Aira Force due to its locality to Ullswater, Penrith, Pooley Bridge, Watermillock and Glenridding, all much visited tourist and tourist accomodation locations, is one of the most visited waterfalls in the Lake District.
The waterfall is located on Aira Beck that flows down from high up on the eastern side of Stybarrow Dodd then follows the curve of Gowbarrow Fell’s western side and then passing on through the very small village of Dockray. Maybe 0.5 of a mile above Dockray there is a partialy hidden path to the left of the road leading down to the beck where it lays with deep pools in a delightful small valley. In springtime the mound across this little valley abounds with wild Primroses. The beck then continues down to form the first of Aira Forces waterfalls. A stone Bridge spans the falls at its head and another stone bridge lays at the falls foot.
There are three levels of fall along the beck and above Aira Force itself, High Force, Chasm and then Cascades. After traveling over 5 miles or 8 kms or so Aira Beck then drops around 66 feet or 20 metres to form Aira Force. When the beck is in full spate it is an awe inspiring sight and one that led William Wordsworth to mention the falls three times in his poetry.
There is a car park at the lower entrance to Aira Force. This car park also has toilets and usually a refreshment kiosk of some kind. In the tourist season the National Trust who own the falls sometimes provide a mobile information stand and have in the past had ‘An Audio Trail’ cassette available. The climb up to the force commences directly behind this car park and there are footpaths either side of the beck. The track up is very steep and although there are several stopping points and hand rails in places the climb should not be attempted unless one is reasonably fit. In wet weather parts of either track up can be extremely slippery and dangerous underfoot.
When the stone bridges are reached the climb up will be considered as having been well worth it.
Of interest here there are several local versions of a legend surrounding Aira Force. In one version the nearby Tower was the home of a lady called Emma who was engaged to a Sir Eglamore but his long absences disturbed Emma’s sleep and she took to sleepwalking. Apparently in her sleepwalking state she climbed the path to the falls. Sir Eglamore returned unexpectedly and finding Emma gone from her bed climbed up the path to the fall where he saw her and made a grab for her. Emma waking in shock stumbled and fell into the fall, drowning. Sir Eglamore being broken hearted retired to a local cave and spent the rest of his life as a hermit.
A second version of the legend is that Emma’s lover did not return from the crusades and although she waited many years for him the pain of what she thought to be his desertion of her, caused her to commit suicide by jumping into the fall.