The Lake District, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the most popular destinations in the UK for a luxury cottage holiday. Its outstanding natural beauty once inspired literary greats including William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter. Today it attracts visitors looking for the same magic amongst the shimmering lakes, grand waterfalls, lush valleys and thick forests. There’s a huge array of outdoor activities on offer from fell walking to cycling to water sports, while pretty villages and historic attractions are also waiting to be discovered.
Lake Windermere is the largest lake in England and dotted around it are numerous classic slate cottages which the area is renowned for. Windermere is one of the principal towns in the Lake District and the main rail link into the Lakes. It has a wide variety of shops and restaurants and is hugely popular with tourists. Further down from Windermere is the town of Bowness which is closer to the lake and popular with those wanting to enjoy water sports. The town of Ambleside, at the northern end of the lake, is also very popular and is a particularly good place to start some of the Lake District’s best-loved fell walks. Wherever you stay, activities and attractions for families, couples and groups of friends are all easy to access.
Shoppers with a penchant for fine food and kitchenware, should head to Windermere’s high-end supermarket Booths, located in the old railway buildings, as well as the flagship Lakeland store. To survey the area in detail, take the short walk from Windermere to Orrest Head, which is a fantastic vantage point. Bowness is that bit closer to the lake and offers fantastic access to water sports and outdoor pursuits, through its marina, sailing clubs and activity providers. You can even charter your own yacht or take a sailing course with a qualified RYA instructor. The Lake Windermere area offers everything from abseiling and bushcraft skills to gorge scrambling and zip-wiring. Meanwhile, Beatrix Potter World is a great place for family fun and the National Trust’s Gothic Revival-style Wray Castle is a lovely day out. For Michelin-starred dining, HRiSHi restaurant at Gilpin Lodge in Windermere and the Old Stamp House in nearby Ambleside, where William Wordsworth once worked as a Distributor of Stamps, should not be missed.
Coniston is a picturesque village, with a nice variety of places to eat to keep you going if you don’t feel like cooking during your luxury cottage holiday. There’s a tranquil feel here with plenty of walks from the village and locally. About a mile from the village is Coniston Water, the third largest lake in the National Park, measuring about five miles long and one mile wide. It is remembered as the place that Donald Campbell sadly died during his water speed record attempt in 1967, but holidaymakers can look forward to much gentler water activities including guided boat trips and the hire of kayaks and paddleboards.
A good way to get your bearings is a walk from the village up to The Old Man of Coniston that stands above the village; en route you will pass remnants of Coniston’s slate and copper mining past. Do also visit the Ruskin Museum to learn more about Coniston’s history and see Bluebird K7 – the rebuilt vessel used by Donald Campbell. For a lovely afternoon on the water, book a sightseeing cruise on board the Steam Yacht Gondola. Meanwhile, the nearby village of Hawkshead is perfect for Beatrix Potter fans. Visit the gallery which displays the author’s original book illustrations and her 17th century home at Hill Top. Potter’s estate of Tarn Hows, located between Hawkshead and Coniston, is also great for a leisurely lakeside walk.
A bustling market town awaits visitors to Keswick which is located near the northern end of Derwentwater, the town’s local lake, about a 10-minute stroll away. Keswick is a magnet if you’re looking for soft adventures such as water-based activities, horse-riding, hiking and cycling and there are plenty of outdoor shops in town ready to get you fully kitted out. There are also some charming boutiques, a good choice of cafes and restaurants, and the Theatre by The Lake. As one of the larger towns in the area, Keswick is a popular place to stay for those wishing to climb Scafell Pike which is 8 miles away.
The walk around Derwentwater, about an 8-mile hike, is a lovely orientation, and the detour up to the top of Friar’s Crag will reward you with awesome views. If you’d prefer to take it easy, the lake cruise on Keswick Launch stops at several jetties so you can hop on and hop off as you please. At the southern end of Derwentwater is the gateway to the Borrowdale Valley where you can explore the villages of Seatoller, Rosthwaite, Stonethwaite and Grange. Near to Grange, you’ll find the stunning 100ft-high Lodore Falls which are particularly impressive after heavy rain. Back in Keswick there are lots of tempting places to eat, but try The Fellpack for a hearty evening meal and homely atmosphere. If you’re tired from all that walking then book yourself a spa day at the Lodore Falls Spa.
