13 September 2017
A one week Lake District itinerary will invariably be mainly spent outdoors, however much rain is forecast. The Lakes might do rural incredibly well – with about 45 people per square mile compared to London where it tops 11,000 – but ill-prepared for merciless weather, it is not. There are actually few better places to be than the Lakes when it rains.
There's an endless supply of wet-welly-welcoming pubs with open fires, a huge range of outdoor clothing stores that will cater to every whim and need, and museums covering everything from pencils to Potter.
And when the sun shines, there are few places in the world that can beat the fells and tarns and lakes in the beauty stakes. Fortunately, it's as easy to acquire an inflatable crocodile and a disposable barbecue for an impromptu day by a lake as it is to find hats and scarves to endure an unanticipated cold snap.
First timers in the Lake District may be overwhelmed by the possibilities. There are activities for visitors with all levels of fitness and covering all areas of interest: there's a guided walk in Wordsworth's footsteps from Grasmere to Rydal, and a professional mountain leader will take fitness fiends to the striking, craggy heights of Helvellyn and Striding Edge.
There are theatres and cinemas, forests with full disabled access, a restaurant – L'Enclume – that was named the best in Britain for four years in a row, and everything from zipwires to hot air balloons waiting to reveal ever more dramatic and stunning views.
In a bid to simplify the burden of deciding what to do, what follows is a one week Lake District itinerary that includes a range of insights into the second oldest National Park in the UK.
Note that none of the activities need to be booked in advance but camping should be; all prices given for camping are based on 2 adults and 2 children travelling in one car.
A great introduction to camping in the Lakes is to stay at the National Trust's Hoathwaite Campsite on the shores of Lake Coniston. The site is simple and spacious with gorgeous views, and the option of glamping in a Nordic tipi that comes with everything required for a romantic retreat, from woodburning stove to fairylights.
The afternoon and evening would be well spent walking the couple of miles alongside the lake into Coniston itself, where the Ruskin Museum awaits (£16), and dinghies, paddleboards, rowing boats and kayaks can be rented.
An evening meal at the seventeenth century Sun Inn promises 'brews and views' and is the perfect introduction to the traditional cosy Lakeland pub experience offering farm-to-fork dishes in a suitably dramatic setting.
Camping cost: from £24pn; tipi from £50pn
Plenty of other glamping options are available for those of you who prefer the idea of a staying in a luxurious tipi to camping in a tent.
While there's something unerringly satisfying about poking eggs about in a pan on a camping stove, Coniston has enough cafes and restaurants that will happily serve a hearty breakfast in preparation for the day ahead. Head down to Grizedale Forest for a morning of walking or mountain biking: with black trails for seriously experienced riders and the adorable Mushroom Trail that is perfect for kids, it's possible to hire electric bikes, tag-alongs, and anything that would be needed to explore the forest paths. (Bike hire from £64 for a half day.)
Grizedale started the Sculpture Trail initiative forty years ago, offering a unique space for artists and visitors. Anyone wanting an adrenaline rush can visit Go Ape and fly through the trees on zip wires – and there's a lovely cafe that welcomes dogs for those unable, or unwilling, to hurtle. (Go Ape should be booked in advance; children must be at least 13 years old. Priced from £180 for a zip trekking adventure.)
The Eagle's Head pub is an ideal nearby lunch spot and will provide an energy boost for a visit to Hawkshead and Tarn Hows, probably the most photographed tarn in the Lakes. The Poppi Red cafe offers up impossibly large slices of cake, a worthy reward for anyone who makes the six mile circular walk through open countryside to the Tarn.
Although there are plenty of pubs back in Coniston, a visit to the Lakeland classic that is The Drunken Duck Inn just outside Hawkshead would be a worthy ending to the day.
Driving to Ferry House on the shores of Windermere means the car can be abandoned for the rest of the day. It's a four mile woodland walk to Wray Castle, a place with craft workshops and dressing up rooms that will keep children entertained for hours on rainy days (family ticket: £22.50).
The National Trust's Low Wray Campsite offers an alternative accommodation option and is right by Wray Castle.
