There are some walks in the Lake District that everyone with an interest in the outdoors really ought to do, and the Kentmere Horseshoe - or Kentmere Round as it is also known - is one of them. The walking is varied, the views are extensive, and there are numerous summits to enjoy. Walking the route from Kendal turns it into a real challenge, but this is certainly not a head-down test of endurance. The market town gives way to a scenic walk beside the River Kent up into the narrow valley of Kentmere, before joining the classic Horseshoe and including the oft-omitted peaks of Thornthwaite Crag and High Street, both of which are entirely worth the extra effort. Descending into Longsleddale, the walk now follows this tranquil yet rugged valley south, then takes a series of paths across the south-eastern part of Potter Fell back to Burneside and the return into Kendal.
See our article on this route
metres / Distance
SD5147892643 From the Town Hall, head north along Stricklandgate, then turn right at the corner with Sandes Avenue. Just before the bridge across the River Kent, turn left and follow the path beside the river until you emerge on to a pavement beside Burneside Road. You can just follow this all the way to Burneside, but to miss out a section by the road, turn right on to Kentrigg and follow the footpath to rejoin the road. In Burneside, take the back road behind Junction Cottages, then turn right to cross New Road bridge. Follow this road to the edge of the village and you'll see a sign on the left for the Dales Way.
SD5083295898 Follow the Dales Way to Bowston, then stay this side of the river and follow the path past the weir at Cowan Head and into the tiny Woodland Trust site at Beckmickle Ing. When the road is met, turn left and after passing the woodland, turn left again on to the footpath to Staveley. Rejoin the road beside the river, then cross the river at Barley Bridge and follow this road north, staying to the west of the river, for 2.5km. This may seem like a long stretch along the road, but you won't see much traffic here and - trust me - this is just a small part of the day. When the road bends left at Browfoot, head downhill on the bridleway to the right, then take the footpath to Sawmill Cottage, past Kentmere Tarn, to Kentmere Hall. A waymarked footpath through fields leads to the byway up to Garburn Pass, which is part of the standard Kentmere Horseshoe route.
NY4542904440 Head uphill on the byway, then after the highest part of the pass turn right on the footpath up to Yoke. Just follow this obvious path now, over the summits of Yoke, Ill Bell and Froswick. After descending Froswick, head up to the large beacon atop Thornthwaite Crag, then without losing much height continue to High Street - the Everest of the Far Eastern Fells and a respectable distance from Kendal for a day's walk. Enjoy the view and revel in your achievement, or quietly contemplate the return journey, before heading south and following the path up to Mardale Ill Bell.
NY4476210116 The steep descent to Nan Bield Pass may be a bit of a test for the knees, but there is a comfortable stone shelter in the col where you can sit down and look to the north. The last real ascent, up to Harter Fell, is quite steep, but you'll be used to that sort of thing by now. From the summit cairn, made not simply of stones but with aged metallic fence posts jutting out from every angle, follow the fence south. The eastern part of the Horseshoe is much flatter than the western side, and the summit of Kentmere Pike is reached with minimal upward effort. Keep heading over the highest points now, over Goat Scar and Shipman Knotts, to join the byway linking the serene valleys of Kentmere and Longsleddale.
NY4758504974 Turn left on to the gravelly byway, then after 800m or so, take the footpath down to Till's Hole and join the bridleway beside the River Sprint. The next 7.5km are on this long bridleway, always staying just to the west of the river, following the valley down to Garnett Bridge.
SD5224299348 At Garnett Bridge Wood, take the track that zigzags up and makes the most of this tiny patch of woodland, then follow the vague path to join the track up to Birk Rigg. About 500m along this track, turn left on to the footpath heading downhill, then right on the Potter Fell Road. After 400m, take the bridleway downhill past Shepherd Green and follow the path to the Garnett Bridge Road. Turn right on this road to return to Burneside, then retrace your steps from the beginning of the day.
Start I have described this route from Kendal Town Hall, but you can start from anywhere in Kendal. Just head north, to join the riverside path on the west bank of the River Kent. You could of course start in Burneside if you wanted to make the route a couple of miles shorter, SD514927; Finish , SD514927
Nearest town: Kendal
Terrain: Pavements beside roads and paved riverside paths to Burneside, then along obvious footpaths beside the River Kent. A bit along minor roads - almost traffic-free - either side of Staveley, then path up to Kentmere. The Kentmere Horseshoe is a well-walked path, although the eastern part, from Harter Fell down to the byway leading into Longsleddale is less clear and can be boggy. Easy walking along a bridleway through Longsleddale is followed by a track zigzagging up through woodland, then across towards Potter Fell, and a bridleway past the farm down to the road.
Seasonal variations: The Kentmere Horseshoe can be an exposed place in bad weather. This is going to be a big day, so it's best done when the days are long. Having said that, the first and last few hours are at low altitude so starting in - or being overtaken by - darkness won't necessarily cause problems.
Public transport: Kendal railway station is just one stop away from Oxenholme Lake District on the West Coast Main Line. There is also a station in Burneside but, as mentioned above, that will reduce the length of the walk by a few miles. Kendal is well served with buses and the bus station is about a five-minute walk from the Town Hall.
Thanks so much for adding this, Chris. I was looking for a lower down walk one day this summer as the tops were covered in cloud and the walk to Kentmere reservoir and back was thoroughly enjoyable. I hope it's not considered a thread jack to post pics of that here. Just as an added bit of context as to what is available in the area near Kentmere:)