2 days. 515 miles. 57 000 steps. 5 towns. 4 lakes. 1 boat trip. 784 photos taken. 27 (roughly) dogs stroked. 100’s of lambs we tried to befriend. And 1 epic road trip with Charlie of The Millennial Runaway and the last road trip I took before my visa in the UK expired. Now it’s been a few weeks since I got back from this road trip, and since then have moved back to Canada (insert tears here), but hey better late than never right?
My last month living in England was set to be a whirlwind. From one city to another, one bit of countryside to another I was determined to pack in those last 4 weeks with amazing adventures, so as soon as I finished up work, it was off in the car to one of he places that had been on my UK bucket-list, and this time with a friend! Just a few hours North of Bristol you’ll find yourself in a postcard. I’m not kidding, everywhere you look in the Lake District feels like a postcard or a painting. It was a place I had been wanting to go ever since I first arrived but for one reason or another had yet to make it there until a weekend at the beginning of May. From walking round incredible lakes to cruising around in a boat on the lake this is my weekend itinerary for the Lake District.
For this trip I was incredibly lucky to not only have a friend join me but also a car at our disposal for the adventure. I met Charlie in Gloucester and from there jumped on the motorway toward Hawkshead, managing to doge all the traffic we pulled into the hostel carpark after just over 3 hours door to door. While it’s not impossible to get around the lake district without a car, it really was one of the major reasons I had not been up that far north before. If you are without a vehicle or don’t drive you can still get to the Lakes with the train service from major cities in the UK as well as the bus service. A note to make that getting around the Lake District itself there is a connector bus service which you can find details by clicking here.
Lay Your Head at Night
We opted to break up the trip and stay in 2 different locations so we didn't spend the whole weekend driving around. So on Friday night we drove all the way up to Hawkshead, about 3.5 hours north from Gloucester. This hostel is based in a grade II listed building which views out to the lake, and if a bunk bed isn’t your cup of tea, they also have private rooms spaces for camping with your own kit, Teepees, Cabins and even Bell tents! With a cafe and self catering kitchen on site there really wasn’t more we could have asked for, except maybe an extra day to the weekend of course! 1 night in a 6 bed female dorm costs 13.00/person (at the time of publishing this post). To find out about availability and pricing click here.
Saturday we headed off adventuring for the day in the same direction as our accommodation for that evening in Borrowdale, and the next day we came back down the other side of the lakes back towards Bristol. In Keswick, but set as far back from any big town as possible you’ll find this bunkhouse style hostel. On the banks of the Derwent River with quite a few trails leading off from the front door, this place also has dorm, cabin & camping options. I will say that this wasn’t really the best experience, the hostel at the time seemed to be full of different groups which is not the fault of the hostel but they were quite loud and we didnt get much sleep, the kitchen wasn’t overly well equipped for cooking and the reception staff weren’t overly helpful when asking for directions or trying to figure out what road closures were due to happen with a marathon happening the next morning. All in all it was an okay stay, but not somewhere I would go back to as it was quite a bit more expensive than the first nights accommodation. 1 night in a 6 bed female dorm costs 34.00/person (at the time of publishing this post). To find out about availability and pricing click here.
Where to Eat & Caffeinate
Fancy a treat after walking around the village or being out on the lake? Look no further than this ver photogenic shop/takeaway in the centre of the village. Stocking 50 + local & worldly honey’s you can see how this shop got it’s names. From perfect gift items to take home with you or grab a pie to take away to much along as you stroll through the village.
After walking for a few hours we were in desperate need of a coffee, and lucky us we stumbled upon this adorable cafe. Named after the owners rescue ginger cat and styled after Beatrix Potter this is the perfect spot to crab a cuppa or tuck into a mouthwatering breakfast.
Boasting what I’ll say is one of the best views of the lake in Grassmere, a visit to Faeryland is a must! Pulling on all things magical and mythical you’ll get a sense that you’ve stepped into a storybook as you pass through the archway towards the lake to see rainbow coloured boats lined up on the lakeside. Whether it’s a hot drink or a ride out in one of their boats it’s a spot not to be missed.
Apple Pie Cafe
Opened in 1975 in what used to be an old garage and a 2 man show, this well known restaurant/pastry shop was on our must eat list before we even left for the Lakes for both Charlie and I. We arrived just as the doors were being opened and within minutes the place was packed (good sign), with a fab breakfast menu and a pastry counter to make you drool we opted to have breakfast and get some treats to take away (the cinnamon buns are legendary by the way!).