Grasmere is one of the smallest lakes in the Lake District, but no less beautiful than any other. Nearby Grasmere village is a real gem and is famous for its association with poet William Wordsworth who lived here and is buried in St Oswald’s church. It was here that Beatrix Potter is said to have been inspired for her character ‘Peter Rabbit’ too. It’s a touristy place, but a particularly elegant one, and today, amidst the smart stone buildings, many of which date back to the 19th century, you’ll find many quality gift shops, coffee shops, pubs and restaurants.
In the village, visit William Wordsworth’s home at Dove Cottage and do also pick up some sweet treats from the Grasmere Gingerbread shop where the recipe hasn’t changed since 1854. Meanwhile, for fine dining take the short drive to The Forest Side hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant. For a walk, start with Grasmere lake, where the small island was where Wordsworth enjoyed picnicking. Alternatively, drive to Thirlmere for the stunning Dob Gill Waterfall walk where the falls cascade into the lesser-known Thirlmere Reservoir. To really work up an appetite, set out early and climb Helvellyn via Striding Edge to the summit which is about 950 metres high; it’s both spectacular and challenging.
Wastwater is the perfect place to feel remote. Unlike most of the other lakes, it can only be accessed via a single track road. As part of the Wasdale Valley, Wastwater is surrounded by unspoilt landscapes including towering fells such as Great Gable and Scafell Pike. Without doubt, it’s one of the most haunting and dramatic scenes in the Lakes. Wastwater is the perfect place for a mountain trek, though many walks here are amongst the most challenging in the Lakes, or simply slow down, amble and enjoy a picnic by the shore.
As a renowned place for climbing, many people come to Wastwater and the Wasdale Valley to scale Scafell Pike. However, for those not ready to embark on the ascent to the summit of England’s tallest mountain, there’s a relatively easy walk that incorporates the wonderful Ritson’s Force. Begin, or end, your walk at the Wasdale Head Inn which has been serving food and drink to walkers for over 200 years and is one of the most remote pubs in the Lakes. Head through the beer garden and across a stone bridge then follow the path uphill that leads to the waterfalls.
Ullswater is the second largest lake in the Lake District, at 7.5 miles long, though just under a mile wide. Lying within a deep valley, Ullswater is edged by fells including Helvellyn, Cumbria’s third-highest mountain. Patterdale, Glenridding and Pooley Bridge are the three main towns in the area and all of them offer visitors a range of shops and some good pubs. Ullswater is also said to be where William Wordsworth took inspiration for his famous ‘Daffodils’ poem. So a springtime visit here, and specifically to the small pebbly beach and woodland area around Glencoyne Bay when the daffodils are blooming is particularly appropriate.
There aren’t any speed boats allowed on Ullswater, but at Glenridding the sailing school rents out rowing boats and canoes, with tuition available if required. Alternatively, there are three old steamer boats in operation, ready to ferry you on a leisurely cruise from Glenridding, via Howtown, to Pooley Bridge which takes around an hour. Hop off at Howtown for an array of rambling routes, or starting from Glenridding, walk along footpaths, through stunning scenery, to Aira Force. This impressive 65ft waterfall is surrounded by nature trails, where if you’re lucky you might spot one of the rare red squirrels.
Bassenthwaite Lake is less visited than most other lakes in the Lake District, as it’s on the edge of the national park. However, strictly speaking it is in fact the only body of water here that is actually a lake – the others are classed as waters or meres. Bassenthwaite is a good place for viewing migratory birds and ospreys have been observed nesting here, whilst Atlantic salmon come to Bassenthwaite Lake to spawn. Meanwhile, the small, but pretty village of Bassenthwaite, that sits beneath the Skiddaw massif, is about a mile and a half from the lake and just a short drive from the popular town of Keswick.
Walking in the area is popular, but finding a route around Bassenthwaite Lake is tricky because of the boggy terrain at its southern end. Starting from the eastern side there are beautiful walks including through Lakeside Wood and Dodd Wood where you might see some of the red squirrels that are thriving here. The wetland nature reserve at Dubwath is a great place for birdwatching. Back in the village, relax beside the village green, feed the ducks in the babbling brook or enjoy a drink at the solitary pub.
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