Forestry Commission focus: Whinlatter
Walk among the wooded peaks of England’s only mountain forest at Forestry Commission England’s Whinlatter.
Walk among the wooded peaks of England’s only mountain forest.
UP IN THE north of the Lake District National Park, west of Keswick and close to Bassenthwaite Lake, a magical forest climbs the fells. 1,200 hectares of evergreen Sitka spruce and deciduous European larch rise to over 1,500 feet, topped with breathtaking views across Cumbria’s dales and mountains. Streams tumble down the wooded slopes, frothing over mossy boulders, and alluring paths lead you into the shadowy beauty of this mountain forest.
Whinlatter was one of the first sites bought by the newly formed Forestry Commission in 1919 and some of the trees you’ll see are from the initial plantings in 1920. Today, broadleaf species are being grown beside the streams and in conservation areas, but this is still very much a conifer woodland and a sanctuary for one of Britain’s favourite animals: the red squirrel. Lucky walkers might glimpse their tufted ears and bouffant tails as they race along the branches (see panel right).
Look too for crossbills flitting in groups through the treetops. These birds are perfectly adapted to the forest, with a bill that’s crossed at the tip – hence the name – to get small seeds from conifer cones. Siskins relish the seeds too and these acrobatic yellow and black finches will sometimes hang upside down as they forage, while coal tits and other small birds appear frequently at the feeders by the visitor centre.
A walk through the forest is alive with sound, from birdsong to the drumming of great spotted woodpeckers to nuthatches cracking at nuts they’ve first wedged in the bark of a tree trunk. A sudden hush or a switch to alarm calls may mean a bird of prey is nearby. Buzzards and sparrowhawks are the most common species here, but kestrels and merlin can be seen too, and the forest is home to the Lake District Osprey Project which protects one of Britain’s rarest raptors (see panel right).
Three waymarked walking trails start from the visitor centre, where you’ll also find a café, shop, Wildplay trail and a GoApe adventure up in the canopy.
The popular Two Gills Trail has spectacular views and its red markers largely follow the forest road network, making its 1 ¾ miles straightforward to negotiate. The Comb Beck Trail is the same length, but it winds through glades and beside streams on more rugged paths signed in blue. On the section by Comb Gill, look out for an ancient sheepfold and a disused dam: this was once a source of power for the mines deep in the mountain below.
The Seat How Summit Trail is the longest and the steepest of the routes,
“On a clear day you can see the mountain ranges of Skiddaw and Helvellyn, and down to the bright reflections of Derwentwater and Bassenthwaite Lake.”
a 3 ½ mile circular walk waymarked in green that climbs up through the trees and heather moorland to panoramas across the conifer tops. On a clear day you can see the mountain ranges of Skiddaw and Helvellyn, and down to the bright reflections of Derwentwater and Bassenthwaite Lake.
The trio of paths interlink so you can walk one, or mix and match to explore further. For even more of a challenge, you can follow numbered junction markers up through the conifers and out onto the open fells above on a 5-mile circuit to the summits of Lord’s Seat and Barf, the latter famous for the whitewashed rock on its flank known as the Bishop of Barf. Or you can explore the southern part of Whinlatter as you climb up to the summit of Grisedale Pike at 2593 feet above sea level, with extensive views across the full sweep of this mountain forest.
WALK HERE: Turn to Walk 14 in this issue for a route to Seat How Summit.
Below: A perfect spot for a picnic in Whinlatter Forest.
Left: Look for brickred male crossbills in the trees; the females have a greener hue.
Top: Up high in the mountain forest with a panorama across the treetops to the Vale of Keswick, with the Helvellyn range rising beyond. Above: Immersed in the cool and shadowy depths of Whinlatter Forest.