20 reasons to return to the Lake District and Cumbria

Introduction

Introduction

This is one of the most beautiful parts of Britain, home to two World Heritage Sites - the Lake District and Hadrian’s Wall - and three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. So what better place to dream about or plan on visiting when things are back to normal? The lakes and fells are a huge appeal, but there’s a wealth of other attractions as well, plus great places to eat and drink and a huge choice of places to stay. This is a part of England made for the walker, climber and nature lover, perfect for those seeking the quiet of the countryside or the rush of outdoor adventure. Twenty places are listed below in alphabetical order which means that Ambleside and Bowness-on-Windermere are at the top, and Ullswater, the Western Lakes and Windermere, the largest and most popular lake, are at the end. Pic: Keswick Launch on Derwentwater by Stuart Holmes.

Ambleside

Ambleside

Popular tourist town with a great location at the northern end of Windermere (lake). Home to The Armitt Museum and Library, with its Beatrix Potter gallery and paintings by Kurt Schwitters (www.armitt.com), and to Zeffirellis and Fellinis cinemas/restaurants/café/jazz bar (www.zeffirellis.com). Michelin starred the Old Stamp House is in the Good Food Guide 2020 (www.oldstamphouse.com), so is Lake Road Kitchen which is one of the guide’s top 50 UK restaurants (www.lakeroadkitchen.co.uk). Rothay Manor has three AA rosettes (www.rothaymanor.co.uk) and there’s the Old Stamp House’s sister restaurant Kysty (www.kysty.co.uk). The Golden Rule, Wateredge Inn and Drunken Duck Inn, the latter three miles from Ambleside at Barngates, are three pubs.

Bowness-on-Windermere

Bowness-on-Windermere

This is the main hub for Windermere Lake Cruises, home to The World of Beatrix Potter Attraction, with Blackwell, The Arts & Crafts House not far away. Dine at Henrock, Simon Rogan’s restaurant at Linthwaite House, overlooking the lake (www.henrock.co.uk). South of Bowness are the Lyth and Winster valleys, damson country and home to the Punch Bowl Inn at Crosthwaite (www.the-punchbowl.co.uk), Wheatsheaf at Brigsteer, Brown Horse at Winster, Masons Arms at Cartmel Fell and Black Labrador at Underbarrow. East of Bowness is Gilpin Hotel with its two restaurants, Michelin starred Hrishi and Gilpin Spice. Hole in t’ Wall in Bowness, the Watermill Inn at Ings and The Wild Boar near Crook (www.englishlakes.co.uk) are three more pubs.

Buttermere, Crummock Water and Loweswater

Buttermere, Crummock Water and Loweswater

Three little gems, a few miles from the Georgian town of Cockermouth. Buttermere, overlooked by Fleetwith Pike and Haystacks, was a favourite of walking guide writer Alfred Wainwright. Crummock (pictured) is next door and Loweswater up the road. Poet William Wordsworth was born in Cockermouth in 1770, his birthplace open to visitors (www.nationaltrust.org.uk/wordsworth-house-and-garden). Quince & Medlar and Wild Zucchinis Bistro in Cockermouth, the Kirkstile Inn at Loweswater (www.kirkstile.com), Bridge Hotel, Croft House Farm Café and Syke Farm Tea Room (last three at Buttermere) are six places for food and drink. The B5289 heads south east from Buttermere towards Honister Pass, Honister Slate Mine and then to Borrowdale.

Carlisle and the Borderlands

Carlisle and the Borderlands

Romans, Vikings, Normans, Scots and Border Reivers have all left a mark on Cumbria’s ‘capital’, five miles from Scotland, 301 miles from London. The Norman castle, the beautiful 12th century cathedral and Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery, with its Roman Frontier Gallery, are the three main attractions. The Solway coast lies to the north west of the city while the frontier lands through which - centuries ago - Border Reivers rode and raided, and Scottish and English armies marched, is a few miles to the north east of the city, in the direction of Bewcastle. Lounge on the Green at Houghton near Carlisle, Pentonbridge Inn at Penton, Blacksmiths Arms at Talkin and Farlam Hall (hotel) near Brampton are four places for food and drink. 

