These are unusual times, and the state of affairs can change quickly. Please check the latest travel guidance before making your journey.
Scenic beauty for adventurers and romantics
The clue to the region’s allure is in the name. A dozen or more lakes – sinuous, pretty, forbidding – vie for attention. Throw in craggy fells, tumbling waterfalls, timeless villages of whitewashed cottages, and the pull is irresistible. Even when it’s damp – and it frequently is – the scenery merely acquires a layer of misty romanticism. Its compact size (around 30 by 40 miles), together with its easy access (20 minutes from the M6), makes it one of the best places in Britain to enjoy the great outdoors whether ticking off the fells (including England’s highest), strolling a lakeshore or taking to the water.
It’s not all high-energy stuff though. Writers were drawn and inspired by its beauty, so you can nose around the homes of children’s author Beatrix Potter or poet William Wordsworth. There are quirky museums (from steamboats to pencils), absurdly pretty villages (including Cartmel and Hawkshead) with Instagrammable views plus – the ultimate relaxation – lake cruises. Base yourself in a lakeside town if you want variety, or a valley village for the big outdoors.
48 hours in . . . the Lake District
If you’ve not visited before, or want a good all-round base, you should opt to stay near Windermere Lake. Beatrix Potter’s house, Hill Top (Near Sawrey; 01539 436269), is close to the western shore; take the ferry across from Bowness and visit early to avoid the crowds. Most fun is had by spotting the places that pop up in her books, such as the grandfather clock from The Tale of Samuel Whiskers.
Back in Bowness, board one of the cruise boats (01539 443360) for a stately tour around Windermere; if you like, hop off at The Windermere Jetty Museum (Rayrigg Road, Windermere; 01539 637940) to wander its impressive collection of vintage steam launches, speed boats and rowing boats. Look out for the sexy red number, Jane.
A mile south of Bowness is Blackwell (01539 446139), a magnificent example of an Arts and Crafts mansion (built as a holiday home for a wealthy Lancashire brewer), and missed by many Lake District visitors (their loss). Check out the details – such as the intricate window-latches – and leave time to rest on the window-seat and enjoy the views from the White Drawing Room. The café offers a short menu but with good, homemade choices including Cumbrian cheddar rarebit with bacon – leave room for their chocolate brownie.
Take the lakeside road from Bowness eight miles north to Grasmere to poet William Wordsworth’s tiny whitewashed home, Dove Cottage (01539 435544). It was here he wrote many of his famous works, dictating to his wife or sister; you can see the wooden chair in which he sat.
Now, you have a choice: either take the two-mile ‘Coffin Trail’ walk to Rydal Mount (Ambleside; 01539 433002), Wordsworth’s last home, and enjoy its romantic gardens, or browse pretty Grasmere’s shops before a stroll on the shores of Grasmere lake. Whichever, end the afternoon with a slice of gingerbread, made to Victorian cook Sarah Nelson’s recipe, from the Grasmere Gingerbread (01539 435428) shop beside the church. Just follow your nose.
As you’re in Grasmere, try one of the ten or so real ales at Tweedies Bar (Red Bank Road; 015394 35300); hopefully, it’s warm enough to sit in the large, south-facing beer garden. You have a couple of options for dinner, depending whether you want to splash out and have a food adventure or go casual and a bit noisier.
For the former, Michelin-starred Forest Side (Grasmere; 015394 35250) offers delicately balanced dishes in its taster menu, with up to 80 per cent of its fruit and vegetables either from its impressive kitchen garden or foraged locally. Alternatively, Lucy’s on a Plate (Church Street, Ambleside; 015394 32288) is a long-established, colourful joint with a daily-changing global-style menu.
Today, you’re heading north to Keswick and (relatively) less-crowded lakes and valleys. If it’s Thursday or Saturday, browse Keswick’s jolly market; nothing fancy but always good-humoured and a good place to pick up home-baked breads, woolly hats and practical bags. From the Market Square, it’s a 10-minute walk to Derwentwater where the old-fashioned launches make this the best lake for a relaxing cruise.
Hop off at Hawse End landing-stage for an easy lakeside stroll to Lingholm Estate (01768 774238), where Beatrix Potter spent several holidays and whose kitchen garden inspired Mr McGregor’s garden in The Tale of Peter Rabbit. After a potter around the new walled garden, it would be a mistake to miss a coffee and cake in the café, the latter made in the next-door bakery.
Either catch the launch back to Keswick, or take the easy 35-minute walk through Portinscale and around the bottom of the lake, and then you’re heading north, again, up the quiet east side of Bassenthwaite Lake for a ‘wee dram’. The Lakes Distillery (Setmurthy; 01768 788850) produces gin and vodka as well as whisky, and a behind-the-scenes-tour lets you not only watch, but taste a tot of all three. The Distillery’s bistro, with its mix of small and big plates, is a handy spot for lunch.
