I’d been anticipating our visit to England’s Lake District with a niggling curiosity and measured excitement. The area that inspired literary greats such as William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor-Coleridge and Beatrix Potter was surely something to behold. But its coined popularity and links to the rich and famous had me wondering how much hype was in the celebrated beauty of the Lake District.
From York, we drove up through the Yorkshire Dales National Park to Bowness-on-Windermere, a small town on Windermere Lake in the Lake District.
Driving the narrow country roads on the A684 ‘scenic route’ was both slow and splendid. The Yorkshire Dales seemed to sum up every pleasant stereotype of the English countryside; little stone walls led to little stone bridges and cottages, which were surrounded by sheep-dotted fields and bubbling creeks.
Eventually the dips and curves of effervescent green farmland faded into wiry amber grass and scrawny woodland. As we pulled up in Bowness and prepared Panda van for the night, the orange-pink dusk was reflected in the still Windermere water.
The next day we found that exploring Bowness would be a little more challenging than first envisioned. The local weather man decided to throw us all things cold; from icy winds to fog, spitting rail, sleet, and then finally, hail. Not quite the sunny, inspiring skies I’d had in mind.
To make the most of the conditions, we took a 40 minute (sheltered and heated) Blue Cruise around the lake islands. Scores of bright-sailed boats shared the choppy lake with us as we skimmed past shore views of stone towers, grand 18th century houses and manicured lake-side lawns.
The next day we were blessed with less precipitation so we drove an hour north to Howtown on Ullswater to walk the steep peak of Hallin Fell. It was there that I really understood why the natural state of the Lake District has been so celebrated.
We chose the ‘medium’ difficulty, two hour walk for its view of Ullswater and more northerly location (on the way to Scotland). Although a little remote and down a dead-end road, the drive to Howtown offered more delightful scenery.
Parked by the jetty, we downed a cup of tea and a sandwich in the back of the van and then set off. 40 thigh-straining, breath-stealing minutes later, we were at the peak of Hallin Fell, cowering in the icy wind and loving the view.
The peaks behind us were white with snow and the creeks in gullies far below shone silver with the afternoon sun. The only sound up there was the wind; howling along ridges, swishing through long grasses, buffering my ears and scarf.
It was one of the most breathtaking views I’ve encountered in my travels, and oh so serene as we sat there taking it all in, with no other soul in sight.
Then it was back down the fell (sorry knees), past the old stone chapel and sheep that looked stunned to see us. We’d wisely decided to walk the circuit in the opposite direction as shown on the map so we could climb the peak first, in case the weather turned. While that seemed all well and good at the time, after about an hour of walking and not circumnavigating the base of the fell, we realised that we had somehow missed the signs (designed for walkers coming from the opposite direction) and were headed along a one-way road towards the base of three mountains.
Although we needed to backtrack and didn’t complete the circuit, the walk was still stunning. After more than two hours on our feet, we were relieved to return to our cosy camper and have another warm drink as the evening chill settled. A very satisfying end to a day of amazing Lake District scenery.
Tips for visiting the Lake District:
- This area was made for camping. If you fancy a spot of wild camping, don’t pay for one of the many multi-service parks (as we did). Instead, try your luck at the free overnight parking in Glebe Road, around the corner from the water-side Bowness Visitor Centre, or in the many flat areas on the side of smaller roads (such as the one on the way to Howtown). After booking into a 4 star park for a hot shower, we were kicking ourselves driving past all the lovely little roadside stops.
- If you do want a hot shower, electrical hook up and every other service a campsite could possibly throw at you, I can vouch for Fallbarrow Park, on metres from the lake and town centre. We ended up spending a fair bit of time in both their onsite cafe and pub (yes campsites have pubs now) using the free wi-fi and hiding from the hail.
- Hit up the Bowness Visitor Centre for area info. They have enough pamphlets to sink one of the sail boats in the harbour and a pretty descent doco of the area running inside. You will have to pay a couple of pounds or so for a good map of local walks, but its worth it.
- If you’re keen to take a boat cruise on Windermere Lake, just rock up to the harbour and by a ticket for one of the frequent departures. There are three different cruise routes, each offering a different length ride for a different price. We did the cheaper and shorter 40 minute blue cruise around the islands, which was more than enough to enjoy the sights.
- I recommend taking a walk. I jogged around Windermere Lake and then walked Hallin Fell. Both outings left me inspired by the natural beauty. Check out the links below, use the visitor centre and keep an eye out for the ‘public pathway’ signs through fields, over walls and into woods.
Info & resources:
A shout out to Wicked Campers UK for the awesome van (Panda) and for making this trip possible. Loving every day of it!