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Escape from reality and succumb to Mother Nature.
Lake District (Cumbria)
Member Name: angusreid
Lake District (Cumbria)
Date: 07/07/05, updated on 03/08/05 (1631 review reads)
Advantages: Peaceful, tranquil and beauty that you can touch, smell and breath.
Disadvantages: Busy in summer months and can have terrible weather.
Located in the North West of England and stretching as far as the Scottish borders, the Lake District has to be the most breathtaking of all Englandís landscapes. Cumbrian people are noted for their warm hospitality and uncomplicated lifestyle, and despite having to put up with hoards of tourists and their thoughtless actions, they manage to keep their villages and towns looking fantastic, no matter what time of year you visit.
The M6 opened up the Lakes and made them more accessible a few years back, allowing people an easier approach to the heart of ramblerís paradise. Turning off either at Kendal or Penrith, you are met with a short journey before driving through Kendal its self or Keswick in the North. I will advise you that the roads become very tight once you have left either of these places and if you are not a confident driver, I would recommend that you leave your car at the hotel and use the bus service, especially in the summer when they are pretty frequent.
Base camp is an important choice here, as the Lakes are not renowned for her pleasant weather and when it rains, it rains. Donít be disheartened by the threat of rain though, because believe me; you have not seen the lakes until you have seen the cascading waterfalls that appear as if by magic whenever the rain falls. I would recommend Ambleside and Keswick as the two best bases, due to their easy access and also their central positions that make it easy to reach various places of interest. Also, it is worth considering the type of holiday you are looking for as some of the villages have a limited scope for children and entertainment in the evenings, whereas these two places have pretty much as good a selection of restaurants and pubs as you would find in most towns with a larger population. Again, accommodation is something you need to choose carefully, but I will cover that a bit later.
Serious walkers/ramblers/hikers tend to look for the harder walks and will hit areas such as Wasdale (Wast Water, Englandís deepest lake and most eerie feeling ever) where you find hills steeper than a Mercedes service and drops that make roller-coasters seem tame. Englandís tallest mountain Scafell can be found here, but the more popular climb, Great Gable can be seen from Wasdale Head an puts the fear of god into any Sunday afternoon stroller. You crick your neck just looking at the top. However, you can also find some pretty tough walks (Graded Hard in the walkerís guide.) and climbs around the Hellvelyn range as well, located a 15 minute drive from Ambleside or from Keswick.
The less serious walkers who prefer flatter ground can find some fantastic, breathtaking low line walks around any of the lakes, with Derwent water at Keswick being accessible in 15 minutes or less from the town centre, through the gardens and past the mini-putt to the lakes head. Lake Windermere is only a short bus journey (Bowness on Windermere) and is as busy as you would expect a major tourist attraction to be, water sports, boat trips and the likes. For a quieter time visit the gondola on Lake Coniston, a 40 minute bus ride from Ambleside or a couple of hours max, with bus changes from Keswick. If you have the time and the inclination, Tarn Hows has been described as the most beautiful sight in England by poets such as Wordsworth. A bit of a trek to get there but regular bus trips from both Keswick and Ambleside can make it a good half day out.
Coniston has a place in my heart and has everything for the romantic couple who wish to see a bit both hills, lakes and also share a bit of quality time in a period restaurant or traditional bar in the evenings before retiring to, erm, enjoy the pleasures that the fresh mountain air, the romantic lakeside walks and the succulent aroma of homemade fresh produce can instil into ones passionate nature.
The advantages of Coniston are the pubs, the easy walks up hill to the copper mines, uphill a bit further to the fells leading to Langdale, and up hill even more to Coniston Old Man, a large hill or a small mountain whichever one you would like to call it. Or lakeside walks to Waters head and down to the Gondola launch which shares its jetty with motorboat hire, thankfully the slow and pleasant ones, not the noisy poser type.
The pubs are traditional and friendly and well located in the village, although parking can be a problem at the Yewdale and the Bull, but the Sun Hotel, 200 yards up the hill has a fair sized car park and a great beer garden. Shops a plenty, but mainly touristy souvenirs and my good friends Dave and Fionaís general dealers come everything you can think of.
There is a large car park in the village located in The Garth with reasonable parking rates and public toilets.
Hawkshead is a small village located between Ambleside and Coniston and has some famous shops for Lakeland products, including sheepskin rugs and hand made sheepskin moccasins. Although aimed at the tourist market as most shops are, these products are more up market and priced accordingly. A couple of good pubs here as well, but gets very quiet at night. Close to Hawkshead is the home of Beatrix Potter, Peter Rabbit fame, not the pint juggling pool player. You can visit her cottage and look around the gardens which I think are owned by the National Trust now. On the way to Coniston from Hawkshead, you can stop off at the Ruskin House museum, located on the East side of Lake Coniston, about half way between both places. John Ruskin founded the National Trust and was a keen naturalist and collector of various items including local gemstones and a lot of informative pieces. You can park you car a couple of hundred yards past the house in a lakeside car park for a small charge and enjoy a picnic lunch on its banks.
