The walk to Aira Force, a small but beautifully formed waterfall in England’s Lake District, is a favourite. It’s great if you’re not feeling like struggling up a serious fell, or walking too far; so you certainly don’t need to be Sherpa Tenzing to get to it. You do need decent footwear, working limbs and lungs; but that’s about it. You can, of course, build a visit to the falls into a longer walk, but most visitors seem to arrive by car, take one of several alternative footpaths to the top of the falls, skid back downhill and drive on. One path is very easy and relatively short – but it’s still a little rugged in places, so for heaven’s sake change out of Jimmy’s shoes. Or whatever.
Aira Force is where the Aira Beck tumbles off the high fells about 66’ (20 metres) vertically in a noisy gush of white foam, on its way down to Ullswater. ‘Aira’ allegedly comes from the Old Norse words eyrr for ‘gravel bank’ and á, meaning ‘river. Fors is also a Norse word, common in these parts, meaning ‘waterfall’.
The traditional route is about ½ mile from the car park through a wooded gorge to the top, across first one, then another, stone bridge. The upper bridge gives a stomach-lurching view over the falls. This was all once part of a medieval hunting ground, which was turned into the landscaped Victorian Gowbarrow Park, owned by the Howard family of Greystoke Castle. It’s a shame Queen Victoria didn’t own it, because then the waterfall could have been called Royal Aira Force. Moving swiftly on – the Howards created an arboretum, planting many specimen trees – including the rather lovely monkey puzzle pictured. Along your way, you’ll spot a ‘wish tree’ – a trunk in which coins have been embedded for good luck, or to make a wish; they’re quite common in these parts too.
I have the distinct impression that the facilities at Aira Force are getting more sophisticated each time I visit. These days, there’s a well-gravelled organised car park, reasonable loos, ticket machines (for parking) and even a little café selling ice creams. By the time I next drop in, I fully expect to see the falls floodlit. Perhaps music will be playing through hidden speakers; let’s hope not, eh?