Elter Water is on the 516 bus route which runs from Kendal, via Windermere and Ambleside, to Dungeon Ghyll. Alight at Skelwith Bridge and walk just over half a mile north along the River Brathay or alight at Elterwater village and walk half a mile along the Cumbria Way to reach the water. Parking is available at the National Trust car park (parking charge) in Elterwater village.
» Chesters By The River, Skelwith Bridge. For post-Elter Water refreshment this is just the ticket, a short walk away along a good path by the River Brathay. It serves a vegetarian menu which is so deliciously creative that this meat-eater did not notice the lack of meat for several visits.
» The Britannia Inn, Elterwater village. Traditional pub. » The Eltermere Inn, Elterwater village. For a little more luxury.
General notes on Elter Water
Elter Water is privately owned and permission to swim is not explicit, so if you are asked to leave the water please do so.
Elter Water is something of a grey area for swimmers. Its situation is undeniably pretty and the backdrop of Great Langdale is much photographed. While researching Elter Water I failed to get a definitive answer on permission for swimming there as the water is privately owned. Plenty of people do swim there though, so I diligently attempted to check it out for myself. Fed by the River Brathay and Great Langdale Beck, Elter Water reaches a maximum depth of seven and a half metres. It’s made up of three mysterious pools, only one of which you can get a good look at as a pedestrian.
Elter Water Map – Elter Water Lake District Camping Guide Photo Gallery
The swampy fringes make it impossible to get close to the edge of the water. For swimmers, the only realistic entry point is at the mouth of the river where it leaves the largest pool. Limited access is not the only problem facing swimmers in this lake. Beneath the surface, dense elodea (the fancy name for waterweed) bars the way. Then there’s a thick layer of silt lining the lake bed which sucks your ankles like quicksand. In short, swimming in Elter Water is not an attractive proposition.
I’m not a fan of wading through mud or silt to get into any water. Not only does it feel desperately unpleasant, I worry I am disrupting the ecosystem and organisms within it. I prefer to leave it be and go elsewhere. I felt Elter Water deserved an explanation, and an excuse to use the photos we took on a cold winter morning. By way of apology to the stoic swimmers Anna, Ben, Emma, Fay, Faye and Sarah who braved the sludge, I have included my research for completists, and for those that won’t be told. For swimmers intent on ticking this lake off their list, the mouth of the largest pool is your best option.
The Cumbria Way passes the edge of the pool and you are bound to have an audience here. To negotiate the tricky entrance to the water, try floating forwards and sculling over the worst of it. Out in the middle though, the water is fresh and cool, benefiting from the steady top-up from the River Brathay and Great Langdale Beck. My attempts to explore the two smaller pools have ended in retreat. The narrow channels are bottlenecks of shallow water edged with reeds, making onward progress difficult. More than once I have come face to beak with a swan and being at eye level with them makes me incredibly reticent to argue.
Incidentally, the name Elter Water derives from the Old Norse for ‘the lake frequented by swans’ and it remains the best place to observe whooper swans as they spend the winter on the lake. My best experience of swimming in Elter Water was a crisp October morning with Anne and Lottie. We left the Cumbria Way and bushwhacked through undergrowth to reach a channel of the Great Langdale Beck. After wading most of the way we made it to a pebble beach in a northern corner of Elter Water and plunged towards the middle of the lake. One for intrepid swimmers.