Visiting the Lake District

Hastily rearranging our planned 5-week tour of US National Parks to a 2-week tour of UK National Parks, the Lake District was my ‘must do’, somewhere I had talked about visiting for as long as I could remember but never getting around to making plans to actually go!

So following on from our 3 nights in the Peak District and 3 nights in the Yorkshire Dales, we would be making the Lake District our next 3-night stop on our road trip.

Visiting the animals at the farm park

Trying to emulate some of the activities we would have down on our US trip, we stopped off along the way at Lakeland Maze Farm Park to have a go at their giant Maize Maze. Usually, this would have been a “let’s see what the weather is like on the day and decide then if we want to do it” type of activity but with Covid-restrictions rendering spontaneity obsolete, if we wanted to visit any type of attraction, it had to be pre-booked well in advance. Unfortunately, it had rained most of the morning for our hike around the Ingleton Waterfalls Trail in the Yorkshire Dales and as we left there, there was no sign of a change in this weather as we drove north-west.

Stuck in a huge maze in the rain, traipsing through mud and huge puddles, wasn’t the most fun we had all trip and as the rain got heavier, we resorted to using the maze map we had been handed as we checked in to find our way out quicker than we otherwise would have! Once safely out, we spent a bit of time saying hello to the animals at the farm before continuing to our Travelodge accommodation at the north end of the Lake District National Park in Cockermouth.

Lake side at Ambleside
Down by Lake Windermere – Ambleside Marina

For our first full day in the park, we had pre-booked a return boat trip across Lake Windermere, the largest lake in the park, travelling from Ambleside to Bowness-on-Windermere. Luckily, seeing as we’d booked outside seating on the boats, the weather had dramatically improved from yesterday and the sun was even trying to shine!

Our transport across the lake

Expecting the Lake District to be the busiest of the National Parks on our road trip, we had booked the first boat of the day to take us to Bowness. We parked up for the day in Ambleside town on the large, and rather expensive, Miller Bridge car park from where it was a mile walk to the waterfront. Being early, the car park was almost empty. After taking some pictures of the lake, we checked in and boarded the boat to Bowness.

Crossing Lake Windermere with Lake Windermere Cruises

With the boat acting as public transport between the towns, we were required to wear our face coverings for the duration of the 30 minute journey and every other row of seats was blocked off to ensure social distancing between parties.

It was a pleasant ride across the lake and once in Bowness, we had just over 2 hours to explore before we had to be back at the marina to catch the boat we had booked back to Ambleside.

Walking to Post Knott

Before departing, we had looked up short walks that could be done in the area and decided on a 1.5 mile walk to Post Knott for views over the lake. The mainly uphill walk took us through the busy town and then along a steep public footpath bring us out at Biskey Howe Toposcope. The views here were already pretty impressive and we took a moment to take some photos and catch our breath before following the route instructions we had downloaded and continuing on to Post Knott for more views over the lake before retracing our steps back into the town.

View from Post Knott
Bowness-on-Windermere marina and, below, at Cockshott Point

After stopping off at one of the many bakeries on offer to grab a slice of delicious looking cake, we walked back towards the marina and took the short lakeside stroll to Cockshott Point, a grassy lakefront area with a stony beach and we sat here to eat our cakes before wandering back in time to catch our return boat to Ambleside.

Bridge House, Ambleside

Once back, we strolled into Ambleside town and had a pre-booked lunch at the George Hotel before spending the afternoon looking around. Ambleside was smaller and slightly less busy than Bowness. We found our way to Bridge House, a small house built on top of a bridge which you can normally go in and look around but was currently closed due to Covid restrictions, and then we took the circular hike out into the woodlands to see Stock Ghyll Force, a nearby waterfall.

After a busy day, we walked back to the car park where we found cars now queuing to get in and find a space and as we drove out of Ambleside, we passed miles of traffic queuing to get into the town even though it was now late afternoon proving we were right about this being the busiest of the parks we would be visiting.

View from Whinlatter Pass on the way to Whinlatter Forest Park

Day 2 in the Lake District and, again trying to replicate activities we’d have down on our planned US road trip, we had booked a segway adventure at Whinlatter Forest Park. We arrived at 10am to find an already packed car park and only just managed to find a space to park up in then went to check in for activity.