Take a cruise over to Ambleside's Waterhead Pier - a short stagger from the welcoming Wateredge Inn which makes an excellent wet weather day alternative to a picnic in the park sourced from the Apple Pie Bakery. Be sure to try one of their family-sized 'bath buns'...
Ambleside is a great place for poking around shops, a short walk from the Stock Ghyll Force waterfalls, and home to the hundred-year-old quirky Armitt Museum, so there's something for everyone. Enthusiastic walkers can choose to walk down to Brockhole, home to the Lake District Visitor's Centre, or even as far as Bowness, but those with a more leisurely intention can hop on another ferry and watch the scenery glide by.
The delightful Beatrix Potter World is in Bowness, a charming hour's activity for children of all ages who love Mrs Tiggy-Winkle and Benjamin Bunny (family entrance ticket: £21).
It's a final short ferry hop back over to Ferry House, and the route back to base passes the Cuckoo Brow Inn that serves up hearty, restorative dishes in the snuggest of settings.
Incidentally, for those with some serious walking in mind, either day two or three can be switched out and replaced by walking up the Coniston Old Man, a mountain that looms large over the campsite and offers spectacular views to those who make it to the top.
Total ferry costs: £49.65.
Camping cost: from £21pn; pod from £35pn
To fully appreciate the Lake District it is a good idea to plan on staying in a few different places. Just behind Rydal Hall are five exquisitely finished traditional shepherd's huts at Herdy Huts, open all year round for romantic escapes and small family holidays.
With amazing views and the adjacent Rydal Hall campsite that declares it comes with the real 'Swallows and Amazons' feeling, this is a seriously envy-inducing base.
Only half an hour's walk from the centre of Grasmere means that within easy reach are Dove Cottage and the William Wordsworth Trust (and therefore also the possibility of buying the poem 'Daffodils' printed on literally any household item), the famous Grasmere Gingerbread Shop where both queues and satisfied taste buds are guaranteed, and rowing boat hire for messing about on Grasmere itself.
The recently reopened Forest Side Hotel includes a Michelin starred restaurant for serious foodies, or it's easy to pop to Ambleside with its clutch of small supermarkets if a meal cooked over the campfire is on the agenda.
Camping costs: campsite from £19.50. Huts are available for a minimum of three nights from £280 for two adults and one child.
The final nights of the holiday could be spent at Gill Head Farm, and getting there from Rydal Hall is nothing short of spectacular. Heading out of Ambleside up The Struggle and out onto the Kirkstone Pass, the highest of the Lakeland passes, views are breathtaking.
There is a multitude of lay-bys and stopping places for pulling over to take photos and it is advisable to look out for those rather than try and create a space on the side of the narrow, winding lanes.
The pass opens out into Patterdale, where Ullswater stretches ahead and Helvellyn reaches to the sky. Choices for the day range from conquering the third highest peak in England – and the one which has the easiest access of the famous mountains in the Lake District – to rainbow hunting at Aira Force waterfall.
The Ullswater steamer plies a course around the lake, one option being to take it from Glenridding to Aira Force, walk from there to The Royal Hotel in Dockray for a traditional pub lunch, and then take the newly created footpath back to Glenridding. It is possible to do this in the company of a professional photographer and be part of a guided walk that will also enhance the skills of any budding amateur. (Guided walk available from £30pp.)
On a working farm, the Gill Head Farm offers both a peaceful retreat for those seeking quiet and a world of excitement for any children. Only fifteen minutes' walk away from the campsite is the Troutbeck Inn, an excellent ending to a day spent scrambling over Lakeland fells.
Camping cost: campsite from £16, pods from £45pn, gypsy wagon for two adults from £45pn.
At the tip of Derwent Water, Keswick has one of the most stunning situations of any of the Lakeland towns. There are more outdoor stores here than you can shake a walking pole at, and after a mouthwatering mosey around Ye Olde Friars chocolate shop (in the months preceding Christmas there is actually no place better) stop off at Bryson's to gather the goodies for a picnic lunch.
