The Joy of Tarns

“I looked down over the edge of the fell at the tarn below and to my right, glistening and beckoning me down to say hello. After what seemed like a long day, I was tired and knew that once I was at the tarn, all I had to do was follow the path down to New Dungeon Ghyll and the bus back to Ambleside…

I started descending a steep slope, my way becoming increasingly impeded by bracken, rocks and sheep as I progressed. It didn’t look that steep on the map. I persevered and after a rather traumatic descent reached the bottom, found a rock at the side of the tarn, and rested a moment while I took stock….

So I sat at the edge of the tarn and gradually I calmed down as I saw the ridge reflected in the tarn’s still waters, even in these cloudy conditions. I felt the calming influence of the gently lapping water at my feet,….”

These extracts from my walking diary entry for 26 June 2006 don’t quite tell the whole story though. I’d got lost, but didn’t really know it until I worked it out from my map as I sat on the rock at the tarn’s edge. Having descended from Sergeant Man in a south-easterly direction to start with to follow the path down to Stickle Tarn and a rendevous with the last bus at New Dungeon Ghyll, somehow I’d taken a path that swung round more to the east and took me down a precipitous slope (which I think, looking back, was Slapestone Edge) to deposit me at Easedale Tarn.

Blea Rigg reflected in Easedale Tarn
Blea Rigg reflected in Easedale Tarn


Once the tarn had done its work and enabled me to look at the map calmly and rationally, I worked out what had happened, and had the sort of moment that the old, now banned obviously, Hamlet adverts were designed for. I lingered there for quite a while in the end – after all the last bus had already gone and I was in the wrong valley anyway – and it was an effort to get going again. I eventually made it out to Grasmere where I got a bus back to Ambleside.

Later that evening when I reflected on the day – a day when I’d done the Langdale Pikes for the first time and fallen in love with Pike of Stickle – the overriding memory of the day was that 20 minutes spent sat at the side of Easedale Tarn. Technically, I’d visited other tarns that day – boggy, pathetic pools on Sergeant Man and Thunacar Knott – but I still consider Easedale Tarn as my first real tarn, and it will always be a special place for me.

Tarns represent calm, places of reflection, stunning scenery, somewhere to get a drink or cool down, and sometimes just something to break the monotony of a rather dull mountainside. My favourite tarn time is towards the end of the afternoon, either on the way down off the hill, or as a planned objective in its own right. I’ve even been known to go on a walk just to a tarn and no summits. In some ways, I think tarns are the best bits of mountains. Certainly they add an extra dimension to the photos – often creating more atmosphere than the usual blur of green and grey. And best of all, they’re usually less busy than the tops.

So why not put a tarn in your walk ?

The Tarns of Lakeland

One day I stumbled across the two volumes of “The Tarns of Lakeland” by John and Anne Nuttall (yes the Nuttalls), which contains dozens of walks carefully constructed to enable you to visit all of the tarns, or at least all those that are accessible or actually exist for real.

When they wrote the book, the critical question they had to answer was “what constitutes a tarn” ? Is it size, how high up it is, some physical or geographical characteristic, natural rather than man-made, named ? It was even suggested that tarns be defined according to the predominant water plant life that grows there. In the end they went with all of the tarns within the National Park named on the OS map, added various others that are commonly accepted as tarns and finally added those which don’t meet either of those conditions but have to be included because of their size or situation. Thus Devoke Water, which I was never sure about, is a tarn, and indeed is the largest tarn (if you visit it, it’s obviously a tarn).

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a decent list available on the internet, so I’ve had to pull it together myself. John and Anne have one on their website, although it requires some cunning tricks to actually be able to pull it off, but when I went through the list, I noticed that it has errors in it – one tarn is missing (Tarn Crag Tarn) and one has a slight error in the grid reference. And I wanted the list in a format that I could use to tick them off, without including all of the disappeared tarns or those which are on private land.

So I’ve extracted the data, tidied it up and attached it here for anyone that is interested. Simply right-click on the link and “Save Target As…”. It’s in csv format and I’ve tested it imports into excel ok.

The fields in the list should be self-explanatory, but anyway…

# = simply the number of the tarn in alphabetical order.
Book = which volume it’s in (Volume 1 = West, Volume 2 = East).
Area = which of Wainwright’s areas the tarn falls into. Note for outlying tarns I have allocated areas in line with the way that the Database of British Hills does it.
Section = the chapter name that the tarn is in. These broadly conform to the principal valley or area the tarns are in.
Name = the name as used in the book.
Grid Ref = 6 figure OS grid reference.
Classification = Active means it’s a tarn that exists and included in a walk. Disappeared means it’s not included in any of the walks as it’s disappeared or overgrown. But you may spot signs of it. Private means it’s on private land and so isn’t technically accessible. When going through the list I noticed that one, marked as inaccessible from valley, is actually on Access Land, so I have included it with the Active tarns, as still, theoretically possible to get to.
Alternate Names = the other names by which the tarn may be known. On the original Nuttalls list, these are listed in their own right, but I have cleaned it up to remove these duplicates.
Notes = the notes as annotated by the Nuttalls next to each tarn.


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