Segway fun at Whinlatter Forest Park

We had segwayed multiple times on our visits to the US and in Europe but it had always been in city centres whereas in the UK, it’s only allowed off-road on private land. Our previous segwaying adventures had always been lengthy 2-3 hour tours but today’s would be just an hour, 20 minutes of which were spent setting us all up on the segways and practising before our segways were finally put into the easier to use full-power mode.

Riding on a gravelly surface with lots of quite steep up and down sections made the session more challenging – and a lot more fun – than we had expected and we really appreciated a stop at one of the highest points of the forest park which offered beautiful views across the Lake District. It was an amusing way to spend an hour and we were really glad we had booked it.

The view from one of the highest points in Whinlatter Forest Park

Segway session over, we returned to the car to find the packed car park had now been closed off with ‘sorry, we are full up’ signs outside the entrance. I’m not sure what we’d have done if we’d have booked an afternoon segway session!

Narrow roads as we inadvertently drive along Newlands Pass

With no set in stone plan for the rest of the day other than to spend it exploring the Lake District further, we had looked up the possibility of hiring canoes, kayaks or even a motor boat for that afternoon only to find everything fully booked days in advance so instead, we thought we’d do a circular walk of one of the lakes. After some investigation, we had settled on Buttermere Lake which various sites had told us was one of the quieter, lesser visited of the lakes and which only took a few hours to walk the entire circumference. So with that in mind, we started our drive towards the National Trust car park there.

Beautiful scenery along Newlands Pass heading towards Buttermere Lake

What we didn’t realise was that the drive from Whinlatter to Buttermere would take us along Newlands Pass, a beautiful scenic drive but also one of the windiest, steepest one track roads we’ve ever encountered! As we neared Buttermere, the drive was made more challenging by cars parked in pull in places and other inappropriate places slowing down traffic in and out of the village.

Waterfall along Newlands Pass near Buttermere

We could tell straight away that Buttermere was not going to be quiet at all and that we’d be lucky to find a parking spot but we gave it a go anyway trying both of the village car parks to no avail. It would seem that the Lake District, in the summer months at least, is one of those places where you need to get to your destination for the day early, preferably before 10.30am in order to get a parking space and then you need to stay in that place for the rest of the day because if you move on, you’ll probably not find a parking space at your next destination!

The site of our unplanned lunch stop

Unsure where to head for next but knowing that we would not be exiting Buttermere the way we came in – we’re not sure our car would have made it up the 25% gradient hill! – we kept driving until the road widened out and we spotted a place to pull over. It was still pretty scenic where we were and sheep were milling around on the road and in the open meadows around us so we had lunch in the car and, seeing as there was no reception to get on line, consulted a map.

Viewpoint on our circular walk around Grasmere Lake

We decided to try our luck at Grasmere, a town and lake which we had passed on the way to Ambleside the day before. Luckily, Grasmere had a huge car park and an even bigger overflow car park which we easily managed to find a space in! Relieved at finding somewhere to go, we walked into the town centre.

It was very busy with queues reaching around the block to enter its famous Gingerbread store and even for ice cream. We found a quieter ice cream store inside a church cafe and indulged in what we felt was a well-deserved treat then looked up walks we could do in the area as we sat and ate them.

Walking alongside Grasmere Lake

We decided on a 3.7 mile circular walk around Lake Grasmere and screen shot the easy to follow instructions before setting off. The walk took us out of the town and up to a viewpoint then through parkland running alongside the River Rothay where the path eventually opened out to the lakeside before looping back into the town. Apart from the initial steep path up to the viewpoint, the walk was mainly flat and easy and there were beautiful views across the lake. A perfect way to finish off our Lake District adventure!

Next up, 2 nights in Northumberland National Park

Watch my adventures in the Lake District here:

A UK National Parks Staycation

Like many people, I had big trvel plans for this year, namely a 5-week mammoth USA road trip passing through California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah and Arizona visiting a variety of National Parks. Luckily, while our route was planned, we hadn’t got very far in the booking process with just our return flights to LA and our first 2 nights’ hotel accommodation booked by the time we went into lockdown. We put our planning on hold and thankfully, as it became more and more apparent that our trip had no chance of going ahead, our flights with Norwegian Airlines were cancelled and promptly fully refunded and we went ahead and cancelled our LA hotel reservation.