Energy-level dependent, it is possible to either pootle about the lake between eight different stops on the Keswick Launch Company's traditional wooden boats, or walk anything up to 9.5 miles if the entire circuit is completed. Taking the time to stop and stagger up to Ashness Bridge, almost certainly the most photogenic and photographed bridge anywhere in the National Park, is a must.
The Lakes Distillery in nearby Bassenthwaite or the Theatre by the Lake in Keswick itself both make for excellent rain-retreats but are worthwhile experiences whatever the weather. Sampling whisky, gin and vodka made in the Lake District (dedicated drinkers can skip Derwent Water altogether and spend the whole day experiencing the Stillman Masterclass) can actually be a remarkably family-friendly activity thanks to the herd of alpacas waiting to be cuddled.
There are plenty of supermarkets in Keswick to stock up for another camping stove meal, or the Pheasant Inn makes an ideal stopping point on the way back home. Of course, the entire day could be replaced by a hike up Skiddaw for those looking to burn some serious energy, but the views from an aged launch with cake in hand are equally as rewarding.
Hop on, hop off ferry around whole lake: £25.
Distillery tours: from £12.50pp, Alpaca meeting from £9pp.
It's the last day and at this time there is little point desperately trying to keep clothes dry. Ghyll Scrambling is the ideal activity whatever the weather – clambering up a canyon means wetness is unavoidable. There are options available for any age group and fitness level, and there's something rather magical about becoming quite so much a part of the Lakeland landscape for a while (from £35pp).
The Rheged Centre, housed in Europe's largest grass-roofed building, is perfect for whiling away an entire afternoon and indulging in some seriously good food and makes a fine addition to the list of rainy day activities in the Lake District. It has a gallery, a cinema, indoor and outdoor play areas, a pottery painting workshop, three cafes, a theatre – and that's just the start. Consistently rated as one of the top attractions to take kids to (rain or otherwise), it's possible to round off the week by parking children in the ball pool and taking up residence in the adjoining cafe.
The fifteenth century oak-panelled Dockray Hall pub in Penrith makes for the perfect dramatic finale to a week well spent. The presentation of the food is rivalled only by the taste, the Grade 1 listed building a gorgeous space to reminisce about wet walks, ferry crossings, bike rides, and excessive cake consumption.
The best thing about this itinerary is that it's just a glimpse of what could be done in the course of a Lake District stay. The Wainwrights haven't even been touched on; the glorious beauty of the Langdales are yet to be explored. Beatrix Potter's Hill Top home is still on the 'to do' list, and there are more passes to creep over, more lakes to be swum in, more mountains to climb.
There are gardens to be discovered – many in the National Garden Scheme – and the Bowness Bay Blues Festival; there's the Words by the Water literary festival, and year-round triathlon, cycle and running events.
The scenery can be viewed from the top floor of a double decker bus that heads from Windermere to Keswick, a steam train that travels from Ravenglass to Eskdale, or early morning in a hot air balloon.
A distinctive feature of the Lakeland fells are the sheep dogs, as hardy as the drystone walls themselves that stretch seemingly without end over the highest crags. Throughout the year there are sheepdog trials that are fascinating to attend, the dogs ducking and diving at their master's command. Look out for hidden signs appearing along roadsides and on tree trunks: rounding sheep is their speciality, rather than marketing perhaps!
Even on the busiest bank holiday weekend, there are camping pitches to be had in idyllic places such as the isolated Duddon Valley. Camping isn't all about being cheek-by-jowl with strangers, listening to their small-talk and snores: in the Lake District, there is space enough for it to be about the scenery, the solitude, and the blackest nights filled with the brightest stars.
Holidays need not be as planned and packed as the outline suggested, too. They can be about disengaging and reengaging, spending precious time together as a couple or a family or a group of friends.
A meal cooked over a camp fire can be as delicious as one paid for in a pub, and an afternoon spent watching the shifting clouds and shadows as rewarding as one passed walking up a mountain.
Since the late eighteenth century the Lake District has drawn tourists to its fells and tarns and even though there are now more modern ways to experience its raw beauty – anyone for a spot of paragliding? - there is something to be said for sharing the simple companionable crackle of a campfire with loved ones.
Prices are correct for 2017.