EXPLORE,  EXTRA,  Features,  January 2023

Swimming spot: Stickle Tarn

This out-and-back walk follows Stickle Ghyll to Stickle Tarn, where you will be rewarded not only with stunning views of Great Langdale but also a classic Lake District tarn for a wild swim. 

Hunkered under the brooding mass of Pavey Ark, Stickle Tarn is one of my favourite wild swimming spots. The walk may be steep but it is worth it! There are also opportunities to extend your adventures by enjoying a waterfall dip on your walk up, taking in the view from the top of Pavey Ark or combining your dip with a hike up all the Langdale Pikes.


Leave from the far end of the National Trust car park. The path starts behind the Sticklebarn café and public toilets. Follow the path past the bird feeding station (worth having a look to see who has stopped by for a feed – you might spy wrens, cuckoos and great spotted woodpeckers).


The well-made path soon heads uphill with the stream on your right. Almost immediately you will reach your first dipping opportunity – a series of waterfall pools.


You will shortly reach a wooden footbridge over the ghyll. This is the site of a hydro-electric scheme that powers the Sticklebarn café.


Once over the bridge, follow the path uphill. Cross a stile and then continue on the obvious path, which now starts to climb steeply with the stream on your left. Although the path is well- made there are sections that require a bit of scrambling, so be prepared!


After a final scramble (the biggest of the walk), cross the stream again, this time on large stepping stones. The path now winds steeply up again, the tops of Pavey Ark and Harrison Stickle coming into view. After a few minutes the path flattens out to reveal Stickle Tarn nestled under the peaks, which once formed the rim of an ancient volcano.


Swim time! A footpath meanders around the tarn and there are many easy entry points to be found. The far right- hand side of the tarn, where a small island is often used by gulls as a nesting site, is shallower and best avoided in favour of other spots which serve as swimmers’ beaches. The secluded far side, directly under Pavey Ark, is a nice spot for a skinny dip – watch out for climbers above you though!


After your swim you have many options. You can retrace your steps back down the path for refreshments at the Sticklebarn café, but it would be a shame to come all this way without taking in the view from the top of Pavey Ark. Continue along the path to the right-hand edge of the tarn and then either take the path that ascends the back of Pavey Ark, or brave Jack’s Rake, an exhilarating grade 1 scramble up the face of the peak (do not attempt in wet or snowy weather as a fall would be fatal). Once at the top take in the striking views across Great Langdale.

Plan your trip to Stickle Tarn

Getting there by car: The road to Great Langdale is narrow and gets busy and congested in summer. If you are visiting in high season consider setting off early to be sure of finding a parking place in the National Trust Stickle Ghyll car park (sat nav LA22 9JU).

Travelling by bus or bike: Alternatively, take the Stagecoach 516 from Ambleside and alight at Dungeon Ghyll, New Dungeon Ghyll Hotel stop. Whichever route cyclists take they will be rewarded with stunning views (and lung-busting climbs!) en route to Great Langdale.

Refreshments: The National Trust Sticklebarn café offers refreshments (check opening times). The Old Dungeon Ghyll is a great pub popular with climbers and walkers.

Camping: Stickle Tarn is a popular spot for wild camping in the summer – waking up for a sunrise dip is a glorious experience. Whether you bivvy or take a tent, always leave any wild camping spot better than you found it. Arrive late and leave early so you are as inconspicous as possible. Don’t light fires and take any litter (not just your own) home. A wild camp pitch should be above the highest fell wall and shouldn’t be noticed by anybody else. This means staying away from any buildings and other wild campers – if there are other tents pitched then move on and find another spot. A great alternative to wild camping is the National Trust campsite in Langdale, just across the road from the car park at Sticklebarn.

This article is from the January 2023 issue of Outdoor Swimmer. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.

To see all the online content from the January 2023 issue of Outdoor Swimmer, visit the 'Rest & Reflection' page.
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Jonathan is a year-round skins swimmer with a particular love of very cold water. He has competed in ice swimming competitions around the world. He is a qualified open water coach with a particular love of introducing new swimmers to the open water.