Cartmel

Cartmel

Even without a lake or a literary connection to speak of, Cartmel still packs a punch for a place so small, its major attractions being the 800 year old Priory Church of St Mary and St Michael, and - for foodies - Simon Rogan’s two restaurants. L’Enclume has two Michelin stars and one Michelin green star and is the Good Food Guide 2020’s number one restaurant in the UK (www.lenclume.co.uk), Rogan & Co has one star, its executive chef, Tom Barnes, reaching the final of BBC’s Great British Menu 2020 (www.roganandco.co.uk). It’s a pretty village of 17th and 18th-century stone buildings, with the River Eea slipping modestly through the centre. On the edge of Cartmel is the racecourse which is owned by the nearby historic home of Holker Hall. The Cavendish Arms is one of four pubs in Cartmel.

Coniston Water

Coniston Water

Third biggest lake in the Lake District which you can explore by Coniston Launch (www.conistonlaunch.co.uk) or by Steam Yacht Gondola. The Coniston Boating Centre is good for boat hire (www.conistonboatingcentre.co.uk). Coniston itself - at the north end of the lake - is where you’ll find the Ruskin Museum, named after the great Victorian, John Ruskin. Ruskin’s old home of Brantwood, with its gardens, grounds and Terrace Coffee House and Restaurant, is on the east side of the water (www.brantwood.org.uk). In the 1950s Donald Campbell broke four world water speed records on Coniston Water but was killed in 1967 trying to set another one. Steam Bistro and Herdwick Café are two places for food and drink in Coniston. 

Derwentwater and Borrowdale

Derwentwater and Borrowdale

So called Queen of the Lakes, Derwentwater is royally served by the traditional vessels of the Keswick Launch Company (www.keswick-launch.co.uk). There are eight jetties around the three mile long lake, including Ashness Gate and Lingholm. From its Keswick jetties, a ten minute walk leads to Friar’s Crag from where there are lovely views down the water towards Grange-in-Borrowdale. Borrowdale itself encapsulates all that is best about the Lake District: crags, fells, river, lakes, woodland, stone cottages, and views that vary with almost every step or gear change of the way. On the west side of the lake is Catbells, a favourite of walkers who can look down into quiet Newlands Valley while they’re up there. There’s a nine mile trail around the lake.

Duddon Valley

Duddon Valley

Given William Wordsworth’s love of the Duddon Valley - he wrote 34 sonnets about the place - you’d think there would be more visitors here. Not so. Walkers know about the Duddon because it’s great walking territory, and those who prefer their Lake District wild rather than mild seek it out as well. Otherwise it’s much the same as it was 50 years ago. Towards the valley’s northern end stands the T-junction at Cockley Beck. Turn west for Hardknott Pass and Eskdale, go east for Wrynose Pass and Little Langdale. 15 miles south of the T-junction lies the Duddon Estuary and not far away is Broughton-in-Furness, with its handsome square. The Manor Arms in Broughton, Blacksmiths Arms at Broughton Mills and Newfield Inn at Seathwaite are three pubs. 

Eden Valley and the North Pennines

Eden Valley and the North Pennines

The scenic Settle to Carlisle railway line and the River Eden - which rises in Mallerstang (pictured) - both head through this lovely part of Cumbria where the Pennines form an almost continuous backdrop to the landscape. Penrith, Appleby and Kirkby Stephen are the main places; Rheged near Penrith is a big visitor attraction (www.rheged.com). The Black Swan at Ravenstonedale (www.blackswanhotel.com), George and Dragon at Clifton (www.georgeanddragonclifton.co.uk), and Dog and Gun at Skelton are three great pubs. If it’s wilder country you’re after, make for Alston and the north Pennines, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and home to the South Tynedale Railway (www.south-tynedale-railway.org.uk).

Grasmere and Rydal

Grasmere and Rydal

Grasmere village and (lake), Rydal and Rydal Water are places forever associated with William Wordsworth. Three of his homes here - Dove Cottage (www.wordsworth.org.uk), Allan Bank (www.nationaltrust.org.uk/allan-bank-and-grasmere) and Rydal Mount where he lived 1813-50 (ww.rydalmount.co.uk) - are open to the public. The Wordsworth Museum re-opens this year. The poet and his wife, Mary, are buried in Grasmere churchyard. Grasmere is home to the Heaton Cooper Studio/Mathilde’s café, (www.heatoncooper.co.uk), to the Jumble Room restaurant (www.thejumbleroom.co.uk), to Tweedies Bar, Grasmere Gingerbread and Michelin starred Forest Side. There’s also Rydal Hall and the Badger Bar (Glen Rothay Hotel) at Rydal.

