UPDATE 14th May 2023: The Rannerdale bluebells are now in bloom. Go in the next couple of weeks to make the most of them!
The Rannerdale bluebells are the most famous wildflowers in the Lake District National Park. If you’re visiting the north and looking for a picturesque bluebell walk in the Lake District with jaw-dropping vistas on all sides, then get yourself to Rannerdale and prepare to be wowed. The swathes of blue transform the hillsides, and the subtle scent that lingers in the air adds a touch of magic to an already alluring scene.
Bluebells in the Lake District and elsewhere in the UK are usually found in shaded woodland areas. While there are plenty of bluebell woods in Cumbria, Rannerdale is unique in that here the carpet of flowers is spread out over the open fellside. Centuries ago, this area was forested, which is perhaps why there’s still such a prevalence of bluebells. Rannerdale is a spectacular place to visit at any time of year, but it really comes into its own when the flower spectacle is in full swing. Bluebell lakes are fairly rare in the UK, but here in the north of the national park, you have the dazzling presence of Crummock Water setting the scene for Rannerdale’s dancing bluebell display.
There are a handful of walks that take in this iconic valley of bluebells. Lake District landscapes don’t get much better than this, and you won’t even need to put much effort in if you only want a gentle stroll. We’ve listed the three most popular routes below, which includes a short photo ramble and a scramble over the dramatic Rannerdale Knotts. Whichever hike you choose, you’ll be treated to a staggering view of the bluebells, as it’s not often you get to see them with such an imposing backdrop.
If you’re coming to see the Rannerdale Knotts bluebells in 2024, then read on to find out where to park and which walking routes are best.
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How to get to the Rannerdale Bluebells
You’ll find the Rannerdale bluebells hidden away in a pretty valley between Buttermere and Crummock Water in the north of the English Lake District. Bluebells aren’t the only attraction here, and there are lots of beautiful walks around the lakes and in the fells to enjoy. Indeed, you might want to make Buttermere village the base for your holiday if you’re visiting the area for a few days. It’s a lot quieter up here than down in the South Lakes, and you have this fabulous bluebell walk right on your doorstep.
You can hike to the valley from Buttermere village, or if you prefer a shorter walk, there are a couple of small car parks further along the road.
Where to park for the Rannerdale bluebells
There is a paid car park in the centre of Buttermere Village, behind the iconic Bridge Hotel. This is a great base for exploring the wider area as well as seeing the Rannerdale bluebells, with lots of footpaths to choose from if you fancy some more hiking adventures. At the time of writing, parking here costs £6 for 4 hours, and £8 for 12 hours.
There are public toilets in the car park with a 20p charge for entry.
Car park postcode: CA13 9XA
If you arrive early enough, you will also find free roadside parking at the bottom of Newlands Pass, just up from St. James’s Church. Just make sure you park considerately and off the tarmac, leaving room for other vehicles to pass.
This small, gravelled parking area is owned by the National Trust (they manage the bluebell walk site too). It’s free, and you don’t need to be a member to use it. There is space for around eight vehicles, and it’s often full during peak times.
OS Map Grid Reference: 163183
If the Buttermere Hause parking is full, then just continue north along the B5289 to Cinderdale Common beneath Grasmoor, where there are a couple of free roadside car parks beside Crummock Water. It’s about a 10-minute walk from here to the best Lake District bluebells you’ll ever see! To reach Rannerdale, walk up Cinderdale Beck, turn right and cross the stream, before continuing up to the valley.
This parking area is marked on Google Maps as “access to Rannerdale”.
OS Map Grid Reference: 162194
Crummock South Beach
Back towards Buttermere, at the Crummock Water lake head, there is roadside parking at what is known as Crummock South Beach. This is another popular spot, and places are limited. You can pick up the path along the flanks of Rannerdale Knotts which will take you around to the bluebell valley. This is also the point where the riverside path emerges if you’re walking from the car park in Buttermere to Rannerdale.
OS Map Grid Reference: 167178
Best walks to see the Rannerdale bluebells 2024
There are three main walks that take in the Rannerdale bluebells. They range from short and easy to longer with a bit of a steep scramble, but whichever you choose, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views.
For ease, I’ve used Hause Point as the starting point for all the walks, but you can easily park elsewhere and enjoy a little bonus amble as a warm-up.
1. Short bluebell stroll
If you don’t have much time or are just here to see some bluebells in the Lake District, then this easy ramble is for you. It’s probably the simplest yet most satisfying bluebell walk in the country! The footpath from the parking area is flat and just half a mile long, so you’ll be in the heart of bluebell territory in no time. Follow the designated trail through the bluebell fields alongside Squat Beck until you come to a wooden bridge. You can either stop there or cross over and explore the other side before retracing your steps. It’s this path that continues on to Cinderdale Common.
Once you’re there, half an hour is long enough to explore the site, although stay longer if you wish – there are plenty of pretty picnic spots along Squat Beck which runs up the valley.
Distance: 1 mile
Time: 30 minutes
2. Rannerdale Valley walk
For a longer walk with a bit of elevation, start with the route above, but instead of crossing over Squat Beck at the wooden bridge, stay on the right bank and continue heading up the valley. It’s a steady climb up to the head, where you’ll come to a col between Whiteless Pike and Rannerdale Knotts. From here, take the grassy track that leads down towards Buttermere village, but before you reach the road, join the path that traverses the lower slopes of Rannerdale Knotts and eventually ends back where you started.
Distance: 4.5 miles
Time: 2.5 hours
3. Summit Rannerdale Knotts
The Rannerdale Knotts walking route is short, steep, and oh so sweet. You’ll have views of all the fells around Crummock Water and feel like you’re standing on top of the world, even though the peak is only 355 meters high. It’s one of the Wainwrights though, so still counts as a mighty mountain to conquer, right?!
