There are a few car parks within walking distance of Rydal Water. There are two car parks at White Moss (parking charge), one on either side of the A591. The one to the south of the A591 has toilets including disabled facilities and compacted stone paths to Grasmere and Rydal Water. Both car parks are controlled by number plate recognition, pay on exit. The small car park at Pelter Bridge (parking charge) is accessed over a humpback bridge, which may not be suitable for low vehicles. The car parks fill up quickly and the bus is often the best option – regular services from Keswick via Grasmere and from Ambleside stop at the end of the lane leading to Rydal Hall. Cross the road and cut through the drystone wall opposite the Badger Bar. Access to the water is a short hop over the bridge.
Refreshments » Glen Rothay Hotel and Badger Bar, Rydal. The bar has a hearty menu and great selection of burgers. The rock feature in the toilets is something of a visitor attraction too.
» Rydal River Cafe, Rydal. Creative vegetarian and vegan menu served in Rydal Lodge or in the peaceful riverside garden. Signposted from near the river bridge by Rydal Oak.
» Old School Room Tea Shop, Rydal Hall. The tea shop serves soups, sandwiches and cake. Take time to walk in the gardens (free entry; donations towards garden maintenance greatly appreciated) or see one of the regular art exhibitions.
Rydal Water Map Rydal Water, Lake District Travel Guide Photo Gallery
Rydal Water is a little gem. It takes all the good things about swimming wild in the Lake District and distils them into one concentrated experience. There is a navigable stretch of river, islands to explore, lakeside paths and craggy fell views. Best of all, in my opinion, it has a terrific pub just across the road for postswim libations. Despite the proximity of the A591 along the northern shore I find Rydal Water peaceful and interesting, a real nature lover’s lake. Rydal Water has its own pair of swans, vicious maneating beasts, that patrol the mouth of the river where it enters the lake.
Kingfishers flit up the Rothay and frequent the quiet private corners of the north basin. Herons stalk the reed fringes and Canada geese noisily make their presence felt. If you are really lucky, you might see an otter, particularly in the southern reaches. The twin lakes of Grasmere and Rydal Water share many similar characteristics. They are both shallow, no more than twenty-five metres in the deepest section. Loughrigg Fell sits astride both lakes and offers several pleasant routes between the two on foot or on wheels. A rare feature for rural Cumbria is an accessible Miles without Stiles path for wheelchair users linking the two lakes and giving access right to the edge of the water.
The River Rothay drains from Grasmere into Rydal Water and in the interests of research I decided to try and swim the river from one lake to the other. I enlisted the help of my friend Anna and we set off, rather drastically overestimating the depth of the river. Defeated after several non-negotiable rocky falls, we slopped along the path to a wide bend further down the river and disrupted the picnic of a conservative-looking family who were spread out on the grass. At this bend the river deepens dramatically – there is a handy sign indicating DANGER Deep Water.
Here we stepped off a shelf and allowed the gentle current to take us down the short stretch of river, where it is just wide enough to swim side by side. Anna and I glided along, emerging into Rydal through the reeds, the view suddenly opening up in front of us. This remains a highlight of my swimming adventures.
My number one place to swim in autumn is where a big old oak tree leans over the water at the end of the lake, its branches reaching out over the surface and autumn gold reflecting on the water. A crag juts out from the shore creating a small, shallow bay that fills with lilies in summer.
On the other side of the exposed rock and gnarled tree roots there are several more tall oak trees and a nice patch of grass for picnics. It’s off the path and fairly private, although the road is quite close, just a stone’s throw across the mouth of the river. A stone wall shades this changing spot from most traffic, just watch out for snap-happy tourists on the doubledecker bus! Take care immediately after periods of rain which speed up the flow of water leaving the lake here. More than once I’ve had to chase a wetsuit making a break for freedom this way. It’s not enough to sweep a swimmer down to Windermere, and remains shallow enough to stand in, but it might catch out paddlers or small children.
Oak Southern shore It is a short walk from Pelter Bridge Car Park to the southern shore of Rydal Water, where there are several popular beaches. It’s a rare day that you don’t see a swimmer here, even in winter.
The gently climbing bridleway of compacted stone offers good access to Rydal Water, and on to Grasmere, for those with limited mobility or pushing buggies. The car park is small and fills up quickly but has the added bonus of an ice cream van most days in summer. The path runs close to the water and you won’t be short of an audience. Stepping into the water is initially rocky but it soon deepens. There are four or five islands on Rydal and the two largest are opposite the southern shore, neatly dividing the lake into two basins. The water is deep enough to navigate between the two main islands (Heron Island and Little Isle) and, outside of nesting season, it is easy to get out and explore. Look out for a ruined hog house and the final resting place of a dog named Crusoe.
One of the pleasures of Rydal Water is how mild it is.
Being a small, shallow lake it warms up quicker than most and retains its relative ‘warmth’ fairly late in the season. A trick to make any lake feel warm is to swim into it via a feeding river. As previously mentioned, you can swim into Rydal Water from the River Rothay. It’s a wonderful safari swim and over far too soon for my liking. As you approach the lake, dense reeds appear to bar your way but there are a couple of exit channels through. The mouth of the water is shallow and is best avoided after a dry spell as the lake bed is very soft. Disturbing the thick silt releases a sulphurous pong that can leave you eyeing your companions suspiciously. You should bear in mind that you are committed to swimming at least 400 metres to reach the shore and it’s best suited to a oneway trip unless you can swim back up the river against the current. Another advisory is the man-eating swans who nest in the reeds. During nesting season you should give them a very wide berth and avoid disturbing them, but at most other times of year they will merely glide past with a supercilious billow of their wings.