Hadrian’s Wall

Hadrian’s Wall

Designated a World Heritage Site in 1987, Hadrian’s Wall is the most important monument that the Romans left behind in Britain. Straddling the country from Wallsend near Newcastle to Bowness on the Solway coast this was a 73 mile barrier against the unconquered peoples to the north. Construction began in about AD122 and within 12 years the task was pretty well complete. A total of 16 forts were dotted along the Wall, including an important one at Birdoswald (www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/birdoswald-roman-fort-hadrians-wall). A few miles from Birdoswald (closer to Brampton) is Lanercost Priory where Edward I spent the winter of 1306-7. An 84 mile National Trail called the Hadrian’s Wall Path follows the route of the wall.

Hawkshead

Hawkshead

With its 17th century, white-washed properties, a 500 year old church, an historic Methodist chapel and an ancient grammar school where William Wordsworth went to school, Hawkshead is every bit the traditional Lakeland village. The Beatrix Potter Gallery is here (www.nationaltrust.org.uk/beatrix-potter-gallery-and-hawkshead) while two miles south east of Hawkshead is Hill Top, Beatrix Potter’s first property in the Lake District (www.nationaltrust.org.uk/hill-top). To the south is Grizedale Forest which encompasses a mix of walking trails and biking routes (www.forestryengland.uk/grizedale). The beauty spot of Tarn Hows is not far from Hawkshead either. The Queen’s Head in Hawkshead, Tower Bank Arms at Near Sawrey and Cuckoo Brow Inn at Far Sawrey are three pubs. 

Kendal

Kendal

The Gateway to the Lakes or the Auld Grey Town, Kendal is distinguished by a cultural offering considerably richer than in many bigger places. There’s Abbot Hall Art Gallery and Lakeland Museum (both closed until 2022), Kendal Museum, the Brewery Arts Centre (with restaurant) and the Quaker Tapestry Museum (www.quaker-tapestry.co.uk). Yard 46, The Bakery at No.4, Comida and Baba Ganoush are four more places for food/drink. South of Kendal are the historic homes/gardens of Sizergh Castle and Levens Hall. Staveley, between Kendal and Windermere, has the Eagle and Child pub, the Beer Hall at Hawkshead Brewery, Wilf’s Café and the café at More? The Artisan Bakery. Two pubs south of Kendal are the Hare & Hounds at Levens and The Wheatsheaf at Beetham.

Keswick

Keswick

Overlooked by Skiddaw and Latrigg, with Bassenthwaite Lake to the north, Derwentwater and Borrowdale to the south, Whinlatter Forest to the north west and the Newlands Valley to the south west. How’s that for a prime location? The town itself is very popular with visitors, home to Theatre by the Lake, the Keswick Museum and the Derwent Pencil Museum. Castlerigg Stone Circle, one of the most important stone circles in Britain, is not far away. At the northern end of Bassenthwaite Lake, a National Nature Reserve, is the Lakes Distillery with its whisky tours, shop and bistro (www.lakesdistillery.com). On the east side is Mirehouse historic home and gardens. The restaurant at Cottage in the Wood at Whinlatter has a Michelin star. The Wainwright and Dog & Gun are two Keswick pubs.

Lakeside

Lakeside

Hop off one of the ‘steamers’ belonging to Windermere Lake Cruises and you can then take a ride on the delightful, 3.5 mile Lakeside to Haverthwaite Railway (www.lakesiderailway.co.uk). The station is next to the ‘steamer’ pier and the Lakeside Hotel. Lakeside is located at the south west corner of Windermere - close to Newby Bridge - while just down the road is the Lakeland Motor Museum with its splendid collection of cars, motorbikes, bikes and memorabilia (www.lakelandmotormuseum.co.uk). Not far from Lakeside is Stott Park Bobbin Mill while on the other side of the water is the National Trust’s Fell Foot Park, a Victorian country park. Further down the A590 you can turn off and head north towards the Rusland Valley, passing the White Hart Inn at Bouth. 

