My Favourite Hike: a wild swimming walk to Tongue Pot in the Lake District

Tongue Pot: Sian and Tongue Pot
All smiles and ready for a swim (Image credit: Sian Lewis)

Tongue Pot

Another wonderful route in our My Favourite Hike series. This time, komoot ambassador Sian Lewis takes us on a hiking and wild swimming adventure to Tongue Pot in the Lake District's magical Upper Eskdale.

"This remote wild swimming and walking route really has it all," says Sian. "I’m not sure I’ve ever been for a dip in a more beautiful spot than Tongue Pot. If you’re looking for the wild side of the Lake District, grab your swimsuit and take on this trail."

The route

  • Start/Finish: Top of the Hardknott Pass
  • Distance: 6.3 miles / 10.1 km
  • Elevation gain: 1080ft / 330m
  • Difficulty level: moderate
  • Duration: 3-4 hours

This remote wild swimming and walking route really has it all – but first you've got to get there. The vertiginously steep Hardknott Pass road is revered by cyclists and road trippers alike for its 14% average gradient and far-reaching mountain vistas, but is often cut off by snow in winter.

If you can get up it to start this walk, you'll be rewarded with sweeping views of the Eskdale Valley. At the bottom of the valley, the walk follows the River Esk towards a rushing waterfall, stopping at the deep clear waters of Tongue Pot on the way. Then take the high road back to the start via Hard Knott fell.

Tongue Pot: River Esk

The River Esk is a beautiful companion for much of the walk (Image credit: Sian Lewis)

Tongue Pot: why I love it

My idea of the perfect walk in Britain always involves a wild swim, and I’m not sure I’ve ever been for a dip in a more beautiful spot than Tongue Pot (a pot, by the way, is the Lake District word for a deep river pool). I’d seen lots of photos of the incredible emerald green waters of this pot, and when I had a morning free on an icy-cold but sunny January day, I decided to go and hunt it out for a dip. 

This walk starts at the top of Hardknott Pass, surely one of the most vertiginous roads in Britain. Cyclists come here to do uphill battle with the steep incline, but walking down it is rather more pleasant, and comes with far-reaching views of the valley.

Tongue Pot: looking down along the valley

Eskdale is home to some quintessential Lakeland scenery (Image credit: Sian Lewis)

Next the path passes Hardknott Fort, where the dramatic ruins of a Roman garrison keep watch over the valley below. What I love about it this spot is that unlike some historical sites (Stonehenge, I’m looking at you) you’re free to wander around Hardknott’s stone fortifications, imagining what it looked like when thousands of Roman soldiers were stationed here.

Tongue Pot: taking a photo

There's so much to see in Upper Eskdale (Image credit: Sian Lewis)

It’s a steep descent down to the valley from the fort, but from here the going is flat – you follow alongside the River Esk deeper into the valley, where a waterfall courses down at the spot where Lingcove Beck meets the river. Before you reach the falls, you’ll come across two natural swimming pools – Kail Pot and Tongue Pot. Kail Pot is lovely, a wide pool that you can wade into for a calm dip. But Tongue Pot is just astonishing. 

The water here really is a glassy leaf-green, and although it’s deep, it’s so clear you can see right to the bottom. Rocks rise high on both sides, so you can jump in if you’re brave, or there’s an easier spot to walk into the water on the right river bank. I’ve heard that this spot gets busy on summer weekend days, but on a Monday morning in January I didn’t see a single other person, and after pulling on my wetsuit I got to float in the pool all by myself. Come here in summer for warmer waters, or come in winter to have your very own fairy pool, but aim for a sunny day to really appreciate the vibrant colour of the Esk.

Tongue Pot: ready for a swim at Tongue Pot

Ready for a wild swim (Image credit: Sian Lewis)

Once you’ve dried off, the path leads on past the waterfall and up onto higher ground, which helps with warming up! There are amazing views from Hard Knott, a 549 metre-high fell, before you descend back to the top of the pass. 

Highlight: Hardknott Roman Fort

Tongue Pot: Hardknott Roman Fort

The remains of Hardknott Roman Fort certainly get the imagination going (Image credit: Sian Lewis)

Hardknott Roman Fort, which dates from the second century AD. The remains of the Roman fort Mediobogdum are one of those places where you can really feel in touch with the history of a place, and it’s free to look around the ruins of what were once garrisons for soldiers. Remains include the headquarters building, commandant's house and bath house (which feels apt if you’re heading to the river for a swim!).

My Favourite Hike Collection

To see the other hikes in the series on komoot, click on the Collection below...

And if you fancy something a little quicker, check out our My Favourite Run series.

My Favourite Hike

(Image credit: Future)

An award-winning travel and outdoors journalist, presenter and blogger, Sian regularly writes for The Independent, Evening Standard, BBC Countryfile, Coast, Outdoor Enthusiast and Sunday Times Travel. Life as a hiking, camping, wild-swimming adventure-writer has taken her around the world, exploring Bolivian jungles, kayaking in Greenland, diving with turtles in Australia, climbing mountains in Africa and, in Thailand, learning the hard way that peeing on a jellyfish sting doesn’t help. Her blog, thegirloutdoors.co.uk, champions accessible adventures.