The Lake District National Park is a very popular area both for British holidaymakers and those coming from further afield; the vast majority of our customers include a couple of nights there during their trip, so it certainly could not be considered ‘off the beaten track’. However, most people stick to the central Lakes, which, while beautiful and with many interesting places to visit, can get a bit busy in the height of summer.
If you head instead to the north of the area, you will find a very different feel – the same stunning scenery but with a more rugged atmosphere, a focus on hiking and exploring the great outdoors, and many areas where your only company is a few Herdwick sheep!
Here are our top tips for visiting the area.
Favourite short walks
The lowest summit to be given the ‘full treatment’ by Alfred Wainwright in his famous pictorial guides, the fell walker thought it well worth the accolade, and we certainly agree – the beautiful approach, the mining heritage and the fantastic views for relatively little effort make this a wonderful outing.
There are a couple of options of where to start the walk but we like the route from the little village of Grange (limited parking available in front of the village hall), which takes you down a lane and past the idyllic campsite at Hollows Farm, on the banks of the River Derwent, before climbing through picture-perfect woodland, following the course of Broadslack Gill. You emerge from the woodland only for the last pull to the summit of Castle Crag, which is mostly on a zig-zagging path through the remains of an old slate quarry (care should be taken as slates can move or be slippy in wet/icy weather).
Emerging onto a flat section of slate, you suddenly get a stunning view over the head of Borrowdale, with the Derwent snaking its way through the flat valley floor. A short climb through a large number of slate cairns takes you to the summit, where there is another stunning view, this time in the other direction, down Borrowdale to Derwent Water and Keswick.
Descending from the summit, you can either retrace your steps or loop around the summit to join the Cumbria Way footpath close to the river and follow this north, to re-join your original path back at the campsite.
Grange boasts the perfect spot to enjoy a well-earned cuppa and cake on your return – at the Grange Bridge Tea Shop the service and produce can be a little hit and miss but a seat in the garden by the river overlooking the summit you have just bagged more than makes up for it!
Another favourite is the short walk up to the summit of Cat Bells. You get stunning views over Derwent Water and the peaks surrounding the Newlands Valley, for fairly little effort. However, this is certainly not one you will have to yourself on anything other than a cold winter’s day (or very early in the morning!), as it’s extremely popular. It also features as part of our ‘long walk’ below! There are quiet routes up to the ridge from the western side of the fell, in the Newlands Valley, if you don’t want to follow the well-trodden ridge route, or to make the route a circuit.
For a low level option, the circuit of little Loweswater in the Buttermere Valley is a lovely option with a great pub nearby for post-walk refreshments (see below). The National Trust owns the land here and provides walk details on its website.
Favourite long walk: The Newlands Horseshoe
Taking in 1190 metres of ascent, 6 summits and 12 miles, this is a full day walk and not for the fainthearted!
While Cat Bells, the lowest summit on the route, tends to get a lot of visitors (see above), you are very likely to be doing several other stretches of this walk in wonderful peace and quiet (so make sure you have a map and know how to read it!).
There are several options on where to start the walk but we like the start from the little villages of Stair or Little Town in the Newlands Valley. Little Town has the advantage of having a good café at Littletown Farm for a well-earned treat when you finish the route! (Although note it is only open in summer and ‘busy periods’ so worth checking before you set off if you’re relying on it!)
The route starts by climbing to the highest summit of the day – Robinson – from where there are wonderful views of both the Newlands Valley and over into the Buttermere Valley to Crummock Water.
The ridge then takes you over Hindscarth to Dale Head, for more fabulous views of the Newlands Valley and over to the Skiddaw massif. There is a steep descent down to pretty Dale Head Tarn before climbing again to the summit of High Spy and enjoying a stunning ridge walk over Maiden Moor to Cat Bells. From here, there is a short but steep descent back into the Newlands Valley to end the day.
It is possible to shorten the route by descending early from the ridge back into the valley at various points along the route.
Favourite Café: The Lingholm Kitchen
The Lingholm Estate, tucked away on the quieter western shores of Derwent Water, is centred on a grand Victorian Mansion, most well-known as being a holiday location for the young Beatrix Potter, before she made the Lake District her permanent home.
The estate has recently opened the Lingholm Kitchen and Walled Garden – a large, light and airy café, overlooking the walled garden (reputedly Potter’s inspiration for Mr McGregor’s garden), with plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. Service is excellent, homemade cakes and breads are too tempting, and lunches are a great mixture of smart sandwiches and something a bit more unusual. Excellent breakfasts and brunches are also served.
You are welcome to stroll through the garden and woodland and down to the lake. If you’d rather leave the car behind, you can take the Keswick Launch from Keswick to either Hawse End or Nichol End Marina and make the short walk along the Cumbria Way footpath to Lingholm from there.
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 (now relocated to near Hawkshead due to its popularity) – Cumbrian Legendary Ales – and sells its own excellent beers alongside a selection of other local favourites and it is hard to find fault!
Boating on Derwent Water
The beautifully located lake of Derwent Water, with Keswick at its northern point and stretching down Borrowdale, flanked by increasingly high mountains on either side, is a great spot for those who like taking to the water.
There are options to suit every taste – peaceful ‘hop-on-hop-off’ lake cruises, allowing you to explore all around the lake without navigating the narrow lanes; rowing boats; motor boats; and kayaks. Take a fishing trip or, if feeling brave, have a dip from one of the lake ‘beaches’ (confident swimmers only and never go alone).
For a more unusual option, five times a year, Derwent Island House, on privately owned Derwent Isle in the middle of the lake, is open to the public and you can take a boat trip or canoe to the island and visit the house.
Whinlatter Forest, England’s only mountain forest, is run by the Forestry Commission and, as well as providing wood for fuel and building, offers a variety of activities including well-renowned mountain biking trails (not suitable for beginners), walking trails, a high ropes ‘Go Ape’ course, segways to hire and an excellent woodland ‘play trail’ for the kids.
If you would like some help planning your trip to the northern Lakes or anywhere else in Britain, just get in touch.