Ambleside itself is a traditional, stone built large village/small town has a much more hurried lifestyle, although this is more by the sheer volume of tourists who flock here everyday. I am also fond of Ambleside as I spent a lot of time here between bus transfers. In fact, we are off here for a weekend to stay at the Rothesay Manor, a reasonably priced hotel with rooms from £120 per night.
Ambleside has many B&B and hotels to choose from, and because of this you have more choice of restaurants and pubs for your evening leisure time. Shops are plentiful and varied, ranging from the normal tourist tack to traditional crafts and fares. Ambleside has a one way system that loops around the shops making it easy to drive around and view everything before parking up and walking, but be warned, at peak times it can get quite congested and you may find yourself a mile or so away in the nearest available car park. My tip is to drop the ladies off to have a look around the shops then park the car, walk down and find them so that you do not have to spend an awful lot of time looking around the shops yourself. No doubt they will share their finds with you back at the hotel room later.
Grassmere is a small village and not one I tend to bother with, although quite beautiful I find it a bit claustrophobic and always packed. Home to the famous Wordsworth of course, ďI wandered lonely as a cloudÖĒ so worth a quick stop if nothing else. Park at the car park just outside the village and walk in though.
Now Bowness on Windermere is a rather tacky place, in my opinion but it is the hub of activity for Lake Windermere and you will have to visit it if you are considering any kind of water sport really. Full of cafes and slate shops, it gives a cheap feel to the area, but serves its purpose well, which is to cater for tourists quickly and efficiently. There is a night club here as well, so if you are a young night time person, it will suit you, also has a few more updated pubs as well as a few traditional ones.
Keswick up in the North/central side of the lakes is a different story. A thriving town with a wonder of shops, cafes, restaurants and pubs. This is the place for people who enjoy a bit of modern life as well as tradition but can be a bit overpowering for those who choose to savour the romantic side of the lakes. I know people from Newcastle who stay here because they can go to the working menís clubs in the evening rather than pay an extra 50p a pint in the pubs. Beats me why, but each to their own. Keswick has a busy main street hidden away as you drive through. Just south of the bus station and within easy reach if you are changing buses to continue a journey. Again, like Ambleside, Keswick has a mass of B&B and Hotels, but they get booked up quite early for the summer and weekends around back holidays. Keswick is an ideal location for someone with a car as it is 25 minutes or so from the M6 and a delightful drive once you leave the motorway. I recommend the White Horse pub some 10 miles in for a place to rest and water yourself; they do a steak baguette to die for. Also the views from the small veranda over the fells are amazing and give you the first taste of the lakes and their beauty.
Kendal in the South is not a place to stay (again, in my opinion) as it is more of a large town feel and appearance and takes away the glamour of being in the most beautiful part of England. A good place to shop, but no different to your local shopping centre. I wonít dwell on the place as I tend to only shoot in, but something and shoot out if I am up that way.
Of all the Lakes, I would recommend Wast water as the place to get to, but only if you drive. Ullswater is a close second and more accessible and Coniston Water my third choice, just for her peaceful ambience.
Local specialities include Kendal Mint Cake, which tastes like a giant after eight mint and comes in bars of various sizes. Popular with hill climbers as it gives an energy boost as well as the mint giving you a warm feeling when out on some of the coldest days of the year.
Cumberland sausage needs little introduction and when you taste the real thing, freshly made and served usually in a coiled 1 pound portion surrounded by the freshest vegetables money can buy. Taste so much better than that substitute you buy from a supermarket, believe me. Maybe it is the fresh Cumbrian air, or the fact you have just dome a 10 hour walk that makes it all the more succulent, or maybe it is just the atmosphere that Cumbria has, but either way it tastes divine.
Just some words of advice for you.
The weather is changeable in an instant and even when going on the shortest of short fell/hill walks, make sure you take warm clothing and waterproofs, as so many people have come a cropper. I once went out with the Mountain Rescue team in Coniston on a clear night to search for some lost students and we experienced some of the most bizarre weather changes I have ever encountered. One minute it was a perfect clear, moonlit night and you could see Blackpool illuminations in the distance and next minute you could not see 2 feet in front of you for rain and cloud. Pretty scary stuff. The students turned up safely by the way, they were quite sensible and when they realised they were lost they bedded down for the night in a make shift shelter.
Also, the walks may seem short and easy, but they are strenuous in places and can be quite taxing. Proper shoes and attire should be worn and take a small first aid kit and back pack f some sort.
Use you car as little as possible and park away from the villages and towns.
If you want to know some more info, here a few links to walks and tourist info.
There are hundreds more web sites out there, so take your time and ensure you have as much info as possible to make your holiday full.
I watched the top ten natural wonders of the UK the other night and could not believe that the Lakes did not make the top ten.
Is there no justice?
Summary: Peaceful, tranquil and beauty that you can touch, smell and breath.
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