Take a leisurely drive along Derwentwater and up what is, arguably, the Lake District’s most picturesque valley: Borrowdale. Stop at Grange, a couple of miles beyond the lake-head, and either take a walk across fields to the lake with stunning views down the lake to Cat Bells and Skiddaw, or stroll along the wooded riverside path.
Then hold on to your seat, as you navigate the one-in-four Honister Pass at the head of the valley to Honister Slate Mine (017687 77230), a still-working 18th-century mine. Apart from its shop, options include a mine tour or, if you’ve a head for heights, a thrilling via ferrata climb – routes with fixed cables and ladders – that lets you scale vertical rock faces in safety, despite dizzying drops beneath.
Recover with afternoon tea on the terrace at the Lodore Falls (017687 77285), a landmark hotel overlooking the lake, and looking swanky after a £12m refurbishment.
You will have booked ahead for seats at Keswick’s picturesquely set Theatre by the Lake (Lakeside; 017687 74411) and can opt to eat before or after at The Square Orange (20 St John’s Street; 017687 73888), a friendly, funky café-bar with a simple menu of tapas and stone-baked pizzas.
If the theatre is between-shows, book a table at the just out-of-town, but off-the-tourist-radar, The Cottage in the Wood (Braithwaite; 017687 78409) whose Michelin-starred modern British dishes offer intriguing combinations.
Where to stay . . .
For a combination of standout views, lovely bedrooms and serious cooking – wrapped in low-key luxury and a calming atmosphere – it’s hard to beat The Samling. Many rooms are ultra-private, deer roam the grounds, and you can be as lazy or active as you like. There’s space to relax indoors or outdoors with a sitting room and snug ‘library’, paved terraces, gardens and a hot tub.
Double rooms from £230. Ambleside Road; 01539 431922
The Drunken Duck is a much-loved Lake District pub with a quirky, contemporary-country style that feels smart yet relaxed and with a real sense of place. Food is serious but not pretentious and the bar, with own-brew beer, is still a locals’ favourite. Make sure to take advantage of the lovely walking nearby – it’s only 15 minutes’ on foot to low-level strolls around the lake.
Double rooms from £125. Barngates; 015394 36347
A country pub-with-rooms, in a spectacular setting high in the hills above Windermere. The Mortal Man is aimed at lovers of the outdoors, and offers simple comforts, cosy rooms, good beers, filling food and a very friendly welcome. It also has a beer garden with an excellent view that stretches all the way down to the lake.
Double rooms from £60. Troutbeck; 015394 33193
What to bring home . . .
Honister slate (017687 77230). Beautifully smooth and distinctively dark greeny-grey, you can find homewares, from door knobs to cheese boards, plus garden benches and ornaments, or order a custom-made house-name or number.
There are dozens of Lakeland artists – some good, many bad – but the Heaton Cooper family (now in the third generation) have produced some of the finest iconic and arresting images with landscape prints starting from around £8. Purchase from Heaton Cooper Studio (Grasmere; 015394 35280).
When to go . . .
Rain and the Lakes go together, well, like crumpets and butter, so always be prepared. While the wettest and coldest months are November to January, heavy showers can strike at any time and snow can remain on the fells until late spring; it’s essential to check the weather if you’re planning to go fell-walking. Snow can occasionally make more rural roads and mountain passes impassable.
The warmest months are June to August but these are also the busiest when prices rocket, car parks are packed and traffic jams can be frequent. Equally busy are Easter and school half-terms. If you can, opt for the shoulder months: in April and May the weather is more settled and warming up; in September and October the woodlands blaze with autumnal colour.
Know before you go . . .
There are tourist offices in the main towns including Windermere, Ambleside, Keswick and Coniston. You can also find lots of information on the tourism board’s website visitlakedistrict.com. Or try visitengland.com
Ambulance/Police/Fire/Mountain Rescue 999
National Trust membership is very useful here, as it permits you free entry to all NT properties and also allows you to park in NT car parks.
If you’re planning on hiking on the fells, essential items include proper boots, good waterproofs (ideally Gore-Tex or equivalent), plenty of food and water and a detailed walking map; a compass is very useful, but only if you actually know how to use it. Take a mobile phone in case of emergencies, but don’t rely on being able to get a signal. Check the weather forecast before you leave. It’s also sensible to let someone know where you’ve gone before you set off.
Stick to the trails on the fells to avoid erosion, and don’t litter.
Helen Pickles is Telegraph Travel’s Lake District expert. An upbringing of wet caravanning holidays to climb its fells and shriek at the coldness of lake-paddling started a curious love affair. She can still be left breathless by its beauty – and not just the uphill slogs.
Experience the Lake District with The Telegraph
Telegraph Travel’s best hotels and holidays in the Lake District, tried, tested and recommended by our Lake District experts.