Hole in t’ Wall
Built in 1612, the oldest pub in Bowness-on-Windermere is tucked away on a side alley with a lovely little front pub garden and an interior full of history and character. Pop in for a pint, a wicked lunch or for a night out you won’t be disappointed! Try the lamb, it's as close to a Sunday roast as you'll get without actually paying for a roast!
Windermere Ice Cream Company
Because when the sun is out, the temps hit 25’c and you’re on holiday ice cream is a must! And nothing would curb that craving better than a scoop (or two) from The Windermere Ice Cream Company. Founded in 1920 and family run, the shop within a stones throw from the lake side houses a serious amount of flavours with something for everyone in the group!
(Note to find directions and more info above click on the names of the places in bold)
See & Do
Because we managed to hit quite a few towns on our Lake District road trip I’ll breakdown this section by location in the route we took. We left Bristol/Gloucester on Friday afternoon and drove straight up to Hawkshead where we would start off on Saturday. This is our route below Starting in Hawkshead and ending in Winderemere.
Hill Top Walk
From the hostel you can walk out to this National Trust site and the home of The Beatrix Potter Gallery and Gardens. As you exit the hostel take a right and follow the road along until you start to see signs for Hill Top. Esthwaite Water was said to have been Beatrix Potter’s favourite lake, and the inspiration behind her story of Jeremy Fisher. Starting at Esthwaite Water Car Park, a 1/2 woodland trail takes you through until you come to a clearing on a hill and where you’ll find Hill Top. The cottage is open daily from 10am and costs £13, however the gardens and trail are free, which is what we opted to do as you still get a view of the cottage from the outside which screams with charm! Note it will take about 40 minutes one way from YHA Hawkshead to Hill Top Visitors Centre. If you go back the way you came to get back it will take the same amount of time.
From Hill Top you can follow a 2 mile marked and semi-paved path right down into the historic and very cute village of Hawkshead. I use the term village lightly as it is quite a small one. You can walk all the streets in less than 30 mins if you’re just window shopping, but it’s worth it to take some time and pop into the adorable shops, galleries and sit and have a coffee in the sun and watch the world go by all while keeping your eyes peeled for Peter Rabbit! From here its less than 30 minutes walk back to YHA Hawkshead but I would recommend sticking to the road path as the more scenic route isn’t well sign posted and you could end up semi stuck for a few too many panicked moments in a field surrounded by cows (LOL).
Quoted as “The loveliest spot that man hath ever found” by poet William Wordsworth who lived in this Lake District town for nearly 15 years it really does have a romantic feel to it. 25 minutes drive from Hawkshead you’l find a town surrounded by historically charming homes (more like mansions) quaint cafes and restaurants and of course the lake itself. While it might not be the biggest of towns in the Lakes it sure is gorgeous. The best view of the lake (in my opinion) is from the Faeryland Cafe where you can sit and enjoy the view or take out a rainbow covered rowboat and reenact your favourite scene from The Notebook if you wanted to. Row boats can be hired for £15 (for 2 people) + a £20 deposit. Note: the cafe & boat hire are CASH ONLY.
Gingerbread is gingerbread right? Wrong, or so I was told as we stood in line at Sarah Nelson’s Gingerbread house. Invented in 1854 by Victorian Sarah Nelson who mixed and baked her spicy-sweet chewy mixture inside her cottage which is now the shop. Not shaped like the well known plump little man, but its squares, not crunchy, but soft & very much tasting of ginger these sweet treats will be a hit for all! For a 6 pack (which maybe won’t give you that 6 pack if you eat it all to yourself) it’s £3.50 or a 12 pack for £6.70. Be prepared to queue up outside as the shop is absolutely minuscule with only space for a counter and a lovely woman dressed up as who I can only guess was Sarah Nelson herself.
45 minutes Northwest of Grassmere brings you to the literal middle of nowhere (or so it felt) and with nothing much for walking trails, a few carparks, a hostel (where we stayed) and a pub (with very poor customer service aka The Langstrath Country Inn http://thelangstrath.co.uk/). Arriving just before sunset we didn’t take too much time to explore, instead option for a trail that runs directly out from the back of the hostel along Derwent water and takes you high above the few houses in this area. Pretty sure the sheep outnumber the humans here. Very pretty views, and Im sure if you had more time here you could use it to climb to the top of Castle Cragg for spectacular Panoramic views, or rockclimb at Fleetwith Pike or even get your cameras out to Johnny’s wood to look for wildlife. We we’re here only for the night, leaving incredibly early due to a heinously loud snoring dorm mate & an impending marathon forcing road closures. We left at the crack of dawn on Sunday and made our way to Keswick.