While travel to the USA was out of the question, as restrictions in the UK slowly began to be lifted, we started to wonder if a trip here would be a summer possibility. While I’ve extensively explored the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Italy and a range of European cities, there is very little of my own country I have spent time seeing in anywhere near as much detail. Trips here for me mainly consist of city breaks to see a concert where more time is often spent travelling to and getting ready for our night out than sightseeing, or a few days somewhere on the Welsh coast walking my dog on the same 4 or 5 beaches each time. With our original trip being based on visiting USA National Parks, we wondered if we should maybe spend some time in the UK Parks.

So, still unsure if our trip would even become a possibility, we tentatively started doing some research.

With Wales and Scotland under separate rules and restrictions to here in England, we decided we should plan to stay away from the parks there in case we were still not allowed across the borders by the time August rolled around. That straight away cut down the possibilities to 10 English National Parks. The Norfolk Broads on the east coast, the Southern Downs, New Forest, Exmoor and Dartmoor in the south and the Peak District, Yorkshire Dales, North York Moors, Lake District and Northumberland National Parks to the North. Living in the Midlands, any direction would suit me as nowhere is very far in comparison to the distances we’d have driven in the US.

After some research, we decided rather than being over ambitious and attempting a full 5-week road trip taking in all of the parks when local lockdowns were very likely to come into force and disrupt our plans, we would concentrate on the parks in one area of the country and aim to spend about 10-14 days on our trip. Having seen a number of reports on crowds rushing to the south of England, we eventually decided to head to the parks in the north and came up with a 14 day itinerary during which we would hopefully spend time in the Peak District, the Yorkshire Dales, the Lake District, Northumberland and then the North York Moors. We’d begin our adventure midweek to avoid weekend traffic and made sure the days spent in the Lake District, the park we expected to be busiest, were also midweek when it might be slightly quieter.

By the time that it looked as if lockdown would be relaxed enough for our ideas to possibly come to fruition, we found that with everyone being forced into staycations, accommodation options were either very limited or extremely expensive so rather than staying in the parks themselves, we opted for chain hotels in towns on the outskirts of the park – making sure we went for the fully cancellable room options of course, just in case!

Hotels booked, a basic plan of possible activities was next. Covid restrictions meant spontaneity was not as much a possibility as usual. Attractions including National Trust properties, farm parks, boat trips etc were all working on a time-slot booking system and spots were filling up quickly but we were pleased to see most places offering transferable or even refundable tickets in case circumstances changed and visitors couldn’t it.

We wanted to stick with outdoor activities for the main part anyway so were banking on the weather staying mainly dry at least so we could busy ourselves with a range of walks to see the parks’ highlights. In preparation, we found the postcodes for all the car parks we might use and collected together as much change as possible – which is more difficult than it sounds in a world where contactless card payments are preferred everywhere – in case any of the park machines were cash only.

With the government’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme running Mon-Wed throughout August, park attractions weren’t the only thing we couldn’t be spontaneous with. Most restaurants were also operating a book ahead only policy so we had to think ahead as to where to eat on our trip sometimes booking more than a week in advance. Staying in the towns on the outskirts of the parks at least gave us more choice with this and allowed us to vary our cuisine a bit more. The scheme helped us to keep the cost of the trip down a lot along with finding various online vouchers to use at chain restaurants for the remaining days of the week and we kept the cost of eating out down further still by carrying a box of cereal with us for breakfast, buying rolls to make our own lunch and even taking a flask of hot water with us each day to make our own tea!

As we set off for the Peak District, we were fully expecting to have to give up and head home from our trip before reaching the end either due to weather issues or local lockdowns suddenly coming in but surprisingly we made it to all 5 of the parks on our list without interruption. It was certainly very different from our experiences of visiting the National Parks of America in the past with the UK parks being large areas containing lived and worked in towns and villages rather than being actual parks like in the US with an entrance, exit and a route to follow through taking you past all the highlights. We discovered early on that it was best to mainly keep out of the villages and towns after we arrived in Bakewell to find crowded streets and very little social distancing going on and from that point forward we aimed for open spaces where we could hike out to beauty spots on easy to follow trails, keeping a distance from others.

It was great to see a bit more of our own country, to get out into the countryside and go hiking and to drive through such beautiful scenery and while not quite as exciting as the trip we had planned, it was an adventure we would probably never have planned or experienced in normal circumstances.

Keep checking back for my write up of what we got up to in each park starting with our visit to the Peak District!