Britain’s National Parks are some of the most popular areas of the country for visitors and for good reason – the beautiful landscapes, pretty villages and country pubs are an appealing combination. But if you only have a couple of days, it can be hard to know what to do and where to visit. In our new ‘National Park Focus’ series, we pick out our favourite bits of each of Britain’s National Parks to help you on your way. First up, the most visited of all Britain’s parks: The Lake District.
Favourite Short Walk: Loughrigg Tarn from Elterwater (4 miles)
Whilst known for its rugged, mountainous scenery, the Lake District is full of short, gentle walks that allow those who don’t fancy trekking up into the hills the chance to absorb the stunning lake and mountain scenery.
We could fill a book with our favourites, but if forced to plump for one, it would be the walk along the River Brathay from Elterwater up to Loughrigg Tarn, from where you get stunning views to the Langdale Pikes. The first section is flat and accessible, so naturally very popular, and you are unlikely to get the route to yourself any time other than mid-week in deepest winter, but the mixture of riverside, woodland (filled with bluebells at the right time of year), and mountain scenery more than makes up for it.
Elterwater makes a great place to start and end the walk. One of the Lake District’s most inviting villages, it is home to the wonderful Britannia Inn, a proper country pub that is a great place to refresh yourself after the walk. It has not suffered from the modernisation of many such pubs and retains all of its original features and charm. The outdoor tables are always bustling with exhausted looking walkers enjoying local ales and hearty pub fayre.
If short on time, cut down the walk by beginning at Skelwith Bridge, where you can also get refreshments when you are finished at the excellent, and very popular, riverside café, Chesters.
The AA provides route instructions – see the link at the bottom of the page.
Favourite Long Walk: The Fairfield Horseshoe (10.5 miles)
A true Lakeland classic, the Fairfield Horseshoe packs eight Wainwright summits into its ten and a half miles and offers stunning views throughout, which only improve as you go.
A classic ridge walk, the route begins with a long pull out of the busy little town of Ambleside then undulates between summits until you reach the top of Fairfield. The flat summit seems gentle compares to many of the more rugged Lakeland peaks but do not be fooled, it can be very disorientating in poor weather so come prepared. From here, almost the whole the Lake District spreads out before you, including the Langdale Pikes, the Scafell range and Helvellyn.
The return leg offers the best views of the walk, with a stunning vista over Windermere and the surrounding hills all the way, before you drop down back into Ambleside.
UK Hillwalking provides a detailed route guide (link below), but you should also carry an OS map and compass and know how to use them.
Favourite Pub: The Kirkstile Inn
Tucked away in the hamlet of Loweswater in the Buttermere valley, the Kirkstile Inn is everything a country pub should be. Packed full of character that has been wonderfully looked after over the last 500 years, all of the requisite ingredients are in place: original timber beams, flag stone floors and roaring fires.
The atmosphere is cosy and welcoming, whether you pop in for an afternoon pint after a long walk or settle in for the evening to try some of the local food (rooms are also available). On a sunny day, there is plenty of outside space to soak up the grand proportions of the Buttermere Valley.
Add to this that the Kirkstile has its own micro-brewery – Cumbrian Legendary Ales – and sells its own excellent beers alongside a selection of other local favourites and it is hard to find fault!
Favourite Activity: Boating on Coniston Water
Many of the Lakes have a variety of options for taking to the water, but Coniston really has something for everyone.
The National Trust run ‘Steam Yacht Gondola’ is a unique experience – the renovated Victorian gondola is decked out as it would have been for Victorian tourists coming to see the Lakes and is still run by a coal fired steam engine. Enjoy a relaxing cruise around the lake, learning about the history of the area, with an option to jump off at Brantwood, the fascinating former home of artist and philanthropist, John Ruskin.
If you prefer to do it yourself, there are all sorts of crafts to be hired from the Coniston boating centre. Take an electric motor boat for a spin or, for the more active, hire a rowing boat, canoe, kayak or sailing dinghy. For something a bit different you can even have a go in a ‘Waterwalker’.
Favourite Village: Cartmel
Although technially outside the National Park, Cartmel is one of our favourite places to visit in the area. While undoubtedly popular, it doesn’t feel completely overwhelmed by tourists like some of the central Lake District villages so retains more of a lived in feel. Its narrow streets and wonky cottages make a pretty scene, looked over by the villages most striking feature; its huge priory church, one of few to survive Henry VIII’s reformation in the sixteenth century. Little else of the priory remains other than the ancient gatehouse that is still one of the main entrances to the village square.
Cartmel has also become something of a foodie hot spot, kick-started by one of Britain’s most celebrated chefs, Simon Rogan, opening his now two Michelin-starred restaurant, L’Enclume, here in 2003. Since then not only has Rogan added a second restaurant and taken over one of the villages four pubs, but an old builders yard in the centre of the village has been redeveloped to house a cheese shop and bakery, a wine shop and a micro-brewery – all of which allow you to purchase their produce and take a seat in the yard outside to enjoy it.
There are some lovely walks straight from the village – climb Hampsfell for views across Morecambe Bay, to the high fells of both the central Lakes and the Yorkshire Dales, or stroll through woodland to visit nearby Holker Hall, with its award winning gardens and farm shop, selling food from the estate.
If you would like some help planning your trip to the Lake District or anywhere else in Britain, just get in touch.