Yes you read that right, a carpark. Trust me, as soon as you drive in you’ll understand why this makes the list. The views of Derwentwater are sure to leave you breathless, especially at 7am in May (it was a tad chilly). The water was so still safe for a mum, dad & baby crew of ducks paddling about. Quite a few campers were set out in their vans here too.
A note to all who try to find this spot ( and the one below) on Google maps you’ll end up driving around for far too long being disappointed because it takes you nowhere worth seeing. So make sure you save this post code CA12 5UN into your phone or sat nav to get you there. This post code directs you to Ashness Bridge Car park, one of the most photographed bridges in the entire lake district. While going over it might make you wonder why it’s been given that title, the views once you get out of the car will fix that. A traditional stone built bridge that looks out towards the hills on one side but over to Skiddaw on the other. A bubbling brook/waterfall runs underneath and at just the right angle you can see the mountains through the underside of the bridge.
Surprise View point
From the very same car park as above you have two options, drive up following the signs for Surprise View (less than 5 minutes) or walk up ( 30 minutes). Once at the top, scoot across the road and you’ll be gifted with the most spectacular view and quite a surprise one as you cant see anything but road and trees while driving. Not for those afraid of heights as standing close to the cliff edge could cause you serious issues, but well worth it for the Lewis of Derwentwater if I do say so myself.
40 minutes south from Ashness Bridge Car park brings you into Ambleside one of the bigger towns in the Lakes. After a fab breakfast at the Apple Cafe it was time to explore!
Stockghyll Force Waterfall
From the town you’re not more than 20 minutes from the Salvation Hotel through a gorgeous bit of woodland you’ll sit hints of a waterfall but keep climbing and you’ll find yourself staring into the 70 ft beauty that is Stockghyll Force. Once you spot the falls, climb up a few more steps (full accessible for any age or fitness level) and cross over the bridge where you can climb down to get a better view if you want. Note: it was dry when we visited but take care if you visit after or during a rainfall as the paths and hills are quite slippery.
From town follow the signs towards the lake and in about 20 minutes it will come into view. There are a few trails around Borran’s Park and along the water, perfect for runners, cyclists & dog walkers. While here have a nosey around the ruins of what used to be the Ambleside Roman Fort (also known as The fort of Brittania). The fort guarded the Roman road from Brougham to Ravenglass once upon a time and now is a National Trust owned Grade 1 listed site.
If you turn right around while at the fort remains you’ll see Ambleside pier not to far off, and a lovely place for a stroll. With Steamers and ferries going daily around the lakes its a perfect place to get off dry land and see the lake from the best vantage point. Take a picnic (beware of the swans though) and sit down by the waters edge or post up at any number of restaurants while taking in the views.
The last stop of the weekend and probably the most well known was just a 20 minute drive down from Ambleside.
Windermere Lake Cruises
First things first, get your butt on a boat! It really gives a whole new perspective of the lakes when you’re sitting on a boat in the middle of it. There are quite a few options but if you’re short on time I would recommend the 45 minute cruise from pier 2 which runs every 30 or so minutes daily and costs £9.00/person. For more information and timetables click here. There is a guide on the boat who will give you facts and point out interesting things as you cruise along, keep your eyes open for magical looking sailing boats as well as the incredible mansions that line the shores of Bowness. There are also options from other companies to take out self drive boats on the lake too if you fancy yourself a James Bond type.
Running once a month on a Sunday (click here for further dates) and full of incredible local produce, artwork, food stalls and even car boot style stalls if you make it here on a Sunday it’s worth checking out as it’s right on the lake side so you can’t miss it!
Have a wander
One of the most touristy towns in the Lake District, it’ll pay to walk off the beaten track a bit to dodge the crowds. Pop into the multitude of art galleries, cafes, shops & just take in the charm of it all. Pop into Hole in T’ wall for lunch or a pint and finish it all off with an ice cream from Winderemere Ice Cream Company!
We came, we saw, we conquered (well conquered the South Lakes at least). A massive region in the UK there is still so much left of the Lake District I’ve yet to see, but thats just another (among many) reason to get back to the UK ASAP! I was reminded so much of bits of Canada and New Zealand while road tripping through the Lake District so if you’ve been to either those places you know that you’re in for a real treat. Take it all in, soak up all those views and lets hope the weather or your Lake District holiday is as good as we had for ours!