Winster & Lyth Valleys Drive
In the far south east corner of the Lake District, sandwiched between the southern half of Windermere lake and Kendal, you will find the picturesque Winster and Lyth valleys. Despite being within the National Park and so close to some very popular areas, these two adjacent valleys are not well known amongst visitors and you can always find some peace away from the crowds.
The valleys are quite similar, running north to south with picturesque low craggy hills and pastures in the upper reaches which eventually give way to some low-lying farmland protected from the sea at Morecambe Bay by embankments and artificial drainage. The main rivers are the River Winster in the Winster valley and the River Gilpin in the Lyth valley. Both valleys are guarded on their eastern flanks by impressive limestone outcrops, Scout Scar to the east of Lyth valley and Whitbarrow Scar to the east of Winster valley. Whitbarrow also forms the western boundary to the Lyth valley, with the hills overlooking Windermere lake bordering Winster valley to the west. Both valleys have some wonderful scenery and villages with whitewashed cottages, ancient churches and welcoming country pubs, along with the locally famous damsons. Spring is a particularly colourful time to go with daffodils, damson blossom and bluebells in full bloom.
This tour starts from the centre of Bowness-on-Windermere (0 miles; N54.36401, W2.92028). Take the A5074 opposite St Martin’s Church in the centre of town. As you leave the town there are some impressive properties and hotels, mostly hidden by trees overlooking the lake. The road soon swings away from the lake and starts descending into Winster valley where you are surrounded by the attractive wooded hills and pastures at the head of the valley. Shortly, you reach the pretty village of Winster which is strung out along the road. At the far end of the village is the Brown Horse Inn on the left (2.8 miles; N54.33393, W2.89591).
Turn right opposite the pub on a narrow minor road towards Bowland Bridge. In a short distance is Holy Trinity Church on the left in an attractive and peaceful setting. You will normally find these churches open to visitors during the day and they are worth a visit to enjoy the surroundings and tranquillity, especially as you may well have it to yourself. Beyond the church the road descends through woodland and fields before meeting the River Winster at an impressive old ford and footbridge on the right. Don’t cross the ford but continue on the minor road which shortly meets a T junction where you turn left for a short distance before turning right towards Bowland Bridge. This minor road continues through woodland but soon the views open out as you pass some pretty looking properties. Ahead you can see Whitbarrow Scar overlooking the valley in the distance. Soon meet a T junction and turn right. A slightly better road immediately enters the small village of Bowland Bridge (5.6 miles; N54.29852, W2.8965). Until recently the Hare & Hounds pub provided refreshment here but is unfortunately now closed indefinitely.
Continue past whitewashed cottages and over the River Winster before the road starts climbing quite steeply up Strawberry Bank hill. After a few bends you take the first left turn towards High Newton, although a quick diversion around the next bend brings you to the Masons Arms Inn with great views over the Winster valley. Back to the left turn, the narrow minor road continues with good views to the left before a short sharp climb and not far beyond take the first left turn towards Cartmel Fell Church.
Descend quite steeply through trees before taking a minor track on the left to Cartmel Fell Church (7.1 miles; N54.28486, W2.89771). The church, actually called St Anthony’s, is next to the parish hall in a very hidden woodland location where you can enjoy the surroundings with free parking and various footpaths in the vicinity.
As you leave the church, turn left and continue down the steep hill. Shortly, turn left at the T junction and the road descends to cross the open valley floor towards Whitbarrow Scar with good surrounding views. Cross the River Winster again before reaching a T junction where you turn right, soon followed by another T junction where you turn right again towards Witherslack. This narrow minor road follows the foot of Whitbarrow Scar with pleasant wooded sections and some more open sections with views to the right across the valley and left towards the cliffs of Whitbarrow Scar. Pass by some ancient properties at Pool Bank and soon enter thicker woodland. The road winds through the trees with the odd place to park and take a short stroll.
Before too long you see a big building on the left which is Witherslack Hall, now a school with adjacent equestrian centre. Beyond here a better road descends with good views left of the limestone cliffs flanking Whitbarrow. Soon enter the attractive village of Witherslack and the road gradually descends through the village. There are a couple of left turns in the village which can be taken to continue the route, otherwise continue a short distance to the far end of the village and a cross roads at the Derby Arms pub (12.5 miles; N54.23983, W2.85854).
Turn left opposite the pub to follow a good minor road alongside the main A590. This road was actually the original A590 before it was improved and makes a pleasant quiet drive towards the towering cliffs at the southern end of Whitbarrow. Continue straight on at the next cross roads and views of the limestone cliffs become more impressive as you pass underneath them before the road swings away and does eventually join the main A590. Turn left for a very short distance before taking the A5074 on the left. Now in the lower reaches of the Lyth valley you pass the Gilpin Bridge Inn on the left and cross the River Gilpin before taking a minor left turn beyond the car garage. This narrow road across the low lying valley soon reaches a T junction where you turn right and then shortly left opposite the Hare & Hounds pub.
The road climbs gradually through Levens village to the village hall (16.5 miles; N54.26863, W2.78823). A short distance along the road on the right, opposite the village hall, is the village shop. Although this drive passes through a number of villages, this is the only one with a shop!
Continue past the village hall and soon good views open up on the left over the lower Lyth valley. Just before a steep uphill, take the left turn towards Brigsteer. Another narrow road soon reaches Brigsteer Wood with some rough parking on the left (17.5 miles; N54.28143, W2.78621). There are some good woodland walks and you can also walk the short distance to Sizergh Castle via a footpath on the right. The road then descends through the woods and past a house with fantastic floral displays to reach Brigsteer village. If you ignore the left turn you drive through the pretty village to a T junction at the Wheatsheaf Inn (19.0 miles; N54.30025, W2.80008).
A short detour to the right is recommended here, to a wonderful lofty viewpoint at St John’s Church, Helsington. To do this, continue up the steep hill for approx 0.5 miles to take a minor right turn at a sharp left bend, signposted to the church. A short distance along this lane is parking outside the church with superb elevated views over the whole Lyth valley, with Lake District mountains away to the right and Morecambe Bay to the left (19.7 miles; N54.29343, W2.78701). A good viewfinder tells you what you are looking at. There are good walks up nearby Scout Scar or towards Sizergh Castle.
Retrace your steps back down the hill to Brigsteer and continue on past the Wheatsheaf Inn. The road descends to follow the valley floor which then becomes more undulating as it passes the limestone outcrops of Scout Scar which you can glimpse away to the right. Shortly, reach another pretty village at Underbarrow and a T junction in the village centre where you turn right and then immediate left opposite the Black Labrador pub towards Crook (22.3 miles; N54.32214, W2.81983).
At the far end of the village, you will find All Saints Church on the right. Beyond the church the road climbs through woodland and past Beckside golf course on the left. Ignore the left turn just beyond that and continue a short distance to turn left at the next T junction on the B5284 in Crook village (24.7 miles; N54.32214, W2.81983).
A much better road with a white line in the middle! Immediately pass the Sun Inn on the right and the road soon climbs steeply before reaching the village hall on the left and just beyond is St Catherine’s Church on the left with a small car park just before. There are pleasant surrounding views of the craggy hills and pastures of the upper River Gilpin. The B5284 continues on to pass the Wild Boar Hotel on the right, the Gilpin Hotel on the right and then Windermere golf course on the left before descending back to the A5074 where you turn right at the T junction and back into Bowness for some well earned refreshments (29.7 miles; N54.36401, W2.92028).