Take a tour of the Lake District this summer, England's oldest National Park, for some mountains, hiking and heavy duty scenery.
Windermere may be the most famous of the lakes but it is also the most crowded. Call in by all means but the circus may become too much for some, especially in high summer. Fairground rides, 500-seater ferries and plus-sized Peter Rabbits make England’s largest lake a busy place.
For some peace, and slightly more accurate representations of famous animals from children’s literature, visitors should travel the short distance to Hawkshead, a village famous for the residence of Beatrix Potter. Both properties, a gallery in the office of Beatrix’s husband and Hill Top, her home in Near Sawrey, are owned by the National Trust (website: www.nationaltrust.org.uk). The visitors do flock, but the calm serenity which inspired such wonderful creations as Mrs Tiggy-Winkle and Jeremy Fisher remains resolutely undisturbed.
Ambleside and Grasmere
Pitch your tent in Great Langdale (website: www.ntlakescampsites.org.uk), a base for exploring Ambleside and Grasmere. The two nearby pubs bring civilisation close but the campsite is surrounded by satisfactory amounts of pretty hills, green valleys and sheep to still feel alone with nature. Hike up to Stickle Ghyll to stumble upon more lakes and even greater views. Sturdy boots and a map are recommended, as are high-sugar snacks for along the way – a good time to try some Kendal Mint Cake. Walking sticks may help you fit in with the fully kitted pros but they aren’t essential.
If the isolated nature thing isn’t working, head into Ambleside – a lovely town with pubs, shops, restaurants and a cinema where you can get dinner and a film for under £10.
Slightly sleepier is Grasmere, once home to the undisputed literary heavyweight, William Wordsworth. Dove Cottage (website: www.wordsworth.org.uk), the set of his opium-fuelled, poetry-writing sessions with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, is open to visitors to come and wander lonely as clouds. The house is preserved as though still inhabited by its famous dwellers and their guests and the garden where some of the greatest lines of English literature were composed is free to ramble in. The museum next door is hosting a Turner exhibition this summer, included in the ticket price.
To really get active and make the best use of the water, Coniston is the place to take on some watersports. The Coniston Boating Centre offers canoeing and kayaking, sailing lessons and self-drive electric boat hire. If you prefer to stay dry, there is a Victorian gondola that tours the lake (website: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/gondola). Almost right on the shores, Coniston Hall Campsite (tel: (01539) 441 223) gives you somewhere to rest, particularly necessary if you’ve tackled the steep climbs up Coniston Old Man or to the many tarns.
Other sights in Coniston include the John Ruskin museum (website: www.ruskinmuseum.com) and his lakeside villa, Brantwood (website: www.brantwood.org.uk), filled with his paintings and drawings. Try the local beer, Bluebird Bitter, made in a micro brewery at the Black Bull Hotel (website: www.conistonbrewery.com).
Ferries and fishing
Up in Keswick, Derwentwater presents itself from nowhere, spreading out on the banks of Borrowdale valley to a vast scene of stranded jetties and romantic rowing boats. It is surrounded by looming mountains that seem to be protecting it, keeping it safe and preserved from becoming the new Windermere. Hike 1234ft up to Walla Crag for sublime views over the landscape. Boat trips through the calm waters are operated by Keswick Launch (website: www.keswick-launch.co.uk). The best views from the water are onboard the Ullswater steam ferry, the lake where Wordsworth first saw his host of golden daffodils, outside of Keswick.
Keswick itself has a market, and nightlife more bustling than might be expected. For a fresher dinner to baked beans, fish for perch, pike, trout and salmon in Derwentwater. For a mini Stone Henge, Castle Rigg is a short distance from Keswick’s centre. Sheep roam amongst hikers at this arrangement of rocks on a plateau that is ringed at each turn by more pikes.
A final challenge
If you’re less interested in cream teas and villages, and more inclined to heavy duty exertion, get involved with some serious hiking – up Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England. Situated in remote Wasdale, it is for the dedicated only. The summit is 978m (3210ft) above sea level, with views falling down over Wast Water, the deepest lake in the country.