For many visitors to the Lakes, their favourite mountain is Loughrigg. For the people who live around it, in Ambleside and Rydal and Grasmere and Elterwater, Loughrigg is their playground, their shortcut home, their respite from work, the backdrop to their lives. 

Sophie Rylance on Loughrigg. Photo by Jon Rylance.

When writer and runner Eileen Jones came to live in Ambleside, she already loved Loughrigg. Over the past 13 years, she has headed up to the summit every week, seeing her little mountain in all seasons, learning its moods, discovering how easy it is to get lost on the sprawling fell. Now she’s written a love letter to Loughrigg, a book full of stories about the hill, the people who climb it, the people who live on it, the people who paint it, and the children who play on it.

Loughrigg: Tales of a small mountain (Gritstone Publishing, £12.99) is full of love and affection. So many people featured here speak of their favourite fell, the one they would happily climb over and over again, the place where they go for solitude and respite, for inspiration, for exercise, for sleep. And, as we learn during the book, to play the cello or the euphonium, recite a poem or two, demonstrate some impressive hula-hooping, or serve afternoon tea to passing strangers.

Along the way, Jones hears about storms and romance, rustic construction and architectural design, sheep and owls and cuckoos, and she meets the man who holds the title Lord of the Manor of Loughrigg. 

Small in stature but massive in bulk, Loughrigg (pronounced Luffrigg) is just a mountain by English standards, only 1101ft (335m) high and, of the 214 peaks listed by Alfred Wainwright in his seven Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells, Loughrigg scrapes in at number 211. It’s a sprawling two-mile long misshapen wedge of rough country rising between the valleys of the rivers Brathay and Rothay with a confusing number of subsidiary summits, but Wainwright loved it, “having a bulk out of all proportion to its modest altitude…no ascent is more repaying for the small labour involved in visiting its many cairns”.  

The author at the summit. Photo by Eileen Jones.

Jones says: “For so many, it’s their favourite fell. Runners who have won major fell races throughout the Lake District, artists who have travelled the world, and especially the grown-ups who spent their childhood here, they all love Loughrigg. The word ‘playground’ cropped up so many times. 

“Within Loughrigg’s spread lies possibly more variety and complexity of landscape and terrain in a small space than anywhere else in the Lake District. The fell has a peculiar and surprising history, and there have been riflemen and golfers up here along with quarry workers and sheep farmers.” 

Jones meets the map makers and the record-setters, the natural historians and the residents who live on or below the fell, including the couple whose home is halfway to the top, and the man who built a cabin in the woods on the lower slopes. There are memories, among them summit encounters, tragic accidents, and the aftermath of two devastating storms. 

There are contributions from experts, including the University of Cumbria’s associate professor of English Literature Penny Bradshaw, and locally and internationally renowned artists. There’s a chapter devoted to the trig column on the summit, the weird and wonderful happenings which have been seen there, and the tales of the two main tarns, Loughrigg and Lily, which are loved by so many. 

And there’s a soundtrack for this small mountain, with a piece of music chosen to represent each chapter. Why not have a listen? You can find it here.

By Ruth Egerton

Main image: looking down on Grasmere by Julie Coldwell

Eileen Jones is a writer and journalist who set up Cumbria PR to tell the stories of some of the Lake District’s most iconic tourism and heritage organisations. She’s a member of the volunteer team at Fell Foot parkrun near Newby Bridge, and has written two books about parkrun. 

Loughrigg: Tales of a small mountain is available to buy here:

There will be a launch party for the book at the summit of Loughrigg on June 28, 2024 at 2pm.