Favourite Tarns in the Lake District

June 5, 2023

One of the great pleasures of walking in the Lake District are the mountain tarns. Created by the work of glaciers around 15,000 years ago the tarns are the location of many of the most picturesque views. These are my favourites.

The tarns in the Lake District (known as corries in Scotland, cwms in Wales) are formed when a glacier scours a dip in the land. They traditionally (but not always) are quite deep, have a head wall on one end and a moraine/dam near the outflow. Many of the walks in the mountains include at least one. Not only are they great to look at, add to the scenery but they are also becoming increasingly popular to swim in. I prefer the looking though!

There are estimated to be 197 tarns in the Lake District. These are my favourite 12 in no particular order. Some are well known, some less so. It is worth visiting them all.

Goats Water, Coniston Old Man

Nestled between Dow Crag and Coniston Old Man the approach is via the Walna Scar Road and Coniston Village.

Goats Water under Dow Crag
Goats Water under Dow Crag

The Best walk which includes Goats Water is the Coniston Round

Beacon Tarn, Coniston

Beacon Tarn is quite a large body of water to the south of Coniston. It is a peaceful place surrounded by rocky knolls, hidden hollows and a sense of tranquility. I have swum in this one!

The Best walk that visits Beacon Tarn is Woodland Fell and Beacon Tarn

Small Water, Haweswater

Access both the Kentmere Round and High Street via Small Water at the Head of Haweswater.

Small Water above Haweswater
Small Water above Haweswater

The Best walk which includes Small Water is the Head of Haweswater

Scales Tarn, Blencathra

Scales Tarn is tucked away on the approach to Sharp Edge, the most dramatic climb of Blencathra. An easier climb heads south from the tarn.

Scales Tarn on Blencathra
Scales Tarn on Blencathra

The best walk which includes Scales Tarn is Blencathra via Sharp Edge

Red Tarn, Helvellyn

Tucked away under Helvellyn, Red Tarn is enclosed between Striding and Swirral Edges. It is a geographers dream.

Striding Edge and Red Tarn
Striding Edge and Red Tarn

The Best Walk which includes Red Tarn is Helvellyn via Striding Edge

Angle Tarn, Patterdale

Angle Tarn is tucked away on the route from Patterdale to High Street. It is shallower and more sprawling than many, I think it is called ‘freeform’ in swimming pool parlance!

Angle Tarn with Angle Pikes
Angle Tarn with Angle Pikes

The best walk including Angle Tarn is Angletarn Crags

Blind Tarn, Coniston Old Man

Blind Tarn is a small circle of water tucked on the wide flanks of Coniston Old Man. It looks and is a perfect spot, I love it.

Blind Tarn near Coniston Old Man
Blind Tarn near Coniston Old Man

The Best walk which includes Blind Tarn is Dow Crag via Seathwaite Tarn

Devoke Water, Eskdale

A large body of water midway between Eskdale and the Duddon Valley, Devoke Water is rarely visited but is a place of quiet and peace surrounded by low hills.

Devoke Water
Devoke Water

For more information how to enjoy this visit the Devoke Water walk

Sprinkling Tarn, Borrowdale

Sprinkling Tarn is a rugged tarn above the head of Borrowdale. It is one of the finest places in England to wild camp.

Wild Camp at Sprinkling Tarn
Wild Camp at Sprinkling Tarn

For the story of a wild camp at Sprinkling Tarn follow this link

Blea Tarn , Eskdale

These two tarns are hidden away in the rarely visited lands between Eskdale and Wasdale. Throw in Eel and Stoney Tarns and it is perfect for wild swimming enthusiasts.

The best walk to these 4 Eskdale tarns is Burnmoor and Blea Tarn walk

Dock Tarn, Borrowdale

Between Watendlath and Rosthwaite in Borrowdale is an attractive tarn in some rugged countryside. It is perfect for a family outing with the fell of Great Crag above.

Dock Tarn
Dock Tarn

The best walk for that visits the tarn is Dock Tarn and Watendlath

Styhead Tarn, Borrowdale

Styhead Tarn is one of the most visited tarns in the Lake District with good reason. It is easy to get to from Borrowdale and is in a beautiful setting. Great Gable is the steep and dominating mountain to the west.

Styhead Tarn
Styhead Tarn

The best walk that includes a visit to the tarn is Styhead and Sprinkling Tarn

Stickle Tarn, Langdale Pikes

Stickle Tarn lies under the great head wall of Pavey Ark and reached after the steep climb from the valley. The tarn is perfectly formed, popular with many idyllic picnic spots.

Stickle Tarn from Harrison Stickle
Stickle Tarn from Harrison Stickle

The best walk that includes Stickle Tarn is The Langdale Pikes

Other Tarns

Many famous locals had their own personal favourites. Beatrix Potter always enjoyed Moss Eccles Tarn near Hawkshead, William Wordsworth often visited Loughrigg Tarn whilst the most famous of all, Alfred Wainwright (tarn choice not person!) had his ashes scattered at Inonimate Tarn on Haystacks. The Victorians were big walkers and many a Sunday afternoon was spent visiting Easedale Tarn, near Grasmere, Bowscale Tarn near Blencathra and School Knotts near Windermere.

Enjoy your walking


For more of my ‘Best Of…’ walks follow this link


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