The best Rannerdale Knotts circular walk begins with the scramble, as we think this is easier than trying to come down it. From Hause Point car park, head back towards Buttermere on the path that skirts the lower flank of Rannerdale Knotts. You’ll soon emerge on a bit of a rocky outcrop, and from here it’s time to take the path up towards the summit. This section is pretty steep, with some precipitous stone steps to negotiate as you climb higher. It’s perfectly fine for anyone of reasonable fitness who doesn’t mind heights.
As you emerge onto the ridge, you’re rewarded with 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains, which is pretty special, considering it doesn’t really take long to get up there.
Continue along to the cairn, pose for photos, and soak up the Crummock Water panoramas. Then head to the end of the ridge where you’ll come to the shoulder of Whiteless Breast where you’ll see Buttermere off to the right. Here you need to hang a left and descend down Rannerdale Valley, where, at the bottom, you’ll find the bluebells! Once you’re down, don’t forget to turn around and see Rannerdale Knotts and Whiteless Pike framing the scene.
Distance: 4.5 miles
Time: 3 hours
When are the Rannerdale bluebells in bloom?
It’s the question on everyone’s lips, “when do bluebells come out”? Okay, maybe not everyone, but certainly hikers and photographers who want to capture these little blue blooms in their prime. Usually, the more common woodland bluebells flower in April and May, but the carpets on exposed fellsides tend to come out a little later.
Rannerdale is undoubtedly one of the top wildflower destinations in the world, but it can be a case of “blink and you miss them”, so it’s super important to get your timing right when visiting. In Rannerdale, mid-May is usually the best time to catch the bluebells. Lake District weather is often sunny during late Spring (although the rain is never very far away!), so this is a great time to explore the wider national park. The viewing window for the bluebells in Rannerdale is short, which means if you come in June, you’ll probably be too late.
So, if you’re wondering “are the Rannerdale bluebells out in 2024”, if it’s May already, you’d better get your skates on!
What is the best time of day to see the Rannerdale bluebells?
The Rannerdale bluebells are beautiful at any time, but if you’re heading there with a bit of photography in mind, you might like to consider the time of day you visit. The first thing to bear in mind is that the popularity of the site means that the free parking at Hause Point and Cinderdale Common will quickly fill up at peak times. So, get there early in the morning or later in the evening if you want to bag a space. Paid parking in Buttermere Village is available at all times of the day.
The second thing to think about is the light. You need to give the sun a chance to pop out over the high peaks that surround the valley, so timing your visit for later in the day is usually a good bet. Our favourite time to do the short Rannerdale bluebell walk is during the early evening when the sun is at an angle to create a few shadows but the valley itself is bathed in sunbeams. The evening is not so good for taking photos looking back towards Crummock Water (you’ll be facing into the sun), but it’s great for the bluebells themselves.
Also, if it’s not super sunny, don’t let that put you off. Good weather always brings out the crowds, so coming on a slightly cloudier day will mean fewer other people on the paths. A bit of moody Lake District sky is always good for photos too!
Stick to the paths
The Rannerdale bluebells are the most visited bluebells in the Lake District, thanks to their beauty and accessibility. However, over recent years the delicate little blooms have been suffering as people stray off the path in their search for that perfect Instagram photo. Once a bluebell flower has been trampled, it takes years for it to recover which means this beautiful natural sight is gradually being destroyed.
Therefore, it’s vital that you stick to the marked paths during your visit, and don’t be tempted to veer off for a slightly different camera angle. Seriously, you don’t need to. The roped fencing and rustic oak posts are unobtrusive, and there are plenty of opportunities for fantastic photos without stepping off the track. Sticking to the designated paths means that the Rannerdale bluebells will be here for future generations to enjoy too.
The myths surrounding the Rannerdale bluebells
We love a juicy bit of folklore here in the Lake District, so it stands to reason that the Rannerdale bluebells haven’t been left out! Traditionally, woodland glades that are carpeted with these sun-dappled blue flowers are rumoured to be the realm of fairies, and with all that enchantment in the air, it’s easy to believe. Whilst the Rannerdale of today is open fellside with only a few trees to its name, in days of yore, this area was covered in ancient woodland, so you never know, the fairy folk might just be watching as you amble up the valley.
Another myth that we like to think is true, is that Rannerdale Valley, or the ‘Secret Valley’ as it was known back in the day, was once the site of a ferocious battle between native Cumbrians and the invading Normans in the 12th century. Apparently, the Cumbrians and their Norse allies hid out in Rannerdale and ambushed their foes, with resounding success. It’s said that the bluebells in Rannerdale sprung up on the blood-soaked battlefield shortly after the skirmish and have flourished here ever since. A bit like the poppies of World War I. So, as you stroll along enjoying your tranquil bluebell walk, spare a thought for the poor Norman souls that made it possible.
More bluebells in the Lake District
If you’ve ticked Rannerdale off the list and want to explore some of the best bluebell woods in the Lake District, head over to Skelghyll Woods in Ambleside, White Moss Common at Grasmere, or Brandlehow Woods at Derwentwater.
Places to stay in Buttermere
The Bridge Hotel – iconic hotel in the heart of Buttermere with stylish rooms, a charming restaurant and surrounded by glorious mountain views.
Buttermere Court Hotel – family friendly accommodation in a beautiful setting with a garden, terrace, and private parking.
Syke Farm Campsite Yurts – glorious rural riverside location with luxurious glamping yurts, walks from the door, and free parking.
For more glamping sites in the Lake District, check out this post.