Langdale valleys

Langdale valleys

Of all the great walking and climbing areas in the Lake District, the Langdales are probably the best known, the most frequently photographed and the most touched by the human sole. It’s not just the iconic presence of the Langdale Pikes or Bowfell that give Great Langdale its enduring appeal. The whole mix of mountain and meadow, wood and waterfall, history and Herdwick sheep, dry stone wall and scattered farms makes a visit here almost an imperative. Little Langdale is not so dramatic as Great Langdale but the approach from Eskdale in the west, over Hardknott and Wrynose passes, most certainly is. The Three Shires Inn (Little Langdale), Old Dungeon Ghyll, Sticklebarn, the Britannia Inn, Eltermere Inn and Wainwrights’ Inn are six places for food and drink.

Sedbergh, Howgill Fells, Kirkby Lonsdale

Sedbergh, Howgill Fells, Kirkby Lonsdale

Sedbergh is England’s Book Town, close to the Howgill Fells (much loved by walking guide writer Alfred Wainwright) and a few miles north of the pretty town of Kirkby Lonsdale. Not far outside Sedbergh is Farfield Mill, a 19th century former weaving and spinning mill, now home to some 20 artists and makers (www.farfieldmill.org). Sedbergh has The Black Bull Inn (www.theblackbullsedbergh.co.uk), Smatt’s Duo, Three Hares Deli and more. Dentdale and the pretty village of Dent (pictured) lie to the south east of Sedbergh while Kirkby Lonsdale can boast - in the words of John Ruskin - ‘one of the loveliest (views) in England, therefore in the world’. Check out the Sun Inn, Avanti and Royal Barn in Kirkby Lonsdale. 

Ullswater

Ullswater

Walk the 20 miles of the Ullswater Way or take a ‘steamer’ trip on the lake and you’ll appreciate why Ullswater has so many admirers. Stretching to just over seven miles, this is where William and Dorothy Wordsworth spotted that sunny crop of daffodils that led to the poem, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud (Daffodils). Pooley Bridge is at the lake’s north east end, Glenridding - from where people strike out for Helvellyn - lies to the south west. Dalemain historic home and gardens and Lowther Castle and its gardens are not far away. Nor is Michelin starred Askham Hall (www.askhamhall.co.uk), the hotel’s café and the Queen’s Head in Askham (www.queenshead-askham.co.uk), all in the same ownership. 1863 (restaurant/rooms) and Granny Dowbekins café are in Pooley Bridge.

Western Lakes

Western Lakes

No two names in the Lake District lexicon conjure up an image of drama and stark beauty quite so sharply as do Wastwater and Wasdale, England’s deepest lake cradled in a valley that is neighbour to England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike. One is famous for the screes that plunge towards its south eastern shoreline, the other is defined by the fells which gather at its head, the birthplace of British rock climbing. The Wasdale Head Inn is a famous ‘climbers pub’. South of Wasdale and Wastwater (pictured) is Eskdale through which the Ravenglass to Eskdale Railway runs. Brook House Inn and The Woolpack Inn are two Eskdale pubs. Muncaster Castle and gardens are close to Ravenglass. Further north is Ennerdale Water whose head is crowned by some classic Lakeland peaks.

Windermere

Windermere

This is Lakeland’s striking centrepiece and England’s largest natural stretch of water, best explored on board the MV Swift, MV Teal, MV Swan, all belonging to Windermere Lake Cruises (www.windermere-lakecruises.co.uk). Ambleside and Waterhead are at the lake’s northern end, Lakeside is to the south and Bowness is on the east side. Between Bowness and Ambleside is Brockhole, the Lake District Visitor Centre, with its restaurant, The Gaddum (www.brockhole.co.uk). Not far away is Windermere Jetty Museum while Wray Castle lies to the north west (www.nationaltrust.org.uk/wray-castle). Waterhead Bar and Grill and Blue Smoke on the Bay at Low Wood Bay Resort & Spa, both at/near Waterhead are part of English Lakes Hotels (www.englishlakes.co.uk). Pic of Windermere Lake Cruises ‘steamer’ by Nina Claridge.

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