The final stage of the Grand Tour is the simplest and easiest, which is always the most befitting for the homeward run. Basically, it’s the Keswick-Ambleside road, with a single possible variant along the way.
Actually, this is the point where the circular Tour ceases to be circular for it’s a more or less straight line back, down the Central Rift throughout the centre of the Lakes.
Before embarking on the route back to base, there may be some who, having decided against the ‘high road’ along the western side of Derwentwater, and who, having entered Keswick from Borrowdale, made a pit stop for loos and cups of tea or coffee. Those travellers have not yet seen Bassenthwaite Lake so, in order not to miss out, begin the final stage by heading north on the main street.
At the little roundabout, turn right as signposted for Carlisle, crossing the A66 at the big roundabout and continuing onwards through level, green country that, in older days, when the two Lakes were one major body of water, was submerged. Bass Lake is close at hand at its foot but the Carlisle road drifts further away, running under the shadow of tree-bound Dodd.
At the Castle Inn, turn left, follow the road around the foot of the Lake and shoot back down the A66, along Bass’s western shore, heading back to Keswick.
The road out of Keswick climbs to escape the Vale, before cutting through the valley of Naddle Beck, lying almost parallel to the Vale of St John. The Vale lies on the line of the rift, and the waters of Thirlmere used to drain along it in a perfectly logical, geographic manner, until the former Armboth Water and Leathes Water were submerged and its waters sent south over Dunmail Raise, for the benefit of the citizens of Manchester, myself among them.
Thirlmere used to be incredibly difficult to see. It’s long been Forestry Commission territory, just as is Ennerdale, but the Commission were even more officious here, guarding its privacy by thick plantations along the eastern shore, so that even when the main road ran by the lake itself, only the briefest glimpses of water were visible between the screen.
It’s always been possible to circumvent this by talking the old, rough road round the western shore of the lake, and even though the Commission has long since mended its ways, this is still the best for views.
There are two approaches to the west shore, the first of which can only be accessed from the northbound carriage, this being a section where, in the Sixties or thereabouts, a new smooth section was laid, and the old, narrow carriageway retained for south-bound traffic. Southbound travelers emerge from the end of the dual carriageway in time to take the second approach, which has the added bonus of crossing the dam itself, though you shouldn’t try stopping to look on the way.
At the head of the Lake, the two routes join, at the foot of Dunmail Raise. This is a complete doddle to drive, and on a sunny day there’s a lovely picture of Grasmere, in its Vale, below.
The road follows Grasmere’s shores anyway, before descending through wooodlands to pass it’s little sister, Rydal Water. Rydal is the thirteenth and last lake of the Tour, and all that remains is the short, but no doubt busy run into Ambleside. You may wish to schedule a day of minimal or no driving for the morrow.
For those not yet cramped out from all those hours behind the wheel, there is a slightly longer variation near the start of this leg, using the A66 to escape eastwards from Keswick in order to turn into and drive down the Vale of St John, instead of the main highway via Naddle Beck. Those who take this option should be aware that the St John’s road emerges south of the dam road to the west side of Thirlmere, requiring you to turn back on yourself if you plan on taking that route.
There’s bound to be those who will ask if it’s possible to tour all sixteen Lakes in a single day, but the geography is against it. East of the central rift, the valleys don’t fall into the spoke pattern of the west. Ullswater lies in Patterdale, on the far side of a ridge stretching to over 3,000′ high, and Haweswater can only be reached by car from the ‘outside’, coming in, and is as much of a cul-de-sac as Ennerdale Water and Wastwater.
It’s perfectly possible on the last leg to take a more circuitous route via Matterdale and Patterdale, arriving midway along Ullswater’s middle reach and returning to Ambleside via Kirkstone Pass and The Struggle, all of which cuts Thirlmere, Grasmere and Rydal Water out of the round, which rather defeats the object of the exercise. Of course, if you could somehow work out a way of starting the tour in Keswick and finishing in Ambleside of a second lap…
When time and personal motorised transport allow, this is the route I’m going to drive. In the meantime, the memories will have to satisfy me.