Newlands Valley Drive
The 16 drives on my website cover many of the finest parts of the Lake District but one part I didn’t manage to incorporate was the beautiful Newlands valley which is the most direct driving route between Keswick and Buttermere. This minor road, also known as Newlands Pass, must be one of the most scenic in the National Park and allows you to really appreciate this unspoilt and timeless valley which probably hasn’t changed much over many centuries and doesn’t get anything like as many visitors as nearby Borrowdale and Buttermere valleys.
The drive starts in Keswick and approaches Newlands valley via the village of Braithwaite, then following the western side of the valley where the views are more spectacular. This is different to the shortest route through Portinscale village where your sat nav might take you. This is still attractive but mostly through woodland so not as openly scenic. Both routes meet up half way along the valley for the push over Newlands Hause and down into Buttermere village.
Starting from Keswick Central car park (0 miles; N54.59931, W3.13794), turn right on the B5289 towards Keswick town centre. Soon meet a mini roundabout and turn left away from the town centre and over the River Greta. Continue through the outskirts of Keswick to a T junction with the main A66 where you turn left. Shortly there is a left turn signposted to Newlands valley via Portinscale but I recommend you ignore this and continue another 0.7 miles and take the next left turn to Braithwaite village. Travel through the peaceful village which hasn’t got much to see but there are a couple of pubs and a cafe. Take the first left turn to Newlands valley, then soon left again at the T junction, over Coledale Beck and past the village shop on the right before heading out of the village
As the narrow road hits open countryside, views are initially a little obstructed by hedges but there are glimpses on the left of lower Newlands valley and the mighty Skiddaw mountain range beyond. Stay on the main valley road towards Buttermere and pass through a wooded section where more valley views open up between trees on the left, including the nearby wooded slopes of Swinside hill.
Shortly, cross a cattle grid and leave the trees behind with wonderful valley and mountain views ahead. To the right, the slopes of Barrow fell rise upwards very steeply and beyond that are more steep slopes leading up to Rowling End and Causey Pike. Further left is the unmistakeable hump of Cat Bells fell, a very popular walk with Derwent Water on the other side. To the right of that are higher peaks of Maiden Moor and High Spy which all form part of the Newlands Horseshoe, an epic mountain walk around the Newlands valley. The road is a little above the valley bottom on the left which is very green and attractive, a pastoral delight with a mountainous backdrop. There are a few places where you can park and admire the views, especially a bigger roadside parking area on the left (4.0 miles; N54.58488, W3.18874). Beware not to obstruct passing places as they are often needed on this narrow road.
Soon, pass a farm on the left and not far beyond the road from Portinscale joins us on the left. A short 0.8 mile detour left here across the valley might be in order if you fancy refreshments at the nearby Swinside Inn, the only pub in the valley and fabulous views from the beer garden. Otherwise continue up the valley road towards Buttermere and soon there is a short and sharp S bend ascent past a house and then meet a road junction on the left, signposted to Newlands Church. If you take this left turn it is 0.5 miles down the hill and across Newlands Beck to a small car park from where you can visit the charming Newlands Church nearby, (5.8 miles; N54.56389, W3.18989).
The church and this area have close connections with Beatrix Potter who spent many holidays at nearby Lingholm on Derwent Water and enjoyed exploring this valley. In 1905 Beatrix published her well known children’s illustrated story, ‘The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle’ which is based around Newlands valley and the nearby hamlet of Little Town. Beatrix was friendly with the local Vicar and his daughter Lucy who inspired the character Lucie in the book. Well before that, William Wordsworth also visited the area in 1826 and was so impressed with the appearance of the church through trees, that he penned a poem ‘To May’.
It’s hard to believe now but the valley was also once heavily mined and quarried going back many centuries. Lead, copper, silver and even gold have been extracted over the years and you can still see remnants of the old mines around the valley. One of the more famous was the Goldscope lead mine which was in the small valley just south of the church and dates back to the 1500’s when German miners were brought in to develop it. This and many of the mines in the area closed in the late 1800’s as they became unviable.
Return to the main valley road and turn left towards Buttermere. The road continues to climb and hug the steep slopes on the right as it turns away from Newlands Beck valley and follows Keskadale Beck valley all the way to Newlands Hause road summit. This section has some wonderful open views across the valley with various mountain peaks and ridges towering over the lush fields. A very unspoilt scene with just the odd whitewashed farmhouse, although the sheep have had a lot to do with maintaining such a green and open space!
Soon reach another steep S bend ascent past Keskadale Farm, beyond here the Newlands Pass road becomes more open and the valley narrows as you approach its head. There is a steeper section in the final push up to Newlands Hause at 333m altitude where you will find a fair bit of free parking on both sides of the road at the summit area, (9.4 miles; N54.54746, W3.24945). It is definitely worth stopping here for fantastic views back down the valley and also in the opposite direction towards Buttermere. Nearby you can see Moss Force waterfall falling from high above which is impressive after rain. There is a short rough path which will take you closer. The skyline is full of mountains in all directions, the highest you can see is Robinson to the left of Moss Force waterfall at 737m altitude. Either side of the road, relatively short but steep walks up Knott Rigg fell to the north or High Snockrigg fell to the south will give superb views over the surrounding area.
From Newlands Hause road summit it is just over a mile to Buttermere village but requires over 200m of descent. The first section is quite steep and narrow before a more gradual descent followed by a final steep descent to Buttermere. The road hugs the steep slopes of High Snockrigg fell on the left with fabulous views ahead and right, including Mill Beck down below and Whiteless Pike across the valley. Looking back up the valley on the right are the steep craggy slopes of Crag Hill. The open edge on the right might be a bit unnerving so the driver should concentrate on the road! Ahead you can see the mountains on the opposite side of Buttermere valley, including Red Pike and High Stile. There is free roadside parking on the right as you approach Buttermere before meeting the B5289 Buttermere valley road at a T junction. Turn right here, past the small quaint church of St James, and down to Buttermere village where there is parking behind the Bridge Hotel on the left, (9.4 miles; N54.54097, W3.27751). After all that scenery you might be ready for some well-earned refreshments and there are 2 pubs and 2 cafes nearby.
From here you can return to Keswick the same way or link up with the Keswick – Borrowdale – Buttermere drive, either heading north past Crummock Water and back via Whinlatter Pass, or south past Buttermere lake, over Honister Pass and back via Borrowdale.