The last days of summer on Derwent Water
My youngest son and I had been planning to get away for a canoe-camping trip at some point in the summer, but we were now in the last week of the summer holidays and nearly out of time. I had in mind a trip down the Wye, but this was his treat.
Talking through trip ideas, spending a night on an island in a lake fired his imagination, so we decided on a repeat of a trip I had done last year, an overnighter on St Herbert’s Isle in Derwentwater.
We took the cronje – this was what it was designed for after all. Loaded with all the necessaries, and some less-than-necessary items, we drove north through patchy rain, hoping the forecast ‘rain clearing southwards through the morning’ was correct.
And despite it being a bit blowy over the A66, so it proved. Arriving at Kettleshulme carpark, the rain had gone, leaving cottonwool clouds and a light breeze. Its been a long time since I visited the Lake District in the summer, and I was delighted to see the fells flanked with purple heather.
The carpark was quite busy with a large party on the beach and a few camper vans parked up, but we found a handy space near the water and were soon loading the boat on the shingle. It was a bit alarming how much stuff we had with us, but as well as kit for a comfortable night on an island, we also had photographic gear and a drone. With no portages on this trip we didn’t have to worry about weight.
Describing the lake to my son during the planning stage, I think I had misled him a bit, saying that Derwentwater wasn’t that big a lake, and that we would see most of it twice in our two days. These things are relative though, and seeing it for himself, he was suitably impressed. ‘Wowzer!’ was his first comment.
With plenty of time in hand, we chose to head a little way upstream along the Upper Derwent to start with. Its sheltered waters would give us a chance to get used to the loaded boat before heading out into the open lake.
We spent a while exploring the small islets of the Upper Derwent delta. The water, clear and calm, was shallow enough to wade well out into the lake. Looking north we could see the sun shining down on Lonscale Fell at the far end.
As can be seen, we hadn’t packed light, but when you think about it, theres not a huge difference in volume of kit for camping one night or five. The boat coped with the load without a problem, the only difference I noticed being slower acceleration and more momentum once going.
The good weather brought with it a relaxed holiday mood. We didn’t need to rush, but could enjoy small pleasures like the play of light on a wet paddle.
The banks were busy with picnicking families as we passed the Lodore footbridge. Boisterous teens bombed off the bridge, and dogs swam after thrown sticks, while two younger children raced us along the river bank. A family afloat in three tandems was also heading upstream, and although we weren’t consciously trying to travel fast, we quickly overhauled them.
A small drop near Ingshead Hole was our turning point – we could have lined up it but didn’t feel the need. Turning away, we let the current do the work as we lazed in the dappled sunshine.
It didn’t seem very long before we were approaching the footbridge again. It wasn’t quite so busy now, though we did still have to keep an eye out for jumpers. We chose a line through the shallower part of the river to make sure we stayed out of their way.
The family we passed earlier must have stayed to play by the bridge. Once again we easily passed them with a cheery wave. The cronje does seem to be a fast boat.
A slight headwind was blowing clouds across the sun as we re-entered the lake, but nothing too strong. We turned left through the islets and headed for the western shore, cutting across the mouth of the Great Bay.
The view up Borrowdale remains one of my favourites in the Lakes.
Looking along the length of Derwentwater, I pointed out St Herbert’s Isle, a rounded mound of trees in the middle of the lake. Skiddaw’s summit just nudged the clouds that scattered shadows over the heather.
We made our way down the western shore, enjoying the sunshine as the afternoon moved towards evening. Slanting sunlight highlighted the heater on Otter Island as we passed by.
There was far less traffic on this side of the lake. The ferries were still carrying their cargo of walkers from jetty to jetty, but very few small watercraft were out – a bit of a surprise considering the lovely paddling conditions.
This was one of a pair of touring kayaks that crossed our bow as we headed north.
Coming by Hawes End, we made a lazy transit over to St Herbert’s Isle, circumnavigating it first afloat then ashore.
We landed at the north end on the shingle by my usual camping spot. Exploring our refuge for the night, we found a couple of kayakers hammocking and fishing on the other side of the island, but they headed home before dark.
We had the place to ourselves.
Before the light started to fade, we set up camp, our small tent sitting nicely on a flat patch of soft leaf litter that promised a comfortable night. A meal cooked and consumed, tea in hand, I sat on the shingle by the water’s edge watching the sunset develop, while my son took his camera off on a quest for his own images.
The last sunset of the summer gently lit the flanks of Carl Side and Little Man, while Skiddaw hid in cloud.
The wind dropped to next to nothing, and as the sun dipped to the horizon, I decided to send the drone up to get a different perspective. The elevated viewpoint caught more reflected colour on the water.
A drone has to be the ultimate selfie stick!
The sunset developed very nicely, gentle under-lighting bringing delicate hues to the clouds and subtle shading to the hills. A slow exposure softened the water a little, but I decided against allowing it to lose all texture.
I was getting more confident with the drone, and sent it high and wide to show our island in its isolated glory.
The light now fading fast, it was time to pack up the camera gear, light the storm lantern and brew up again. A last cup of tea, a chapter or two read by lamp light and then to bed.
