If there’s one thing I’ve learned because of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s how underrated travelling in the UK is. Usually we would have headed abroad for a summer holiday and would have tried to squeeze in some European city breaks throughout the year too, but 2020 has been all about the staycations. Don’t get me wrong, I would have loved to go somewhere exotic, but when the sun is shining there really is nowhere better than the Great British countryside and I think British travel is something that will definitely continue for us when the world starts to get back to normal again.
In early September we ticked off a location that has been on my travel bucket list ever since I visited very briefly on a work trip last year. Think stunning fells, gorgeous lakesides, and William Wordsworth, and you’ve got it. Yes, it’s the Lake District. Words cannot express how incredibly beautiful this part of the country is. It’s one of the most breathtaking places in the world, with a rich heritage and poetic feel that just draws you in and leaves you wanting more. The Lake District National Park is the largest in the UK and is also a world heritage site, and there really is something for everyone.
We stayed during the mid-week at the start of September, just as the leaves were starting to change and the autumn chill was starting to bite. It was the perfect time to visit as it was a little quieter being outside of the weekend and school holidays, but I wish we’d booked for a longer time because it’s such a long drive from Cardiff and we ended up only having 3 full days to explore. Nevertheless, we will be back as no matter how many times you visit it will never get old, and there’s so much to do.
Where to stay?
We stayed in a gorgeous little guesthouse situated between Windermere town and Bowness-on-Windermere, and from here we could easily walk to the beautiful Lake Windermere, England’s largest lake, and drive to spots around the whole of the National Park really easily. It’s close to the little towns of Ambleside and Grasmere, and from Windermere you can easily venture into the wilder, more untouched parts of the Lakes, such as Langdale.
Was it different because of the pandemic?
We generally found the Lake District to be a very safe place to visit. For the most part, you’ll be spending your time outdoors and you can easily get away from people. The restaurants were busy, but had social distancing measures in place. Some things were different because of the pandemic; boat trips on Lake Windermere were running on a far lower capacity and you couldn’t hire rowing boats, for instance. But we loved our time and it didn’t stop us from ticking off lots on our itinerary.
Here are our top things to do on a first-time visit to The Lake District…
One: Visit Lake Windermere, England’s largest lake
Did you know there is only one official “lake” in the Lake District? This is Bassenthwaite Lake, situated near Keswick, and the rest are all “meres” or “waters”. Windermere is, quite obviously from its name, a “mere”. Visit Cumbria’s website explains that it is 10.5 miles long, a mile wide and 220 feet deep, making it the largest natural lake in England. It is long and thin and forms the spine of the Southern part of the Lake District, and it is breathtakingly beautiful.
I am so glad that we based ourselves at Windermere. There are so many gorgeous walks, beautiful villages and towns along the lake, and a network of ferry trips and boat rides to jump on which enables you to really easily explore the area. Unfortunately we didn’t have time on this visit but Windermere Cruises are well worth a look at, and you can even get over to Hill Top, Beatrix Potter’s home, by catching a ferry from Bowness.
Two: Go hiking…
The Lake District is famous for its fells, boasting four of England’s highest peaks, including Scafell Pike. Alfred Wainwright was a fell walker and author who devoted his life to mapping the area. He wrote seven pictorial guide books which feature 214 fells, and they have inspired fell walkers and hikers for the past 40 years. This list here details all of the 214 Wainwrights in the Lake District, and it’s on many people’s bucket list to tick them off.
We didn’t have the best weather for hiking as it was often changing pretty quickly, and after having a scare on Cadair Idris during our Snowdonia Staycation (when we had such poor visibility that we got lost on the mountain), we decided to play safe and went for one of the “easier” hikes. This involved climbing Cat Bells (above) and then, because we’d found Cat Bells relatively easy, onto Maiden Moore near Derwentwater, which provided stunning views of the surrounding fells and lakes, and allowed us to visit an area of the Lake District that was further North.
I loved this hike as it was easy to follow and we met so many lovely, friendly people on the way. I’d hope to tackle some of the more iconic hikes next time, such as Old Man Coniston or Scafell Pike, but this was a great way to get some Wainwrights ticked off the list while ensuring we wouldn’t have a repeat of Cadair Idris. (I’m not sure our relationship could have taken it…!)
Three: …And then ramble some more.
One day of hiking just isn’t enough. We loved chucking on our hiking boots and heading out into the fells for a hike, or taking a stroll along the lakesides. There are some beautiful walks between Grasmere and Ambleside, and along Rydal Water which are definitely worth a visit, and you also don’t need to be going up high to see breathtaking views. One thing is for sure though, you need to pack walking boots, a warm coat and wet weather gear. The weather is very changeable and forecasts can be misleading.
Four: Go adventuring in Langdale.
