Tarn Hows and Black Fell: an easy walk in the Lake District

Sometimes you want a challenge, and sometimes you just want a beautiful walk that’s not too taxing. If that’s you, Tarn Hows is the perfect place to go. This picturesque lake is in a beautiful secluded spot with views to several of the surrounding fells.

One of the best things about Tarn Hows is that there’s a walk for everyone. As with many areas in the Lake District there are multiple different paths you can opt for but we’ll outline the three easy tracks that we tried. They range from a very easy lakeside loop walk, a slightly harder waterfall walk or a brisk climb to the top of a small fell (bagging a Wainwright in the process).

If you only have a morning or afternoon in the area you could still easily achieve all three in one go.


Tarn Hows Walks

On a calm day, there are few views in the Lake District that offer as beautiful a reflection as that offered by Tarn Hows. It provides a perfect mirror image of the skies above and almost looks like you’ve done a sneaky bit of photoshopping.

It’s a popular spot in the Lake District but if you go early or late in the day, then even in peak season it won’t be too busy.


The loop around Tarn Hows Walk

The walk around Tarn Hows is a really easy walk to do as it is both flat and has a well maintained path. Whilst there is a small incline at points, it’s very gradual and is never steep.

Tarn Hows Walk

The path hugs the shore of Tarn Hows and has plenty of places to stop and take in the views. The track is even suitable for push chairs which is a rarity in the Lake District.

The whole loop is two miles (3.2km) long and could take less than an hour, or as long as you like if you make use of all the benches!


Tom Gill Waterfall to Tarn Hows Walk

If you want to do another short walk that’s a little more strenuous, then you can add the Tom Gill Waterfall walk to the Tarn Hows loop. The track is a left from the dam (signposted) and heads downhill, following the stream.

The forest is very pretty and you pass several waterfalls along the way. It’s a picturesque change of scenery as it winds further away from Tarn Hows.

Whilst the path is in relatively good condition, it is a little rubbly and full of tree roots, so requires more care than the loop around Tarn Hows.

However, most people should find this short walk achievable. You do have to retrace your steps, so it is hilly on the way back up as there is very little flat ground.

The walk is just over 2km long in total and should take just over 45 minutes.


The easiest Wainwright: Black Fell

If we were only going to choose two of the three walks it would be this one with the Tarn Hows loop. It is a direct turn off the main Tarn Hows route so it’s very convenient to combine the two. It took us an additional one 1 hour and 20 minutes to climb to Black Fell and back from the turn off.

Black Fell is by far the easiest Wainwright we’ve climbed without sacrificing beautiful views. It’s not signposted so it seems to receive fewer other walkers than many of the fells we’ve climbed.

Taking a left turn around ten minutes from the start of the Tarn Hows loop (Langdales and Arnside will be signposted), the track to the top is short, relatively flat (250m elevation climbed in total) and not too strenuous.

The path starts off as rubble under foot and after rain, several sections of the track become a stream. Don’t do this one after heavy rain if you don’t want to get wet boots. The upside is the track wasn’t too slippery despite being too wet, unlike many of the other walks we did in the Lakes.

It gently winds round upwards until you come out to an open plain. You make a sharp right after passing through the second gate, as usual it’s not signposted. The only thing that marks the path at this point is the summit trig in the distance and a few cairns that point you in the right direction.

There is a very short scramble (as in a few steps) to the top, and you can feel the sense of achievement from climbing a fell and finding it pretty easy!

The views from the top are beautiful, looking out to Great Langdale and famous fells like Crinkle Crags & Bowfell, Scafell Pike and Coniston Old Man.

The summit is marked by a trig with a National Trust badge and is the subject of one of the funniest lines I’ve read in any of Wainwright’s books:

“…this has been defaced by the scratched initials of visitors of the type who seem to see in this practice a chance of immortality. It must be readily conceded that, for the people of such mentality, probably it is their only chance.”

Alfred Wainwright, A pictorial guide of the Lakeland Fells, Book Four

The walk back down is a leisurely stroll along the same path you came up and finishes at Tarn Hows.

If you get great weather, this is a beautiful place to be at the end of the day. There’s a gorgeous golden light that glows over the landscape.

Overall we thought this was a gorgeous walk and perfect for a morning or afternoon activity. It’s only ten minutes from the village of Hawkeshead which has several cute tearooms for a treat before or after. We tried the Minstrels Gallery which was pretty good.

If you want a really detailed description of the Black Fell walk, check out Wainwright’s guide to the Southern Fells below. They are beautiful guides.


Getting to Tarn Hows

Tarn Hows is a 15 minute drive from Ambleside, but it takes you down very narrow, windy roads, another good reason to go early or late in the day. There is a National Trust Car Park that is free for members.


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