside the more hardcore trails you’ll also find user-friendly routes that are as enjoyable as they achievable. Here’s how to weave them into the perfect weekend visit...
Day 1: Fairfield Horseshoe (17km)
One of the classic Lake District routes, the distinctive horseshoe ridge can easily be spotted looking north from the town. A tough but rewarding high-level route, you will bag a total of eight Wainwrights over its 17km, the highest being Fairfield itself at 873m.
Amazing views from Great Rigg on the way to Fairfield
From Ambleside, follow the good track through Rydal Park to reach Rydal village, where you will begin a steep ascent via Nab Scar. This is a lung-busting climb, but on reaching the ridge the going becomes easier and you can enjoy the sweeping views across the fells. As long as visibility is good then the path is easy to follow over Heron Pike and Great Rigg to the summit of Fairfield. From here, continue to follow the ridge over Hart Crag and Dove Crag (being careful not to take the path down into Patterdale), before the long descent over High Pike and Low Pike, with spectacular views over Ambleside and Windermere. A final run through fields takes you down to Low Sweden Bridge and the track back into Ambleside.
Day 2: Loughrigg Fell (10km)
At only 343m high, Loughrigg Fell may be relatively small compared to its neighbours, but what it lacks in stature it makes up for in its isolated position which provides stunning views in all directions. Follow this route for a 10km run, although the summit with its interesting grassy knolls is a great place to spend extra time exploring.
Leaving Ambleside through Rothay Park, take the bridleway uphill past Miller Brow. There are numerous tracks winding around Loughrigg’s knolls, but a great route up is to turn right at the major junction of tracks and follow the path climbing north beside the beck and then west towards Black Mire. The path leads past small tarns and onwards to the summit trig point. Once you reach the top, the tough climbing is done for the day and it’s time to admire the views as you descend north-west on a well-maintained path towards Grasmere and then follow Loughrigg Terrace towards Rydal Water. As you reach Rydal Water, stick to the higher level permissive path to visit Rydal Cave, before returning to Ambleside via the quiet Under Loughrigg road.
For a less strenuous route
The Coffin Road connecting Ambleside and Grasmere was used in medieval times to carry the dead to the consecrated ground at St Oswald’s Churchyard in Grasmere for burial. The undulating route takes you through Rydal Park to Rydal village and around the north of Rydal Water to Grasmere. This area was a source of inspiration for William Wordsworth; keep an eye out for his former homes at Rydal Mount and Dove Cottage. A 6km run will bring you to Grasmere and you can make use of the frequent bus service to return to Ambleside, or extend your run by returning via the easy path around the southern shore of Rydal Water.
If you feel inspired to return, there are numerous races based in Ambleside which make the most of the fabulous running in the surrounding area. The Wansfell Mountain Race 10k starts in the centre of Ambleside and packs in 600m of climbing, with two ascents of Wansfell Pike. Expect challenging climbs, as well as some glorious downhill running and stunning panoramic views. The Lakeland Trails Ultra Weekend is based in Ambleside’s Rothay Park and includes 100, 50, 23 and 14k races. The marked and marshalled courses follow footpaths and bridleways on circular routes through challenging mountain terrain around Ambleside. The Ambleside Trail 60 is a new 60k event established by Brathay Challenges. This tough race with around 2120m of ascent follows a circular route via Coniston and Little Langdale before returning to Ambleside over Stake Pass and Lining Crag.
Got some spare time?
You can visit the ancient Roman fort of Galava on the shore of Lake Windermere, the tiny and much photographed Bridge House, or many National Trust properties nearby. If you want to stay active then go climbing at Ambleside Climbing Wall, try watersports on Lake Windermere or take a stroll to the 20m high Stockghyll Force waterfall.