The Lake District as a whole is an adventurer’s playground, but Langdale is the capital of that. Situated to the west of Ambleside, the Langdale Valley is split into two – Greater Langdale and Little Langdale – and runs right up to the Langdale Pikes (a colloquial term for peaks). It was probably our favourite place we visited in all of the Lakes as it is pretty much untouched, with tiny rural villages built out of stone, rolling farmland and incredible, craggy mountain tops. It was a lot quieter than the busier tourist honey pots of Ambleside and Windermere and felt like a real escape.
The National Trust owns the majority of land in the Langdale Valley and there are several tenant farms, so you will spot lots of Herdwick sheep grazing along the fells. These hardy sheep have been managed in traditional ways on the fells for generations and look as though they have smiley faces. Beatrix Potter herself was actually very committed to preserving the breed and had her own flock, which won many prestigious awards at Lake District agricultural shows.
Visit Old Dungeon Ghyll, the iconic mountaineers pub situated by the Langdale Pikes; go for a long walk in the rolling countryside; visit the little villages of Chapel Stile and Elterwater; and take on a Langdale hike. We climbed Stickle Ghyll at the back of the National Trust’s Sticklebarn Pub, and came to the stunning Stickle Tarn at the top. Check out the walking route here. There is so much to see and do and we will definitely be heading back here on our next trip to the Lake District.
Five: Drive along the country lanes.
One thing I loved was driving through the Lake District with the sun shining and the radio on, taking in the views of this stunning landscape. Langdale is the perfect place to do this and you’re bound to come across some gorgeous little stone cottages, hidden lakes and sweeping valleys. It’s ideal for those who can’t get out and about as easily, or if you’re tired after a day of hiking. The drive from Ambleside to Keswick is also pretty spectacular.
Six: Spend some time in Ambleside.
Ambleside is a lovely little village situated on the Northern edge of Lake Windermere. It is one of the more “tourist-y” areas, with lots of shops and tearooms, but it provided the perfect place during a rather rainy afternoon on our first day as there. Be sure to check out the 17th century Bridge House, which is now owned by the National Trust and is one of the most photographed scenes in all of the Lake District (see above), and from Ambleside you can also venture to nearby Stock Ghyll Force waterfalls. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time there and the weather was abysmal on our visit, so we stuck to the village centre and lakeside for a few hours of exploring.
Seven: Wander around Grasmere and eat some Grasmere Gingerbread.
Without a doubt, a visit to Grasmere is a must while in the Lake District. This quintessentially British village is so adorable and is one of the Lake District’s most popular as it was once home to the poet William Wordsworth. You can visit his house (see no. 8 below) and also visit his, and his family’s, graves at St. Oswald’s Church in the village. It is one of the most visited literary shrines in the world, and we found it a very peaceful place.
One also cannot visit Grasmere without trying some world-famous Grasmere Gingerbread. Tipped to be the “best gingerbread in the world”, this gingerbread is neither a biscuit or a cake, and was invented by Sarah Nelson who baked it in her cottage, which is now the Grasmere Gingerbread Shop, over 160 years ago. She whipped up the concoction and sold the gingerbread outside her home which is right by St. Oswald’s Church. It became so popular with locals and travellers alike and today has seen the likes of Tom Cruise go back for seconds. The recipe is under lock and key in a bank, but it is still made in the same way today and is bloody delicious.
Eight: Visit Dove Cottage, William Wordsworth’s House in Grasmere.
Wordsworth describes Grasmere as “the loveliest spot that man hath found”. He spotted Dove Cottage, in a little hamlet just outside of the village, while on a walking tour in 1799 and lived there with his sister Dorothy, and his wife and children, for 8 years. It is where he wrote some of his most famous works and Dorothy wrote her fascinating journal, which gives an insight into their lives there. Today you can visit Dove Cottage and take a tour of the cottage and gardens, and it really transports you back 200 years to how the Wordsworth’s would have lived at the time.
I’d have to say it is absolutely worth a visit. It’s a really special place and quite incredible to think that the man who shaped poetry once lived there. It’s beautifully preserved and the tour guide we had was fantastic, providing so much information about the house, how they would have lived and even little details about wider society at the time. There are also extracts of Dorothy’s journal dotted around, giving a deeper journey into the past.
Nine: Check out Rydal Water and visit Rydal Caves.
If you’re after a less strenuous walk, then taking a stroll by Rydal Water provides the perfect opportunity to witness some breathtaking scenery without breaking too much of a sweat. A walk around the whole lakeside should take about 2 hours but one thing that I would definitely tick off is a visit to Rydal Cave on route. This cave is manmade as it was originally a quarry. Now though, it’s a hidden gem and is absolutely stunning!
Ten: Visit an iconic Lake District Pub.
No trip to The Lake District is complete without a pub trip, and honestly the food there was so good. We ate so much but luckily the hiking and walking counteracted that. Old Dungeon Ghyll in Langdale is well worth a visit if you’re in the area.
Have you visited the Lake District?
Lots of love. xoxo