Waking early, as I tend to do when under canvas, I found the first day of autumn dawning calm and quiet. I love this time of the day, though I rarely see it. The cool blue light of the moments before sunrise complemented the mist lying on the lake. I wandered the shore, enjoying the mood.
I found my foreground from the previous sunset, and made another image looking towards Keswick, expressing a completely different mood to last night.
Derwentwater lay sleeping still under the calm air. Causey Pike and Catbells were echoed almost perfectly below the shoreline.
As the sun rose above the horizon, Blencathra began to catch some side-lighting, while mist drifted from behind Rampsholme Island.
This island always seems to attract rooting birds. Last year, when I visited in the Spring, it was housing raucous crowds of Brent geese. At least the cormarants sat untidily in the trees like so many black plastic bin bags caught in the branches were quiet.
We had a deadline to return to the carpark in order to buy another day ticket before the warden came round, so we had breakfast and broke camp, allowing enough time to round Ramspholme and traverse the east bank.
The sun was properly up by now, but the lake remained quiet. No other boats were moving, and ours was nearly the only wake disturbing the surface.
Some of the birdlife were beginning to stir. This mallard was one of the early birds, quite unfazed by our passage.
Others were even less bothered as we went by. These two didn’t turn a feather…
The southward view to Borrowdale was magnificent. I couldn’t help but reach for my camera.
The cormorants were beginning to look a bit more lively now, but still in need of a coffee or two to get them going.
The conditions were such that sometimes it felt right just to stop and drift, enjoying the situation sat in a small boat on a big piece of water.
Some cats paws of wind tickled the surface into motion in places now, giving a different play of light across the water. The mist had cleared, but wisps of cloud still clung to the hillside.
The view down Borrowdale still dominated my vision. The gentle ripples added interest to the reflections.
Reaching Kettleshulme, I at last managed to look the other way. Skiddaw still had its head in the clouds, but it looked like it would soon be clear.
We came ashore, renewed our parking ticket, and dumped the camping gear in the car. It was still early, and we decided we would do another lap of the lake, taking in the cafe at Nichols End for a second breakfast.
We hadn’t seen another soul on the water, so I decided to fly the drone again while things were quiet.
Skiddaw now formed the backdrop to our journey as a big sky was reflected on the water.
A drone shot is a good way to check you have the trim of your canoe right! Even if I say so myself, the cronje is a handsome boat.
Its nice to get a different perspective on a familiar place, and the drone certainly gives that. Looking at this image, I can feel some of my son’s sense of wonder at the scale of the landscape we were crossing.
As we made our way passed Victoria Bay towards Nichols End, I couldn’t resist one last image of Borrowdale. Our wash stirred the water as I made the shot over our stern.
Conifer trunks stood out strongly against the dark shadows as we made our way along the shore.
More birdlife was active now. This group of female red-breasted mergansers gossiped as they patrolled.
There were more signs of human activity along the lake now. A long jetty shielded the Lingholm Islands, and along the lakeside path we saw a group walking alpacas on leads – not something I see every day!
We began to see more people on the water now, as we neared the waterspouts centres and hire bases at this end of the lake. This group seemed to be missing something essential though as they crossed between islands.
It’s something of a landscape photography cliche to shoot images of jetties, but I couldn’t resist a reverse perspective as we went by.
This boathouse had seen better days, but had a great location. Hopefully the fencing indicates it will soon be renovated and back in use.
It was now mid-morning, and we finally saw a passenger ferry. It seemed a rather late start, but maybe they were waiting for customers at Keswick before making their rounds. This one was certainly well loaded at the bow.
Reaching Nichols End, we disembarked ourselves to enjoy a leisurely second breakfast. We felt like we’d earned it, and a full English went down very nicely.
Refuelled, we set out on our final leg, crossing over to Isthmus Bay and rounding Derwent Isle. As we did so, I noticed a couple on SUPs well out on the lake, doing far better than the group on a taster session back by the marina.
We now had our old horizon back, prompting more photo stops.
For a bit of variety, we went inshore of Lord’s Isle, and on an impulse decided to land. I have never set foot here before, though I knew there had been a Manor House on the island once.
Under the tree cover, we found the remains of quite substantial earthworks, with a ditch and earthen wall easily visible. At the north end, the foundations of stone walls could still be seen. The Earls of Derwentwater built a manor house on the island in the fourteen hundreds, which was protected by a causeway and drawbridge, but it fell into disrepair and the stones were robbed to build the Moot Hall in Keswick, now the tourist information centre. The last earl backed the wrong side in the Jacobite rebellion, and was beheaded in 1716, after losing at the battle of Preston.
We found all this out later with a spot of googling. For the minute, we enjoyed some ill-informed speculation as we wandered round. Returning to the boat, I enjoyed the view across to Causey Pike.
Our trip was nearly done now, and we made good time across Barrow Bay. Before long we were back by the car. The keel of the canoe slid gently onto the shingle beach by the carpark.
We loaded up the last bits of kit we had with us, and turned to make a last image across the lake.
It might now be autumn on the calendar, but it still felt like we were in the last days of summer.