Messing around on boats on Lake Windermere.

Messing around on boats on Lake Windermere.Getty

The Lake District - for generations, walkers from all over the world have come to the hills and meres of northern England, for gentle hikes and strenuous hill climbs through this breathtaking landscape.

It has inspired the Romantic poets and Beatrix Potter and remains as pristine and unspoiled today. Protected by the National Trust and the National Park Service, the Lakes are as justly popular as they are beautiful.

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Day 1 - From Manchester to the Lakes

Rail, air or auto to Manchester makes a beginning for this exploration of England’s northwestern county of Cumbria. The M6 runs north through Lancashire. Near Kendal, take the A591 to Windermere. Either coming or going from Lakeland, you might schedule a visit to glorious Levens Hall in Kendal—home to the extraordinary topiary garden featured.

The twin towns of Windermere and Bowness form the visitor capital of the Lake District. Crowds are there in evidence from April to October, and so are the hotels. Accommodation options spread out along the lake, but if you are going “in season,” do plan ahead for lodging.

You really can’t tour the Lake District by rail—but you can get there by train, and certainly experience the region. The West Coast mainline rail runs north through Lancashire on its way to Glasgow. Get off at Oxenholme, and take the small spur line into the Lakes at Windermere. From Windermere, there are a number of operators proffering a variety of day excursions around the Lakes, taking it all in.

Day 2 - Windermere

Start at water’s edge in Bowness. There, the information center provides maps, guides, and brochures of all sorts. There’s no better way to begin exploring than with a cruise on Windermere, England’s largest lake. Boats follow several routes, but unless you want to spend all day on the lake, pick Ambleside as a picturesque destination.

This afternoon you might drive the short route to Wray Castle and on to Grasmere for a visit Dove Cottage, home of the great Romantic poet William Wordsworth. Graves of the influential writer and his sister, Dorothy, lie in the village churchyard. From the shop next door, Grasmere gingerbread is famous. Or circle Windermere to Hawkshead and Near Sawrey for a visit to Beatrix Potter’s home, Hill Top. All around lies the pristine beauty of the meres, fells and quaint hamlets that make the Lakes among England’s most beloved regions.

Windermere Lake

Windermere Lake

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Day 3 - Spoiled for choice

If you have the day, there is more than enough to explore in the southern lakes. Head south along Windermere on the A592 to Lakeside. There’s a steam railroad to ride and the Lakeland Motor Museum. One option is to continue south to Ullswater, home of the Laurel & Hardy Museum, and Barrow-in-Furness, for the haunting ruins of Furness Abbey. Or turn north to Coniston Water to visit Ruskin’s Arts & Crafts home, Brantwood.

Day 4 - To the Northern Lakes

Distances are short enough in Cumbria to make it feasible to base your Lake District visit completely in Windermere/Bowness and make each a day trip. Or, you might take a change of scene with a stay in the quieter Northern Lakes.

Venture north this morning toward Keswick through spectacular countryside. One insider’s detour is a well-marked turn following the back road on the far side of Thirlmere. Here it is traffic-free, with plenty of turnoffs for photo ops or a walk on the shore. The market town of Keswick bustles with visitors inclement weather, center for the serious backpackers and fell walkers who tackle the rugged terrain. The pencil museum makes an unusual visit; Derwent pencils have been premium art pencils for generations. East just above the town, follow signs for Castlerigg Stone Circle, one of the most evocative and complete of the more than 600 henges dotting Britain.

Carry on along the shores of Bassenthwaite Lake to rather quaint Cockermouth, northern Cumbria’s market town on the River Derwent. There are many places to stay, most famously The Trout Hotel, next door to Wordsworth’s birthplace.

The Lake District

The Lake District

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Day 5 - Adventures from Cockermouth

See the poet’s house, wander the shops or take a tour at Jennings Brewery in town this morning, or set out afield. Due northeast on the A595, Cumbria’s cathedral city of Carlisle lies about 25 miles.

Carlisle’s not a particularly attractive city, but Carlisle Cathedral and Carlisle Castle make worthy visits and have played major roles in regional and national history. To the southwest on the A595, make for the Cumbrian coast and the working port of Whitehaven, just to look around.

Few visitors make their way to the west coast of Lakeland. For the sheer scenery, take the Lakes’ most famous “back roads” drive, a circuit past picturesque Buttermere, over Honister Pass and down through Borrowdale.

Day 6 - A Lancashire return

If today marks a return south to Manchester and beyond, it is easy access to the M6 from either Cockermouth or Windermere. Time permitting, choose a visit along the way: the county town of Lancaster, for instance.

Fortress, prison and Crown court: Lancaster Castle is the seat of the Duchy of Lancaster; Her Majesty holds the title. Built on the hilltop site that once held a Roman fort, the castle has played a colorful and dark role in English history.

Take a detour, perhaps, on the M55 to the famed seaside resort of Blackpool, maybe just to stroll along a portion of the 6-mile beachfront—or to go ballroom dancing at Blackpool Tower (“Ballroom Dancing,” March 2015, p. 28). From Blackpool, you can take the A574 coast road through quieter Lytham St. Anne’s to rejoin the motorway.

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Day 7 - Further afield

If the North Country still calls, it is just a short motorway drive to the Scottish border. Visit the wedding mecca of Gretna Green, Dumfries and beyond. Or, at Kendal turn east on the A684 over the Pennines across Garsdale and into the Yorkshire Dales. Visit the Wensleydale Dairy at Hawes and King Richard III’s castle in Middleham, then route for Thirsk, Ripon or York. Some decisions are hard to make.



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* Originally published in Mar 2015.